Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Gregory Palamas

The publican returned home justified; the Pharisee did not.

The spiritual champion of evil is full of resources for its furtherance. It has often happened that as soon as the foundations of virtue have been laid in a soul, he has begun to undermine them with despair and lack of faith.

Often, too, when the walls of the house of virtue were being built, he has assaulted them by means of inertia and indolence. Even when the house has been roofed over with good works, he has used arrogance and presumption to destroy it.

Nevertheless, stand firm and do not be afraid, for anyone zealous in doing good is even more resourceful. In resisting evil, virtue has the greater power, since it receives heavenly assistance from him who can do all things, and who confirms all virtue’s lovers in goodness.

Consequently, virtue not only remains unmoved by the manifold wicked wiles of the adversary, but even has the power to raise up and restore those sunk in the depths of evil, and easily to lead them back to God through repentance and humility.

But why does humility raise us to the heights of holiness.

The present parable is sufficient proof; for the tax collector, in spite of his profession and of having lived in the depths of sin, joins the ranks of those living upright lives through a single prayer, and that a short one; he is relieved of his burden of sin, he is lifted up, he rises above all evil, and is admitted to the company of the righteous, justified by the impartial Judge himself.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, is condemned by his prayer in spite of being a Pharisee, and in his own eyes a person of importance. Because his “righteousness” is false and his insolence extreme, every syllable he utters provokes God’s anger.

But why does humility raise us to the heights of holiness, and self-conceit plunge us into the abyss of sin? It is because when we have a high regard for ourselves, and that in the presence of God, he quite reasonably abandons us, since we think we have no need of his assistance.

But when we regard ourselves as nothing and therefore look to heaven for mercy, it is not unreasonable that we should obtain God’s compassion, help, and grace. For as Scripture says: “The Lord resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

“This man went away justified, and not the other,” says the Lord; “because all who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
For since the devil is pride itself, and arrogance his own particular vice, this sin conquers and drags down with itself every human virtue tinged with it. Similarly, humility before God is the virtue of the good angels, and it conquers every human vice to which a sinner has fallen prey.

Humility is the chariot in which the ascent to God is made upon the clouds that are to carry up to him those destined to be with God for endless ages, according to the apostle’s prophecy: “We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we be always with the Lord (1 Thes 4:17).”

For humility is like a cloud. Produced by repentance, it draws streams of tears from the eyes, makes unworthy people worthy, and raises up and presents to God those freely justified by reason of their right dispositions.

 

(Homily 2: PG 151, 17-20.28-29)

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), was born at Constantinople, and prepared by the piety of his parents for a monastic vocation. At the age of about 20 he became a monk of Mount Athos. In 1347 he was made bishop of Thessalonica.

Gregory stressed the biblical teaching that the human body and soul form a single united whole. On this basis he defended the physical exercises used by the Hesychasts in prayer, although he saw these only as a means to an end for those who found them helpful.

He followed Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa in teaching that although no created intelligence can ever comprehend God in his essence, he can be directly experienced through his uncreated “energies,” through which he manifests himself to and is present in the world.

God’s substance and his energies are distinct from one another, but they are also inseparable. One of these energies is the uncreated divine light, which was seen by the apostles on Mount Tabor. At times this is an inward illumination; at other times it is outwardly manifested.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson