Bathed in Uncreated Light - A Sermon for the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas (2023)
Every single person in this church, every single person who has ever lived and will live, will unfailingly see and be immersed within the uncreated light of the Holy Trinity. Everyone, no matter who they are, no matter what they believe, no matter how they live, will unfailingly be resurrected—body and soul—when Christ comes again. All will be bathed in the unveiled glory of the fullness of His divinity.
St. Gregory Palamas, the Church’s great exponent of the teaching on the uncreated light, explains that at the Last Judgment, everyone, even those who rebel against Christ, will know Him perfectly through the omnipresence of His divine glory. St. Paul says: “every knee shall bow, and all shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” But not all will rejoice in this. To those who love His coming, this will be joyous illumination. To those who hate it, tormenting fire.
The Church is unceasingly urging us to conform ourselves as far as is possible in this life with that mode of life which will be after the Resurrection. The Creed ends thus: “I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” But we are also taught to not audaciously and greedily seek after spiritual consolations or visions of light. The Fathers teach us to seek God, but not the place where He dwells. Love God with all your heart, but don’t shamelessly seek to lay ahold of divine bliss, for out of love for you He has ascended the Cross and endured death. God grants His grace to the humble, but the humble do not demand His grace, for they consider themselves unworthy of it, and even of life.
In gratitude, let us remember our first zeal. Let us rekindle our first love. Let us recollect those moments of grace in our life, when we tasted but a small taste of that mode of life which will dawn forth at the Resurrection, for these small tastes are a great gift and grace from the all-loving God.
Do we remember our Baptism and/or Chrismation? Do we remember the light which filled our mind and all our bodily members? Do we remember the peaceful and calm joy? The untroubled flesh? The silence of thoughts? The clear-sightedness of our mind? Do we remember the unity we had with every person, all the world, earth and heaven, with God and angels? Have we tasted this at other times? After Holy Communion? After a life-changing confession? After a time of prolonged, fervent, most concentrated, and compunctionate prayer? In a holy place? Before a holy person? Before a miracle-working icon or the relics of a Saint?
Maybe we have only had a few seconds of such experiences of grace. Even so, let us recall them. Let us bring them forth from our memory, and impress them anew within ourselves. St. Paul is ever asking us: “Do you not know your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” Do we understand the power of our entry into the Church, the Body of Christ? Do we understand that we have been consecrated individually and collectively as the temple of the Holy Spirit, of Christ and His Father?
Christ is nearer to our hearts than we are ourselves. He dwells within, ever crying out, “Behold, I stand at the door of your heart, dwelling within it, knocking upon your thoughts, feelings, conscience, and senses, in order that you might allow Me to enter the whole of you, to fully baptize all your thoughts, perceptions, memories, attention, impulses, and emotions in Myself, in My grace, in My incorruptible delight untouched by sorrow.”
If we do not wake up, if we do not realize and come to know more and more Him Who dwells within us; if we do not seek to live more fully in Him, even now, then how shall we then enjoy His omnipresent glory which will be fully unveiled at the Resurrection?
Where—at that Resurrection, upon that Day of Christ, upon the Revelation of His Person to all—are worldly pleasures and distractions? Where are all the works of our hands and the perfected art of the gourmet? Where are the magnificent works of art, the wondrous architecture praised by all, the inventions and wonders of this world? Where is the attractive beauty of women? Where is the comely handsomeness of men? Where is the vainglory of the stage, the pride of the pulpit, the victories of athletes, the credentials of the educated, the conceit of the cultured, the pomp of politicians and rulers?
Where is the keen intellect? Where are the degrees and PhD’s and certificates of honor? Where are the awards? Where is human knowledge? Where the discoveries of science? Where are the musings of the philosophers? Where are the beautiful words of theologians? Where is the infinitude of paper and ink stacked up on bookshelves and stored away in memory? Where are the many distractions of the internet, the deceptive unity of wireless communication, the entertainment of the theatres, the amazing wonders of CGI-movies, the mindless absorption of television, the endless hours of YouTube videos?
Where are all men to be found on that Day? They are all found to be resurrected, naked of the cloak of the deception and honor of this glittering and distracting world. Where is the patriarch and the laymen? Where the abbot and the novice? Where the priest and the simple monk? Where the rich and the poor? Where is the oppressor and the oppressed? Where is the king fattened by his luxury and those who sleep under bridges? Where are the renowned of this world and those forgotten by all? Where are the vainglorious philanthropists who give alms with a symphony of trumpets and those who are starving, naked, outcast, and impoverished? Where is the smooth-talking politician and the uneducated but honest man?
All stand before Christ on an equal plane. All await His eternal judgment. All are found bathed in His inescapable presence of uncreated light. All are immersed in one mode of life, one object of attention, one vision of importance, one frame of mind. All confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, Son of the Father. All bow down before His power. All are found to acknowledge His eternal rule and kingdom. But not all will acknowledge such things in the same manner.
Let us strive, brothers and sisters, let us hasten, to meet Christ. He speaks His last words through His beloved Apostle, “Surely I am coming quickly!” He, the Truth, speaks no lies! Behold, He is already on His way to unveil His glory to all the world! Look up in hope and eagerly await Him, for He is coming to give delight and joy to weary and downcast souls. He is coming to relieve us of all the burden of our worn-down bodies.
He is coming to recompense every thought, feeling, word, action, disposition, prayer, hope, love, and desire—both good and evil; great and small; manifest and hidden. He is coming to transform us, to baptize us fully in Himself, to give mercifully much more than we deserve, even for the smallest act of kindness and every cup of cold water given. He is coming to forgive sins repented of, to exchange every painful teardrop with an ocean of joy and every sigh born from affliction with a whole heaven of refreshing breezes, to wash away all the stains which passions inflict on us, to heal every wound and trauma caused by men, demons, the cruelty of this world, and ourselves. He is coming to save, illumine, perfect, and deify.
Are you bereft of good works and the manifest signs of stable virtue? Are you drowning in despair because of your passions and constant falls into sin? Do you see yourself slain by anger, lust, and pride? Don’t give up! Christ forgives more than seventy times seven in the course of the day if we humbly admit our wrong, confess our weakness, beg His help, and don’t give up. He judges us not as men do, by outward appearance, but He takes everything into consideration—our strengths and weaknesses, our upbringing, our education in virtue or our education in evil, our sorrow, our discontent over our failures, our tears, even the smallest sighs and groans, even the simple form of words of repentance. He looks upon our inclination. If we are always trying to re-orient ourselves back to Him, He will judge us as ones who strove to love Him, even if we have not become perfectly pure. As the Fathers says, it is not possible for all to achieve dispassion in this life, but it is possible for all to be saved.
Have we fallen? Let us now get back up. Have we sinned? Let us ask God’s forgiveness in prayer with the simple words of a child. Have we offended others? Let us seek to make peace and restore the bond of affection through courageous humility. Are we sunk in fleshly delights? Let us beg the Holy Spirit Who is hidden within us to grant us but a taste of conscious participation in His depthless and incorruptible joy so that we might flee the worse and pursue the better. Do we love material wealth and mindless entertainment and often forget God? Let us now say: “O Christ, grant me to know that You—O infinite Source of all fulfillment, joy, sweetness, and life—are ever with me and within me!”
Do we run after attention and glory from others, and are struck with envy, anger, and sorrow when deprived of such? Let us beg Christ to open our minds up to the vision that He alone—both God and Man—is He Whom we should strive to please and love and seek glory from. Are we overly preoccupied with the work and production of our own hands or intellect? Let us then beg Christ to grant us to offer up all our labors to glorify Him, edify others, and profit our own souls. Do we love food and drink too much? Let us beg of Christ moderation, so that we might—with unclouded mind and lightness of body—remain in unceasing prayer to Him, and receive from Him all His earthly and heavenly gifts and joys as sacramental doorways into constant remembrance of and thankfulness to Him.
Let us awake from sleep. Let us arise from idleness, useless distraction, self-serving motives, hatred, envy, petty jealousy, misunderstandings, suspicious interpretations of others’ actions and words, touchy and easily wounded pride, ambitious comparison of ourselves with others, bickering, quarrels, and the love of vanity, materiality, and sensuality. Let us always beg Christ, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me! Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us! For at a loss for any defense, this prayer do we sinners offer unto Thee as Master: Haver mercy on us!”
Let us pray simply, humbly, and constantly, becoming little children who are constantly dependent on their Father for everything. When we are afflicted let us cry out: “Lord, help me!” When we sin let us groan: “Forgive me, Lord!” When we enjoy life and its gifts let us cry out: “Thank you, Lord!” When we find ourselves quiet in soul and free of the vexation of evil thoughts and passions let us say: “Glory to Thee, O God!” When we are in need let us pray: “Guide me, O Lord!” Before we begin any work or undertaking let us say: “O Lord, bless!”
This is the path to self-recollection, remembrance of God, and salvation. This is humility. This is how we prepare ourselves to meet the Day of Christ when His uncreated light will shine on and illumine all. This is the way to gather our scattered senses and thoughts into our mind, and our mind into our heart, and our heart into Christ, Who will gather us into His Father by the Holy Spirit. To the Holy Trinity be glory forever. Amen!
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