The Gospel today from the second chapter of the Gospel of St Mark is about the healing of a man who was paralysed. We tend to remember this passage because of the faith and determination of the friends of the paralytic who removed tiles in the roof and lowered him into the crowded room directly in front of Jesus Christ. Christ “saw their faith,” but then the first thing He did was to forgive the sins of the paralytic; and only afterwards did Jesus Christ tell the man “Rise, take up your pallet and walk.”
In the second century, St Clement of Alexandria pointed out that: “The all-sufficient Physician of humanity, the Saviour, heals both body and soul conjointly [that is, together].” So, St Clement is insisting that Christ heals the whole person, body and soul. That was true two thousand years ago; and it is still true today. Furthermore, sickness is not simply forgotten but becomes a sign of what has been overcome. Those who have experienced flu this winter will appreciate the encouragement of a fourth century Church leader, St Peter Chrysologus, who insisted it is possible to reverse our relationship with sickness. He preached: “Take up your bed. Carry the very mat that once carried you. Change places, so that what was the proof of your sickness may now give testimony to your soundness. Your bed of pain becomes the sign of healing, its very weight the measure of strength that has been restored to you.” In other words, the experience of pain has made both the paralytic and those who had flu stronger.
One of the notes on this passage in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture points out that it is possible to “be paralytic inwardly without bodily paralysis.” In other words, we can be sick in our inward relationship to the Lord without showing any sign of physical sickness. That’s a dangerous position to be in. It may well be that those of us who had the flu for several weeks are now in a stronger position that those of us who did not get physically sick. Why? Because if we had the flu and are grateful to the Lord for our recovery, we are in better shape than those of us who did not get flu but neglected to thank the Lord for sparing us.
The first and second chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews read today also warn us to “pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Experience matters—experience of both sickness and of health. In 1944 Bill Kenny and Ella Fitzgerald sang beautifully of how “into each life some rain must fall, but too much is falling in mine.” At times, we too might feel that way. However, as a contemporary American singer. Vivian Greene, has said: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Now, if we add the words “with the Lord” to “learning to dance in the rain,” then we have indeed reversed our relationship with sickness and suffering. We have learned to pray to the Lord to help us face challenges in our lives. Then, just like those who have recovered from flu, we are stronger people who have overcome a serious challenge. If we pretend that we don’t have flu, or if we choose not to face a particular challenge in our lives, that denial will damage us. Life is indeed about “learning to dance in the rain with the Lord.” And we can be confident that the Lord will guide us through any storms in our lives.
The saint that we remember today, St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the 14th century and a monk on Mount Athos faced and overcame many challenges in his life. His father died when St Gregory was quite young. The Emperor tried to recruit St Gregory to the royal court, but St Gregory refused and instead chose to become a monk. In one of the monasteries of which he was abbot, his 200 fellow monks forced him to resign because they thought he was too austere and ascetic, because he firmly denied himself all physical comforts and pleasures. He was often engaged in theological controversy and fought for right doctrine at six different synods. In the midst of much prayer and theological controversy, he took the time to persuade two of his brothers, two of his sisters, his widowed mother and many of his servants to enter the monastic life. On a sea voyage, St Gregory was captured by the Turks and spent more than a year in prison.
St Gregory was a remarkably original person who found his own solutions to life. He challenges us to consider our relationship to the Lord. In the Kontakion for today we sing, “Since [we] now stand before the Original Mind [that is, St Gregory], guide our minds to Him, O Father.” That Kontakion implies that the challenges and sufferings that confront us may well have unusual solutions. We can pray to the Lord to find those “original” solutions. It is possible for each of us to turn our sickness and fears into soundness and trust in the Lord.
The Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church concludes that St Gregory and his followers sought “to fix the intellect in the heart; [because] since the Incarnation we have to seek the grace of the Holy Spirit in our bodies, which are sanctified by the Sacraments and grafted by the Eucharist into the Body of Christ.” In other words, when we receive the Eucharist in our bodies, we are joined to Christ Himself in body, mind and spirit. Our spirits then become joined to the Holy Spirit, just as Father Gregory was preaching last Sunday.
I close with a single sentence from St Gregory: “When we strive with diligent [calmness; that is, careful calmness] to keep watch over our [ability to think], to control and correct [our thoughts] … we [can] succeed in this task … by collecting our mind[s] [that is, by gathering our thoughts], which [are] dispersed abroad through the senses, and bringing [our minds] back into the [calmness and peace of the] world within, into the heart itself, which is the storehouse of all our thoughts.” St Gregory’s advice is worthy of careful consideration (repeat his words.). May those words from St Gregory draw each of us into a deeper trust in God’s plan for our lives, even when we do not yet know those plans.
And so, we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.