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In Father Stephen Freeman’s blog post from October 13, 2009, “The Knowledge of God,” he says that knowledge of God requires purity of heart, and should be accompanied by ascetic struggle. How does he suggest we pursue this knowledge? I highly recommend his entire post, but here’s his final paragraph (spoiler alert!):
“Study. Pray. Fast. Give alms. Forgive your enemies. Repent of your sins. Cry out to God for mercy. He is a ‘good God and loves mankind.’ He will not leave us in the dark nor ignore the cry of our hearts. ‘This is eternal life,’ Christ says, ‘To know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.’ Thus we pursue knowledge – true knowledge in the way and in the manner given to us as though our life depended on it. It does.”
This coming Sunday, the second Sunday of Great Lent, is dedicated to Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessaloniki. Rev. Dr. Frank Marangos, Dean and Protopresbyter of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City, leads a “Forum on Orthodox Spirituality.” From a summary of one of those forums:
“Saint Gregory took Christian thought (Gospel) and tied it to Greek Philosophy, uniting the divine (uncreated) with the created. In the 14th century, the main theological question was ‘How can we know God?’ ‘By mind or by experience’? St. Thomas Aquinas’s theology favored a scholastic approach centering on knowing God based on intellect. Barlaam of Calabria’s theology was that one can only know God mystically. St. Gregory found a middle ground. Schooled in the Jesus prayer, a meditative prayer (hesychasia), and inspired by the writings of the Three Hierarchs, St. Gregory was led to say that one can know God by experience.”
“P.S.” . . . Leaving our topic of “Knowledge of God,” I found this brief summary of the themes of the Sundays of Great Lent to be very helpful, so I’m sharing it here:
1. Sunday of Orthodoxy: Who is Jesus? The TheoAnthropous, God-Man. God enters creation.
2. St. Gregory Palamas: Why did Jesus come? To heal mankind’s separation from God.
3. Veneration of the Holy Cross: What did he do? He descended to sacrifice Himself and die on the cross in order to release us from the bondage of sin and through His Resurrection re-open the “gates of Paradise” for humankind.
4. St. John Climacus: What does this mean? Mankind can now ascend to heaven.
5. St. Mary of Egypt: What does this mean to me? Personal self sacrifice; submitting oneself to do God’s will, so the gates of heaven open for you.
Two themes on Sundays during Great Lent:
The first, or earlier theme develops between the 4th and 6th centuries and centers on the return of Adam and Eve to the Garden of Eden. The second, or later theme which developed in the 12th and 13th centuries centers on the return of icons to the Church.
The return of icons into the worship life of the Church occurred after the end of the iconoclastic controversy in 843 A.D. Further, we, humans, are living icons as we are created in the image and likeness of God (this also includes free will; the choice to accept or to reject God). The return of the icons mirrors our own return to the Garden of Eden.