Once again, I am taking up the challenge issued by the Preacher’s Institute to blog every day during the Nativity fast. Last year, I focused on St. Leo the Great and some of the gems that he has throughout the several homilies that we have of his on the Nativity. It was very useful to have such a concentrated focus. Thus, I will be doing something very similar this year — I will direct my attention toward St. Gregory Palamas.
Although I am only aware of one homily on the Nativity that has come down to us from St. Gregory, it is a very rich mine from which I think I can glean many a blog post. I also have a very personal reason to spend this amount of time with St. Gregory.
As someone who came to the Orthodox faith later in life, one of the most difficult things to get my head around (and one of the things I desired most as an outsider) was the relationship we have with the saints. I grew up loving mythology of all stripes. I read stories from every continent. Thus, when it came to the lives of the saints, I came at them from a mythological perspective — I tried to understand them as metaphor. While this works to a certain extent, it fails to appreciate the reality of the saints. These are real people who lived real lives who are now more alive than you or I could possibly imagine — in Christ. Thus, the saints are people we can get to know. They are people that we can have relationships with — by getting to know them through their hagiographies, their writing, the hymnody and by praying for their intercessions. They, in turn, will let us know that they are here among us, praying for us and watching out for us. In the past year, St. Gregory Palamas has done just that for me.
In the last couple of years, both my sister and my wife have lost a child inside the womb. Abigail was a victim of Trisomy-3 and Gabriel somehow managed to get his umbilical chord knotted around his neck. So it was with great joy that I received the news last autumn that my sister was pregnant again — this time with a healthy, vibrant baby; however, for a variety of reasons, she had to give birth via a cesarean section. My sister was scheduled to go into the hospital for pre-surgery prep on a Sunday. Her baby was born the next day. She and her husband named their little boy Gregory. This is where St. Gregory comes in.
Unbeknownst to my sister, the Sunday she went into the hospital fell on the Second Sunday of Lent — the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. That Monday was the Feast of St. David of Wales — my patron saint. St. Gregory’s feast day is November 14th — my birthday and the due date of Gabriel had he survived. St. Gregory Palamas was trying to get my attention — not only is he watching over my family, but he wants me to get to know him. Thus, I have endeavored to read what I can, and the best place I know to find out about one of the Church Fathers is to read their homilies. This Christmas fast I will share part of this journey as I take a good hard look at what St. Gregory has to say about the Nativity of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ