Some St. Palamas for this first day of Great Lent

PalamasThis morning I opened to a passage from St. Palamas which seemed eerily perfect for this first day of Great Lent. He writes of God’s “incomparable grandeur of compassion,” in that He promises to give us the reward of eternal life for us simply “toiling on our own behalf.” Using a well worn Christian analogy, we are “branches” shooting from the “Vine” who is Christ (Jn 15:1), and our labor is to attend to these branches: both ourselves and others.

Palamas writes that our first work is to “cut away everything that is superfluous and that, instead of promoting, impedes the bearing of fruit worthy of divine cellars.” Just as pruning is critical for the growth of fruit on a physical plant, pruning ourselves of excess is critical for growth of the soul—an idea strictly counter to the leanings of our culture enamored with every possible type of excess.

“And what are these things?” Palamas, a wise cultivator of souls, marks precisely where to prune: “Wealth, soft living, vain honors, all things transitory and fleeting, every sly and abominable passion of soul and body, all the litter gathered while daydreaming, everything heard, seen, and spoken that can bring injury to the soul.” He continues, “If you do not cut out these things and prune the heart’s offshoots with great assiduity, you will never bear fruit fit for eternal life.”

This of course is not an encouragement to lifeless pietism, or to shipwreck one’s momentum in spiritual pursuits (as if to set a standard so high that one gives up before he begins), but a simple matter of fact. If one desires good fruit there are essentials that must be in place. Far from discouraging me, Palamas’s words profoundly encourage me. In this short passage he points to an existence that is both possible and desirable, and the fact that it is difficult makes it all the better.

Welcome back, Lenten season! I’ve missed you.




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