St Gregory Palamas: Have You Dispersed Your Substance?

Feast of St Hesychius the Martyr

Gregory_Palamas_Square_2.jpgAND NOT many days after”, it says, “the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country” (Lk. 15.13). Why did he not set off at once instead of a few days after? The evil prompter, the devil, does not simultaneously suggest to us that we should do what we like and that we should sin. Instead he cunningly beguiles us little by little, whispering, “Even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good.” When he separates someone from the divine services and obedience to the holy teachers, he also distances him from God’s vigilance and surrenders him to evil deeds. God is everywhere present. Only one thing is far away from His goodness: evil. Being in the power of evil through sin we set off on a journey far away from God. As David says to God, “The evil shall not stand in thy sight” (Ps. 5.5).

Once the younger son had gone away and taken his journey into a far country, “there he dispersed his substance with riotous living” (Lk. 15.13). How did he disperse his substance? Above all it is our inborn mind that is our substance and our wealth. As long as we are faithful to the ways of salvation, our mind is at one with itself and with God, the first and highest Mind. Whenever we open the door to the passions, immediately it is dispersed, wandering continually among fleshly and earthly things, all kinds of pleasures and passionate thoughts about them. The wealth of the mind is prudence, which stays with it, discerning between what is better and what is worse, for as long as the mind itself stays obedient to the commandments and counsels of the heavenly Father. Once the mind rebels, prudence is dispersed in fornication and foolishness, shared out between both evils.

You will see the same happening with all our virtues and faculties, which are truly our wealth. Evil is always near at hand, and if they turn aside to it they are dispersed. Our mind itself stretches out in longing towards the one God Who Is, the only Good, the only Desired, the only Bestower of pleasure unmixed with pain. But once the mind has been enfeebled, the soul’s ability for real love falls away from what is truly desired, and, scattered among the various longings for sensual pleasures, is dispersed, pulled this way and that by desires for superfluous foods, dishonorable bodies, useless objects, and empty, inglorious glory. So the wretched man is cut to pieces and tortured by the cares these things bring, and cannot even enjoy breathing the air of seeing the sun the riches we all share.

If the mind has not distanced itself from God it stirs up our anger against the devil alone, and puts the soul’s courage to use against the evil passions, the rulers of darkness and the spirits of wickedness. But if the mind does not heed the divine commandments of the Lord who armed it with these weapons, it fights against its neighbors, rages against its fellow-countrymen and hunts down those who do not agree with its own absurd desires. Such a man, alas, becomes a murderer. He is not only like an animal, but like a reptile or some venomous creature: a scorpion, a snake, one of the viper’s brood, although he was appointed to be a son of God. Do you see how he has dispersed and done away with his substance? “And when”, it says, “the younger son had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want” (Lk. 15.14). He did not think yet about returning profligate as he was, so “he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine’ (Lk. 15.15).

Who are the citizens and rulers of that country far from God? The demons, of course, by whom the son of the heavenly Father is appointed a brothel-keeper, a chief publican, a captain of thieves and a leader of rebels. The life of pigs, because of its extreme filthiness, is symbolic of all the passions. Those who wallow in the mire of the passions are the pigs, of which the younger son was put in charge, as surpassing them all in self-indulgence. But he could not eat his fill of the husks the pigs ate, meaning that he could not find satisfaction for his desires.

—St Gregory Palamas, On the Parable of the Prodigal

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