A Meditation on St. John's “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”

The farmer's wealth is gathered on the threshing floor and in the wine press, but the wealth and knowledge of the monk is gathered during the evenings and the night hours while standing at prayer and engaged in spiritual activity. Step 20 (on vigil), 10.

When the day is over, the vendor sits down and counts his profits; but the acetic does so when the psalmody is over. Step 20 (on vigil), 18.

Stillness of the body is the knowledge and composure of the habits and feelings. And stillness of soul is the knowledge of one's thoughts and an inviolable mind. Step 27 (on stillness), 2.

What is Orthodox Tradition? Why is it important for us to immerse ourselves in the worship and rigors of Orthodoxy?

At the visible level, one that can be observed and studied by scientists, tradition is the accumulation of rituals and ideas that are directed towards a purpose. In the case of Orthodox Tradition, that purpose is the formation of good and strong human beings, good and strong families, and good and strong communities.

We know that, left to their own devices, children will go selfish and feral (spoiled, if you will); that family structures will morph into tyranny or disintegrate altogether, and communities will do the same.

On the other hand, good ideas and useful rituals allow humans, families, and societies a way out of this nasty and brutish life. Through Orthodox ritual and belief, the passions are tamed. The child learns self-control, the family finds grounding, and the community naturally brings safety, healing, and guidance to all its members. Beliefs and rituals that do these things are continually reaffirmed through our participation in them and those that prove counter-productive are adjusted. This is done slowly, and with a recognition that there is a wisdom in tradition that is seldom obvious to the impatient.

But there are other forces at play; there is an invisible level. God continually works through His prophets, His Christ, His Holy Spirit, and His Church to grant discernment to individuals, yes, but mostly to the community as a whole. The rituals and ideas of Orthodoxy are not just useful (although they are), they are inspired and strengthen by grace. Even more importantly, Orthodox Tradition is not directed primarily to the perfection of people, families, and communities, but to their salvation. To put it in theological language, we are not just learning to subdue our baser instincts, we are being saved and drawn deeper into infinite perfection through our life in Christ and Holy Orthodoxy.

If you look around, you cannot help but notice that all reasonably healthy, traditional societies have religious systems that have accumulated ideas and rituals that civilize their adherents. Because there is only one human race and we all have the same line between good and evil dividing our hearts, there is a lot of overlap in their ideas and rituals. Virtue is encouraged; vice is shamed and disciplined; and the unity of the good is proclaimed and celebrated. To the extent that we have become lax in our own devotion, we are encouraged by their witness.

But there is no need to go anywhere else to experience the one thing needful for every person, family, and community. It is found in its fullness in Holy Orthodoxy and its benefits can be enjoyed completely here at St. Mary's (and every other parish that was, is, or ever will be).

Let us immerse ourselves in that fullness now, as we continue our celebration of God's love for us, His people, and His world.

Direct download: 20180318-LadderandTradition.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:58pm EDT

Homily on the Third Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.


Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Self Denial.

  • We deny ourselves those things that lead us into sin. This sounds easy, but it isn't.

  • We fight/play as we train. When we fast, we are denying ourselves something good – why?

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.

Losing our life.

  • This is poetic language. The life we lose is the one that isn't worth living. It's joys, such as they are, are temporary and counter-productive. The life we are giving up is the one that leads to annihilation of the good within us.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

  • We give up our desire to gain victory to THIS WORLD – a world that groans in sin – so that we can gain victory through Jesus Christ. This world will destroy our souls if we submit ourselves to its logics and its promises.

  • The Way that Jesus offers to us goes against the logic of the world, but it protects the soul and brings the kind of contentment, joy, and victory that lasts forever.

The whole lesson began with the words “if you would follow me (come after me)...”

  • The Way that Christ walked is hard: the symbol we use to represent it is the cross. But remember where the road He walked led. It did not end at the cross, but went through the cross, through the Resurrection, to the Ascension into glory.

  • He did not blaze this trail for Himself – He was returning to the place that was His from before the beginning.

  • He blazed the trail for us. Now all we have to do is follow in His footsteps.

May God strengthen us as we travel together along The Way.



Direct download: 20180311-Cross.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:10pm EDT

Marriage as a Metaphor for Orthodoxy
Homily of St. Gregory Palamas

Today we celebrate the life and teachings of someone who really got it – St. Gregory Palamas; he experienced God's love for him in a real and tangible way, and he reflected that love back at God and on all those around him.

That's what we are to do, as well. To open ourselves up to the deifying warmth and light of God; and then to send our thanksgiving and praise back up to Him and to use the energy of His grace to serve those around us.

The Good News of the Gospel is that this is made possible and real through the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ.

Although this Gospel really is simple, it has been elaborated with so many words and celebrated, confirmed and taught (if not gilded) with so many rituals – and denied by so many lies – that it is understandable if we sometimes mistake and judge the cup rather than that which it holds.

Perhaps a metaphor will help.

I have met people who think they understand the joy and transformation that marriage can bring.

One set thinks they know it because, while not married, they have their own version of it called “pornography” or really any kind of sex outside of marriage. We cannot deny the reality of that experience, but I hope you realize that it has very little to do with the enduring joy of marriage. They will claim that they do not need to be married to experience the joy of sex; but even when it comes to that, they have settled for something less satisfying and less real. And while intimacy is a powerful and necessary part of marriage, it is hardly the primary source of the transformative joy that marriage provides. They think they get it, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should.

A second set which is equally troubling think they understand marriage because they themselves are committed to the institution of marriage. They have had their ceremony, they wear their rings, and they share a house. But when you start speaking to them about the joy that comes from sharing a life with another person, you learn that their experience is quite different. They are living the rituals of marriage, but they are missing the thing those institutions is meant to hold and protect. They think they get it, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should.

This is a great and wonderful mystery but, as with St. Paul, I speak not of marriage, but of the Church. (Ephesians 5:32)

St. Gregory Palamas fought against both of these misunderstandings about God.

One the one hand, there were people (like the Bogamils) who thought they could really experience God without the Church. This is like having sex without marriage; it may be real in some sense, but it is not healthy nor is it real in the way that a committed sacramental relationship with God in Church is real. They thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.

On the other hand were those who thought is was enough to participate in the rituals and sacraments of the Church. That the experience of God was not something that was possible, that union with Him through Christ was a metaphor for belief, and that the joy to be had through opening oneself up to the Divine Nature of God was a simple emotion and not a metaphysical or supernatural reality. They thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.

God is real and we were meant to become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We are Orthodox Christians. We have not settled for something less than we should. We are not just going through the motions when we pray and participate in the rituals of the Church; we are opening ourselves up to God. We allow His grace to heal and transform us, and then we offer and share this transforming grace with the world.

Direct download: 20180304-Palamas.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:48pm EDT

How does the Gospel transform lives? There is no enchantment that goes through parish rosters to change those listed on it into heirs of the Most High.  It's not even enough for us to mutter the right theological incantation.  So what does it take?  Faith and works.  Enjoy the show!

Direct download: 20180225-FaithandWorks.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:46pm EDT

The homily is the Epistle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops outside Ukraine on Great Lent.  The extra words and music were taken from the service of forgiveness at the end of Divine Liturgy.

Direct download: 20180218-Forgiveness.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:49pm EDT

Today we present the third possible explanation for the cleansing of the Holy Land.  It seems that the requirement for complete destruction was only directed towards those tribes that had giants in them; was this the continuation of the "war of seeds" prophesied in Genesis 3:15?  Enjoy the show!

Direct download: 20180214-BS-DevilsofCanaan.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

There are broken and despairing people in this world; it is our charge to care for them. We can justify our indifference with all kinds of religion and sophistry, but in the end our deeds will be laid bare. Homily on the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).

Direct download: 20180211-LastJudgment.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 1:59pm EDT

In this class we continue trying to understand the conquest of the Holy Land in the Old Testament.  Fr. Anthony makes the case that there is more to morality than just being nice and that we cannot understand the Old Testament if we don't accept that violence is sometimes necessary.  

Direct download: 20180207-BS-PreLentenII.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Three lessons from the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Direct download: 2018024-ProdigalSon.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

We often hear that "Home is where the heart is", and this is certainly true.  But what if the longing we felt towards home could be satisfied not by a place, but by a condition of being?  What if we could "be" in that place where we find joyful contentment at any time and at any place?  What if home really was - or could be - WHAT the heart is? 

Direct download: 20180204-HeartHome.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:00am EDT