Thu, 30 November 2023
Father Speak a Work - Ministry, Harmony, Resilience
Fr. Gregory Jensen, Ph.D., and Fr. Anthony talk about how important it is for priests to have balanced lives. This means more than scheduling "self-care;" it means adjusting our activities and approaches so that a graceful harmony is maintained between our capabilities and resources and the needs of those whom we serve. We should be at our best when we lead worship, preach, teach, and work with others. This requires that we build adequate time in our schedules for surges (Fr. Gregory suggests 15 hours of unscheduled time for a 40-hour work week), recovery and recreation. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 26 November 2023
[We're still having audio issues - the mic cut off half-way through. I re-read the second half but you'll notice the change. Thank you for your patience as we continue to work on this.]
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:1-6
St. Paul was a great theologian. He had trained the lowest part of his mind (instincts, gut) through his ascetic submission to the Law and working through the constant temptation of the “thorn in the flesh”; he had trained his intellect by training under great teachers before and after his conversion; and he had trained his nous or heart through direct and awesome encounters with God.
Most importantly, St. Paul was a pastor. He lived according to the same standard that he taught: that all things be done so that some might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
As St. John Chrysostom describes it;
It is the virtue of teachers not to try to win the praise or respect of those under their authority, but to do everything with the single objective of their salvation. This is what makes them teachers rather than tyrants. After all, God does not give them authority so that they could enjoy rewards for themselves, but so that they might disregard their own interests in order to build up the flock. This is a teacher’s duty. Such a one was the blessed Paul, a man who was free from all manner of vanity, and was contented to be not just as those whom he taught, but even as the very least even of them. It is for this reason that he even calls himself their servant, and so generally speaks in a tone of supplication. Observe how he writes nothing dictatorial, nothing imperious, but everything as one chastened and subdued.
Today we hear the first of such words that he was directing to his flock in Ephesus, a coastal town in what is now western Turkey, across the Aegean Sea from Greece. These words were directed to the Christians at Ephesus almost two thousand years ago, but they could just as easily have been written for us here in the Upstate.
St. Paul begins by describing himself, saying,
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord.”
St. John Chrysostom composed what most have been an entire hour-long homily on just this line. It is well worth reading, and I recommend it to you. The thing that I would like to bring out of it today is that he was reminding his readers that St. Paul had what is sometimes called “skin in the game.” He was not just someone who was giving the people he served good advice, he was someone who considered what he was telling them so important that he was willing to suffer for saying and living it. St. Paul was brilliant. He could have had a career doing anything involving knowledge or leadership, but he chose and stuck with being an evangelist even though it took him to prison and martyrdom.
Psychology shows that we take people more seriously when they have skin in the game. When leaders don’t have skin in the game, they come off as hypocrites and, even if their intentions are good, untrustworthy.
As St. John points out, St. Paul had skin in the game. We can trust him. He is not a hypocrite. He is worthy of our attention.
St. Paul goes on to say;
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,”
What is this calling to which we have been called? To tithe? To come to church? To give to the poor? To be nice to one another? These are all worth doing, but they are not our calling. As St. Paul writes in the very next chapter, our calling is much greater than these; we are called to be members of god’s holy council (Ephesians 2:22) and to reign with Him on high (Ephesians 2:6)! Could there be any higher a calling? No.
In this, we are raised up to live and serve with the very angels and all the hosts of heaven.
Knowing the magnitude of the calling, how can we walk worthily? By putting on airs? By acting as though we were deserving of so great an honor? By lording it over one another? Surely this is our temptation. Experiments have shown how power goes to people’s heads and changes them into monsters. Is this how we can walk worthily? No! St. Paul knew this temptation and he had mastered it in his own life. He saw it threatening his flock, so he shared the secret of “walking worthily”, juxtaposing it with both the honor we have been promised and the great temptation it brings.
How can this be done? How can we avoid the temptation that brought even the greatest of all the created host of heaven – Lucifer to ruin?
Answering this, St. Paul continues;
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness”
How can we be lowly when we have been raised up so high? Because we know that we are not worthy of it. We appreciate the difference between what we have earned and what we have been given. We recognize that we have been bought with a price, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Lowliness and gratitude work within our hearts to make us worthy through humility.
It is this that then leads us towards the next way that we walk worthily;
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness,”
Gentleness. How often are we gentle with one another? Is it a habit of our hearts, or is it something that we only do when we are in the mood for it and when others behave in a way that is worthy of our kindness?
I think we know the answer, and we should be heartbroken, repent, and walk this better way.
If we can gain enough humility to see and be grateful for all that God has done for us despite our sin, then the next step on this walk is to imitate His beneficence in our relations with others, no matter how much hellfire their wicked actions and evil hearts have earned from us [sic].
After all, you and I deserve the hellfire. We are certainly not worthy of God’s gentleness … and yet He is gentle and kind. Kind enough to do everything within His power to protect us from hell and all its torment.
But what about us? Is this how we treat others? Or do we instead create our own sort of hellfire and vengeance to inflict on those who dare to cross us? Again, is this how we walk worthily? Is this how we show that we truly belong in God’s grace and in His heavenly kingdom? Where is the love? Where is the virtue?
Do I even need to point out that the offenses others commit against us pale in comparison to those we inflict on God? And that their offenses are inflated through the distorting lens of our own pride, if not created altogether out of whole cloth? We must do better; we count the slights of others to justifications for vengeance.
Rather we must do as St. Paul says, calling us to walk;
… with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,”
St. Paul tells us to put up with one another. Again, we are showing we belong with the Lord by imitating Him. He suffered persecution, the horrible passion, and death on the cross for us.
We walk worthily as God the Son’s brothers and sisters and as God the Father’s sons and daughters when we suffer for one another. And most often this suffering takes the form not of physical pain, but by offering patience and kindness when our instincts tell us someone deserves a rebuke.
We walk worthily when we are willing to suffer in silence when others seem – or may even be - worthy of actual suffering.
Do you see how this works? Do you see how much it goes against our fallen instincts?
But this really is the way of the Christian – it is our high calling.
And we should suffer “longly” not in weakness, but in strength. The Lord could have obliterated the Romans and Jews that attacked Him, but for their salvation, He held His power in check… knowing that the best use of His power was to willingly endure sacrifice so that they could be saved. He knew that the greatest victory did not come with winning the immediate battle with His oppressors, but by winning the war against all oppression through His lowliness, His gentleness, His longsufferingness, and His love.
We can and must do the same.
All these things require incredible strength. They require incredible courage.
But if we do them, they bring the reward of the places in the kingdom of heaven that God has set aside for all his saints and; to circle back – the reward of good teachers - that of drawing others towards the same.
Wed, 22 November 2023
Father Speak a Work - Confession and the Holistic Art of Healing
In today's conversation on the priesthood, Fr. Gregory Jensen, Ph.D. talks with Fr. Anthony about why we can't get to holiness by maximizing our resistance to certain sins and why an approach based on virtue is bound to be more effective. He also reminds us that it is best to think of confession as a process, with the confessor meeting the penitent where he/she is and helping (en-couraging!) them to grow from there. Enjoy the show!
Wed, 22 November 2023
Today's Bible Study on Genesis 13 and 14 covers Abram and Lot moving apart, the War of the Nine Kings, and the mysterious encounter with Melchizedek. While Fr. Anthony relies primarily on St. John Chrysostom, he also draws from Fr. Patrick Reardon, St. Ambrose (numerology!), and academic research (via the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Old Testemant). Enjoy the show!
Chapter 13. Abram solves a problem and keeps everyone safe; the Lord makes a promise.
From Fr. Patrick Reardon
When Abram left Egypt, he and his family were very wealthy, because of Pharaoh’s generosity to someone he was trying to gain as a brother-in-law. Now Abram and Lot find that the sheer size of their flocks requires them to live apart (vv. 1–7). The story of their separation (vv. 8–13) demonstrates Abram’s humility in giving his younger relative the choice of the land (v. 9), while he himself takes what is left. This humble action of Abram illustrates the meaning of the Lord’s saying that the meek shall inherit the earth. Abraham’s descendants, not Lot’s, will inherit all this land. In this story we discern the non-assertive quality of Abram’s faith. He is not only meek; he is also a peacemaker. Meekness and peacemaking are qualities of the man of faith.
Lot serves in this story as a kind of foil to Abram. The meek and peaceful Abram takes what is left, whereas Lot, obviously having failed to do a proper survey of the neighborhood, chooses to live in Sodom. This was to prove one of the worst real estate choices in history.
The present chapter closes with God’s solemn asseveration to Abram, promising him the land and the “seed” (vv. 14–18). Unfortunately the rich ambivalence of this latter noun (zera‘ in Hebrew, sperma in Greek, semen in Latin) is lost in more recent translations that substitute the politically correct but entirely prosaic “descendants” for “seed” (vv. 15–16).
Besides Sodom, two other important Canaanite cities are introduced in this chapter, Bethel (still called Luz at this period—cf. 28:19) and Hebron. Both of these cities will be extremely important in subsequent biblical history, and Abram is credited with making each of them a place of worship (vv. 4, 18).
Patrick Henry Reardon, Creation and the Patriarchal Histories: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Genesis (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2008), 70–71.
St. John Chrysostom on the trip from Egypt.
(5) Do you see the extent of God’s providence? Abram left to find relief from famine, and came back not simply enjoying relief from famine but invested with great wealth and untold reputation, his identity well-known to everyone: now the inhabitants of Canaan gained a more precise idea of the good man’s virtue by seeing this sudden transformation that had taken place—the stranger who had gone down into Egypt as a refugee and vagabond now flush with so much wealth. Notice how he had not become less resolute or devoted under the influence of great prosperity or the abundance of wealth, but rather he pressed on once more to that place where he had formerly been before going down into Egypt. “He went into the desert,” the text says, “to the place where his tent had formerly been, to the place of the altar which he had made there in the beginning. He called on the name of the Lord God.”
St. John Chrysostom on Abram’s gift to Lot.
(15) “Abram stayed in the land of Canaan,” the text goes on, “whereas Lot settled in the cities of the region, pitching his tent in Sodom. Now, the people of Sodom were very wicked sinners in God’s sight.” Do you observe Lot having regard only for the nature of the land and not considering the wickedness of the inhabitants? What good, after all, is fertility of land and abundance of produce when the inhabitants are evil in their ways? On the other hand, what harm could come from solitude and a simple lifestyle when the inhabitants are more restrained? …
St. Ambrose goes deeper.
“He was very rich,” as is natural for one who was not lacking in any good thing, who did not covet the goods of others, because he lacked nothing of what he would have wished to regard as his own. For this is what it means to be rich: to have what is sufficient to satisfy one’s own desires. Frugality has a measure. Richness does not. Its measure is in the will of the seeker. He was rich in cattle, in silver and gold. What does this mean? I do not think that the intention is to praise the riches of this world but the righteousness of this man. Thus I understand cattle to be the bodily senses, because they are irrational. Silver represents the word and gold the mind. Abraham was indeed rich, because he was in control of his irrational senses. Indeed, he tamed them and made them docile, so that they might participate in rationality. His word was radiant with the brightness of faith, purified by the grace of spiritual discipline. His mind was full of prudence. And this is why the good mind is compared with gold, because just as gold is more precious than other metals, so the good mind is the best part among those that make up the human substance. So the richness of the wise man consists in these three things: in sensation, in word and in mind. Their order establishes a gradation, as we read also in the apostle: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”4 The mind too, then, is the greatest, because it is the mind that grinds the spiritual grain to purify the senses and the word. The character of the wise man is preserved at every point.
So it is that through the simple facts of Abraham’s life great doctrines are expounded and illustrated. Rich indeed is the one who enriches even the arguments of the philosophers, who would formulate their precepts on the basis of his conduct. It was his riches, then, that Scripture had brought to light.
Chapter 14. War and a Mysterious Priest
Background. Chederloamer controlled the area north and east of Canaan., ruling over at many kings/kingdoms. Five rulers in the south, including the kings of both Sodom and Gomorrah went into rebellion against him. Chederloamer won and took possessions, food, and slaves, including Lot (whom they may have targeted). Note from the Divine Council worldview: there were giants on both sides. Jewish commentators even put Nimrod (as a loyal king) and Og (losing side – messenger to Abraham), but this is pure speculation (but the names of the tribes are associated with the Nephalim).
Abram, now looking like a warlord, takes mean and “smote them.” The king of Sodom comes out of hiding and asks for his stuff. Again showing his meekness, Abram keeps very little, except some for the allies who came with him.
St. John Chrysostom, On the battles;
Consider in this case, I ask you, dearly beloved, the greatness of heart exemplified in the just man’s virtue. Trusting in the power of God, he was not cowed by the force of the enemy when he learned of the rout they had caused, first by falling upon all the tribes and prevailing against the Amalekites and all the others, and then by engaging the Sodomites, putting them to flight and seizing all their property (?). The reason, you see, why sacred Scripture described all this to us ahead of time, as well as all they achieved through their bravery, was that you might learn that the patriarch prevailed against them not by physical strength but through faith in God. [He] achieved all this under the protection of help from on high, not by wielding weapons and arrows and spears or by drawing bows or raising shields but with a few retainers of his own household.
Note that St. Ambrose shows that the number 318 is the number of Chist’s crusifiction (T IH in Greek).
Now for the REAL FUN: Melchizedek (14:18-20)
Most important: type of Christ and the Eucharist.
The Christian interpretation of the story of Melchizedek begins with Hebrews 7, where Melchizedek is interpreted with the help of Psalm 109(110):4 as a figure of Christ the true high priest.
Hebrews 7:1-3,15-17, 24-26 (quoted in Fr. Patrick Reardon).
Abraham’s encounter with the king of Sodom reveals God’s providence (CHRYSOSTOM). The offering of bread and wine, not mentioned by the author of Hebrews, is seen to increase the resemblance between Melchizedek and Christ (CYPRIAN). Melchizedek is also identified with Shem, the son of Noah, who had received the priesthood from his father (EPHREM). Melchizedek resembles Christ in that he had no family history (CHRYSOSTOM). With Melchi-zedek there first appeared the sacrifice now offered by Christians (AUGUSTINE). The fact that Abraham offered tithes to Melchizedek shows that he was humble even in victory (AMBROSE).
Mark Sheridan, ed., Genesis 12–50, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 25.
And from the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible;
According to Josephus, Melchizedek was the first one to build the temple and to act as priest of →God. In Ant. I 179–181 the story of Gen 14:18–20 is told with some minor embellishments. The name of Melchizedek is mentioned and again translated as ‘righteous king’. Josephus adds that by common consent this was what he was and that for that reason Melchizedek was made priest of God. In both places Melchizedek is described as king and priest.
In Philo’s perspective Melchizedek as a king and priest does not cease to be an historical person but at the same time serves as the embodiment of the divine orthos logos and transcends history.
In the Melchizedek text from Qumran cave 4, Melchizedek serves as the deliverer prophesied in Isaiah and Psalm 82 and a divine being assisted by the host of heaven.
J. Reiling, “Melchizedek,” ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 561.
Sun, 19 November 2023
Ephesians 2:14-22. Fr. Anthony gives his brain a much needed break by reading the homily. It's on his favorite theme - harmonious and joyful unity in Christ. Enjoy the show!
Homily – On Unity (Ephesians 2: 14-22)
The Reading from the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Ephesians. [2:14-22]: Christ is our peace, Who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, * by abolishing in His Flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, * and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. * And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; * for through Him we both have access in One Spirit to the Father. * So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, * built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, * in Whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; * in Whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The mystery of unity.
Unity is one of the primary mysteries of the world. We yearn for it – the desire to be understood, to be recognized, to be loved, to be valued, to be needed – these are all dim reminders that we are called to a deep and enduring fellowship; a fellowship that nurtures us and allows us to nurture others so that we all grow towards God and perfection together.
This reality of unity is proclaimed throughout scripture (most powerfully in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer found in the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 17). It flows and emanates from the pre-existing foundational reality of the Trinity: three Persons united into one God. Today I want you to note how many times we refer to and pray this reality our liturgy – it permeates our prayers, empowers our Sacraments, and informs every aspect of our faith.
It is this unity that St. Paul is professing in today’s epistle reading. The specific case he is referring to is the unity of Jews and Gentiles, but this is a subset of a more generalized phenomenon. And it is this phenomenon that I want to address today.
If it (unity) really is the answer to so many of our deepest psychological and spiritual needs - to be understood, recognized, loved, needed, valued – needs that have thus far been poorly addressed and misdiagnosed, how is it to be achieved? How can we have the peace that St. Paul promises? The joy that God desires for us? Three points.
1. Must be recreated.
Listen to St. John Chrysostom as he makes this point;
Observe thou, that it is not that the Gentile is become a Jew, but that both the one and the other are entered into another condition. It was not with a view of merely making this last other than he was, but rather, in order to create the two anew. And well does he on all occasions employ the word “create,” and does not say “change,” in order to point out the power of what was done, and that even though this creation is invisible, yet it is a real creation, and this must be our starting point…. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily V on Ephesians)
The goal is not to make all Americans into Syrians or Syrians into Greeks or Europeans into Africans or Asians into Persians: the point is to make all into something new and greater; a new man, a new woman, and new mankind. To create a new body, a new mind, a new soul. There is a name for this new man, this new Adam – we call him a Christian; and there is a name for the union of such new persons – we call it the Church.
2. Must go through the Cross.
St. Paul makes it clear in today’s reading that the way to achieve reconciliation and peace is through the Cross. The Cross destroys the old man, the one that is selfish and small, the one who filters even the best concepts, such as love and charity, through the filter of his own ego. There can be no real union with someone who is only interested in what they get from the other person; who only wants to be a friend to puff themselves up; who only wants to be a lover in order to satisfy himself. This filter of egoism is deeply rooted – the science of psychology demonstrates how our pride affects (and contaminates) everything we do. The problem is that even actions that look good are counter-productive for purposes of true union if they are not done with the proper spirit. Politeness and pretty words may be enough to satisfy the needs of civility and cooperation, but not to achieve the kind of peace that we were made for – and for which we so deeply long. The only way to deal with this deep-rooted weed of pride is to pull it up and destroy it. The only way to fix this old man is to hang him on the cross. It will be painful, but the new man that is resurrected will be capable of so many beautiful things; things that the old man cannot even dream of. He will gain true meaning and lasting happiness.
At least, he will gain these things until that weed comes back and the old man rears his ugly head once again. Our first death and recreation take place at baptism – all the others take place at confession (the baptisms of tears) This dynamic of unity and crucifixion is a continual one – until the time when the fruit of the resurrection is enjoyed in its fullness.
3. All members of the union must do it
If not? Dysfunction. Lies. Despondency. We know this because we have seen dysfunctional relationships. We have seen the heartbreak it causes when both members of a marriage are not “all in”. We have seen how one spouse will enable the other spouse’s egoism in an attempt to make their union last; but unless there is change, unless both partners sacrifice themselves for their love, then this is a false union. This is why the courting process is so important – and why it really should involve both time and the advice of wise and loving friends and family. We have seen how unequal yoking can destroy people and the institution of marriage itself – this is bad enough. But [as St. Paul points out] marriage is an icon of something even greater: the Church. And the damage done when all its members – and especially its leaders – are not “all in” is even greater.
Conclusion: falling in love – and staying there
I fear that I have taken something beautiful and turned it into a bit of a bogeyman. Speaking about crosses can give the wrong idea. It’s not all about pain. It’s about connection. Not just the connection that comes from falling in love (which is fun), but the harmony that comes from staying there. There is nothing more enjoyable because it is what we were made for. Christ has destroyed the wall of division. Through Him we can harmony and holiness through fellowship.
So fall in love with Christ; give your heart to Him. Only through Him is such a blessed union possible. It is through Him that we are remade, free from the division and divisiveness of sin. He was incarnate, suffered and died, and was resurrected for this very purpose. So open your heart to him and give him all your love, all your trust; your mind, your body, and your soul – and then learn to love your neighbor as yourself. He will grant you peace in Him and with His saints.
This is the joyful unity we are called to, and it is why we are here. Unity through Christ is the purpose of this parish and the reason for our membership in it.
Thu, 16 November 2023
Father Speak a Work - Preaching as a Job Interview for Confession
St. John of the Ladder writes "we ought first to question and examine, and even, so to speak, test our helmsman, so as not to mistake the sailor for the pilot, a sick man for a doctor, a passionate for a dispassionate man, the sea for a harbor, and so bring about the speedy shipwreck of our soul." While he was writing for monastics, it is also important that non-monastic believers use discernment when selecting a spiritual father. In this episode, Fr. Anthony talks with Fr. Gregory about this, starting with the idea that the way the priest preaches and interacts with people during coffee hour serves as a sort of job interview for selection as confessor. Fr. Gregory is an ideal interlocutor on this, not just because he has a Ph.D. in Personality Theory and Religion, but because he has faced significant challenges during his priestly service and come through them stronger and, glory to God, wiser. You can read Fr. Gregory's work at his substacks, Father Speak a Word (on the Desert Fathers) and Orthodox Social Thought, from Cruelty to Charity. You can also follow him on X/Twitter at @frgregoryj. He is the priest of Sts. Cyril and Methodius mission in Madison WI. Enjoy the show!
Direct download: 20231116-PreachingasanApplicationforConfession.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 7:17pm EST
Wed, 15 November 2023
Genesis 11:22-12:20. We start with a review of the latter part of Shem's genealogy, go through Abram's movement to Haran, his father's death, his movement to Canaan, and his time in Egypt (!). The latter included a discussion of Abram and Sarai's deception (half-truth). We rely primarily on St. John Chrysostom for our understanding. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 12 November 2023
In today's Introduction to Orthodoxy class, Fr. Anthony follows up on Sdn. Scott's excellent class last week (alas, unrecorded!). Whereas Sdn. Scott covered the theology and history of confession, Fr. Anthony gave practical advice on how to prepare and how confession is done at Christ the Savior in Anderson SC. Enjoy the show!
Sun, 12 November 2023
Luke 10:25-37; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11. "Some days it starts out chicken and ends up duck". That was definitely the case today. Fr. Anthony is planning on reading his homilies for a while to give his brain a much-needed break. Enjoy the show!
Wed, 1 November 2023
What happens when Fr. Anthony talks about his favorite subjects (the supernatural, the paranormal, the Scriptures, and Theology) without notes? Well, it's a bit of a meandering mess of well-intentioned talk. Enjoy the show!