Author Archives: Fr Gregory Jensen

About Fr Gregory Jensen

Together with my wife Mary, I entered the Orthodox Church on the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (15 August) in 1991. On the feast of st Nicholas (6 December 1996) I was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by His Eminence Metropolitan MAXIMOS at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Pittsburgh, PA.

It’s Time to Say Goodbye

Christ is Risen!

After almost 20 years of keeping a blog, I’ve decided I will close down this site at the end of summer, 2022.  You can find my posts on the desert fathers and Orthodox social teaching on substack: https://frgregoryj.substack.com/ and https://ost2022.substack.com/ respectively, Thank you for two great decades of conversation.

In Christ,

Fr Gregory

We Have Forgotten Forgiveness

Peggy Noonan in today’s Wall Street Journal writes:
But what is the meaning of Appomattox? What explains the wisdom and mercy shown? How does a nation do that, produce it?
As you see these past weeks, I have been back to my history books. You learn a lot that way, not only about the country and the world and “man,” but even yourself. Would you have let your enemy go home in dignity, with the horses and guns? And not bring the law down on their heads? And the answer—what does that tell you about you?
The now largely forgotten lesson of the American Civil War is this: What binds Americans as a nation is not so much a commitment to liberty but to forgiveness. It is here that the animosities of the “Old World” could be set aside.
To be sure, as the Civil War also demonstrates, we created our own new American animosities chief (though hardly the only) among them slavery.
But now the lessons of the War Between the States are fading. We no longer see, or maybe even want to see, in those with whom we disagree the nobility and good intentions mixed with their error. Forgiveness doesn’t deny error but sees the goodness hidden within the mistake.
This is also the lesson of the Cross.
God sees the goodness of those who crucify Him even when that goodness is twisted and disfigured beyond all merely human recognition. There is nothing weak or sentimental in the words Jesus speaks from the Cross: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” because He bars in His own flesh the cost of those words.
America’s role, if not quite a vocation, as “an almost chosen people,” is not to be perfect, not to export democracy, or police the world by force of arms. Rather, we offer an often failed example of a nation built not on blood or soil or philosophy but on the mundane practice of forgiveness.
And how could our example be anything other than failed? After all, forgiveness is the response to failure.
This is the lesson of the Civil War, that what binds us as Americans and as human beings is forgiveness. If we have forgotten this lesson as a nation, it is because Christians, those Jesus calls yeast in the dough of humanity, have forgotten the lesson of the Cross.
A blessed and peaceful Good Friday to all.

 

Archpastoral Exhortation Regarding the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

This is a slightly edited version of the public address Archbishop Elpidophoros delivered on Monday, April 4th, at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Port Washington, NY, at the beginning of an event entitled “Understanding the Role of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.” The event was sponsored by the Order of St. Andrew.

(Public Orthodoxy) The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a sorrowful and, indeed, painful subject for us all. This unjust, fratricidal war must not be laid at the feet of our Russian Sisters and Brothers, who are being deceived and victimized by their leaders—both civil and religious. Even the poor Russian soldiers being sent as cannon fodder into Ukraine deserve our sympathy and our prayers. But for those committing atrocities, there will be justice—in this life or the next.

The images coming out of Bucha fill our hearts with much pain and righteous outrage. As we contemplate the loss of innocent life—especially of children—I ask this one thing: please join me in a moment of silent prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of all those who are suffering.

Thank you, and thank you for standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Thank you for extending mercy and compassion to all victims of this barbarity, especially for those who are suffering most directly in Ukraine as they defend their homeland. They have seen their fellow citizens—innocent, non-combatants—brutally and mercilessly slaughtered by invaders.

But it is too easy just to condemn Russians as a whole. We must extend our compassion to those Russians are standing up and speaking out against this immoral and senseless conflict; to those mourning the deaths of their sons, who were sent to die for the vanity and madness of others; and to the ordinary people, who are suffering from economic sanctions that their rulers—political and ecclesiastical alike—avoid without harm.

We must also thank those who defend the truth against the onslaught of lies being perpetrated to justify this unjustifiable war—lies that circulate even here in the United States.

When we contemplate the “role” of the Moscow Patriarchate in this conflict, we must first marvel at the question itself. Should it not be clear that the Church—by its very nature—is opposed to such a fabricated conflict? Certainly, we should all hope so! But what is more insidious, is the fact that the attackers themselves are the Christian brothers and sisters of the very ones they are being sent to kill and destroy!

It calls to mind what Abraham Lincoln said during America’s bloody Civil War, just a few weeks before it ended:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God,and each invokes His aid against the other.” (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865)

This invasion is of one sovereign nation against another. But make no mistake; this unjust military aggression is also causing a needless, religious civil war.

In this respect, responsibility for condoning such unrighteousness rests squarely on the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and, especially, on Patriarch Kirill.

We all remember what the members of the Sanhedrin cried out, as the unjust Pilate sat in judgment against our Lord Jesus Christ:

         “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

Based upon the words and actions of Patriarch Kirill since the start of the war, we can conclude he has made a similar bargain with Putin and his cronies. This is, indeed, a sad moment for our Church.  And the whole world is watching.

Remarkably, these actions are in stark contrast to the Moscow Patriarchate’s own Metropolitan of Kyiv, His Eminence Onuphry, who has stood with his flock despite the silence of his brother bishops across the border. One can only hope that the Ukrainian Orthodox—who are divided between the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, under His Beatitude Metropolitan Epiphanios, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate—will find a bridge of fraternity and solidarity to come together as Orthodox Christian brethren, so as to sustain their fellow Ukrainians.

In the meantime, even as we learn from tonight’s dialogue, let us take to heart the words of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Just a few days ago, among Ukrainian refugees in Poland, our Patriarch taught us all how we must approach those who lives are being ruined—Ukrainians and Russians alike—by this unconscionable war.  He said

[C]ontinue to remember that—but for the grace of God—anyone of us could be in their vulnerable position;Then your hearts will melt.Their fears will become your fears,their pain will penetrate your own body,their hopes will become your hopes,and this entire crisis will be the standard by which your identity and love are measured and judged.

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.

Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of America is the eighth Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The Bitter Fruit of an Unjust War, an Unjust Peace

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is immoral under the just war doctrine and illegal under international law. It now seems clear that whatever the (morally flawed) intention of launching the war, Putin is now intent on imposing an even more sinful unjust peace by systematically waging war in such a way as to undermine the ability of the Ukrainian government to govern. Or as Eric Patterson, Ph.D., executive vice president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, DC, writes:

“As we enter the third week of the Russian invasion, part of Moscow’s operational plan seems to be to cause as much destruction and mayhem as possible. Why do this? To create disorder. It is not clear what Russia’s original game plan was, but at this point, the shelling of cities suggests an increasingly scorched-earth approach that is designed to decimate Ukraine before Russian troops pull back to some sort of defensible line. This creation of a sort of buffer wasteland, in tandem with a spiteful wanton destruction designed to punish Ukraine for fighting back, is, at its root, a policy specifically designed to erode the ability of Ukraine’s government to provide the three essential elements of political order: governance, domestic security, and international security (i.e., freedom from imminent external threats).”

Paranoid Fantasies

Unfortunately, there are Orthodox Christians spouting much the same kind of paranoid conspiracy theories as Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States:

For years now, the archbishop has been issuing “declarations,” increasingly conspiratorial in their analysis of matters ecclesiastical, political, epidemiological, and vaccinal. Archbishop Viganò’s March 6 encyclical, a 10,000-word “Declaration on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis,” took this conspiracy-mania into Grace-Groundling-Marchpole territory. Among its manifestly false claims:

  • Virtually everything you may think you know about the war in Ukraine is a “gross falsification of the mainstream media,” and anyone who does not accept the archbishop’s claims is a victim of the “brainwashing carried out by the mainstream media.”
  • President Biden and the European Union are executing a “criminal plan” to “make impossible any attempt at a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis, provoking the Russian Federation to trigger a conflict.”What you think you have seen of dead civilians and civilian infrastructure (including a maternity hospital), deliberately destroyed by Russian missiles, bombs, and artillery fire, is really the West’s fault.
  • Anyone who cares about the truth should lament the West’s blackout of Russia Today and Sputnik.
  • Ukraine’s Maidan “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013–14 was “an operation sponsored by George Soros.”
  • There are “neo-Nazi military forces” in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has “for eight years now continued to persecute Russian-speaking Ukrainians with impunity.”
  • Therefore “the Ukrainian people, regardless of what ethnic group they belong to, are merely the latest unwitting hostages of the supranational totalitarian regime that brought the economies of the entire world to their knees through the COVID deception, after publicly theorizing about the need to decimate the world population and transform the survivors into chronically ill patients who have irreparably compromised their immune systems.”
  • Yet there is hope: The “Third Rome”—the Russian Orthodox patriarchate of Moscow—may yet lead humanity to a better future.

 

Source: Archbishop Viganò and Colonel Grace-Groundling-Marchpole | George Weigel | First Things

Ethno-phyletist & Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

As anyone who knows me might guess, I am significantly further to the right than the Orthodox faculty at Fordham (and most likely any of the original signers of this document). That said, I think their fundamental point is correct theologically, morally, and politically when they say:

 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, is a historic threat to a people of Orthodox Christian tradition. More troubling still for Orthodox believers, the senior hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church has refused to acknowledge this invasion, issuing instead vague statements about the necessity for peace in light of “events” and “hostilities” in Ukraine, while emphasizing the fraternal nature of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples as part of “Holy Rus’,” blaming the hostilities on the evil “West”, and even directing their communities to pray in ways that actively encourage hostility.

The support of many of the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate for President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is rooted in a form of Orthodox ethno-phyletist religious fundamentalism, totalitarian in character, called Russkii mir orthe Russian world, a false teaching which is attracting many in the Orthodox Church and has even been taken up by the Far Right and Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists.

The speeches of President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill (Gundiaev) of Moscow (Moscow Patriarchate) have repeatedly invoked and developed Russian world ideology over the last 20 years. In 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea and initiated a proxy war in the Donbas area of Ukraine, right up until the beginning of the full-fledged war against Ukraine and afterwards, Putin and Patriarch Kirill have used Russian world ideology as a principal justification for the invasion. The teaching states that there is a transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or Holy Rus’, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world. It holds that this “Russian world” has a common political centre (Moscow), a common spiritual centre (Kyiv as the “mother of all Rus’’), a common language (Russian), a common church (the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in ‘symphony’ with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.

Against this “Russian world” (so the teaching goes) stands the corrupt West, led by the United States and Western European nations, which has capitulated to “liberalism”, “globalization”, “Christianophobia”, “homosexual rights” promoted in gay parades, and “militant secularism”. Over and against the West and those Orthodox who have fallen into schism and error (such as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and other local Orthodox churches that support him) stands the Moscow Patriarchate, along with Vladimir Putin, as the true defenders of Orthodox teaching, which they view in terms of traditional morality, a rigorist and inflexible understanding of tradition, and veneration of Holy Russia.

Since the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill in 2009, the leading figures of the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as spokespersons of the Russian State, have continually drawn on these principles to thwart the theological basis of Orthodox unity. The principle of the ethnic organization of the Church was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 1872. The false teaching of ethno-phyletism is the basis for “Russian world” ideology. If we hold such false principles as valid, then the Orthodox Church ceases to be the Church of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Ecumenical Councils, and the Fathers of the Church. Unity becomes intrinsically impossible.

Therefore, we reject the “Russian world” heresy and the shameful actions of the Government of Russia in unleashing war against Ukraine which flows from this vile and indefensible teaching with the connivance of the Russian Orthodox Church, as profoundly un-Orthodox, un-Christian and against humanity, which is called to be “justified… illumined… and washed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (Baptismal Rite). Just as Russia has invaded Ukraine, so too the Moscow Patriarchate of Patriarch Kirill has invaded the Orthodox Church, for example in Africa, causing division and strife, with untold casualties not just to the body but to the soul, endangering the salvation of the faithful.

You can read the whole document here: Public Orthodoxy.

In Christ,

Fr Gregory

Must I Speak Out?

On social media, in sermons, private correspondences, and with my parishioners and brother clergy, I have been consistent in my vocal protest of Putin’s criminal and deeply sinful invasion of Ukraine. Along the way, some people have asked me if I think they have a moral obligation to condemn the war. This can be an especially painful question for my Russian friends and parishioners who feel torn between what they see in the media and their quite reasonable and praiseworthy love of Russia.

So the short answer is, no, no one has an obligation to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. Let me explain.

Not everyone must speak out against every injustice. To demand this of yourself or others is simply to add one more injustice to human life. Besides this, in a fallen world attempting to fulfill such a demand would overwhelm us paralyzing both ourselves and society.

At the same time whether by word or our example, to counsel silence, or what is worse, to require silence as the hallmark of Christian piety is wholly misguided and represents a serious abdication of our obligations as Christians. Why?

I think the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich gives us a good answer:

The Holy is not only that which is; the Holy is also that which ought to be, that which demands justice above all. If, therefore, a religion neglects its social and political implications, a reaction of the neglected side occurs and may be not only victorious over but also destructive of the whole sacramental system.

Theology of Culture (Oxford University Press 1959), pg. 182.

As Orthodox Christians, we believe that in taking on our nature, the Son takes on the whole of human life. Not just the soul or the body, but culture, society, politics, and all human endeavors. All of these are assumed by the Son and so come to share in the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4).

To require a person to speak out violates their dignity every bit as much as forbidding them from speaking. Likewise, with manipulating them to either speak or remain silent.

We cannot correct one injustice by committing another.

In Christ,

Fr Gregory

He came to office, it seems, on a platform of little else except his clowning…

A photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looking at the side.

Among the ins and outs of the war in Ukraine, the heroism of the speeches and public appearances of Zelensky stands out as something unlikely to be revised by history.Photograph by Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum

…particularly his role in a comedy series about the elevation of an ordinary bumbler to the Ukrainian Presidency. If he had a platform, we were assured when he ran for President, in 2019, it lay in mockery—particularly of his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, who conveyed a hard-edged appearance of authority. Once, when called a clown, Zelensky did not argue, but posted a video on Instagram of his own face with a big red nose upon it. The refusal to act like a grownup infuriated Zelensky’s opponents as much as Groucho Marx infuriated his political opponents in Fredonia, in “Duck Soup,” with his unseriousness.
In interviews with the French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy in 2019, Zelensky made it clear that he was quite aware of the interconnection between his place as a clown and his role as a leader. When Lévy asked him if he could make even Vladimir Putin laugh “just as he had made all Russians laugh,” Zelensky insisted that he could. Though, he then added, “This man does not see; he has eyes, but does not see; or, if he does look, it’s with an icy stare, devoid of all expression.” They are eerie words, since one of Bakhtin’s other great themes was, so to speak, the politics of gazing, how we emancipate ourselves from our own solipsism by trying to see life through the eyes of another—a thing no dictator or tyrant can achieve. “Laughter is a weapon that is fatal to men of marble,” Zelensky told Lévy, aphoristically.

Source: Volodymyr Zelensky’s Comedic Courage | The New Yorker

A Patriarchal Call for War

Here is the link to Patriarch Kyrill’s sermon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy (here). The link is to the Google translation since, like his Cheesefare sermon, it is not available on the Patriarchate’s English site.

I won’t bother offering any analysis on the veiled anti-semitism of a comment like this:

To all those who “waver along with the fluctuation of power,” it must be said: but after all, our Church has gone through the trials of this very wavering and has survived, despite persecution and oppression. And today, starting from our own historical experience, we must say: we respect secular authorities, but we reserve the right to be free from interference by authorities in the internal life of the Church. We hope that this will be the case on Ukrainian soil, although today even the commemoration of the name of the Patriarch in the temple for some becomes impossible for fear for the sake of the Jews (John 19:38).

Instead, I would draw your attention to his Holiness’s final words:

Sorrow and sorrow will pass, but it is very important that this sorrow and sorrow does not weaken our inner spiritual strength. If we endure, then our Russian land will be preserved, which now includes Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and our Church, whose children live in different states almost all over the planet. And we believe that the Lord will be with us if we preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, the guardians of which we especially remember on the first Sunday of Great Lent. Amen. whose children live in different states almost all over the planet. And we believe that the Lord will be with us if we preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, the guardians of which we especially remember on the first Sunday of Great Lent. Amen. whose children live in different states almost all over the planet. And we believe that the Lord will be with us if we preserve the purity of the Orthodox faith, the guardians of which we especially remember on the first Sunday of Great Lent. Amen.

All I will say in response is that there is no contrition in these words for his public support for an unjust war; there is no sense of even the possibility that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is unjust. Much less does his Holiness reference the fact that Russia is targeting civilians or that war crimes are being committed. What we get instead is a call to arms to reunite–by violence if necessary–the nations that once composed the Soviet empire.

And like his Cheesefare sermon, it is hard not to hear this sermon as a call to arms. Kyrill is rallying the troops to launch a war against the West. Whether this comes to pass only God knows. But the call is there. We who live in the West are the enemy.

As I said several times before, Ukraine is the battlefield, but the war is against the West.

Hope you are well in these trying times.

In Christ,

Fr Gregory

 

In Christ,

 

Fr Gregory