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.

Covid-19 vaccination is not the hill to die on

The first thing to note is that a vaccine mandate, even if ill-advised in some cases, is not per se or intrinsically immoral. Most Catholics acknowledge this in the case of other vaccines. For example, few complain about the fact that schools have long required measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines as a condition for attendance. Whether or not it is a good idea for a school, a government, a business corporation, or any other authority to impose some particular vaccine mandate is a matter of prudential judgment. Hence, the Covid-19 vaccine mandates cannot reasonably be objected to simply on the grounds that they are mandates. A reasonable objection would have to be based instead on the judgment that they involve a failure of prudence.

But how prudent or imprudent a policy is is a matter of degree. A certain tax policy, for example, might be extremely wise, merely defensible, merely ill-advised, outright foolish, or extremely foolish. The same thing can be true of a vaccine mandate. In my opinion, Covid-19 vaccine mandates of the kind now in play in California are somewhere between ill-advised and foolish. For one thing, I do not believe it has been shown that such mandates (as opposed to voluntary compliance) are necessary in order effectively to deal with the virus. That suffices to make them a bad idea, because imposing a vaccine mandate is a significant enough infringement on personal liberty that the authority imposing it faces a high burden of proof.

For another thing, when citizens are highly polarized about some policy that has merely prudential considerations in its favor, that is itself a serious reason for a public authority not to impose it, especially if the skeptical part of the population is already distrustful of the authority and sees the policy (whether correctly or not) as a crisis of conscience. This is just basic statesmanship. When polarization and distrust are already very high, the aim should be to reduce them, and to try as far as possible to accommodate those who have reservations. Heavy-handed policies like vaccine mandates will inevitably have the opposite effect.

Source: Edward Feser: Covid-19 vaccination is not the hill to die on

The question of trans rights has been settled by the Supreme Court.

What we’re dealing with now is something very different. It’s an assault on science; it’s an assault on reality; it’s an attempt not to defend trans people but to cynically use them as pawns in a broader effort to dismantle the concept of binary sex altogether, to remove any distinctions between men and women, so that a gender-free utopia/dystopia can be forced into being.

The use of trans people in this way follows a pattern. The woke left uses gay people in the same way: calling all of us “queer” to ensure our continued marginalization, merging us into postmodern categories like “LGBTQIA+” to deny our distinctive human experiences, erasing gay men and lesbians whose politics are not far-left and whose lives are not much different than our straight friends, describing gay men who are attracted to the same sex and not always the same gender as transphobes, literally falsifying history and re-making the English language to make it conform to their ideology.

The weapons deployed in pursuit of this fantasy are those that are always used by those seeking to impose utopia on free people: the brutal hounding of dissent, the capture and control of every single cultural institution, the indoctrination of the young, cancellations, bullying. The costs are mounting. Across the West, people are being fired, targeted, prosecuted, even jailed, for stating biological facts. Children are being medicated with off-label drugs — “puberty blockers” — that can permanently sterilize them, arrest their neurological and mental development, and deprive them of the ability as adults to experience an orgasm.

Source: Dave Chappelle Is Right, Isn’t He? – by Andrew Sullivan – The Weekly Dish

Fredric March & the University of Wisconsin

(Oshkosh Examiner) On Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, nearly 40 individuals and departments associated with the University of Wisconsin Madison and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh were emailed this letter, which criticized each school’s treatment of the legacy of acting legend Fredric March and asked them to reconsider their decisions to remove his name from campus facilities.

The signatories, also listed below, include the two top officials of the NAACP, Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr., the late Ed Asner, eminent scholars and activists, and descendants of March.

Rebecca Blank, chancellor of UW Madison, responded by writing a letter to the editor of The New York Times, which broke the news of the March letter.

Also below is an open letter from historian George Gonis in reply to Blank’s arguments.

SUBJECT: Racial-Justice Icons, Flagship Civil Rights Groups Ask UW, UWO to Reconsider Fredric March

September 2021

Dear University of Wisconsin-Madison & University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Communities,

We the undersigned write you today because it has come to our attention that – due to the efforts of well-intentioned, nobly motivated students, administrators and community members guided solely by social-media rumor and grievously fact-free, mistaken conclusions – the name of Wisconsin native and Golden Age acting icon Fredric March (b. 1897) was stripped from both UW-Madison’s Fredric March Play Circle (in late 2018) and UW-Oshkosh’s Fredric March Theatre (in late 2020). These name removals took place when enough people chose to believe mere word of mouth that the two-time Oscar winner and two-time Tony winner was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (or its offshoot) and a white supremacist.

We know emphatically that not only was Fredric March not any of these —  by a measure of 180 degrees — but that he was, to the contrary, for more than five decades one of 20th-century Hollywood’s earliest, greatest and most boisterous racial-justice activists. Indeed, for 30-plus-years – through the end of his life – he was a close ally of the NAACP upon whom the organization knew it could rely.  And so we remain confused as to why, on both Wisconsin campuses, the avalanche of readily accessible primary- and secondary-source materials detailing Mr. March’s loud, concerted and enduring lifetime commitment to fighting racism and anti-Semitism was never pursued, discovered, consulted, heard or made public – and why neither UW-Madison nor UW-Oshkosh has moved to correct this clear and unconscionable rejection of conspicuously demonstrable historic truth and academic rigor.

Moreover, our statements here have been supported on the public record by a number of nationally revered and respected progressive academics and historians – and by individuals who actually knew Mr. March – including Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch III (founding director of the John Lewis-birthed National Museum of African American History & Culture); civil rights author and professor Raymond Arsenault; performer/activist Harry Belafonte; actor/activist James Cromwell; and late UW-Madison professor Max Otto (Clarence Darrow/“Fighting Bob” La Follette intimate, NAACP compatriot and internationally acclaimed humanist philosopher).

When it comes to labeling Mr. March a civil rights hero, what other conclusion could one come to about a man who: Continue reading

Laugh A Little More

… the current tendency toward the politicization of every aspect of social life, including even sports and entertainment, is evil.  And it would remain evil even if the political causes in question were themselves good (as, these days, they typically are not).  You cannot have the fellow-feeling required for a society to hold together without some area of life in which disputes are put on hold, tensions are eased, and common goods are enjoyed.  In American life, sports, popular culture, holidays, and the like have long performed that function, especially as the country has gotten more secular.  But as “wokeness” has extended its tentacles into even these areas of life, there is little if anything left to do the job.

Source: Edward Feser: Aquinas on humor and social life

Sunday, August 9 (OS July 26), 2021: Tone 6; 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus, and Hermocrates at Nicomedia (ca. 305); Ven. Moses the Hungarian, of the Kyivan Caves (the Near Cave) (1043); Martyr Parasceve of Rome (138-161); Ven. Gerontius, founder of the Skete of St. Anne, Mt. Athos (13th c.)

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

The Apostle Paul ends his exhortation to “bear with the scruples of the weak” by telling us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us.” To bear with the weak, to serve our neighbor, and work for his salvation even when he criticizes and condemns us for doing so, all these things glorify God.

And not only does this glorify God; it builds the unity of the Church. By bearing with each other we slowly learn to think and speak “with one mind and one mouth.”

To this though, I need to set aside the besetting sin of the Pharisees. For all their learning and authority in life of the Jewish People, the Pharisees were simply busybodies. It offended them that somewhere, someone, had an experience of grace that they–as the “leaders” of the People–hadn’t first approved and sanctioned.

Look at the Gospel we heard this morning.

Once again, Jesus restores sight to the blind and casts out a demon. And, once again, what is the response of the Pharisees, those self-appointed guardians of Israel’s social order and false peace with Rome? They ignore what their eyes tell them and condemn Jesus. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.”

And though He is, once again, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on the People of God. Even as the words of condemnation follow Him, Jesus goes to “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease among the people.”

The Pharisees, these self-appointed guardians of an unjust and uncharitable worldly order, find Jesus to be so offensive because He is truly free. And, once again, they make clear that human freedom is as much an affront to the busybody as any self-serving politician or tyrant.
Our freedom is not found in the crass ability to choose between options. As we’ve seen before, whatever practical value it might have, freedom of choice is inherently self-limiting. Money spent for this is no longer available for that; time that is given to complete this or that project or task vanishes in the doing.

When I limit freedom to merely the exercise of discrete choices, life becomes an unending series of tasks; of ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing benefits. There is never enough time, there is never enough money, there is never enough help. When freedom is for no more for me than the ability to pick between “A” and “B” or between “B” and “A,” communion with God and neighbor slowly evaporates into a life of anxiety and resentment.
And then, one day, I wake up and realize for all the success, for all the people in my life, I am alone and feel like a failure.

It is this life of ever greater loss and increasing isolation that characterizes the life of this world, of the Pharisees, of the busybody. The anger and the jealousy, the divisions, and bitter words, the petty frustrations, anxieties, and fears that characterize the world (in both its secular and religious forms) are the fruit of pursuing a communion that always slips away.
But, to return to St Paul’s admonish this morning, we who are in Christ are called to a different kind of freedom; the freedom of self-sacrifice, of bearing with others in their weakness, of welcoming the stranger, of putting the whole of our life at the service of the salvation of others. When we live in this way, we are not simply imitating Christ, we are not simply channels of grace but ourselves reservoirs of grace from which others can draw as needed for their own salvation.

The Christian’s new freedom doesn’t ignore the practical details of life that so often drive us to distraction. Piety without technique is simply another way of pursuing faith without works and

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17, NKJV).

So what must we do? How then are we to live?

Let me suggest this. Take a moment and simply stop.

And when you stop, say the Jesus Prayer, read a short passage from Scripture, or simply speak to God as one friend speaks to another.

The things that distract me, the obligations that seem to pull me this way, and that are usually not only unavoidable but important and necessary. The temptation is that I all too often allow the good things in life to overwhelm me.

This happens because I see them merely as tasks to be completed, responsibilities to be met rather than what they are.

We are, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says, made of our responsibilities for “the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner.” We have these responsibilities, however, because God has invited us to share in His great love for the world.

In all this, however, God is not a harsh taskmaster or judge but an indulgent Father Who takes delight not only in our success but also accepts graciously our well-intentioned failure. God knows that I am weak and that I struggle to love as He calls me to love. And when, as I inescapably do, I fall short of what love demands, He is there to lift me up, to heal me, and free me from the chains that bind me.

And not just me but you as well.

God knows that we only slowly grow in love for Him and for our neighbor. But, like Jesus in the Gospel this morning, He never turns His back on us even when we fail or when, like the Pharisees, we turn our back on Him.

We can love not simply because God loves us but because He will always love us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Wisconsin rock episode was a textbook demonstration of the difference between…

… sincere activism and playacting, out of a desire to join the civil rights struggle in a time when the problems are so much more abstract than they once were.

The true fault here lies with the school’s administration, whose deer tails popped up as they bolted into the forest, out of a fear of going against the commandments of what we today call antiracism, which apparently includes treating Black people as simpletons and thinking of it as reckoning.

True wokeness would have been to awaken to the tricky but urgent civic responsibility of, when necessary, calling out Black people on nonsense. Yes, even Black people can be wrong. As the Black professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law puts it in his upcoming “Say It Loud!”: “Blacks, too, have flaws, sometimes glaringly so. These weaknesses may be the consequence of racist mistreatment. But they are weaknesses nonetheless.” To pretend this is never the case where racism is concerned is not to reckon but to dehumanize.

I know — you thought, based on what people of a certain charisma are telling you, that the idea is that where race or racism is concerned, Black people are always right. What matters is not what someone meant, but how the (Black) person says he or she feels about it. Anything less is blaming the victim.

The problem is that to subscribe to this etiquette requires consideration beyond what logic dictates. For example, according to the tenets of critical race theory that has such influence on so many these days, each Black person represents a race-wide narrative of oppression that we need to think about regardless of pesky details such as empiricism or even coherence. Or perhaps Black infallibility is just complicated?

Right. All of us, on some level, know that this is nonsense, and readers who think I am making this point only to white people are quite mistaken. I mean all of us. Neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor redlining renders a people’s judgment of where racism has reared its head infallible.

Treating a people with dignity requires not only listening closely and sympathetically to their grievances, but being able to take a deep breath and call them on aspects of those grievances that don’t make sense. And there will be some, unless those airing the grievance are fictional creations instead of human beings.

On race, we should assess, look ahead rather than backward, channel our thoughts and feelings with cortex rather than brain stem, think slow rather than fast — and the notion that this counsel is “white” is science fiction. That goes for both protesters as well as those whom they protest at. Instead, too much of what passes as enlightenment on race these days involves merely pretending that something makes sense out of fear.

The Performative Antiracism of Black Students at the U. of Wisconsin – The New York Times

Why Ss. Cyril & Methodius is On Campus

My parish (Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church) is on the campus of the University of Wisconsin -Madison. We are where we are, primarily to reach out to UW students, faculty, and staff both those who are Orthodox and those who aren’t.

It would be easier for us as a parish to be in one of the suburbs and come on to campus on a regular basis. Rental property around the UW is roughly 30%-50% more expensive than the rest of the city. As a practical matter, this means we are only able to rent a small space. Purchasing land or a building for our own church building will likely be something the priest who (eventually) follows me.

Nevertheless, it is worth being on campus. It is important that the Church have a witness not only at UW-Madison but as the young man in the video says, on all college campuses.

Many Orthodox Christians worry about the culture and what is happening on campus. They worry that their children or grandchildren will fall away from Christ and the Church. Sincere as they are in their concern though they are, Orthodox Christians simply aren’t approaching campus ministry for what it is: a mission field.

Please take a few minutes to watch the OCF video. When you have, consider supporting the OCF with your prayers but also your time, talent, and treasure. Whether you’re concerned about the culture or the 60% of Orthodox Christians who will leave the Church by the time they’re 25 years old please support the OCF. Better yet, support a mission parish within walking distance of campus so that students have access to Christ and His Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Don’t Be A Busybody!

Sunday, August 9 (OS July 26), 2021: Tone 6; 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus, and Hermocrates at Nicomedia (ca. 305); Ven. Moses the Hungarian, of the Kyivan Caves (the Near Cave) (1043); Martyr Parasceve of Rome (138-161); Ven. Gerontius, founder of the Skete of St. Anne, Mt. Athos (13th c.)

Epistle: Romans 15:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 9:27-35

The Apostle Paul ends his exhortation to “bear with the scruples of the weak” by telling us to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us.” To bear with the weak, to serve our neighbor, and work for his salvation even when he criticizes and condemns us for doing so, all these things glorify God.

And not only does this glorify God; it builds the unity of the Church. By bearing with each other we slowly learn to think and speak “with one mind and one mouth.”

To this though, I need to set aside the besetting sin of the Pharisees. For all their learning and authority in the life of the Jewish People, the Pharisees were simply busybodies. It offended them that somewhere, someone had an experience of grace that they–as the “leaders” of the People–hadn’t first approved and sanctioned.

Look at the Gospel we heard this morning.

Once again, Jesus restores sight to the blind and casts out a demon. And, once again, what is the response of the Pharisees, those self-appointed guardians of Israel’s social order and false peace with Rome? They ignore what their eyes tell them and condemn Jesus. “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.”

And though He is, once again, rejected by the religious leaders of Israel, Jesus doesn’t turn His back on the People of God. Even as the words of condemnation follow Him, Jesus goes to “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every disease among the people.”

The Pharisees, these self-appointed guardians of an unjust and uncharitable worldly order, find Jesus to be so offensive because He is truly free. And, once again, they make clear that human freedom is as much an affront to the busybody as any self-serving politician or tyrant. 

Our freedom is not found in the crass ability to choose between options. As we’ve seen before, whatever practical value it might have, freedom of choice is inherently self-limiting. Money spent for this is no longer available for that; time that is given to complete this or that project or task vanishes in the doing.

When I limit freedom to merely the exercise of discrete choices, life becomes an unending series of tasks; of ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing benefits.  There is never enough time, there is never enough money, there is never enough help. When freedom is for no more for me than the ability to pick between “A” and “B” or between  “B” and “A,” communion with God and neighbor slowly evaporates into a life of anxiety and resentment.

And then, one day, I wake up and realize for all the success, for all the people in my life, I am alone and feel like a failure. 

It is this life of ever greater loss and increasing isolation that characterizes the life of this world, of the Pharisees, of the busybody. The anger and the jealousy, the divisions, and bitter words, the petty frustrations, anxieties, and fears that characterize the world (in both its secular and religious forms) are the fruit of pursuing a communion that always slips away.

But, to return to St Paul’s admonish this morning, we who are in Christ are called to a different kind of freedom; the freedom of self-sacrifice, of bearing with others in their weakness, of welcoming the stranger, of putting the whole of our life at the service of the salvation of others. When we live in this way, we are not simply imitating Christ, we are not simply channels of grace but ourselves reservoirs of grace from which others can draw as needed for their own salvation.

The Christian’s new freedom doesn’t ignore the practical details of life that so often drive us to distraction. Piety without technique is simply another way of pursuing faith without works and

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17, NKJV).

So what must we do? How then are we to live?

Let me suggest this. Take a moment and simply stop. 

And when you stop, say the Jesus Prayer, read a short passage from Scripture, or simply speak to God as one friend speaks to another.

The things that distract me, the obligations that seem to pull me this way, and that are usually not only unavoidable but important and necessary. The temptation is that I all too often allow the good things in life to overwhelm me.

This happens because I see them merely as tasks to be completed, responsibilities to be met rather than what they are.

We are, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says, made of our responsibilities for “the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the sojourner.” We have these responsibilities, however, because God has invited us to share in His great love for the world.

In all this, however, God is not a harsh taskmaster or judge but an indulgent Father Who takes delight not only in our success but also accepts our well-intentioned failure. God knows that I am weak and that I struggle to love as He calls me to love. And when, as I inescapably do, I fall short of what love demands, He is there to lift me up, to heal me, and free me from the chains that bind me.

And not just me but you as well.

God knows that we only slowly grow in love for Him and for our neighbor. But, like Jesus in the Gospel this morning, the Father never turns His back on us even when we fail or when, like the Pharisees, we turn our back on Him.

We can love not simply because God loves us but because He will always love us. 

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

When Adults Sin Against the Young

With states like Oregon now eliminating the need to establish proficiency on basic subjects with standardized tests, American education faces the perfect storm. Despite record expenditures on public schools, we are still failing students, particularly minority students, in teaching the basis subjects needed to succeed in life. We will then graduate the students by removing testing barriers for graduation. Then some may go to colleges and universities that have eliminated standardized testing for admission. At every stage in their education, they have been pushed through by educators without objective proof that they are minimally educated. That certainly guarantees high graduation rates or improved diversity admissions. However, these students are still left at a sub-proficient state as they enter an increasingly competitive job market and economy. Any failures will come down the road when they will be asked to write, read, or add by someone who is looking for actual work product. They will then be outside of the educational system and any failures will not be attributed to public educators.

If we truly care for these students, we cannot rig the system to just kick them down the road toward failure. It is like declaring patients healthy by just looking at them and sending them on their way. We have the ability to measure proficiency and we have the moral obligation to face our own failures in helping these kids achieve it.

Source: Oregon Suspends Need For High School Graduates To Be Proficient in Reading, Writing, and Math – JONATHAN TURLEY

How Woke Might End 

From Madison’s (former) Mayor Dave:

the thing about young people is that they change. As they move off college campuses and into jobs and mortgages and child-rearing, they tend to become more practical, if not more conservative. Life’s priorities change. All of a sudden, security and stability matter. Law and order matter. Taxes and basic services matter. In short, I have hope that the kids will grow out of it. Another thing about young people is that they get older and are replaced by a fresh set of young people. That new group always decides, at some point, that their predecessors were wrong, uncool and morally bankrupt. So, I think it’s a fair bet that there will be, say within the next decade, a renaissance in respect for classic liberal values, and a backlash against today’s woke intolerance. The new intellectual fashion will be liberalism and free speech. I’m pretty sure you can take this to the bank. All of which is to say that I’m feeling more or less optimistic. Violent insurrectionists and hard-right conspiracy mongers are generationally challenged. They may burn out before they die out, but they will eventually do the latter for sure. And hard-left intolerant wokesters will grow out of it, see their ideas commoditized, and see themselves replaced and rejected by the next generation. I’m reasonably confident that the enduring laws of the free market, American democratic institutions and youthful rebellion will save us in the end.

Source: How Woke Might End – Yellow Stripes & Dead Armadillos