Tag Archives: Freedom

The Key is Freedom

I haven’t seen Arthur Brooks’ documentary on the free market (The Pursuit) but I have followed his work at AEI and am currently reading (and enjoying) his new book Love Your Enemies. I have some traveling to do in this next month. Hopefully, that will give me time to see Brooks’ documentary.Image result for braveheart freedom

The takeaway for me from the review at Bleeding Heart Libertarian (see below) is the connection between human flourishing and not only economic freedom but moral freedom (virtue).

If we care for the poor, if we care for our communities, if we care for our families, children, and students, then we will defend freedom. This means having a fuller notion of freedom that just the absence of external constraints.

It also means the freedom that comes from a life of virtue of those habits of thought and action that make it possible for me to love my enemy and to forgive those who have wronged me.

Above all, freedom in this fuller sense means cultivating the virtues that help me focus not simply on what’s best for me but best for my neighbor. I wish to become a morally better person and a more productive member of society not only because this is good for me. It’s good for you as well when your neighbor is virtuous and working to make the world a better place economically, politically, culturally, and yes, morally.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Source: The Pursuit: Arthur Brooks on Capitalism, Dignity, and Opportunity for All

Freedom is to Do the Will of God

Sunday, July 14 (O.S., July 1), 2019: 4th Sunday after Pentecost; Holy and Wonderworking Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs at Rome (284); St. Angelina, despotina of Serbia (XVI); Martyr Potitus at Naples (II). St. Peter the Patrician, monk of Constantinople (854).

Epistle: Romans 6:18-23

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13

Glory to Jesus Christ!

The Holy Apostle tells us that once we were held under bondage to sin but now we under bondage to Christ. Though he is speaking “in human terms” his assertion that “having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” is still an affront to our sense of freedom.

For most of us, freedom means freedom of choice. But the naked ability to choose between options is not real freedom. Think about it for a moment. To be here this morning requires giving up being somewhere else.

As important as freedom of choice is to our moral life and our life in Christ–and let’s not make any mistake, freedom in this sense is essential–it is inherently self-limiting. When deciding between options we quickly discover that every “yes” contains within itself a “no.” This is why even the best of our choices restrict our freedom.

Returning to St Paul, we can grasp easily enough why sin undermines our freedom of choice. We all know what it means to be trapped by anger or resentment or worry. Try as I might in these moments, I can’t do what I want because my negative feelings don’t just bind me, they tear me apart.

This is what the fathers mean when they talk about the “passions.” Sin cripples me by fostering in me evil habits. I am enslaved to habits of thought and action that cause me to turn my back on God and neighbor. The fact that these habits arise from my own desires only compounds the tragedy of sin.

I am enslaved to my passions and it is from the passions that Christ comes to free not only me but all of us by His death and resurrection. We can summarize the whole of the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church as one as being progressively freed from the passions.

But this still leaves us with the Apostle’s provocative statement that we are now “slaves of righteousness.”

Freedom is not simply a matter of choice. If I seek freedom here I will in short order discover, as I said a moment ago, that I have enslaved myself to my own desires.

Seen in this light, we can understand why freedom is not doing what I want but, as Paul suggests, doing what I ought. That is to say, doing the will of God.

To those who associate freedom with freedom of choice, obedience to God seems an unbearable imposition. To those who value above all the human ability to choose, obedience to God is an offense and assault against human nature.

But again, let’s think a moment about what it means to do the willing of God.

Far from limiting your freedom, love opens a world of ever-increasing possibilities. Commit yourself to love your neighbor as yourself, make this the choice that guides all your choices and you never want for new opportunities.

Not only that. As you love this person you learn at the same time how to love more fully not only this person but all other persons.

Likewise, forgiveness liberates you from resentment, faith from a life of distrust and even as hope liberates you from anxiety for the future.

To see how this happens, we need only look at the Gospel.

It was unheard of for a centurion, a Roman officer, to approach a Jew for help. No Roman would humble himself to become a supplicant to a Jew. And yet, the centurion does exactly this because he loves his servant.

The centurion’s love is not only of benefit to the servant; it is to his benefit as well. Likewise for all of us, love for our neighbor blossoms into the love of God. The real, if limited, love of one man for another opens up to the unending love of God.

We can look as well at Ss. Cosmas and Damian whose memory we celebrate today.

Skilled as they were in the technical demands of being physicians, their faith in Jesus Christ able them to heal the soul as well as the body. As physicians of the body, they were able only to delay death; as physicians of the soul, they offered their patients eternal life.

When I understand freedom not as doing what I want but what I ought, I transcend the inherent limits of the former and enter into the unending possibilities of the latter.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! To be truly free means to do the will of God; nothing more and certainly nothing less.

May we live our lives from this day forth as free men and women in Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Freedom in Christ

Sunday, June 24 (O.S., June 11) 2018: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost;Holy Apostles Bartholomew and Barnabas (1st c.).

Epistle: Romans 6:18-23/Acts 11:19-26, 29-30

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-13/Luke 10:16-21

Glory to Jesus Christ!

With his usually understatement, the Apostle Paul contrasts the two forms of slavery to which we may be subjected. I am either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness.

Paul’s language here, though stark, is not meant to be taken literally. He is speaking, as he says, “in human terms” to help us understand from what we have been saved.

More importantly, he wants us to understand that for which we have been saved: to share in the life of God. Or, as he says, to receive “holiness, … everlasting life” which taken together are “the gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We tend to associate holiness with moral rectitude. A holy person is a virtuous person. While holiness and virtue are related, we often misunderstand the relationship between them.

A saint is not holy because he is virtuous. Rather, he is virtuous because he is holy.

In the Scriptures, God is called holy not because He is virtuous as we understand the term but because He is sovereign. God is not, as we hear again and again, the god of this place, or these people. He is rather the God of god, the God of All. As such, His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts.

Holiness is another way of saying that God is wholly and absolutely free. Or maybe more accurately, nothing and no one compels God.

It is this freedom that God gives us in Jesus Christ. This why the baptismal service begins with prayers of exorcism. Not because we believe the candidate is possessed by a demon but to give the devil formal notice that this person is no longer his but now belongs to Christ and His Church.

Only once this notice is given, is the candidate is baptized. That is to say, through the faith of the Church and the words of the priest, the candidate is adopted by God and comes to share in that deep and expansive freedom we call holiness.

So, having been made holy in baptism, what now?

Now, as Paul says, we are to be obedient to God; we are now “slaves of righteousness.”

In the World, and let’s be frank sometime even in the Church, “obedience” is a harsh word. Obedience in Christ however is not a matter of humiliation. It is not a means of degrading others or asserting control over them.

Rather to be obedient to Christ means to join our will to His. To want, in other words, what God wants for us.

Look at the first Gospel reading. The centurion is a man of obedience. He knows how to command because is “a man under authority” to others. Obedience comes if not easily to him, then freely.

Just as he joins his will to that of his superiors, so too he joins his will to the will of Jesus. He has no need for outward shows of grace. It is enough for him that Jesus wills that the servant be made well.

The centurion’s obedience and faith are absolute.

True obedience, true holiness, is to want what God wants. As for true freedom, it is to do what God would have us do. Or, to put it simply, obedience, holiness and freedom are all facets of love.

If I love you I want for you what God wants for you. Love begins in my willing to make my own God’s will for the person.

As love matures, I move from sharing in God’s desire to action. It is this that is true and lasting freedom. And so we see in the second set of readings, the willingness the disciples to preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons, and to care for the poor from out of their own funds.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! To be truly free means to love others as God loves them. To be free means that we not only want for others what God wants for them but that, like God, we are willing to sacrifice to help this come to past.

And of this because we have “first been loved by God.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

What is Freedom For?

Wednesday, April 04 (O.S., March 22), 2018: Great Wednesday; Hieromartyr Basil of Ancyra († 363); Martyr Drosis the Daughter of the Emperor Trajan (104-117); Venerable Isaac the Founder of the Dalmatian Monastery at Constantinople († 383); Martyrs Callinica and Basilissa of Rome; Venerable Martyr Euthymius of Constantinople; Hieromartyr Euthymius of Prodromou on Mt Athos († 1814).

Matins: John 12.17-50
Sixth Hour: Ezekiel 2.3-3.3
Vespers: Exodus 2.11-22
Vespers: Job 2.1-10
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 26.6-16

The choice before me is laid out in stark terms.

Like the Harlot, I can come “in tears” and cry out to God “In Your compassion and love for mankind, deliver me from the filth of my evil deeds!”

Alternatively, I can imitate “deceitful Judas” and allow my greed to draw me away “from intimate companionship with Christ.”

When, as Orthodox Christians, we emphasize the importance of human freedom (and all the rights and privileges that we have come to expect as Americans) our concern is in defending is the ability of the soul to imitate either the Harlot or Judas. Human freedom is not for us an end in itself. It is rather for something.

Immediately, freedom is for repentance. I must be free to examine myself, to know myself not simply in terms set by the culture but by Holy Tradition. Our freedom in the first instance is in the service of accurate self-knowledge.

As I grow to know myself, I am confronted with a choice.

Recognizing my vices as well as my virtues, what will I do? Will I struggle against my sins through the cultivation of virtue? Or will I, again like Judas, give myself over to despair?

A despairing soul will only infrequently commit suicide like Judas (Matthew 27:5). More often despair hides under the guise of another sin. Again, Judas is instructive.

The fallen apostle is mentioned nine times in today’s Matin service. In order, he is called “deceitful” and “burning with love of money” He is a man who “drunkenly runs” to betray his Friend (Kathisma 15).

He is called “envious,” “ignorant and evil.” A “miserable man,” a “traitor” blinded by “greedy avarice” into becoming a “traitor.” (Ode 9).

Judas is “scheming” and “enslaved to the Enemy” by his “terrible … slothfulness.” Twice we hear of “the wretchedness of Judas” (Praises).

Despair cloaks itself in all these seemingly lesser sins.

This, however, raises a question. If freedom is for repentance, what is repentance for? Again Judas is instructive.

Judas stands in bold contrast to the Harlot. While she spreads “out her hair” to dry the feet of Jesus that she has washed with her tears (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8), Judas spreads “out his hands to lawless men.” What the Harlot does, she does “in order to receive forgiveness,” she is repentant. And Judas? He only puts out his hand “to receive some silver” (Matthew 26:14-16, Luke 22:1-6).

As freedom is for repentance, repentance is for forgiveness. And not just forgiveness in a formal, juridical sense. But, as we hear in the service, the forgiveness that “raised Lazarus from the tomb after four days” (Aposticha).

All of this is expressed in the Hymn of Kassiane that we sing toward the end of Matins:

..accept the fountain of my tears,
O You, Who gathered the waters of the sea into clouds!
Bow down Your ear to the sighing of my heart,
O You, Who bowed the heavens in Your ineffable condescension!
Once Eve heard Your footsteps in Paradise in the cool of the day,
and in fear she ran and hid herself.
But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet
and wipe them with the hair of my head.
Who can measure the multitude of my sins,
or the depth of Your judgments, O Savior of my soul?
Do not despise Your servant in Your immeasurable mercy!”

God stands ready to accept our repentance. He stands ready to receive us who run to Him and extend to us His “immeasurable mercy.”

So, then, what is freedom for? It is so that we can receive the mercy of God and then offer that mercy to others.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Respecting Human Freedom

Tuesday, April 03, (O.S., March 21), 2018: Great Tuesday;  Venerable James the Confessor and Bishop of Catania (8th-9th C); Venerable Seraphim Vyritsky († 1949); New Hieromartyr Priest Vladimir († 1931); Holy Hierarch Cyrill, Bishop of Catania (1st-2nd C); Holy Hierarch Thomas, Patriarch of Constantinople († 610); Venerable Serapion, Bishop of Tmuissa; Venerable Serapion of Neitria

Matins: Matthew 22:15-23:39
Sixth Hour: Ezekiel 1:21-2:1
Vespers: Exodus 2:5-10
Vespers: Job 1:13-22
Presanctified Liturgy: Matthew 24:36-26:2

Once again, the Church’s hymnography reminds me that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26):

Realizing the hour of reckoning, O my soul, and fear the cutting down of the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22), work diligently with the talent that has been given you O wretched one (Matthew 25:14-30). Watch and pray that we may not remain outside the bridal chamber of Christ Matthew 25:1-13).

It isn’t enough to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, “for the demons do as such and tremble” (James 2:19). Salvation requires that I be a “profitable” servant, that I “hear the word of God and keep it,” and that I “do the works” God has given me to do.

This emphasis on tangible works is the necessary corrective to the tendency to confuse my thoughts and feelings about God and neighbor with the love “that seeks not its own reward” (1 Corinthians 13:5) and the “faith that moves mountains” (Matthew 21:21).

As we’ve seen throughout the Great Fast, so much of what Jesus says about salvation presupposes that we understand what it means to make a profit. For the fathers of the Church, while the meaning of Scripture is never limited to the literal (i.e., historical) meaning, this meaning can’t be ignored or violated.  We must understand the ordinary meaning of profit if we wish to understand Jesus’ word to us that we be “profitable servants.”

Profit is not, as in Marxism, the surplus value created by labor and stolen by owners. Besides being wrong economically, this view of profit would paint Jesus as an unjust business owner who exploits His workers. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In fact, profit is only earned by the free collaboration of multiple parties. Yes, the worker invests his labor. But his investment is only possible because of the initial and ongoing investment of capital and expertise by the business owner.

These investments, however, are not profitable unless the worker and business owner together create a product or service of value to the consumer. Only then will the consumer exchange her money for what capital and labor together have created.

To be a “profitable” servant for Jesus presuppose the investment and ongoing presence of His grace in me (and indeed, everyone) and my willing collaboration with Him. Or, as St Paul says, we must be “co-labors” with God (1 Corinthians 3:9).

My obedience to divine grace, however, is not sufficient.

A “profitable” servant must also be of service to others. I must create value in the lives of neighbors. Just as in the marketplace, this means respecting their freedom. A profitable servant can’t compel others to accept his or her service. What is freely given, must be freely received (see, Matthew 10:5-8). This, in turn, requires that I offer my service to you freely (that is without coercion) that you freely received (or not) the offered service I would do for you.

The cooperation of divine and human freedom is at the heart of Holy Week. How these work together is the great mystery of salvation (Ephesians 5:32). But God respects and waits on human freedom. God waits for our response to His invitation  (Revelation 3:20).

The moral message of this week is similar. Just as God respects my freedom, I must likewise respect yours. Anything less is unworthy of divine grace.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Our Two Freedoms

Monday, April 02 (O.S., March 20), 2018: Great Monday; Venerable Fathers slain at the Monastery of Saint Sabbas: John, Sergius, Patrick and others († 796); New Hieromartyr Deacon Basil († 1938); Martyr Photina (Svetlana), the Samaritan Woman, her sons, and those with her († c. 66); Holy Virgin Martyrs Alexandra, Claudia, Euphrasia, Matrona, Juliania, Euthymia and Theodosia († 310); St. Nicetas the Confessor the Archbishop of Apollonias in Bithynia (9th C); Hieromartyr Euphrosynus of Blue Jay Lake, Novgorod († 1612); New Martyr Miron of Crete; St. Cuthbert, Wonderworker of Britain († 687).

Matins: Matthew 21:18-43
Sixth Hour: Ezekiel 1.1-20
Vespers: Exodus 1.1-20;
Vespers: Job 1.1-12
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: Matthew 24.3-35

At Matins for today we hear the following hymn:

Today let us add lamentation to lamentation!
Let our tears flow with those of Jacob, who weeps for
his celebrated and sober-minded son;
for though bodily Joseph was indeed a slave,
he preserved the freedom of his soul and was lord over
all Egypt.

Hearing this I might be tempted to think any number of things that are, at best, morally confused. At worse, I might end up of saying something that is truly evil.

The confusion is this: Because inner freedom–what the text refers to as the ‘freedom of soul’–is what matters, I might wrongly think that political or soul freedom is unimportant. “After all,” I might think (or worse, say), “even though Joseph was a slave, he ‘preserved the freedom of his soul’ and even became ‘lord over all Egypt.’”

As St Paul points out to the Church of Rome, I can’t do evil that “good may come” (3:8). The fact that, as the Apostle says a bit later, that God is able to bring good out of evil (Romans 8:28), doesn’t mean evil isn’t evil.

At the very least, evil is something I should avoid. If I can–or better, as much as I can–I should oppose evil. I should oppose evil not only in my own heart but in the world around me.

I must be faithful to the example of Jesus. When after suffering temptation in the desert, how does He begin His own ministry? Going to the synagogue he reads from the prophecy of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Isaiah 61:1, 2)

Jesus begins His own ministry by opposing–and so ending–the hold that moral evil and physical suffering have on us (Luke 4:16-21).

While moral freedom is more important than political freedom, the two freedoms are not opposed. While I can have the moral freedom without political freedom, I can’t have the latter without the former.

Ideally, though, a society should have both. And, in any case, Christians are called to work for both moral and political freedom. What we can never do, is sacrifice one for the sake of the other.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For Consideration

Source (Cafe Hayek)

The condition of freedom requires the courage to assume responsibility for one’s own actions and for the way one makes use of relevant knowledge, skill, and intelligibility to relate to others in mutually productive ways.

Vincent Ostrom (1997), The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerabilities of Democracies.

 

Homily: Holy Ascension

Thursday, May 25, 2017: The Holy Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Epistle: Acts 1:1-12
Gospel: Luke 24:36-53

The reading from Acts reminds us though God reveals His will to us, though He reveals Himself to us and draws us into communion with Him, there are some things about His will, about Himself, that God doesn’t reveal. And, of course, because these things aren’t revealed, we don’t know what they are.

There is, however, one thing we know we don’t know because God has told us He won’t tell us.

We don’t know when, in the words of the Creed, Jesus will come back as Judge of the living and the dead. This is what the Apostles asked Jesus in the moments before His Ascension: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus answers that it isn’t for them, it isn’t for the Church, it isn’t for us, for you or for me “to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

St Ephrem the Syrian says that God hides things from us, and tells us He is doing so, to inspire us to “keep watch.” If the time of the Last Judgment, “were to be revealed,” it would be to our harm. If we knew when Jesus was coming as Judge we would grow indifferent to His judgment. While God “has indeed said He will come, … He did not define when,” St Ephrem says, so that “all generations and ages will thirst for Him.”

In other words, in this and in all things God acts in such a way as to keep the desire for Him alive in the human heart.

And so immediately after telling the Apostles what they won’t know–after kindling their desire–Jesus tells them they “shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”

But even here, the fine details of the future are left unspoken. But this doesn’t cause the Apostles to be discouraged. Why? Because Jesus speaks in such a way as to inspire deeper love and greater devotion in the Apostles.

Remember what we just read in the Gospel.

Though they are momentarily stunned by seeing Jesus ascend into Heaven when the angels explain to them what has happened the Apostle return “to Jerusalem with great joy” and are “continually in the temple blessing God.”

Sometimes we think–sometimes I think–if only God’s will was laid out for us clearly and in minute detail we would be happy. But if God were to do this, what would happen to human freedom and creativity? If everything was laid out for me, if I had a step-by-step plan that I followed as I would a recipe, I wouldn’t be God’s co-worker but merely a spiritual functionary who blindly and thoughtlessly did as I was told.

This isn’t what God wants from us. God loves us. He and wants us to return His love. But love isn’t love unless it is free.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as God is for me, I must be for others.

God doesn’t compel me, He woos me. God doesn’t just passively leave room for my freedom, my creativity, He creates the space, the conditions, for me to discover and exercise my freedom and creativity.

And as God has done for me, I must do for you.

To be disciples of Christ means that we help others find true freedom in Christ. This is why compulsion is foreign to the life of the Church. Like God, we must respect each others’ freedom. Anything less is not worthy of the name “Christian” because anything less is contrary to the example of Christ, “Who in glory ascended from us into Heaven” and now sits “at the right hand of God the Father for our salvation”!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Gratitude & Respect for Conscience

Thursday, November 24, 2016: After-feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos & Celebration of American Thanksgiving

Epistle: Colossians 3:12-17
Gospel: Luke 17:12-19

“The image we depict must not be that of one who is unlike God; for one who is harsh and irascible and proud would display the image of a despot.”

Saint Columbanus

There is something particularly American about Thanksgiving Day.

This isn’t to suggest that other countries, other cultures, lack a sense of gratitude for God’s bounties. Nor do I wish to suggest that other places don’t set aside a time for the public celebration thanks to God. Gratitude is foundational to all healthy cultures and communities—secular as well as religious—because gratitude is intrinsic to the human heart.
There is a deep human need to say thank you.

But like I said, there is something uniquely American about Thanksgiving Day. It isn’t the food. It’s not the gathering of families. It’s not even the hours and hours of football.
It is rather that, as we read on the back of the Great Seal of the United States, we who hold ourselves out as a Novus Ordo Seclorum, a “New Order of the Ages,” a new political order, a new kind of community, take the time to thank the Creator for His many gifts to us.

Ours is a secular country not in the sense that we think that religion—and specifically, Christianity—is purely a private matter to be tolerated only if it remains outside the Public Square. Rather, our “secularism” is based on a respect for the conscience of the individual.
Such respect isn’t meant to suggest that we are merely individuals, that we live in isolation from family, friends, and the myriad communities that make up any health person’s life.
It is rather to say that whatever our agreements or disagreements, we pledge ourselves to respect each other’s conscience.

This mutual respect for conscience isn’t an end in itself; this would be a radical form of individualism. Such a view of the person will corrode the life of any community.

Our mutual respect is different. It is rooted in the notion that divine grace doesn’t compel but persuades. God offers Himself freely to each of us in the secret depth of our heart.
It is this absence of divine coercion that is the pattern, the archetype if you will, of our Novus Ordo Seclorum.

And today, we set aside time to thank God whose grace and love and bounty is the foundation of our Nation.

In his essay, “What I Saw in America,” G.K. Chesterton said that we are “the only nation in the world founded on a creed.” He goes on to say that this doesn’t mean we “apply consistently this conception of a nation with the soul of a church” or that, somehow, America is exempt from “danger of tyranny.”

His point is that what Americans do, we do because of creed, of our respect for the hidden conversation between God and the human heart.

While we are grateful to God for His material blessings to us—for food, family and yes, football—what we are most thankful for is this conservation. It is this conversation that reveals our true dignity and worth as human beings and which services as the touchstone, the interpretative key and guiding moral principle of both the American Experiment and American culture.

Because we are, still, fundamentally a religious people, we tend at times to apply uncritically the biblical teaching about Israel or the Church to our country. This is wrong and it makes an idol of America.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t, judicial, find inspiration and guidance as a Nation in the Scriptures. Today’s epistle is one such example.

Paul tells us to the Colossians to “put on compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.” He goes on to say that above all they are to forgive each other “As the Lord has forgiven you.” This good word for the Church is an equally good word for our nation.

The love we owe our fellow citizens is necessarily different from the love we owe our family or our brothers and sisters in Christ. This love our fellow Americans is, necessarily, thinner, more abstract because it is love for the many millions of people almost all of whom we have never met and will never know.

But love it remains.

The form it takes is this: That respect your conscience. This doesn’t mean we agree with each other. Much less does it mean that we must agree with each other.

It does mean we must think well of each other and not take our differences—political or religious, moral or cultural—as evidence of malicious intent. You are not evil because you disagree with me and for me to say, or believe, otherwise is wrong and shameful.

Ironically, and here we can draw inspiration from the Gospel, it is the “foreigner,” the one who sees the American Experiment from the outside, who is often best able to express admiration and gratitude for the freedoms Americans take for granted.

We often say that we are a nation of immigrants. Another way to say the same thing is that we are a nation of men and women who risked all for the sake of freedom.

Whether they sought economic, cultural, religious or political freedom is secondary.

Freedom, by its very nature, is one and indivisible. To neglect, or worse, attack one form of freedom is an assault of all its other modes since none can exist without the others.

And freedom, in all its forms, is in the service of our response to the hidden prompting of grace.

It is to thank God for this freedom. Today we express our gratitude to God for the ability of the individual to say yes, however falteringly and inadequately, to the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:11-13, NKJV) .

Gratitude to God is not a feeling but an action. In the social dimension of human life, it is rather a matter of respecting the conscience of the individual. Such respect is no more important than when we disagree bitterly with each other.

Such respect requires that I think well of my fellow American and resist the temptation to ascribe malice as the motive for our differences whatever these differences might be.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

St Porphyrios on Obedience

For Christians as well as those outside the Church, probably no topic is as misunderstood as obedience. And yet, obedience is foundational not only to our relationship with Christ but for the whole of the Church’s life. Obedience to Holy Tradition, to our bishop and our conscience all serve to keep us united to God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Again, for many people—Christian or not–obedience is morally problematic. In most cases this reflects not ill-will but a lack of understanding. In the Scriptures the command to be obedience is not a command that we give a mechanical submission to an authority (divine or human). Obedience isn’t passive submission of the vanquished to the victor, it isn’t “‘giving in’ or ‘surrender’ but freely chosen, voluntary mutual cooperation–or synergy” (here).

Elder Porphyrios

In Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios. Elder Porphyrios (+1991), a Greek monk and priest “tells the story of his life and, in simple, deeply reflected and profoundly wise words, he expounds the Christian Faith today.” Writing on obedience he recalls that as a young monk

My whole life was a paradise: prayer, worship, handicraft, and obedience. But my obedience was the outcome of love not coercion. This blessed obedience benefitted me greatly. It changed me. I became sharp-witted, quick and stronger in body and soul. … Obedience shows love for Christ. And Christ especially loves the obedient (Wounded by Love, p. 25).

At a minimum, obedience requires the absence of coercion. There can be nothing abusive or forced if obedience is going to be true to what it means to be human. Obedience properly so called is always an appeal to human freedom and an affirmation of human dignity.

For the fathers of the Church, freedom is “one of the manifestations of God in human nature. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, ‘Man became Godlike and blessed, being honoured with freedom (αὐτεξουσίῳ)’ (Sermon on the Dead). For this reason, the Church in her pastoral practice and spiritual guidance takes so much care of the inner world of a person and his freedom of choice. Subjection of human will to any external authority through manipulation or violence is seen as a violation of the order established by God.”

We can’t, however, make “freedom of choice … an absolute or ultimate value.” As it comes to us from the hand of God, our freedom is “at the service of human well-being.” This means that when a person exercises his freedom he “should not harm either himself or those around him.” Unfortunately, “due to the power of sin inherent in the fallen human nature, no human effort is sufficient to achieve genuine goodness” (see The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights, II.1).

Elder Porphyrios is helpful here.

I can’t give you an example of what real obedience is. It’s not that we have a discussion about the virtue of obedience and then I say ‘go and do a somersault,’ and you obey. That’s not obedience. You need to be entirely carefree and not thinking at all about the matter of obedience, and then suddenly you are asked to do something and you are ready to do it joyfully (Wounded by Love, p. 19).

Freedom, love and joy; these are characteristic of Christian obedience. But these are also all inter-personal; they are social and not merely individual. Being obedient means learning to make choices that foster freedom, love and joy not simply in my life but yours as well. It isn’t so much a matter of my being obedient to you (or the other way around) but our being obedient together to God Who is the source of all good things. Obedience, in other words, is mutual; what we do together and not what I do alone.

To be obedient means to live as a member of a community in which we work together for the flourishing, sanctification and salvation of each other. It is the end of mere individualism and the beginning of life patterned after the Holy Trinity.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory