Tag Archives: lay vocation

10 Lies We Tell Ourselves: Where Do We Go From Here?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago tells us that we should make this our credo, our guiding moral philosophy if you will. “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

We’ve looked at 10 lies that Orthodox Christians tell ourselves. Maybe you agree with me about all 10. Or maybe you only think I got a few right. Or maybe you think I’m just wrong on all 10.

None of this matters!

What does matter is that you commit to not lying, to not doing what you know to be morally wrong.

This isn’t being passive. It rather to trust what St Gregory Palamas teaches

…the wise providence of God orders our affairs in many different ways and lovingly bestows on each one of us what is appropriate and profitable both for virtuous deeds and the mysteries of faith (Staying to the End of the Divine Services).

When I tell what I know to be a lie or do what I know to be morally wrong, I am rejecting “the wise providence” of God in my own life and in the lives of those around me.

But if I abstain for saying what I know is untrue, if I abstain from doing what I know to be morally wrong, then I make room in my life for the grace of God.

Building on this grace, we must foster in each other a sense of personal commitment to Christ and personal responsibility for the work of not just the parish but the Church in America.

The late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Surouzh, has said that this “means … working with [people] as a gardener would with flowers or other plants. He has to know the soil, the nature of the plant, the climactic or other conditions they are set in, and only then can he help. And help is all he can do because one or another plant can only grow into what it should be by nature.”

What the must we do?

We must commit ourselves to helping each other grow in our love for Christ. When we do this not only will we grow in our love for Christ, we will also grow in our love for each other.  Against this love, nothing can stand.

In my own view, what we need are more active lay ministries like AOC. While it is a good start, what we need, what I think God is asking of His Church in America, is for ALL Orthodox Christians to take seriously their personal call to follow Christ as His disciples and witnesses.

For a fuller explanation of this point, for the rest of my talk, and the Q&A that followed:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #10: “A personal relationship with Jesus is a PROTESTANT idea!”

Evangelical Christians have certainly run with the idea of a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ but this doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Together with baptism, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the starting point of our life in Christ. This means that when we are asked by our Evangelical friends and neighbors “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” our should be to say—truthfully—“Yes!”

But remember, this is the first step and the first step isn’t invalid because it is only a beginning.

Think of it this way.

A toddler says “Mommy I love you!” This no less valid, no less true because when that same child, now as an adult, says “It’s okay mom, you don’t need to hang on anymore. Go be with dad. Mommy, I love you!”

All starting points are deficient because they are the first step. But without that first step, our relationship God can’t blossom. We can’t grow and mature in our Christian life until we take that first step and enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“From this time forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all.” St Herman of Alaska

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #9: “But my priest is my spiritual father!”

It’s better to think of your priest not as a spiritual father along the monastic lines but as a coach. Yes, the problem we ALL suffer is we are willful but the solution is not to become will-less (i.e., “obedient”) but willing.

We need to become ever more willing and able to say “YES!” to God’s will for our lives.

In this process, our parish priest through celebrating the services, through preaching, teaching, in confession and by the example of his life is there to help us discern God’s will for our lives and then to help us fulfill that will.

But, as a priest, I can’t do this without your participation. This means more than just you, personally, coming to talk with me. To do my job as your coach, I need EVERYBODY to suit up and take to the field.

We must ALL want to know and do the will of God for our lives and we must ALL want to help each other discern and fulfill what God wants from each of us personally.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #8: “Well, all I really need to do is be obedient to my priest!

Let me be blunt, most Orthodox priests have little or no training in pastoral counseling or psychotherapy. Much less do must of us have any substantial preparation as spiritual fathers.

This is important because, in the hands of an inexperienced or ill-prepared priest, obedience is a recipe for great and lasting harm for the layperson, the parish and the priest himself.

So if obedience isn’t a good idea, what do we owe to our priest?

I think we owe our priest–or at least I want as a priest–is not obedience but deference. What do I mean by deference?

In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, I think the priest should get his way in the day-to-day administration of the parish. Why is this?

Simply because when things go south, the priest is the one who has to deal with the mess. This doesn’t mean the parish council and the parishioner don’t have a role to play. It just means that, as a rule, it is the pastor who has to keep track of things.

And in our daily lives, in our spiritual lives, what do we owe the priest? We should give due consideration to what our priest tells us. By his education and his role in the community, the priest often has insights into the spiritual life that we don’t have. But this doesn’t mean he should have the last word in our lives.

Does this mean we shouldn’t be obedient? God forbid we think this!

We must be obedient but we owe our obedience first to God, then to conscience, and finally to the Tradition of Church. And priest? His vocation is to help guide us as we learn to be obedient Orthodox Christians.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory




Lies We Tell Ourselves #7: “But, we called to interiorized monasticism!”

Monastic life is NOT the foundation of the Church marriage and family life are. In fact, monastic life–like the Church itself–is modeled after the family.

This means that we need are strong marriages which in turn can be the foundation of strong families. And it is from healthy expressions of marriage and family life that we can have strong, healthy parishes, dioceses, local Churches and, yes, monasteries.

St Ignatius of Antioch is a help here:

Do not err, my brothers. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this in regard to the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be he case with anyone who corrupts the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified, by wicked doctrine? Such a person, becoming defiled, shall go away into everlasting fire and so shall everyone that listens to him (St Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians 16).

Simply put, we corrupt families and parishes, when we make monastic life the model for our life in Christ.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves #6: “Salvation is Therapeutic Not Legalistic!”

Unfortunately, Orthodox Christians tend to overemphasize the therapeutic nature of salvation at the expense of our own moral and legal tradition. 

This is unfortunate because Holy Tradition is deeper, broader and richer than that can be captured in a slogan.

We have a rich, legal tradition. Not only canon law to govern the internal life of the Church but also of legal theory to guide the Church in its relationship with the State. We also have well-developed moral theology that offers Orthodox Christians objective moral standards on which to base our lives.  

To all this, we have an ascetical and liturgical tradition that seeks to heal the soul of the consequences of sin, foster a life of Christian virtue and deepen our relationship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But none of this makes any sense if we neglect our moral and legal tradition.

The other reasons these traditions matter is that as Orthodox Christians “therapeutic” means something very different than as we use the term today. Among other things, this means that priests are not psychotherapists in the same way as secular mental health professionals.

Finally, we need to remember that as important as it is, fidelity to the Tradition of the Church doesn’t exempt the person from the laws of human development or an evident need for psychological counseling.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves: #5 “God Wants Us to Be Happy!”

Yes, God loves us.

Yes, God love us, yes, wants us to be happy and yes, He wants us to be successful. 

But all of this comes on God’s terms not my own.

Unfortunately, too many Orthodox Christians have bought into the idea God’s love for them means God wants them to be happy and successful on their terms rather than His. We usually don’t say this explicitly.

But how often have we heard someone say “God doesn’t judge?” when what they meant is “Do what you want”?

Let me offer myself as an example.

I’m the pastor of a small mission on the campus of UW-Madison. Being on campus is important but presents a number of challenges.  Pastoral challenges aside, it’s expensive to be right by the university. This means that my community will probably never be large, never have a great building.  And while we are on campus for students—and my parishioners are enthusiastic about serving students—it is simply hard to get students involved in the life of the Church. 

These challenges help me remember that true and lasting happiness and success only come from fidelity to what God has called us to do. AND NOTHING ELSE.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves: #4 “It’s About Culture!”

Think about this…

There isn’t an Orthodox Church that’s 100, 75, or even 50 years old that wasn’t started by the evangelical efforts of immigrants or first generation Orthodox Christians from the “Old Country.” Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Arabs, Serbians and Orthodox Christians from all over the world, came to America and started churches.

For these missionaries, America was a fertile missionary field. They may not have done things perfectly or even the way we do today but so what?

They used what they had at hand to plant the Church in America. In addition to their faith, what they had was their culture and language.

While culture is important, even under the best of conditions it is always only nominally Christian. The reason for this is that culture–all cultures–is always a mix of different traditions.

That said, culture can be, and often is, our life in Christ. This is as true for American culture as it is for traditional Orthodox cultures.

But however important culture is, we need something more. Why is this?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Lies We Tell Ourselves: #3 “Just tell the Truth!”


While religious education and apologetics are both important, we need to be careful that we don’t confuse saying things which are true with “speaking the truth in love.”

When Jesus speaks to someone, even when He tells them a hard truth (“Go sell all you have”) He is speaking as someone who has a deep, intimate knowledge to the person.

When Jesus speaks, He speaks as the God Who has called that person “out of non-existence into being” (Liturgy St John Chrysostom) and Who knitted him together in his “mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13).

And He does all this so that we can grow and become Who He has created us to be.

For a fuller explanation of this and for the rest of my talk:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory