The Man's Choice
If we claim to live as a servant of God, a doulos tou theou, we must reckon with the daily choice: Do I serve and protect my own interests and my own life? Or serve the will of God, even at the cost of my own comfort and life?
Fr. Chris Salamy compares the story of the man, Adam, in the Garden of Eden with the story of the man, Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He reminds us that serving our own wills surely ends in death, while serving the will of our Heavenly Father opens unto life.
Fr. Chris Salamy is the author of The Way of the Warrior Saint: How to Live a Crucifixional Life.
Listen to this episode or read the interview transcript.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian leadership initiative. Our co host is father Timothy Lowe, retired priest and former rector of the Tantur ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. And also with us today is Fr. Chris Salamy, pastor of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Fr.Chris is also the founder of the Way of the Warrior Saint which launched in 2016. Fr. Chris Salamy was our guest on the Doulos podcast a couple years ago, shortly after he had come out with his book of the same title, The Way of the Warrior Saint: How to Live a Crucifixional Life. So welcome back, Fr. Chris, so glad you're with us today.
Fr. Chris Salamy 0:55
Thank you. It's great to be with you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:56
Yes, Hollie, and Fr. Chris. Nice to see you both.
Fr. Chris Salamy 0:59
Fr. Tim, good to see you too.
Hollie Benton 1:01
I should mention to our listeners that they can find your book on your website warriorsaints.org and we will be sure to provide a link through our Doulos podcast webpage as well. So how to live a crucifixional life kind of feels antithetical. Crucifixion and life seem mutually incompatible at first glance, but like the Gospel of Matthew says, "For whoever would save his life will lose it. And whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it. This is the paradoxical reality of the gospel, isn't it, Fr. Chris?
Fr. Chris Salamy 1:36
Absolutely. That's the whole point of the crucifixiona life. Your word antithetical, that's perfect.
Hollie Benton 1:41
And that's a constant choice that presents itself daily, I think. Am I serving myself? Am I preserving and protecting my own interests and my own life? Or am I really trying to serve the will of God, perhaps at the cost of my own comfort, my own life, and with his hope and his salvation? If we're claiming to live as a servant of God, as a doulos tou theou, regardless of whatever leadership role we might have or exercise, we have to reckon with these choices daily. So I thank you, Fr. Chris, for suggesting that we dig into the contrasting stories that we find in Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew regarding the important choices made by a Adam, the first created man, and Jesus, the Son of Man. Both men were presented with a choice in the garden, a struggle of wills, choosing his own will, or the will of the Father. And before we get too far into this, let's hear the short passage from Genesis three. "Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, Did God say you shall not eat of the tree of the garden. And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but God said, you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree, which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. But the serpent said to the woman, You will not die, For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband and he ate, then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked." So if I might say something, Fr. Chris, here, one thing that has recently struck me in comparing this story with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, is that because Adam and Eve weren't immediately struck dead upon eating the fruit of the tree, I think it can be tempting to think that the story is more a warning against instant gratification. And we might suppose that had the gravity of the situation been fully realized that death was imminent for Adam and Eve as surely as the cross and the crucifixion was imminent for Christ, that Adam and Eve may have chosen differently. But the fact is, it was realized it was understood before they ate the fruit of the tree. They accounted, they remembered the very words of God who warned, You shall not eat of the fruit lest you die. Death is a certainty in both of the cases. Disobedience and eating the fruit of the tree brings death for Adam and Eve. And on the other hand, the obedience of Jesus who struggles in his prayer, "Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."Jesus accepts the cup, his own death and crucifixion. And then his Father transforms it into the cup of salvation forthe life of the world. So Fr. Chris, please say more about these similarities and differences between these stories. Thank
Fr. Chris Salamy 4:58
Thank you, Hollie. I see the two gardens as really, they are the full line within Holy Scripture. And so we are constantly presented, I think, with these juxtaposed gardens and the decisions of the people that were in them. So like, to kick it off in chapter two of Genesis right at the beginning, God creates the man. And I know that in English, sometimes we see God created man, or some translations may even say, Adam, but in the original Hebrew, 'A'dam, is not necessarily a unique individual, but it says in Hebrew, the man, right, so that's very important, as we'll see later. He creates the man, you know, a symbol for human beings for all humanity, and he places them in this garden, this place of life. And I say, the place of life, because in the middle of this garden, was the tree of life, right, and the text doesn't tell us of any prohibition against eating from that tree. It just says that it's in the midst, and Adam was placed we here in Genesis 2:15, in the garden, to till it, and to keep it, right, so he's given this beautiful, you know, paradisaical type of environment with a purpose, right? To go and bear fruit, the blessings that God has given, multiply them, bear fruit, till this ground, till the soil, keep it, produce fruit. And it is, it's a place of life. All he is required, the only prohibition, the only commandment is that there's one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that the man should not eat from. And if he does, he will die. I think the statement is that life is granted to us by God, he's obviously the source. And we are expected to abide by His commandments which will maintain life, right, keep us in that garden, if you will. And of course, we know the story, the tempter comes in, you know, he does what he does in chapter three, they eat, and they are cast out of this paradise, and they eventually will die and return to the dust. It's as if to say, Look, you were put in this garden for life, but you chose to disobey God's commandments, and you were cast from it and go from life to death. And then the rest of Scripture, I mean, all of it is just a litany of guys and gals who did the same thing. It's their will over and over over again. It's Ezekiel's story. It's almost like the early part of Scripture is the narrative form of the Ezekiel story, where it's just this constant rejection of God and His commandments, which leads to chaos after chaos, until you get to this one individual in the New Testament, our Lord Jesus, who kind of takes a different approach. And it starts with chapter four, in Matthew. So Matthew, chapter four, he's out in the wilderness, he's fasting and Matthew is deliberate enough to say that afterwards he was hungry. So it's kind of expressing that there's something in his, you know, if I can be a little cliche, in his humanity, that there is a need. And he says, with this temptation, in verse four, if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread. In other words, find life in the stones and whether the stones are literally or speaking metaphorically as the stones at the temple, whatever it may be, he's looking to find life in, you know, the, if I can be silly, but this magical sense. But Jesus does something very strange. I don't know if it's strange, I think it's beautiful. Actually, he quotes Deuteronomy, when he says, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." So in the statement, I find a powerful contrast to the man in the original garden, where he said, like, look, yeah, you got to eat, I get it. Nobody's fooling around. We all need bread in our stomachs to live, but life, real life, perhaps as God intended life is only given when we abide by the commandments of God. It's that simple. And he will actually - Jesus - will be put to the test a few chapters later in Matthew 26, because he's in his own garden, Gethsemane, right. And it's after the Lord's Supper, his disciples are all scattered and he's sweating. You know, in some Gospel accounts, he's sweating the blood because he knows the crucifixion is coming. I don't want it, right. I mean, it's horrible. Everyone at the time knew how awful, how painful, embarrassing, humiliating really, and how long a crucifixion was. And he didn't want that. I mean, and why would he? And yet, he says, Father, let this cup pass. Right? He's asking it. At least he had the courtesy, right, Adam, just ignores Him, but Christ at least has the courtesy to say, you know, if we can find another way, let's do it. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will. And I think that in that moment, salvation is won because now there is finally, in this long story of Scripture, there's finally one who did the business and did the will of the Father. And it will take him, unlike the man in Genesis, to death, I think it will take him through death. Death will be in some sense, the doorway that leads to an empty tomb three days later. You know, the Gospel of John jumps in nicely, even though there are two different gospels, John, I think, you know, intimately connected to Genesis. There's a verse in chapter 19. So Jesus's have been captured, in John 19, and he's, you know, he's been beaten, he's in the Praetorium. And Pilate brings him out. And you can imagine if you just want to have the movie version in your mind, he's a broken body, a bloody mess. And Pilate, who is aware of the context, you know, that they, they want their will, they're still clinging to Adam. And Pilate becomes this crazy, beautiful witness when he brings Jesus out in chapter 19, verse five, he brings Jesus out and says, Behold, the man! So the way I'm reading that, it's like, look here in Genesis 1, the man, that's Adam, and he's supposed to do the business, and he didn't. Now this one, though, he may appear to you to be broken, and in some sense, the loser of a battle or of a war, he is indeed the man. And it's that he is the man because he was willing to sacrifice his own will to do the will of the father. John kind of ties it up in a nice little bow, one chapter later, in chapter 20, after the crucifixion, the resurrection, you know, the women come to the tomb, and they're looking for him, you know, Mary's standing out, and she sees him but doesn't recognize him. And he says, it's great, "Supposing him to be the gardener." It's that loop all the way back to Genesis, right, Adam was put there in 2:15, Genesis 2:15, to till, to keep, to be the gardener. His rejection of God's commandments led to death, the rest of the story. Christ in his garden, submits his will to the will of the Father goes through death and is later recognized by the woman, Mary, as the gardener as what he was supposed to have been in the beginning. And so I know what the Orthodox Christian Leadership, you're obviously, your focus is on leadership and these two choices that Scripture gives to us are, I think, daily choices that we have to deal with, and whatever we may encounter in life, whether it's in the workplace, or, you know, in the community, at large, in our homes, with our families, with our spouses, whatever it may be, this is the choice. And I find, I don't know, in my own life, maybe you see the same, I'm constantly teased by the choice of Adam. Yet I know that the choice to follow Christ, as we say in our ministry, to be crucifixional, to sacrifice my will for the sake of God's, it's much harder. And I often don't want to do it. You know what I mean?
Hollie Benton 12:21
Yeah, absolutely. I love the connection between the garden and the gardener of the Gospel. I hadn't heard that before. I really appreciate that similarity there. And the man. Picking up on the man, it's the new man that we find in Christ.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 12:38
The story of the garden, to become like God is the great seduction, I believe that we're somehow independent, a person, a reality unto ourselves without any reference points. So our repentance, our return to the true garden, I liked again, the connection between the two. The crisis of Christ is the Garden of Gethsemane. And that certainly is the climax of the Gospel, the rest of it is just details. And I liked it in the gospels, he already knows beforehand, what's going to take place, as he tells his disciples three times and several of the Gospels, so there's no mystery, there's no surprise, and yet the crisis is real. But this is my life, I have to offer it, or not, to do what is the will of God specifically. And that's it, that sums it up. So it's as simple as it sounds. But of course, as you say, almost impossible for the human being. And the Bible tells the whole story, as you said, Fr. Chris, time and again, time and again, of constant failure, constant failure, until the one. So that's what we are faced with. We can go through our Lenten periods and go through prayers and through our repentance and so on. But until we get to the foundational issue, which is the will, my will, not independent, contingent totally at the mercy of God, created, given some responsibility, till the ground, till the garden, nurture, take care, continue to allow life to be brought into the world. I just wish at some point, how do we wake up to the not just the tragedy of our own life, but the cruelty of our sins and its effects? Because often we treat our own sins as ticky tacky. Oh, we go to confession. Whenever we go, we say the same thing. I mean, you're a priest, I'm a priest, if we've heard one confession, we've heard every confession, because it's all the same. But is there ever any sense of the tragedy and the cruelty of our choices? The biblical story repeats this cruelty and hits us with it time and again, time and again, time and again. And yet we minimize it? Because I didn't really hurt anyone, nah, it's not that big a deal. No, no, no, it's cumulative, which basically means then, perhaps we don't really repent. We're going through the motions. You know, we're taught what the motions are and of course our services go through the motions. I mean that in the sense of Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. You know, I believe Oh Lord, I confess, I'm the foremost of sinners. I mean, we have all of those correct words at times placed in our mouth and we participate in them, in some nominal sense, at least say, Amen. I wish our hearers, like ourselves as we talk about these things, just to be confronted in both through the biblical story, and then how we repeat it in our own lives. And indeed, the tragedy is immense. And there is only one who is good.
Fr. Chris Salamy 15:24
It's interesting, you talk about do we understand, really, the impact of our sins and the tragedy, I think was the word that you use. You know, I have noticed in my own life, and in the life of many of my spiritual children, you know, confession, so just being with people and talking with people, sometimes that feeling that, as you say, our sins are ticky tacky and they're not really that big a deal. It's really not that we're not even aware of it, because I think probably somewhere deep down inside, we're aware of it. But it is the maintenance of that hubris, right? I mean, it's like, even in the midst of repentance, we don't want to let go of the original Adam in us, right. A perfect example, I was thinking about it, let's say you're estranged from someone, and you know, you get into an argument or a fight with them. And, of course, both sides always think it's the other guy, right? It's me? No, it's him. You know, it's always just how it goes. And Jesus in Matthew is pretty tough. He's like, Look, you used to be angry, and we said, don't kill anybody. Now, we're going to up it, right? If you have a gift that you're bringing to the altar, and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave it, go make peace. Well, I don't want to make peace. I don't want him to think he won. I don't want him to think he's right. And so we justify these positions in our minds of why the sin was ultimately his. Well, I don't really think Jesus cares, right. I think he's pretty interested in the fact that if there is an estrangement, you better go fix it. And it's up to you, right, I'm holding you responsible, don't worry about the other guy. So it's the hanging on to that hubris. And that's why I think that decision that we, especially in leadership, it's so, to me, so essential, that as leaders, we show that in our own actions. All those business and leadership cliches are true, if your people see you doing X, they're going to want to imitate and if they see you doing, Y, they're gonna, you know, it's just a natural thing. Children learn what they live, all that kind of stuff. In leadership positions, I think if we're not showing, in all aspects of our lives, at least a valiant fight, to do the commandments of God, to live those commandments in our lives. I mean, then we're not doing what we're supposed to be doing. And we're not setting the right witness, the right example, for those who watch.
Hollie Benton 17:29
A valiant fight and a valiant honesty even.
Fr. Chris Salamy 17:33
Yeah, agree, it's the hardest part, especially when you're, like we used that example of being estranged from someone. I mean, it's really hard to say that the reason I don't want him to win is because I would rather preserve my own ego, right, like, that's pretty brutally honest with oneself. And I don't know, I'm not always honest with myself like that. I mean, I try to be, but I like my ego, too. What can I say?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:54
Oh, you're only human, Abuna! The thing though, we all want heroes, okay. We want to see exemplary examples of what the Bible tells us. But I actually have a concern about that, because we are continually looking for them. And that can be almost potentially dangerous, by seeking them out, because ultimately, you will discover their flaws as well. Unless, of course, we create a story that makes them larger than life, which we do even with our saints in the hagiography and whatnot. My point is to teach people to look at the Scripture and hear it and do what it is saying. And don't look elsewhere, in as much as you are told, you are given this example. And most of them are negative because everybody fails. Because that's the human reality. Just do it. Just do it. It is a stress, it is mentality. It's a mentality. The point is, what is scripture teaching. And that is the reference point. As you know, we don't need to talk about scandals in the church, our leaders will fail, we will fail from time to time, pastors, priests, I'm talking about, but it is simply, read here Genesis, read here Matthew, read here John, just as you've been trying to tell us today.
Fr. Chris Salamy 19:12
The hero is necessary, though, right? I mean, I think we think like that. That's how the human brain functions. We function in story. Everything from the first writing to today, it's all story. And you have a hero who has a villain, a bad guy that he, you know, has to deal with. And he or she struggles and they fall and you know, maybe even sometimes the stories tell us about wickedness in the heroes and then you know, eventually through magic or superpowers they conquer. My teacher used to call the scriptural statement, an anti statement, because here we're posited with the hero, as the one who lost, right? Jesus is declared Lord on the cross, not in the empty tomb. Right? For those who are listening that are Orthodox Christian, well we put that on our iconography, right? Like Jesus is on the cross, and it says, The King of Glory. It's an anti statement. And so it's causing, I think forcing, to your point Fr. Tim, a shift in mindset, right? You have to start looking for the heroic, if that's the word you want to use, in the Christ. If you look for the heroic in the, you know, Tony Stark, Captain America type of figure, great movies, blah, blah, blah, but it's all maintenance of that Adamic hubris if I can make up those words, right, but Christ is showing us a very, not even very, entirely different way, do the business his way, which is sacrificial. And that's the only hero that wins, right? And that's the statement of the empty tombs like, look, it works. I think it's a completely new way of looking, maybe not new, it's a different way of looking at everything, especially within leadership, Fr. Tim, I'm not even talking about within churches, I mean, as a husband, who leads his family or a mother who leads her family, or you know, like, just everywhere. If you think like the original 'A'dam, the original man, it just ends in the tomb, man. But if you think like the Christ, it goes through the tomb. That's the point.
Hollie Benton 21:05
Fr. Timothy Lowe 21:05
Fr. Chris Salamy 21:05
Hollie Benton 21:06
Thank you, Fr. Chris, so grateful to have you with us today. And I'll go back and read those stories and encourage our listeners to go back and reread Genesis all the way up through the Gospels to really understand the two different ways of being: the one who seeks to do his own will, the one who seeks to do the will of his Father. Thank you for the reminder. Again and again. Thank you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 21:30
Thank you, everyone.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Leave a Reply.