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‘Lent With the African Saints’ Author on Deeper Roots of Christianity for Black Americans

Fr. Deacon John Gresham is an ordained deacon in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America and author of Become All Flame: Lent With the African Saints. The devotional features the stories of 49 early church saints from the African continent, paired with a meditation and Scripture references.

In Become All Flame Gresham focuses on such figures as Simon of Cyrene, the African pilgrim who was compelled to carry Christ’s cross and Monica of Africa, commonly known through her son Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions.

In the following interview, Gresham, who serves at St. Basil Orthodox Church in Hampton, Virginia, discusses his experience as an African American learning about these early Christian African saints and what their stories have to offer us today. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

First, I want to talk to you about reading the stories of the saints as a devotional practice. How do we spiritually grow when we read the stories of these spiritual heroes?

It’s written in Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” There have been people in our past to have the same difficulties, the same challenges, the same struggles; might not be quite with the same technology, but the central struggle is still there. Reading about the saints helps to encourage us to go beyond those difficulties and find peace in God, so that we can overcome them.

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Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Phoebe Farag Mikhail is the author of Putting Joy into Practice: Seven Ways to Lift Your Spirit from the Early Church, has contributed to the anthology Darkness is as Light and to the essay collection Many Women Were Also There: The Participation of Orthodox Women in the Ecumenical Movement. Her writing has also appeared in Plough, Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Talking Writing Magazine. She blogs at Being in Community, where she also features guest posts from a diversity of contributors. She’s on Instagram and Twitter at @pkfarag. She currently serves at St. Antonious & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in East Rutherford, NJ with her husband and three children while attending seminary classes at Pope Shenouda III Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary.

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