Stewardship and Automatic Giving – Is the United Way the Way to Go?

Note – Updated- Tues. November 22, 9am – In response to a reader’s comment and anecdotal report, I have revised the recommendation – A shout out to Ken for making me aware of this… see below

By Fr. Robert Holet

I was recently reminded that this is the time of year that many people receive solicitations through their workplace to sign up for payroll deductions to the United Way, or the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) or similar state programs.  Often there is ‘encouragement’ by managers to do so, with drives and special social events to enhance the signup campaign.  This is a deeply personal decision actually and an important one. Should I sign up?  Here are a few things to consider – in short – BE A WISE STEWARD!

If anyone has read this, or any of the related blogs on Orthodox Christian stewardship, you’ll quickly identify the importance of making offerings as a key element of faithful stewardship.  Ideally, this takes the form of an offering to the Lord that we make weekly, as the first fruits of what we’ve received from Him during the week, offered to Him and through the local parish. But if the firstfruits offerings are the right hand, our offerings to the poor are the left hand.  We should be two handed givers!

Expanding Circles of Generosity

Because there is a multitude of ways to give to charitable concerns and people in need, these decisions can be a little complicated.  We need to be both wise and generous stewards when offering our charity.  Consider starting the process envisioning your charitable efforts as concentric circles – like the dynamic circles formed by a pebble tossed in a pond.  The efforts of our local Orthodox parish or our national Church (UOC of USA), should obviously get prime consideration for several reasons  First, the concerns and recipients of these charities will be the ones close to the ‘heart’ of our faith.  So if a local family experiences trauma, and the local parish responds – it reveals a great opportunity to multiply the effect of our individual donations, joining them to others in charity to a neighbor in need.  Sometimes we forget that people very close to us are in need, when the marketing campaigns of major charities play on TV before us, sometimes continuously.  Likewise our national Church (and groups like the UOL) have identified special needs worthy of extraordinary concern, such as the Ukrainian orphanages and wounded soldiers.  The Assembly of Bishops has recognized several organizations such as OCMC, IOCC, Zoe for Life, FOCUS etc. that are worthy recipients.

Secondly, the recipient charity needs to be well administered. For example, if a charity extends only 20 cents of every dollar it receives to provide actual aid to people in need, it’s not a wise choice.  Administrative expenditures of your hard earned funds will evaporate into hidden costs.  Some such expenditures are necessary – but sometimes these funds go into the pockets of people at the top of the organization (including executive salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars, vacation perks, etc.) or for uses of limited or questionable value.  Some exceptions may exist, but most well run organizations can usually expend less than 10% of their income on administration, leaving 90% to go directly to people in need.

Thirdly, the selected charities should be well ‘vetted’ so that donated funds by the charity reflect the moral and spiritual priorities for us as Orthodox Christians.  First, some not-for-profits must be shunned outright – such as Planned Parenthood – which exists almost exclusively to provide abortions and makes its money off of this diabolical activity. Their nod to ‘care of the mother’, or providing mammograms, etc. is only a head fake.  Their business is abortion and it is a profitable one.[i]  Sadly, even some seemingly innocuous charities, like the Susan B Komen Foundation have been found to ally themselves with Planned Parenthood, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to them. Also, while some charities are quite effective at pulling at the emotional heartstrings, there may be other charities whose purpose is far closer to our spiritual mission.  Hence, the assistance (and funds) to human concerns should always far outweigh donations to animal care or similar worldly concerns of lesser importance.

Should we Go United?

So is the United Way the Way to go? My answer – I don’t think so.

While United Way Worldwide (the umbrella organization) does not contribute directly to Planned Parenthood, local chapters do – and these may be funded by people unaware of this connection. (For a list of local chapters that do so, see https://afa.net/unitedway). CFC does likewise.   A generic donation to the United Way or CFC could be viewed, in effect, as a donation of a small portion of your funds to organizations such as Planned Parenthood.  I would not want a penny of my hard earned income to go there.  So what do you do?

Well, the best option is simple. First, ‘fully fund’ your local parish and local Church/Metropolia and national/internationals Orthodox institutions, like the concentric circles mentioned above.  They need your help and your donation becomes a spiritual, as well as a material blessing to those they serve. Note that if you want the simplicity of an automatic donation, this can easily be done through online banking systems – sending out the amount at a time that works for you.

I used to think that earmarking the contribution made the United Way / CFC route a suitable workaround.  I just learned however, that this may not be the case.  The thought was – ‘Because many United Way/Combined programs offer you the opportunity to earmark your funds – and sometimes Orthodox institutions like IOCC are offered as an approved organization for such automatic payroll donations on the check list – that this would avoid the above difficulty of donating to unsavory institutions. The automatic payroll deduction makes it ‘easy’.

This may its not so easy….

Contortions in Charity Allocations

Anecdotally, I learned that at least one United Way local chapter determines its budget allocation to charities without reference to the earmarked funds.  How can that be?

Suppose the executives at the United Way form their annual budget, and decide to give our morally acceptable charity, we’ll call Charity A (say the Boy Scouts) $10,000, and organization B – Planned Parenthood – $10,000 as well.  The practice (at this chapter) is to apply (when they receive it) your specially earmarked funds to the established budget income anticipated for said charity.  So if you earmarked your $5000 for the Boy Scouts, they would apply it there.  BUT they would cut the income budgeted to the Boy Scouts from the anticipated general funds that had been allocated to the Boy Scouts by same amount – $5000. Instead of getting $15000, the Boy Scouts would still get only $10000! The $5000 previously allocated to the Boy Scouts was then free to be applied elsewhere (in this example, Planned Parenthood). So yes, your funds do not go directly to Planned Parenthood, but your earmarking doesn’t help the situation!   In effect Charity A will simply be deprived funds that would have gone there from the General funds and those will be dispersed elsewhere – even to Planned Parenthood.  So in this case, even if the Scout troop had expected a windfall because they had worked hard to encourage their friends/family to donate to United Way and have their funds earmarked, in effect they would have found that the troop’s income receivedfrom the United Way general (non-earmarked) funds went to zero, replaced by funds from their earmarked efforts.  The only way around this – and the better way around this – is to simply donate directly to the preferred charity.  In this case, an employer’s matching donation (if offered) might be lost, but it beats the alternative.

— Note- this is a very general supposition based on anecdotal, but reliable information. It may not be applicable in all circumstances and local chapters, and is no way meant to be an affront to the many generous donors, volunteers and employees of the United Way or CFC. Nevertheless, if /as the situation has existed in the past, there is little reason to believe it does not exist now.  Most of us do not have the time or wherewithal to check the budgets or management practices of our local United Way chapters, but it’s in the fine print of budgets, policies and management that what seems to be one thing, may actually be quite another. I welcome comments, or information from other reliable sources on this matter – so that we might all be better informed, better stewards.—

One More Thing

But there’s one more subtle, but important aspect of to consider.  When we use the payroll deduction it becomes a one-time decision (for the year) and automatic.  We don’t think of it – or think of it only as a financial transaction. Almost like the payroll taxes we pay – we never see the money and forget about it.  But the real power of sacred offering is the personal sense of our participation and offering of what we have received, to those in need – even if through the hands of others who offer the actual charitable service. These service providers are often in a better place to help people in need through their knowledge and experience – like the innkeeper in the story of the Good Samaritan, who was ‘funded’ from the hands and heart of the Samaritan.  He had an inn -what was needed at the time – to help the man in need.  So too with organized charities.  What is best is if we take a personal interest and involvement with those charities we support.  We can do this simply, and ‘contribute’ in other ways as well. We can contribute by volunteering or offering helpful  items or personal help that they might need in their work. Hence, volunteering to do administrative work or even cleaning offices might make needed funds available for direct care!  Such organizations are always looking for ways to engage people in personal service.

Not to be underestimated is our prayer for those we are trying to help.  In short, our charity needs to be charitable – it’s really a matter of the heart.  With the automatic process, it’s easy to taken on the attitude, ‘I gave at the office’ and pass on the person in need, whether immediately in front of us, or others who we may know about, who the Church may be desperately trying to help.

May the Spirit unite us in the way of sacred Charity in Christ as His stewards, especially during this holiday season.  This is the true united Way, united in Christ.

Fr. Robert Holet is the Director of the Consistory Office of Ministry of the UOC of USA, pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, and author of the book, The First Fruits of Christian Living, Orthodox Christian Stewardship as Sacred Offering (Authorhouse, 2013)

[i] References available by request.

Is Stewardship Ukrainian?

By Mark Host

It might silly to even ask such a question.  Stewardship has no ethnicity.  It is a Biblical principle, and the Bible transcends nationality.  We all love our culture, and give it a place of importance in our lives, but it is important to remember that we did not start Orthodoxy, we were brought to it.

In the year 863, the Orthodox evangelists, Saints Cyril and Methodius developed the Glagolitic alphabet, which they used to translate the Bible into Old Church Slavonic.  The Cyrillic alphabet used by the Ukrainian language today is a descendant of that work.  They did this to bring the gospel to the Slavic peoples.  We often refer to the Gospel in terms such as, “the Ukrainian Gospel” or, “the English Gospel”.  In these cases these terms are adjectives, describing the language in which the Gospel is presented, but all too often we treat them as possessive terms.  Such a view stems from a logical error.  The Gospel is not Ukrainian.  Ukrainian and its related languages were codified into a written system in order to bring the Gospel to us.  The language upon which so much of our cultural identity rests has its root an effort of evangelization and stewardship.

If this were not in itself enough, we have the example of our very revered St. Vladimir (Volodymyr).  He set up a tithe of his income and property to establish a church that is commonly referred to as The Church of the All-Holy Tithe.  We revere the actions of his baptism of Ukraine, but often ignore the stewardship example he set for us all. The founders of many of our UOC parishes also gave deeply to set up and support their beloved parishes.  In a time when they primarily worked in blue collar, industrial jobs, they sacrificed much to establish the churches we attend today.  Truly they learned from the example set by St. Vladimir.

What is perhaps Ukrainian (though not exclusively) is the reason why we don’t have good stewardship practices.  In the old country the Church long benefitted from state support.  For this reason, our ancestors did not need to give, and so the practice of stewardship was not adequately taught as a blessed way of offering our lives to God.  In the process, so too did we lose the connection with sacrificial offering in the Divine Liturgy.  In a related way, this too is a reason too that stewardship seems to us to be a “Protestant” idea.  Many of the Protestant churches that exist today (though of course not all) began here in the United States, where separation of church and state meant that they didn’t receive the benefit of state support, and needed to be supported by their parishioners from the start.  Even some of the Protestant churches that started in Europe were persecuted churches, and did not receive this support.  So stewardship practices were an organic part of many of these churches from the start.

It is clear that stewardship is Biblical.  We have the examples of the saints.  We have the precedent set by the founders of our parishes.  So it is silly to think that stewardship is not Ukrainian.  Stewardship is necessity of all Christians who seek give thanks to God.

A couple of questions to ponder – feel free to post your comments on this site and strike up a conversation:

  • Do you think of stewardship as a practice that is “not Ukrainian”?
  • How can this change my attitude about stewardship and how it applies to all Christians?

Mark Host is a member of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH.  He works in IT, teaches college English on the side, and is planning to return to school in 2017 to pursue his PhD.

Vocation as Stewardship

by Mark Host

We generally think of our job as something that belongs to the secular world.  It is part of that “other” world in which we exist apart from our spiritual and church lives.  It is common to think of our vocation as something we must do to meet our worldly needs: a paycheck, and with it the resources to purchase food, clothing, shelter, and luxuries.  The idea that our job is somehow a part of this other life we live stems directly from the secular idea that one’s job does not define one’s self.  In a feel-good world that focuses on the self, people feel they need such distinctions in order to cope with a job which they understand they need, but which they may not want.  Yet this is simply another attempt at creating a worldview that suits what people want to believe, instead of changing our perspective towards the Truth of what is.  That latter sounds hard, and it can be, but that does not mean that it needs to be unpleasant.  Far from it.  As the late Fr. Hopko put it, “… all vocations are ‘religious.’”[1]

There are many possible ways to understand this idea.  First and foremost, it is important that we always remember that we are the only Bible that many people will ever read.  When we say that we are Christians, what that means is that we represent Christ and His Church.  How we conduct ourselves often becomes what people understand Christianity to mean.  If we conduct ourselves poorly or under-perform at our job, then this reflects poorly on God.  If we do well, then this reflects positively on God.  If we go the extra mile to help out a co-worker, and don’t gloat on a job well done by us, but rather give that up to God and do it humbly as an act of service, then we glorify God by doing so.  This is what the Gospels mean when they tell us, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  When we are humble and have our hearts and minds oriented towards God in our vocation, then we can understand how our vocation is a ministry.  Let others see your diligent work and praise God.

Regardless of one’s vocation, it is possible to use it for the greater Glory of God.  The CEO of a company has the well-being of every employee and their families in his or her care.  How the CEO executes their job has a direct impact on the lives of those under his or her care.  It’s easy to understand how this can be stewardship.  Yet even a dishwasher can make his or her vocation meaningful beyond the immediacy of earning a paycheck.  Cleaning dishes properly can have a direct impact on the health and safety of the customers who use them.  How conscientiously the dishwasher executes his or her job also matters.  Wastefulness or theft is often visited upon all employees, as the employer often recoups those losses through lower wage increases and reductions in benefits.  So each person can be the caretakers of those made in the image of Christ in some way.  So we must each be conscientious in our vocations, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Fr. Hopko writes that, “All are called to be saints…”  Not everyone is called to do this in the same way.  We need to shed secular ideas of what is important and not important work.  As Fr. Hopko points out:

“Some will sanctify their lives being married; others will be single. Some will do it in clerical orders; others as lay people. Some will be monastic; most will live in the everyday secular world. Some will work primarily in a physical way, others will work intellectually. Some will be artists, scientists, business people, professionals. Others may have no particular job or profession. And some may be called simply to suffer, while others, in terms of this world, will hardly suffer at all.”

What is left for us to do is accept the calling to which God has guided us, and in so doing, use that vocation – whatever it is – for His greater Glory.

 

So here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Have you asked yourself how you can use your vocation towards God’s greater Glory, instead of only towards a greater paycheck?
  • Do you give your time at work to God as well as to your employer?
  • How can you be a better example for those around you?

[1] Hopko, Thomas.  “Finding One’s Vocation in Life.”  Orthodox Church in America.  1996. Web.  23 March 2016.

Mark Host is a member of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH.  He works in IT, teaches college English on the side, and is planning to return to school in 2017 to pursue his PhD.

Financial Offering as Eucharistic Thanksgiving

by Mark Host

At the beginning of the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy (the sacred prayer of the consecration of the bread and wine spoken by the priest), the deacon (or priest) says the words, “Let us be attentive, that we may present the holy offering in peace.”  What is this offering?  As many would assume, it certainly does refer to the bread and wine that the priest offers up to God, but what has largely been lost today is the significance of those items.

In the ancient church, the wine, bread, oil, and other supplies used by the priest during the liturgy were brought to the church.  Most churches had an alcove in which these offerings were left.  These gifts would have included money, and practical items such as grains for the sustenance of the priest.  During the Great Entrance, the deacon would bring these offerings from this alcove into the altar.  As the practice of bringing such offerings to the church dwindled, the Great Entrance devolved into simply walking out in front of the iconostasis with the Chalice and discos and back to the altar.  The bread, wine, and other supplies were simply purchased or prepared by the parish priest as needed.  Today, instead of supplying priests with items for their sustenance, we supply them with a salary.

So there was a time when these offerings were the tithe given to the church.  There was a ritual aspect in their giving, which gave them meaning far beyond the practical reality of what they supplied to the church.  These were the first fruits given by the faithful back to God in grateful appreciation for all they had received.  Then offered up to God, they received the Holy Eucharist in return for their faith in Him.

So why then has the Church not removed the vestigial remains of this practice?  For many, it may be tempting to decry this as stubborn conservatism, but the truth is that this part of the service is not vestigial at all.  For the most part we no longer bring the wine and oil, and we no longer bring them into the altar in a ritual way.  In spite of this, these things remain to remind us of the sacrificial aspects of our financial contributions.

Over the time the modes have changed.  Most of us are not agrarian, so our first fruits are not grain, wine, oil, or other similar products.  Our first fruits are mostly monetary.  We exchange our time or labor for money, so our first fruits look a little more like leaves.  This does not change their purpose in the Divine Liturgy.  They are the same sacrificial offering, made to God in Eucharistic thanksgiving.

So when the deacon prays that we present the holy offering in peace, let us all remember that the holy offering we give in contemporary times has taken on a different form, but it is still the same thanksgiving to God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us.

 

Some questions for reflection – please feel free to use the ‘comment’ section to share with all of our readers what your parish practices are:

o   What is our parish’s practice in receiving the offerings of the faithful?’

o   What does it look like in my church?

o   How might it be improved?

o   When we come to the church, do we actually believe that we have something to offer to God?

o   Do we believe that the offering we make is done in genuine thanksgiving for His blessings, and towards our sanctification?  Or do we think that the check is simply a means to a worldly end?

 

Mark Host is a member of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH.  He works in IT, teaches college English on the side, and is planning to return to school in 2017 to pursue his PhD.

Podcast 2 Is Up – Principles of Christian Stewardship

The fine folks at Ancient Faith have posted the second podcast in the FirstFruits series on Christian stewardship where some basic foundation stones of personal stewardship as a means of offering of our selves to God are explored.  This also opens the door to a bit of discussion about how financial stewardship is to be approached in the Church as a ‘sacred offering’.    Do feel free to send comments to this blog, or the Ancient Faith site.

Click – Podcast 2 – Principles

Stewardship and Love in the Early Church and Today

By Lisa Ryan

 

The early Christian Church as described in the book of Acts sometimes seems far removed from the Church we participate in daily.  No longer do we live in relatively isolated communities:  rather, our modern blessings of travel and communications allow us to stay connected as far as our inclination permits.  No longer do we live communally; and this, debatably, is both a blessing and a curse. Our society is wealthy enough that families and individuals can afford their own homes, transportation, food, and medical care: surely, these are blessings.  The distance from the rest of our parish community, though, means that we must work harder than the early Christians to “love one another; as I have loved you…” (John 13:34). Fortunately, the Church Tradition teaches us how we can build that sense of community and a genuine love for and personal investment in the Church:  we can share adversity, and give generously of our abundance to the church both at the parish level and to the broader Church as a whole.

St. Paul opens his 2nd letter to the Corinthians in thanksgiving for that church’s support and prayers during a time of trouble.  He uses the generosity of the church in Macedonia (in support of the church in Jerusalem) as an example to the church in Corinth, and as a teaching moment for how Christian Stewardship works:

“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality. As it is written “he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack” (2Corinthians 8:13-15)

The Orthodox Study Bible explains this passage as “Paul’s landmark teaching on Christian stewardship. The metaphor is not the giving of money, but the sowing of seed for a harvest. And where does the seed come from? God Himself (v.10)”

This passage in 2nd Corinthians teaches us a number of valuable lessons about stewardship.  The early Church still believed in working and taking care of one’s own needs:  nearly all of the members of the Church had day jobs (to use today’s parlance), and a number of them still owned houses and property and had dependents.  St. Paul reassures them that this is as it should be.  What he aims to correct is the community’s sense of personal, emotional investment in the Church both locally and abroad.  Instead of building storehouses and stockpiling wealth, they are to invest in the church: both in their local community and in the other communities more distant.  What they are doing, in that case, is sowing a harvest.  St. Paul is teaching us to reinvest our profits in the church and he explains that by doing so we “increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.” (2Corinthians 9:11).

St. Paul’s description of this process is quite practical:  give to others when you have it and they need it, so that they will return the favor, and so that every one of you will be thankful to God.  It’s a very good “insurance policy” for a small, persecuted community.  However, it’s a lot more than that. Sharing adversity in prayer, and through the sharing of financial resources, binds us all into a community.  What helps us truly love each other is a sense of personal investment in the other’s well-being, and the easiest way to make that investment is to give of our time, talent, and treasures to them. When we have abundance (and if we are good stewards of God’s gifts we should have be working hard and living modestly; two things that tend to lead to abundance), we should be investing that surplus into the Church.  If we look around and see a skimpy harvest, maybe we all need to be investing a lot more seed money back into our local parish and to the diocese and the rest of the Orthodox Church.  If some of our sister parishes (the ‘fields’) seem neglected, maybe we should use some of our modern blessings to reach out to other parishes, spend some time with people outside our usual sphere, give more money to the diocese or to the relief of parishes or parishioners in need.  Always, we should pray for the whole Church, our diocese, our parish, and for the rest of the world, but knowing to whom the fruits of your labors have gone really goes a long way to helping you see them as people and to come to care about them.  Our Lord, in fact, told us as much.  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6:19-21)

The treasury of our Church, as St. Laurence of Rome so bravely stated, is stored in the vessels of the poor and needy.   The blessed path for each of us is to reinvest our bounty into the Church, and allow our treasures to bring our hearts closer to each other.  Whether it is philanthropic outreach, or mission work, or support of a sister parish fallen on hard times, we are wise stewards if we allow our wealth to enrich our hearts and our treasure in heaven.  May our hearts be always rich in the communion of our Church!

Lisa Ryan is a member of St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie, PA.  She is an IT Business Analyst in her professional life; co-Head Coach of the UOC of the USA’s Strategic Planning initiative; and an enthusiastic convert to Orthodoxy.” 

Stewardship and the Great Council

The Great and Holy Council –  The Orthodox Hierarchy Wrestles with the Stewardship of the Church

 

By Fr. Robert Holet

 

The timing couldn’t be better – as the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church convened in Crete with the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, concluding on the Sunday of All Saints. Much will be written by many with far more profound insights into the historical, spiritual and theological meaning of the Council – as well as the implications of the participation of the Churches and, more notably, the non-participation of others, for whatever reasons. From my perspective, what is so encouraging is the refreshing sight of the Fathers of the Church as they step up – prayerfully, visibly and publically – to act as the stewards of the Lord’s Church in our age. Quietly, the prayer of many Orthodox Christians was that, through the Council, the Lord would pour forth a wave of spiritual enthusiasm, renewed insight and where necessary, needed change, to the Orthodox Church’s life and witness in the world today.

 

Herein is set forth one of the challenges of Orthodoxy today. We know that Christ is the Head of the Church, and so the Body lives in harmony with Him (or is cut off and dies). But the Head has ascended to Heaven – leaving us, in a manner of speaking, without a visible head. The natural human inclination is to select a new visible representative – so that we have a ‘chief steward’ to preserve order. Some lament that we need a ‘visible’ Steward of the Church in our own day, as in the practice of the Roman Catholics, whose Pope has the responsibility to steward/shepherd their Church.[i] This approach would certainly be more understandable to our modern sensibilities; every organization needs its leadership head, every business its CEO.  If the Orthodox Church had one, it surely wouldn’t have taken hundreds of years to convene such a Council to initiate this process! It can be argued that this leadership-stewardship role was exercised in an earlier age by the Christian Roman Emperors, beginning with Constantine – and probably out of practical as much as spiritual need. The Roman Catholics have not had a problem calling wide-ranging councils since the Great Schism in the 11th. It’s been much more difficult for the Orthodox to so gather – even though the conciliar model is at the heart of the Orthodox understanding of how the stewardship of the universal Church takes place. For Orthodoxy, Christ did not set up such a singular, ultimately empowered, overseer.

 

Local or Global? Broadening the Circle

 

A related challenge facing the Hierarchs, and highlighted by the Council, is the very tension between ‘local’ and ‘global’.  In Orthodox ecclesiology, the bishop is always bishop first and foremost of a ‘local church’.  But what about the Church around the world?  This typifies a tension present more broadly in Christianity today. Where do our responsibilities lie? Are we to focus on ‘working out our salvation in fear and trembling’ – with a strong focus on our individual, private life? Are we to also broaden our spiritual awareness and take responsible stewardship of our family? What about our local church communities (parish)? Do we look beyond the walls of our parish to reach out with the gospel and also endeavor to express the stewardship of the Church in our locale, finding some way to ‘love our neighbor’ in the local community or region?

 

As a member of our Metropolitan Council, I’ve sensed the need of our national Metropolia to be supported (in ministry and love, not to mention financially) by local parishes – and when that’s absent we are like leaders without followers, and our bishops are shepherds without sheep. Are we not also called, as Orthodox in America, to see the breadth of our cross-jurisdictional Church, manifest in the work of the Assembly of Bishops, or IOCC, or OCMC, or OCF or any of a score of ministries that have a national reach that we are supposed to steward by our support, because they really are important? And let’s not forget the international concern of many of Orthodox Christians today in our parishes and our jurisdictions, that extend across the oceans to a faraway place and a faraway people who are our ‘brothers and sisters (no less)’, many of whom are deeply in need.[ii] Then too, there are inter-Church and ecumenical concerns that reach into international ecclesial activities and discussions. Just thinking about all this makes me dizzy! Is it little wonder that the oft-quoted saying of St. Seraphim about acquiring the Holy Spirit is so popular today – focusing/stewarding our thoughts and energies on what is closest, and manageable?

 

But for a hierarch, the global dimension of their calling cannot be ignored. It’s their responsibility to bear that broader, global concern. When Christ gathered his disciples at that Mystical Supper and entrusted to them the Mysteries, the Keys to the Kingdom, and all, He also entrusted a distinct, global expression of a united, conciliar Church and ministry to them as well. They cannot deny or ignore it – and the diptychs[iii] remind them of their global connectedness to the entirety of the Church whenever they offer the Liturgy. Further, if the hierarchs don’t faithfully serve as stewards of the global Church (oikoumene), no one will because no one else can. What we should all appreciate, regardless of any of the documents or other outcomes of this Council, is the determined effort led by the patriarchs, especially by the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew, to overcome all manner of impediments so that this distinctive expression of stewardship of the worldwide Church could be exercised. It had been hundreds of years since it was so manifest – because it is, as expressed in the icon of Pentecost, a stewardship function which can only be exercised in the Spirit, in council and solidarity with others.

 

Stewardship of the Gift of Unity through Conciliarity

 

We can glory in the expression of this Pentecost-enlightened Church because it shows us the need for stewardship expressed as conciliarity. If, as the Council theme resonating the Kontakion of St. Romanos indicates, “He called all to unity,” maybe this is the very image of the Church of Christ we so desperately need; especially as communities and collaboration collapse – sometimes in violence – in an individualistic and secular age. International, national, jurisdictional, regional and local – all of the other levels of life in Christ – need the discovery of this conciliar dimension of stewardship and mission in the Church. Perhaps the stewardship of our very souls relies not just about our-selves, or what we do even in serving others in the Church, but through the very relationship and union with God the Trinity, and with others in holy communion in love.

 

Essential, then, to the stewardship of the Church is this search and longing for unity. This will lead each of us, especially the shepherds, to repentance – as we realize the disruption of the unity in each of our Church circles. Only repentance and truth can bring healing and restoration. Efforts to bring reconciliation, though imperfect, in the Great Council exemplify the hierarchical role of calling us to the dialogue, and if necessary, repentance that leads to unity – true among Patriarchs, within national churches, down to the family level. The world will know the love of Christ when He sees us love one another, and reconcile with one another.[iv]

 

As with the stewardship of any important ministry in the Church, unity cannot accomplished solely by individuals. Rather, an effort to gather the Church in the oikumene assumes a global vision and multi-national strategic planning and practical execution. As anyone hanging around the Orthodox for a short time may have observed, gathering the Orthodox for anything beyond eating a meal can be a challenge! Gathering theologians, media support, people gifted with multi-lingual skills to address staffing needs, hospitality concerns, etc. – this was a herculean task. Perhaps most daunting was the challenge to firmly and fairly address the concerns of all the Patriarchs and their delegations, not the least of which was the patience required to address (even to the final moments before convening the Council) the concerns and reluctance of those who opted not to attend. Even choosing a safe and accessible site was inspired – in light of the bombing of the Istanbul Airport on the very day that many of the Hierarchs were traveling home at the end of the Council. And I’m sure that there will be a few stories in the days to come of other near-misses and events that managed to find resolution so that these men, called by God, could actually sit down and begin to address, as faithful stewards, the global needs of the Church throughout the world.

 

A Moment in History?

 

I can recall, as a youth, hearing wisps of information about the Second Vatican Council which was taking place and how it would change forever the life of the Catholic Church. What could not have even been anticipated made history – beyond anyone’s imagination.[v] Is it possible that something of similar great importance is in store for the Orthodox Church? In the words of our Metropolitan Antony of Hieropolis,[vi]This Council will be part of the history of the modern world.”[vii]

 

All I can say is it’s about time. God’s time. God takes His time – often taking millennia to act – but when He does, big things happen. This is a new beginning. As the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church around the world get exercise their profound ministry as stewards of the whole Church in Orthodoxy, we will have a new glimpse of the icon of the Church for Pentecost. In a sense, the Apostles in the icon can now be flanked not only by the Fathers and Hierarchs of the previous ages – but now we can see, sharing in that glory as stewards of His Church, our own Hierarchs, assuring us that our Church is not only one with that Church of Pentecost, the Councils, and the Saints, but expressed in a powerful, new, visual image in our own age.  Ω

 

 

[i] Of course, in the Orthodox view,  the Pope is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome, and the scope of his pastorship extends to a degree as Patriarch of the West (but never replacing a local bishop).  Some popes recently have eschewed the ‘Patriarch of the West’ title, notably His Holiness Pope Benedict. For one Orthodox take on this, see http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/HilarionPope.php   But the papacy is globally recognized in the Roman Church as a ‘Universal Pontificate’, effectively making him the steward of the entire Church.

[ii] Among the most pressing needs are those of the Syrian and middle-Eastern Churches due to the war and persecution in their lands, as well as the suffering in Ukraine due to civil unrest and its accompanying ecclesial issues.

[iii] The diptychs record the names of rightly ordained bishops in Communion with the Church, as successors to the apostles, and for whom prayers are offered, especially in the Divine Liturgy.

[iv] Jn. 13:35

[v] Some would argue – for better, others, for worse.

[vi] Presiding Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora

[vii] http://pemptousia.com/video/metropolitan-of-ierapolis-antony-this-synod-will-be-part-of-the-history-of-the-modern-world/