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.”