The Feast of the Encounter in the Temple – The Offering of Christ Made Visible

By Fr. Robert Holet

The Feast of the Encounter (Presentation) of our Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2/15) presents a vivid image of sacred stewardship to us.  The very act of Mary and Joseph coming to the Temple on the fortieth day, to consecrate their first born Son, who is the Son of God, back to God the Father, is filled with deep spiritual meaning.  It shows, for the first time, how creation (literally embodied in Christ in the flesh), now is re-consecrated to God in a total way.

The icon of the feast is instructive to us about the nature of the Feast as an offering.   Mary is the central actor – making the offering of her Son to Simeon the High Priest.  It was through Mary that God the Son took flesh.  The Father entrusted His divine Son to her, and now she offers in both a symbolic, but physical way, he Son back to the Father.  It is the offering of Christ to the Father – made by the Mother of the Church, that shows us how everything precious is to be treated in this world.  We must see it as coming from God, we must receive it from Him and offer back to Him.

The Fulfillment of the Covenant 

In doing so, Mary is guided by the Law of the Lord, fulfilling the template of the Old Covenant and in so doing, initiating the New Covenant, by acting in obedience to the Law, ‘every first born male shall be consecrated to the Lord’ (Lk. 2:23, Ex. 13.2)   The prescribed offering is made of the first-born son, but what accompanies the central offering is the accompanying offering of the two turtledoves.  Joseph carries the two doves, also in fulfillment of the Exodus mandate – the turtledoves being a testimony to their poverty.  But even though poor they still make the offering.  And even if they were wealthy, it would not have been appropriate to offer a lamb, for it is Christ, the Lamb of God, that is being offered as the central action of this sacred event.

There is so much to behold and contemplate here!

Mary (and Joseph, who brings the doves) show us how our reception of God’s gifts are only sanctifying for us when they are seen as coming from God, and offered back to Him, at least in a symbolic way.  This moment is filled with divine glory – the glory of God filling the Temple with the fulfillment of the Law, and the Beginning of the New Covenant.  There is an interesting sense here of the completion and fulfillment of time here as well.  So, it was nine months and forty days (almost a full year) earlier that the Annunciation took place, when Mary submitted to the revelation of the angel and the will of God and received Christ within her womb.  With the fullness of time and the birth of the Lord, we see Christ as a child and now, consecrated to the Father by human hearts and hands.  Is this not the very essence of the ministry of the Church – to lift up Christ in the flesh, in our human hands, in thanksgiving to the Father?  This is indeed repeated – not only on the occasion of the Divine Liturgy of the Feast when the priest lifts up the Consecrated Lamb (on the discos), and His blood in the Chalice, and consecrates them to the Father, saying, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee”.  The Church is perfectly the Church in this moment – there is nothing else of greater importance or significance at this moment.  God fills the temple with His presence and grace when the offering is so made according to His will.

A Practical View

So this is a little of the theology of the Feast in relation to stewardship.  But can we look for other aspects that are a bit more practical?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • First, we see in Mary our personal model of stewardship of our life. She truly fulfilled everything that God asked of her, completely and perfectly – the definition of a ‘good and faithful servant’ (Mt. 25:23).  She received God’s Gift (beyond all gifts) and oriented her life completely toward this because she had oriented her heart and mind to the Lord.   This is the great challenge that we face as well – to orient our hearts, minds and lives to the Lord.  Doing so, we will receive our gifts from Him – which will be distinctly different from the Gift she received – yet we can fulfill His will perfectly and well.
  • For parents, we see a practical, but spiritual activity by Mary – offering her Son to the Father. Parents are in a unique place to receive the precious lives of their children from God, and re-dedicate them to the Him.  The Church’s liturgy has very powerful prayers and actions that affirm this action – with the ritual of churching of newborn children and ultimately, Holy Baptism, which is a prime guideline for every Orthodox parent to observe, initiating the child into the full life in Christ.  What a great blessing and opportunity it is to so imitate Mary – doing the ‘best’ for their children by doing what our faith reveals!  And yes, every time you carry your child in your arms into church, or drag them in kicking and screaming, you are duplicating this sacred action!
  • Joseph’s offering of the turtle doves should not be ignored. I don’t know what the price of turtledoves was at the temple that day, but there was a price to be paid monetarily in the purchase of the doves, to literally go ‘up in smoke’. But this became a sweet-smelling offering to God, because it was done in faithfulness.  If we were to begin to see how our monetary gifts can be transformed into something pleasing to God, we might go a long way toward restoring a right relationship with money and material things, when we use it in a manner that is pleasing to God.  And yes, offering our money for spiritual purposes can be a way of drawing near to God.

Finally, returning for a moment to the ‘divine timing’ of this feast, we realize that with the arrival of this Feast in February, it takes place just as the Lenten season begins to unfold. Of course, the destination of the Lenten journey is Jerusalem, and what takes place there is the True and Total Offering of Christ on the Cross, for our salvation.  As we celebrate this feast, we also catch a glimpse of Him Who is Offered, the High Priest and Savior of our souls.

Blessed Feast to you and yours!

 

Fr. Robert Holet

Fr. Robert is the Director of the Consistory Office of Stewardship of the UOC of USA and
Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Charlottesville, Virginia

Icon – By Michael Kapeluck, Archangel Icons.

 

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.

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.” 

Welcome to Stewardship Concepts!!

The Stewardship Concepts blog site is an outreach effort of our Church, Consistory Office of Stewardship of the UOC of USA.  Our goal is to provide a space for thoughtful, sound, engaging and spiritually edifying content and discussion about how we can faithfully live as Orthodox Christians in our rapidly evolving experience in America, and in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in specific.

While I will post blog articles and resources on this site as part of our ongoing effort in UOC Stewardship education, we’ll also welcome submission from others who would like to contribute their thoughts on this essential discussion for our age.  Lisa Ryan and Mark Host are already lining up contributions for our conversation.

Please note that the focus of our approach here emerges from a basis of Orthodox understanding of Stewardship as Sacred Offering – which embodies the insights of Orthodox thought based in the Scriptures, Holy Tradition, the liturgical tradition, and Church praxis.  For more information on this approach, you can read more in the book, The First and Finest, Orthodox Christian Stewardship as Sacred Offering (Authorhouse 2013 – From Amazon)  or from my personal website on the topic – where additional articles on Orthodox Stewardship are made available as well as other helpful links:  www.orthodoxstewardship.com.

There are exciting things happening in the Orthodox stewardship world – and especially in our Church. Please feel free to join in the conversation – and be a faithful steward of what God has entrusted to you in your life and in your heart.

Yours in His service,

(V.Rev.) Fr. Robert Holet, Director
Consistory Office of Stewardship – Ukrainian. Orthodox Church of the USA
stewardship@uocusa.net