How do we use Psalm 50 as Orthodox Christians?

#2 in a Series of Reflections on Psalm 50 during Great Lent

For those of us who are Orthodox Christians, Psalm 50 is not unknown to us.  How do we know it?  Because it’s everywhere!

The Church places an emphasis on certain prayers by prescribing that we pray them frequently. Examples include of course, the ‘Our Father’, ‘The Prayer to the Holy Trinity’ (Trisagion -Holy God, Holy Mighty…etc.) and hymns to Mary such as the hymn ‘It is right in truth to glorify You, the Birthgiver of God…‘  These repetitions are not just the ‘multiplying of words’ that Jesus warned about, but a way of increasing a kind of spiritual clarity and intensity by their repetition.  So when I say that Psalm 50 is like that, here are a few examples of places in our common Orthodox prayers where Psalm 50 shows up:

Morning Prayers – The traditional longer forms of the Morning Prayers include Psalm 50 as a way of ‘level-setting’ our day in seeking God’s mercy and avoiding sin.

Formal Liturgical Services – It is found explicitly in the middle of Matins and almost all the time, except during the Resurrection Matins at Pascha, which is not penitential but fully celebratory.  It is also found in Great Compline and the Midnight Office when these are prayed especially in monasteries.  As mentioned before, it is prayed quietly by the priest whenever he incenses at the Divine Liturgy and at the Cherubic Hymn.

Sacraments of Penance – In preparation for the Sacrament and as with other penitential prayers it forms a basis of a holistic understanding of the call to repent of our sins and our internal  penitential spirit in acknowledgement of those sins. The psalm helps us take our external offenses and internalize them.

Other Prayers and Spiritual Images: There are many penitential prayers in the Church, and most of them include language from Psalm 50 somewhere.  So even the verse that we pray during the first week of Lent when we recite the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, we say ‘Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me.’  This is the first verse of Psalm 50, repeated.  The prayer ‘Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy.’ is repeated on the lips of Orthodox Christians constantly.  These are the words of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”  spoken perhaps thousands of times a day quietly in the heart by Orthodox Christians. The spiritual ‘air’ of Orthodoxy is permeated with the penitential and humble spirit of Psalm 50. 

The Internal and external sin.

A disease can exist inside of a person’s body, but be invisible to others, or even unknown to the patient him/hereself. Similarly, when we sin it is not always external or known to others.  But all sin is always internal – sin is a matter of the state of our hearts.  Just like denial of a disease, we may choose to ignore our symptoms especially if they are not externally obvious to others. We will even hide our symptoms from a doctor sometimes, saying, ‘It’s not that bad.’

When we sin we may tend to view it just in these external terms – what we did wrong or against another.  Today many never even say ‘I did this wrong, or this evil – but more often skirt the issue saying, ‘made a mistake’. Sin is a mistake – a big mistake – but more than a mistake.  When we speak this way there is no internal sensitivity or awareness of sin or its toxic effects and in fact it is easy to cast our sin as caused by others.  However, our recitation of Psalm 50 for us is meant to be intensely personal – just as personal as each of our sins.

Because Psalm 50 arose from a specific event – David’s double sin with Bathsheba followed by the hideous murder of her husband, Uriah  – it prompts a review.  So our next step will be to explore this Psalm by seeking a  better understand of its context in the Bible narrative.

During this holy Lenten season, let’s pray for one another, that we will recognize our sins, and pray to God for forgiveness and in His mercy will be heard. +

Lenten Series: Reflections on Psalm 50

March 2021

I’ve always felt that the evening services of Great Lent provided a special Moment to probe the truths of our Faith and to engage in our Faith in that distinctive way that Great Lent makes possible. There are many templates for bible studies and liturgical texts for this time, starting with the readings of Genesis, Proverbs, Isaiah, the Psalmody, etc. that are part of the fabric of our services, and over the years of parish priestly service I would often offer a few thoughts on these during the weekly liturgical services. In 2019, I endeavored to preach a series on Psalm 50.  I say endeavored because I discovered it a daunting task to try to probe the meaning of greatest of penitential psalms, which reveal the mind and heart of the Holy Prophet David, and upon which so much of the Orthodox spirit of penance and worship is established.  Failing to try, however, would be to leave unopened the treasure chest of spiritual depth that Psalm 50 opens to us. 

I was asked, at one point, about several of the talks I had done that year, so I looked for my outlines.  Finding some of them I thought I would approach the topic again, in written form this time. While there are occasional references to other Scriptures and the quotations from the Holy Fathers, my perspective on this is how the text resonates so profoundly to basic human experience, so that was the reflective stance that I used in my consideration of the subject.

My experience of encountering this psalm is remembered somewhat vividly.  I was an older child, sitting in church (I was Greek Catholic at the time), reading my prayer book.  This was the prayer book with the red edging suitable for the older kids – and even adults – not the simpler ‘First Communion’ Prayer Book.  I seem to recall reading it during the Liturgy, which was going on in Old Slavonic, so I had time on my hands since I didn’t understand Old Slavonic!  As part of the Morning Prayers as compiled in the prayer book, even as a child, I remember it being something unusual and special.  I read it many times and some of the phrases over the years became embedded in memory– which became a problem when I later had to memorize Psalm 50[i] as a  deacon and the version I needed to learn was a different translation.  I stumble over the translations to this day – the old one keeps popping up in my head messing things up!

It’s been six decades since I first encountered the psalm, and it remains something special. Rarely, if I read it slowly, does it fail to deliver some striking truth about myself, about God, and the possibilities of a restored relationship between us. It thoroughly reminds me that I am a sinner, and I go to it especially when, like David, I can admit in all honesty, “Against you only have I sinned.” As such, it can be a grounding ‘home base’ for one’s spiritual life.

 I hope and pray that this Psalm speaks to you as it has to me, since childhood, in a manner that illumines your relationship with God and His total mercy and forgiveness as first discovered, and exclaimed by the Prophet David who ‘Have mercy on me O God!”

[i] The Orthodox Church (as did the old Douay Reims Bible) used the Septuagint numbering of the psalms. But many of today’s bibles based on the Hebrew text number this as Psalm 51.  However, I’ll use the Church’s traditional numbering. I will not be doing much in-depth exegesis of Hebrew nor Greek texts as such although this can open new vistas of understanding of any biblical text. Rather I’ll rely more on secondary sources, especially the Church’s liturgical texts founded on patristic thought.

Stewardship Reflections for Holy Week – The Cursed Fig Tree

During Holy Week and the weeks of the Paschal season, we’ll turn the pages of Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition to probe some of the stewardship themes brought to us by the Church.  Because this time is so intensive – it’s impossible for to explore in depth the multitude of these themes, hence this endeavor to reflect up on them to ascertain their context and spiritual meaning. 


The spiritual intensity builds with each day, each service held during Holy Week.  In short, the Church as the voice of Christ, casts down the gauntlet to His followers to imitate Him in every way, as He has commanded.  The sayings and teachings, the metaphors, examples and especially the actions of the Master become the template for life for the Christian.  The Suffering Servant invites His followers to suffer and to serve, and to suffer through service.   He gives us spiritual food and spiritual warnings – exemplified most perfectly in the bitter dichotomy of rejection of Judas of that which was Most Precious, for that which is worldly, in thirty pieces of silver which he would hold for mere minutes – just as Adam would taste the fruit of destruction but for a moment, before it destroyed him.


Great and Holy Monday  – The Cursed Fig Tree (Mt. 21:18ff)

As the glory of the Entrance into Jerusalem recedes during Holy Week, we see Christ magnifying the terse contrast of the emerging Kingdom with the decayed state of the Judaism as it was practiced by its spiritual leaders (the Pharisees and the Sadducees).  This state of decay was made clearl by the curse of the fig tree – in a strange but powerful miracle that points to the spiritual withering of Judaism, and the eventual Roman conquest politically.  (Mk. 11:12ff, Mt. 21:18ff, Lk. 13:6ff).  In Matthew and Mark, this story is reported as taking place during that period immediately before the Crucifixion of the Lord, and tied to the opposition of the Chief priests and scribes who were complicit in His death.   This connection to the ‘death’ of their reign as spiritual leaders of a fruitless generation, is central to first level of  meaning in the event.  Indeed, the bearing for fruit was needful, otherwise the tree is worthless.

How and, more importantly, why does this speak to the Christian Church about stewardship today?

Well, first, we must recognize the obvious here, that this has nothing to do with stewardship as financial management.  Rather it points to the deeper reality of stewardship – as the careful nurturing of the spiritual life.  This stewardship nurturing was necessary not only in the Jewish people, who were the great spiritual heirs and recipients of the Covenantal relationship with the Lord entrusted to them as a people.  It was more than a ‘spiritual heritage’, but a living relationship with God Himself – but they had reduced this to religious practices and human traditions.  As recipients of the spiritual relationship of the New Covenant in Christ, this warning needs to be important to us as well.

This Lord’s Covenant with the Hebrews through Moses was privileged and distinctive, but needed to bear fruit.  In decrying the behavior of the Chief priests and scribes, he insists that it’s not the Law or even their teaching that is at fault.  Rather it is their behavior – which instead of a spiritually flowering and fruitful life, had become dead – and this death, like a disease, would propagate to others.  So the internal spiritual state of the leaders was taking the entirety of the Jewish nation and people down with them.  In other words, by failing to properly live the spiritual life through the righteous observance of the Law themselves, they not only failed to lead others to righteousness, but became themselves a stumbling block to anyone who did.  Jesus spares no words in condemning them for how they corrupted the proselytes they brought into their religious system and made them.  With rapid-fire imagery in Matthew 23, He brings righteous condemnation to their failures, all the while inviting those who would hear Him to a change of mind and heart – in a word, repentance.  Two of these leaders would hear these words and take them to heart – and so we will find Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea at the foot of Cross.

Bearing Spiritual Fruit

So we see that our stewardship of our spiritual life must be of prime importance.  This begins with our selves – and indeed, the greatest condemnation for the Pharisees and scribes was over their arrogant hypocrisy – laying heavy spiritual burdens on others (disciples) while not following the Law themselves.  Taking this to heart, our spiritual right to lead others only goes as far as our own practice (praxis) of the Faith.  This means taking the teachings of Jesus to heart and stewarding our lifestyle in the ways of simplicity of life and humble service of others that are hallmarks of the way of Jesus.   This may (and must) begin in the heart, but in the end it must be lived out in faithfulness to Christ, His people, and His commandments.

Failing this, like the fig tree condemned, no spiritual fruit will be born, at least none that matures and brings sweetness, nourishment and life to people.  It is not sufficient to have ‘green leaves’ and look the part, without bearing fruit.  In His teachings about ‘pruning the vine’ (Jn. 15) and ‘fertilizing the fig tree’ (Lk. 13:8) we are assured that God will provide every blessing, and every opportunity to bear fruit spiritually.  But failing this, the fruitless fig is destined to wither, death and destruction.

This story is frightening and it should be.  We must be fruit in our spiritual life – which is then manifest in our lives in practical, visible ways.  What does this fruit look like?  There are many varieties of fig – and there are many ways to bear fruit in the Kingdom!  The good tree will bear good fruit.  The fruit is the fruit of righteousness – which is, put simply love of God and love of neighbor.  When this spiritual  fruit is visibly maturing, we are manifesting the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5)  We are doing the ‘labor of love’ for the Lord in our Churches, and our Churches are alive, with a pulsating spirit of love, mercy, generosity and fellowship.  We are working out our salvation and something rich and life-giving is emerging.

Parish Stewardship – Fruitful or Not

Parishes that are alive in Christ exercise Christian stewardship by the fruits it bears.  These are communities which are hospitable and receive many blessings by God to foster its life and work.  These communities are true communities, formed and sustained by real relationships (spiritual and friendship) – founded in a living relationship with Christ. But these relationships go beyond the walls of the parish itself and reach deeply into the communities that surround them.  These are relationships of care, service, and humility that lead to a sharing of the good news of Christ in evangelization, through love, not pressure.  To quote the old song, these churches are known they are Christian by their love.

Parishes that don’t take spiritual  stewardship seriously will die.   It’s that simple.   They produce no fruit and will be cut down.  The Lord has provided every opportunity for growth – and no grace spared – that the spiritual fruits of maturity might be harvested.  In some cases, the fruit may be born – but never matures, ripens or nourishes.  It’s full of potential that’s never realized.  These communities are not communities of love, but no different from the example of the Jewish state of affairs above.  Their life is waning – it will fade and vanish.  We cannot ever judge the spiritual state of any community – but we must beg the Master to sustain our  life – or in some cases, resurrect the life He planted within His Church.

As with any living plant, sustaining water and food are necessary and it’s no different with the spiritual life.  There is no stewardship in practice unless there is health in the soul which is the soil from which the visible life emerges.  The sustaining grace present in the Holy Mysteries, prayer, spiritual reading, fellowship are not optional – they bring us life.  In some cases, as in the passage in Luke 13, there is special care needed – counseling, penance, asceticism – but with these comes restoration, health and ‘production’.

Final Reckoning

This general theme – stewardship of the spiritual treasure – will be repeated in many different forms.  We all will do well, not only during Holy Week, to open our minds to the deep, life-giving gift of our Orthodox Faith, the pulse of life in our souls.  How well are we fostering this life – not only individually – but as families of Faith and parishes that bear fruit for the salvation of the world.  These chapters all point to that final reckoning, when the Master will bring forth His judgment upon us – and whether or not there was not only life, but fruit in abundance for the Life of the world.


Now Available on Ancient Faith

Stewardship and Time – an Interview with Dr. Nicole Roccas on the Ancient Faith Podcast: First Fruits of Christian Living – Orthodox Christian Stewardship Today:

See also the Interview on the Stewardship of Time on Nicole’s podcast – Time Eternal:

Comments welcome!!


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.


And the Meaning of Christmas is – Stewardship?

By Fr. Robert Holet

At first, you might think that the feast of the Birth of the Lord has nothing to do with stewardship, but since I began to examine Orthodox stewardship a number of years ago, I’ve found that this theme permeates almost ever aspect of our Orthodox way of life and prayer that I can find, especially our major Feasts.

We can view the key movements of Stewardship as a kind of cycle – a relationship of God with us comprised of the following:

  1. God is the Lord and source of All, and bestows upon Hi s creation a multitude of His gifts. God initiates the everything Godly.
  2. The steward receives the gifts of the Lord in thanksgiving.
  3. The steward responds by making an offering to the Lord, which brings him into Communion with God, initiated by God, but characterized by the offering.

Christmas is all about gifts – but not so much our gifts to each other,  but the Gift bestowed upon humankind by God, by giving to us His Son, who came into the world for our salvation.  He has entrusted His Son to the Holy Virgin and all Humanity – and the question is always, what does the steward do with the Gift.  Christmas  is all about receiving Christ, as our Lord.

The Christmas story is about 3 groups of people – those who received Christ, those who didn’t and those who recognized Him, but opposed Him. Of the first group, including Mary and Joseph, the Magi and the Shepherds, who all, in some way, received Christ.  The Virgin received Christ through the Good News of the Archangel, Joseph, through a dream (with no small bit of difficulty!), the Magi – a star, the shepherds the angelic hosts.

How many others received such messages – but did not respond – those in Group 2?  Those who did not respond, we know nothing about. When we fail to respond to God, we drift into oblivion of Group 2.  The message of salvation comes, but it is ignored or missed. The Gospel of the Wedding Banquet that we hear on the Second Sunday Before Christmas is our warning that, when the invitation to join the Church in the Banquet of Christ, the invitation cannot be ignored.

Group 3 needs no introduction.  These are the ones who oppose God.  They may not deny His existence, but they openly oppose His working in the world, which they claim for themselves as their own.  The do not affirm that our world, our life, is the Lord’s and all that is contained within it. (Ps. 24).  Herod, and by extension, his cohort in Jerusalem see Jesus as a threat.  They are right – Christ brings forth a Kingdom that makes the Kingdom of Herod and this world a shadow of impotent worldly power – which ultimately collapses under its own weight and ends in death and destruction.  The worldly ‘kingdom’ of the Jews would be crushed by the Romans in AD66.

But the stewardship cycle is not complete.  There must be a third movement – a spiritual offering of Thanksgiving which brings humankind into Communion with God, once the Gift is received.  So we hear in the hymnography of the Church a beautiful expression.

What shall we offer to you O Christ? Who for our sake has appeared on the earth as a man?

Every creature which You have made offers You thanks. The angels offer You a song. The heavens, their star.

The wise men, their gifts. The shepherds, their wonder. The earth, its cave. The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us
!    (Psalm verse from Festal Vespers)

There is a special beauty in this hymn, reflecting the personification of creation itself, endeavoring to offer a gift to Christ, as well as the shepherds, the Magi, and the offering of the Virgin – who represents for all of us human beings, our offering to Christ.  It’s necessary that an offering be made as a response to God’s loving initiative!

This spiritual offering of ourselves to Christ – and the commendation of our lives and families, our parishes and our treasures to Him, is what will fulfill our vocation of stewards of the Lord – recipients of the divine Gift of Christ and His immeasurable love.  All of our sacrifices, oriented toward Christ, including the offering of our treasure (as a sacred material offering to the King – like the gold of the Magi), our time (especially in sacred worship at services), our talents that represent personal participation in the Church life through the gifts of the Spirit.

Finally, may our stewardship of the precious gift of trust (which we call Faith), bestowed upon us as Orthodox Christians, be celebrated and strengthened by the Lord during this holy season.

May our Festal offerings lead to a sacred communion with Christ during this holy season, like the sweet-smelling offering of the incense of the Magi – to Christ the Lord.

Fr. Robert Holet is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville (Greenwood) Va., and serves as director of the Consistory Office of Stewardship of the UOC of the USA.

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 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.