2001 - The Stewardship of the Saints
|Those who through faith subdued
kingdoms, worked righteousness; obtained promises, stopped
the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped
the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became
valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were
tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain
a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings
and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They
were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain
with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins,
being destitute, afflicted, tormented --- of whom the world
was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in
dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained
a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.
God having provided something better for us, that they should
not be made perfect apart from us. Therefore we also, since
we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us
lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares
us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before
us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of
the throne of God. (Heb. 11:33-12:2)
Dear Co-workers in the Lord:
The Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews, read on the Sunday after Pentecost when we commemorate All Saints, is a powerful testimony to the holy Saints of the Heavenly Church! In the early Church this feast was known as "The Feast of All Christ’s Witnesses". The hymn of this feast states: "To You, the Author of creation, the Church does offer the God-bearing Martyrs as the first-fruits of nature..."
Our Christian Orthodox Church, born on the day of Pentecost, has been established on the Holy Cross and the Resurrection of our Lord, and has triumphantly and heroically marched through history because of these saintly witnesses of faith. They are not few in number, but "A cloud of witnesses"; innumerable, thousands, millions, known and unknown; men, women, and children, who gave everything, their blood and their lives, for Christ’s love!
These holy Saints were and continue to be the most chosen and wondrous people. They were heroic and illumined personalities. People as we are, but they possessing the Grace of God that enabled them to surpass all odds. With their great faith, they are pinnacles of virtue and holiness! With all the strength of their soul they loved and worshipped Christ! With all their might they gave themselves to Christ our Redeemer! Not for one moment did they doubt or hesitate to offer their lives as a sacrifice for salvation in Him! In the fourth century St. Basil the Great wrote: "For the Christian, the tortures endured by the martyred saints that included: being burned at the stake; the sword; fed to wild animals; being fastened to iron spikes that tore their skin are not reason to be traumatized but inspired!"
The first Church and all the Saints gave their witness for Christ our Lord. In the many trials they faced that sometimes led to giving their very lives, they excelled in their commitment and conviction to our Savior. It is in remembrance of these virtues that your Department of Stewardship Ministries has chosen as its 2001 ministry campaign – The Stewardship of the Saints. We hope you will use the enclosed articles in your publications as a resource to a better understanding of Christian Orthodox Stewardship.
Thanking you for the support and efforts you offer our holy Church in America, I remain,
Very Rev. Archimandrite J. Gabriel Karambis
Director Stewardship Ministry
THE STEWARDSHIP OF ST. BASIL THE GREAT — JANUARY 1
St. Basil the Great, the eloquent preacher and foremost classical scholar of the Patristic Age, expresses his gratitude, love, and care for the Church in his many letters and homilies. The life of St. Basil is familiar to all Orthodox Christians. We know him for his generosity and for his abilities as an orator, a teacher of rhetoric, and for establishing monastic life and orders.
One of the fundamental truths that describes the life of this great saint of the Church is the passage taken from the Epistle of James, chapter 2:26 "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." In his own words the saint states: "I will show my faith by my works, and that must be the touchstone of my sincerity!"
We call St. Basil "Great" because of his life, the success in living true Christian stewardship and expressing himself in his sermons and writings. His knowledge and love for Ancient Greek literature gave him the opportunity to transpose this intellectual love into the truth of the Christian Orthodox Faith.
St. Basil’s writings encourage us to supply our soul with all that is best for her. He has written in his essay entitled "To Young Men on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan Literature" the need for harmony between profession and lifestyle, emphasizing that you must strive to be what you appear — virtuous!
Our young people are greatly influenced by today’s world. One must realize that the examples placed before them from the music they hear to the movies they view do not always project a positive message. These influences affect the morals and values that are needed for our young people to develop the mature and responsible priorities expected for Orthodox Christian stewards. It seems that some Christian Orthodox people may also have their priorities out of order as evidenced in their responses to the call to follow the Biblical teachings regarding regular and proportionate giving to the Lord’s ministry.
Examining the life of St. Basil, we see that among his major contributions to the Church were his establishing monastic disciplines. Although we may not have the calling to become a monastic, the lessons and direction offered by St. Basil are applicable to the Christian steward of every age. St. Basil set Christian perfectionism as the goal. In the monastery, the monks were to practice Christian virtues together, especially those of brotherly love - the practice obedience to a spiritual father - the practice chastity and poverty, and the sharing of common goods of the monastery. After they achieved Christian perfection, they were allowed to come back to the world and help others to achieve Christian perfection. Thus, the monks had the mission of "social workers" as well. In addition to St. Basil 's contributions to monasticism, he established orphanages, hospitals and schools. This was St. Basil's way of utilizing the monastic movement to benefit the mission of the Church in the world.
St. Basil recognized the importance of Christian Stewardship. He encouraged it for both the monastic community and for the stewards of the local parish. From St. Basil’s teachings we, too, can become better Christian stewards and sing to this great Father of the Church:
"Your voice resounded throughout the world that received your word by which, in godly manner, you taught dogma, clarified the nature of beings, and set in order the character of people. Venerable father, Royal Priesthood, intercede to Christ God to grant us great mercy."
"But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your words; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. "(John 17:13-36).
In this passage from the holy Gospel according to John our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ calls all those who would accept Him to a life lived in the world without being of the world. The Christian Orthodox believer is called to live a unique and distinctive life in the world. These unique and distinctive qualities of the faithful are shown by their lifestyle and ethical life which must be ideal!
Around the middle of the second century in the early Church, when Christian life reached a low point, some Christians, both men and women, reacted to this by raising their personal standards of austere Christian life. They practiced chastity, celibacy, poverty, prayer and fasting.
These Christian people aspired to live the angelic life. Many of them lived alone or in special houses as a community. By the middle of the third century, they began fleeing the world and going to the desert, where they established permanent habitations, whether by themselves or in small groups. They became known as the "anchorites" (from ajnacwvrhsi~: departure, flight); the hermits (from e[rhmo~: desert); and the monastics (from monacov~: alone; for a monastic who "lives in the presence of God alone"). The one who exemplifies the finest example of this type of commitment is the Desert Father, St. Anthony the Great.
St. Anthony was born into a wealthy family. When his parents died, he and his sister shared their wealth. Since the sister was a minor, he made sure she was cared for and then gave away all his portion of the inheritance to the poor and went into the desert to live the life of asceticism. St. Anthony had taken to heart the words of the Lord: "…sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mark 10:21).
Many people imitated his example; they went and lived close to him, thus "populating the desert." St. Anthony is considered the Father of Orthodox Monasticism, for his kind of monasticism, that of "living alone with God as his only companion", remained the most cherished monastic ideal for the monks of the Christian Orthodox Church throughout the ages.
Though few of us are called to follow the monastic life, each of is capable of emulating the example of stewardship shown by the life of St. Anthony the Great. In his life we see a person with great faith and the dedication to follow the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; he is a man who loves, honors, and respects his parents; he shows a loving concern for his sister; we recognize his humility to give all he possesses to help the poor; and we witness a spiritual giant who teaches — "Learn to desire humility, for that will cover your sins. All sin is hateful to God, but the most hateful of all is pride of heart. Do not consider yourself learned or wise, or all your toil will be lost and your ship will arrive empty at the shore…If you have great power, threaten no man with death; know that according to nature you also are subject to death and that each soul takes off its body as its final clothing."
"You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things…" (2Timothy 2:1-7)
In the early Church, the term "martyr" was originally used when characterizing the Apostles as witnesses of Christ's life and resurrection [Acts 1:8, 22]. Due to the persecutions that the early Christians endured, however, the term was applied to those who gave their lives for the Christian Orthodox Faith. In Greek, the word martyrs (mavrtu~) means, "witness" and, the verb form, martyred, means to "bear witness" or "give evidence."
Though martyrdom was not a constant experience for the early Church, it was a possibility with which the early Christians had to reckon. It was the consummate act of faith for as the Lord said: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends" (John 15:13). Before actually being executed, however, the martyr usually endured extreme physical and moral sufferings.
One of the saints recorded to have endured the greatest suffering of any martyr was the presbyter, Haralampos. As a second century priest in Magnesia, Asia Minor, he served his people with great faith and love. His reputation as a man of God had spread throughout the area and many people came to the Faith through his preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. During a period of extreme persecution, Haralampos did not hide, but openly and boldly preached the Christian Orthodox Faith! When Haralampos was finally arrested for having the courage to preach the Gospel, his persecutors devised a plan of persecution for everyone to witness. Although he was tortured repeatedly, he never denounced his faith in Jesus Christ. For several months this persecution went on and not once did Haralampos weaken in his faith. Forced to suffer extreme pain and degradation, Haralampos continued to preach and many miracles and conversions took place among the people. When the soldiers thrashed the skin from his body Haralampos said: "Thank you, my brethren, for scraping off the old body and renewing my soul for new and eternal life." In the final moments of his life, moments before he was to be beheaded, Haralampos lifted his hands to heaven and prayed for all humankind: "Lord, You know that men are flesh and blood; forgive them their sins and pour out Your blessing on all." Following this prayer the saint gave up his soul to God and died without the sword being laid to his ncck.
The Holy Spirit filled the martyrs and inspired them. Although we may not experience persecution in our day and age, we, too, are called to follow the blessed example of the martyrs. Having partaken in the Holy Mysteries of the Church through Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation, we are obligated to follow the example of the saints and strengthen our Church for the ages to come. As stewards of our precious Christian Orthodox Faith, our support to our local parish strengthens the ability of our Church in America to preserve the Faith of the Apostles, Martyrs, and Fathers of the Church. Let us joyously be witnesses of the Faith by offering our Time, Talents, and Treasure to the glory of God.
"O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Your presence; I bless You for that You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that are the faithful and true God. For this cause, yes and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and forever and for the ages to come. Amen." (St. Polycarp’s Prayer of Martyrdom)
Centuries have passed since the Apostles followed the Lord’s Great Commission to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all" (Matthew 28:19-20) that the Lord commanded. Their ministry, however, has not passed, but remains alive and well to this day!
As faithful stewards we recognize our obligation to promptly attend every Divine Liturgy. When listening to Holy Scripture during the Divine Liturgy, it is as if we are sitting at the feet of the Lord hearing for ourselves His words of eternal life. We are the recipients of this great Faith and Church established by the Holy Apostles and their disciples.
Did you ever wonder how it must have felt to actually sit at the Lord’s feet and hear His words or to meet with the Apostles and listen to their accounting of the many things Jesus did Among the first Christians to be brought to the Faith by the Apostle John was a pagan named Polycarp. His association with St. John the Evangelist enabled him to meet all the apostles. This experience had a great impact on Polycarp and he lived his life emulating their commitment to evangelize the world.
Along with his great preaching ability, St. Polycarp authored a number of epistles for the purpose of teaching the Faith. In his Epistle to the Philippians we read of his empathy for the members of the early Christian Church. He instructs them to: "Stand fast…follow the example of the Lord, being firm in the faith and immovable, in love of the brotherhood kindly affectionate one to another, partners with the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. When you are able to do good, defer it not…" Does this message not apply to us today? What kind of Christian Orthodox steward could ignore this teaching? St. Polycarp also states: "…he that has love is far from all sin. But the love of money in the beginning of all troubles. Knowing therefore that ‘we brought nothing into the world neither can we carry anything out’ let us arm ourselves with the armor of righteousness, and let us teach ourselves to walk in the commandment of the Lord…"
St. Polycarp was eventually questioned and, when told that if he did not deny Christ he would be put to death, he responded: "Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us!" The saintly bishop of Smyrna was tied to the stake and the fire was lit. Eyewitnesses reported that they saw a miracle as the "fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn’t being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out."
Perhaps we do not appreciate the great legacy we have received as descendants of the Apostolic Church. Centuries have passed since the apostles walked on earth with Christ, but we do have the accounts of the Apostolic Fathers to remind us and encourage us to keep our lives centered in Jesus Christ our Lord. Remembering the example of St. Polycarp we, too, can remember that the Lord is near when we imitate His life as Christian Orthodox stewards!
In each parish we usually see a small number of stewards who seem to be doing most of the work. While those stewards are to be commended for their time and dedication, we must realize that we as a community are not meeting our full potential. We learn an important lesson from the writing of Aesop: "A farmer who had a quarrelsome family, after having tried in vain to reconcile them by words, thought he might more readily prevail by an example. So he called his sons and told them to lay a bundle of sticks before him. Then having tied them together, he told the boys, one after another, to pick it up and break it. They all tried, but tried in vain. Then, untying the bundle, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease. Then said the father: ‘Thus, my sons, as long as you remain united, you are a match for all your enemies; but differ and separate, and you are undone’."
The martyrdom of the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sebasteia is a powerful lesson in Christian faith, perseverance, sacrifice, and friendship. The story of this martyrdom begins in the early part of the 4th century when the persecution of Christians was still active. There were 40 soldiers of the Roman army who possessed sincere faith in Jesus Christ. When it was realized that they would not deny their belief in the Lord, they were brought to trial before their commander who threatened to have them discharged from the military dishonorably. One of the soldiers responded: "Do not take only our military status, but also our bodies; nothing is dearer or of greater honor to us than Christ our God." Following a number of failed attempts to torture them, they were finally stripped, tied, and thrown into a lake. It happened to be wintertime and the temperature was extremely cold. To tempt the soldiers to deny Christ, the torturers lit fires near the lake to entice them to deny Christ. One soldier actually did come out of the water and headed for the fire, but before he could get there, he died. During the night, a light from heaven came down and heated the lake and warmed these Christian witnesses. At the same time, thirty-nine crowns were sent from heaven and rested upon each of them. One of the soldiers torturing them saw this and, moved by this event, confessed the Christ as Lord and Savior and joined the others in the lake. A fortieth crown appeared and descended upon him at that very moment. In the morning, the commander was furious when he learned of the events and ordered that their legs be broken and they be thrown back into the lake. On the third day following their drowning, the martyrs appeared to the local bishop and told him to search beneath the water and recover their relics. In the middle of the night, the bishop, along with his priests, went to the lake where they found the relics glowing in the water and, gathering them together, they gave them a proper burial.
The process of our salvation is achieved by proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and by doing the will of God the Father. Our Christian Orthodox Stewardship is experienced in this manner; our actions must support our words of faith in Christ our Lord and Savior. This is what the Holy 40 Martyrs of Sebasteia understood and we, too, are called, not just as individuals, but as the entire assembly of believers, i.e. the Church, to give our Time, Talents and Treasure so that: "…we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God…" (Hebrews 12:1-2).
During one of the most trying periods of Church History, the Iconoclastic Controversy took place. It began in the early part of the eighth century and lasted until March 11, 843, when during a church ceremony, a procession of icons took place restoring them to their rightful place in the church. We continue to commemorate this event on the first Sunday of Great Lent each year celebrating the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
Orthodox Christian Church iconography bears witness to the reality of God’s presence in our lives through the mystery of faith. Icons are meant to serve as visual aids to contemplation and prayer. We look beyond the external and deep into the spiritual meaning of living the Christian life. Icons are the witnesses of the presence of the Kingdom of God to us, and so our own presence to the Kingdom of God in the Church. It is in the Orthodox Christian Faith that icons are not only permissible, but are spiritually necessary because "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Christ is truly man, and as man, truly the "icon of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15, 1 Cor. 11:7, 2 Cor. 4:4).
Among the many faithful servants of God who defended the correct teaching of icons was St. Paul the Devout Martyr. This St. Paul served as an abbot of a monastery on the island of Crete. He was arrested for protecting the holy icons in the year of our Lord 765. As he was being tortured his prosecutor ordered him: "You will either trample on the Icon and live, or else I will torture you with this torturing device." The response of Abbott Paul was made with conviction and faith: "It is impossible that I trample on Your Icon, Lord Jesus Christ!" With this statement of faith he became a victim of the Iconoclastic controversy, as he upheld the teaching of St. Basil the Great that says: "Whatever the word transmits through the ear, painting reveals silently with the icon."
Icons teach us about Christ and His ministry, the saints and their record of faith. Icons are windows into heaven: they seek to symbolize the transfigured cosmos and the victory of redeemed creation by the glory of Christ. In the words of St. John of Damascus: "The icon is a song of triumph, and a revelation, and an enduring witness to the victory of the saints." St. Paul the Devout Martyr of Crete may have been put to death by fire, but his witnessing to the truth of the Christian Orthodox Faith continues to illumine our hearts and minds as a vigil light before the Icon of the living God.
Our Stewardship to Christ and His Church is a lifelong process in which we are called to live the truth Faith. The zeal and courage demonstrated by saints like St. Paul the Devout Martyr must become a beacon for us to emulate the same enthusiasm and support of our precious Christian Orthodox Faith. As we continue to be enlightened by the saints of our Church let us remember the life of St. Paul of Crete by offering this hymn as our prayer:
"Illuminated by the right teaching of the holy faith of Orthodoxy, you courageously refuted the desperation of the iconoclasts. You traversed the narrow path of martyrdom, Devout Martyr of Christ, and you have been recognized as pious. Glorious Paul, beseech Christ our God to grant us the Great Mercy."
"…be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
From a very early age we are encouraged by our parents to establish goals that will enable us to acquire a certain level of success in this world. It is important that we do so by focusing our attention to strive for excellence in all our endeavors. We set goals to obtain a better education, a promotion at work, or perhaps to win a particular athletic event. All these goals may be important, but what about the goals we set concerning our spiritual lives?
The saint that we wish to highlight this month is St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker. In her life we see that she, from a very young age, was confident in the goals she sought to pursue. It is recorded that she pledged herself to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with these words: "be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
At a very young age, St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker joined the monastic community of Ss. Kosmas and Damian in Constantinople. Her love for Christ was expressed through the compassion she poured upon all people, especially the less fortunate. The empathy shown by this saint relieved the suffering of the many people to whom she ministered. People from all walks of life heard of her great faith and humility and flocked to her to receive her blessings. The miracles attributed to her through Jesus Christ our Lord are numerous, but can be summed up in her dedication to serve humankind.
It is worthy to note that this saint possessed only one garment her entire life as a monastic. The daily chores expected of her, the changes of weather that would normally bring wear and tear to clothing, never changed the newness of her garment. She would rise from sleep each morning and her clothing would seem as fresh and clean as the day it was made. Even as she aged, the garment remained like new as if the Lord Himself had tailor-made her clothing.
St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker provides an excellent example of sharing her Time, Talents, and Treasure with the Church. Having given her possessions, these worldly Treasures to the poor before she entered the monastery, using her Talents to minister to all people, young and old, the sick and the healthy, offering her Time to pray for others and to bless them, made the people acknowledge her as a true instrument of the Lord.
We must learn from the life of St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker and realize that there is no greater gift to be shared than our love for Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. In the lives of the saints we see how He has rewarded them and that we, too, may participate in His glory. Faithful and committed stewardship must be a result of this love and faith in our Redeemer. It requires effort that is unconditional and total, literally our whole being…if we do not give ourselves to the Lord first, then the Time, Talents, and Treasure we do offer will never be enough!
"Holy Apostle Mark the Evangelist, intercede with God all-merciful that He may grant us the remission of our sins."
(Troparion of the Saint)
Each of the Gospels found in the New Testament call us to faith. Although not included in the original twelve apostles, St. Mark the Evangelist traveled with St. Paul and St. Barnabas to Antioch from Jerusalem. The primary source of his Gospel is St. Peter, along with his own experience in the early Church.
St. Mark, the author of the second Gospel, may have chronologically written the first Gospel. Having been encouraged by the Christians in Rome, he wrote his gospel in Greek to document the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. We read in his Gospel about Christ - His ministry, being the suffering Messiah, and discipleship to Him.
In the early Church the faithful assembled in the simple and humble homes of the Christians. The family of St. Mark was among the first prominent and affluent families of the time that accepted Jesus Christ as the Savior. His parents readily offered their house to be transformed into a church. It was in this environment that St. Mark grew and came to know the Apostles of the Lord. It is even considered that in this home was the "upper room" where the Mystical Supper was held; the same room where the Apostles were assembled on the Day of Pentecost; and the same place where St. Peter went when the angel of the Lord released him from prison (See Mark 14:13-31; Acts 2:1-4; Acts 12:1-12).
A disciple of the Apostles, St. Mark preached the Good News in many places. He was chosen by the Apostle Peter to become a bishop and to go to Egypt to preach the Christian Faith. As the first bishop of the Church in Egypt, he succeeded in overcoming paganism and established a strong community of believers to carry on his mission.
The pagans detested the success of St. Mark’s ministry and had him arrested and tortured. Thrown into prison, the Lord appeared to him and said: "Peace to you, Mark my Evangelist!", and St. Mark replied: "And peace to You, my Lord Jesus Christ!" The next day, St. Mark was tormented again by his persecutors. Weakened by this he prayed: "Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit", and at that moment, he fell asleep in the Lord.
The Holy Gospel according to St. Mark the Evangelist speaks to Christians of every generation. He reveals the teachings of Jesus Christ in a manner that was clearly understood in the early Church and carries the same message to the Church today!
We are called to be faithful disciples of the Lord as stewards of our Christian Orthodox Faith. We read in the New Testament: "For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). This question asked by Jesus is so applicable today! It is a question posed to each of us and the answer is dependent upon our understanding and commitment to Christian Orthodox Stewardship.
True stewardship is the call to respond faithfully and obediently to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We read in the Holy Gospel according to Mark that our lives may experience obstacles, but our unwavering faith in our Redeemer will enable us to be victorious in the end!
Almost two millennia before Christ lived a wealthy man who was respected for his piety and faith in God. When he reached the age of seventy-nine, God permitted a number of trials and tribulations to befall him. In one day he lost all his possessions and his children. He became ill and his body suffered great afflictions. He was tempted by Satan, but through all the trials and tribulations he remained steadfast in faith and obedience to God. The man’s name — JOB!
In the Old Testament we read about the life of Job in the book that is attributed to him. Job is the icon of patience and perseverance. We learn to deal with life’s many pressures by contemplating the experiences of Job. We recognize a man who stays focused on God rather than on his own suffering. He does not turn away in moments of weakness but endures the struggles of life. Job’s integrity as a faithful steward of God remains intact.
The Fathers of the Church call Job "a true man" who was "patient" with God. They speak of the sufferings of Job as being illogical according to human reasoning but comprehend this in the respect and faith given to God’s wisdom. St. John Chrysostom writes: "…Job had a zeal for sincere actions; that is why the text says he was ‘godly and true’."
If we believe that we come into the world with nothing and leave this world with nothing, then we must admit that all we have during our lifetime belongs to someone else who entrusted it to us to manage to the best of our ability. That somebody is God to Whom everything belongs!
When Job had been stripped of his family, his position, and his possessions, he did not choose to blame God, but said: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Job believed that it was God Who took all these things away from him. Rather than challenging God by desiring to know the reason why all this has befallen him, he thanks God and praises Him: "…blessed be the name of the Lord". This is his consolation — it was as the Lord had willed! St. John Chrysostom explains: "Why has He decided it in this way?…When He made me rich, I did not seek to know why He had given me riches, and I no more seek to know now why He has taken them away from me. For did He give them to me because I deserved them? Did I receive them in exchange for my good actions then? He had decided to give, and He did it; He has decided to take back, and He has done it. It is the sign of a godly spirit to entrust everything to the will of God and to ask for neither an accounting nor explanations."
The Book of Job deals with our relationship with God. It puts life into a perspective that is of paramount importance for the Christian Orthodox steward. When we think that everything we possess in this world is our treasure, we just need to turn to Job to realize that this life is temporal, and it is life eternal that we must seek. Job distinguishes himself by his patience, love, and trust in our Heavenly Father. Read the Book of Job and learn how he faced many of the same issues we deal with today. As St. Hesychius wrote concerning Job: "Only patience can save — only she can fulfill the pressing need; it is with help that we re-establish the righteousness of the soul and of thoughts. Because she is the turnkey for the kingdom of heaven; she has also established the gateway to it according to the words of Paul: ‘pursue what is good…,rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)."
Christopher stated: "Had I borne the whole world on my back, I would not have outweighed you."
And the Child responded:
"Marvel not for you have borne upon your back the world and Him Who created it!"
As Stewards of the Christian Orthodox Faith, we must strive to insure that our actions support our words of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is ultimately the concept of Stewardship or service to God and His earthly vessel of salvation, the Church. We offer our Time, Talents, and Treasure because it is the natural response of our love for and our faith in Christ Jesus. Writing in the twentieth century, St. John of Kronstadt explains: "Love for God begins to manifest itself, and to act in us, when we begin to love our neighbor as ourselves, and not to spare ourselves or anything belonging to us for him, as he is the image of God: ‘For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen’."
The story of St. Christopher is well known. It is about a Roman soldier who lived in the third century. This was a time of great unrest and persecution for those who believed in Jesus Christ. Christopher could not see the reason for persecuting these innocent people and spoke out against such cruelties by resigning from the Roman army. Inspired by the love and faith that motivated the Christian people, he enthusiastically accepted Christ and was baptized.
There is a story about this saint that describes his method of offering Christian charity. It is said that he would carry travelers across a river on his back. One day, he happened to carry a young boy across the river. Halfway across, the weight of the child became overpowering and Christopher stated: "Had I borne the whole world on my back, I would not have outweighed you." To this the Child responded: "Marvel not for you have borne upon your back the world and Him Who created it!"
This encounter with the Christ Child expresses the gift of love in which St. Christopher was determined to offer. For this reason, many icons depict the saint carrying our Lord on his shoulders. This is a powerful message of Christian Orthodox Stewardship. Imagine, placing upon our very own shoulders, the One who not only created the world, but also takes away the sins of the world! And yet, this is exactly what our participation in Christian Stewardship requires. We, too, are to become a Christopher — a steward who "bears Christ" in the heart, the mind, and the soul!
For his Christian beliefs, St. Christopher was eventually arrested by his former comrades in arms. While they traveled back to Rome for his trial, the saint ceased the opportunity and spoke to the soldiers of God’s love for all humankind. Moved by the words of Christopher, the soldiers accepted Christ and were baptized. When this happened, the soldiers did not want to carry out their mission, but Christopher insisted that they must continue as instructed and turn him over to the Roman authorities. Once in Rome, he was tried, convicted, and beheaded on May 9.
The martyred saints of the first three centuries of the Church shed their blood for the foundation of our Christian Orthodox Church. In studying their lives we realize that the true Christian is the person who is marked by the offerings of compassion, charity, and love to all people. The Early Church Fathers were well aware that to become a faithful member of Christ’s Church meant to live the Faith by being an active participant in Christ’s teachings. St. Christopher did so by enthusiastically sharing his love for Christ with others and by the simple, yet meaningful act of carrying people across a river on his shoulders. His example poses an important question to today’s Christian Orthodox Steward:
How will YOU express your faith in Jesus Christ?
Throughout the centuries there have been but few that have been recognized as Apostles or missionary saints. During His life on earth, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ called the Twelve and the Seventy to become His apostles. Due to their pivotal role in the spreading of the message of Christ, the Apostles are listed first among the six categories of saints. The Prokeimenon that is sung in the Plagal of Tone Four notes: "Their sound has gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world."
In His Great Commission to the Holy Apostles Jesus said: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). In fulfilling the Lord’s Great Commission they succeeded in carrying out His message of salvation to the entire world. They became His representatives on earth and, in so doing, they bore witness to Him, they taught the world how He lived, what He said, and what He accomplished. We, the stewards of the Christian Orthodox Church, are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of the stewardship offered by the Holy Apostles.
The lives and works of the Twelve Holy Apostles are more familiar than those of the Seventy. For this reason, we wish to highlight the life of the Holy Apostle Barnabas, one of the Seventy. Born to a wealthy family on the beautiful island of Cyprus, he was named Joseph. His parents offered him every opportunity to progress in life. He was sent to study under the renowned rabbinical scholar Gamaliel and his schoolmate was Saul, later to become the Holy Apostle Paul. Having traveled to Jerusalem, he visited his cousin, St. Mark the Evangelist. Barnabas had a great desire to study religion and he readily became a Christian and joined the other Apostles. We read in the Book of Acts: "Joseph, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet" (Acts 4:36-37). Along with the Apostles Paul and Mark, Barnabas preached in many lands. Among the places where He spread the Good News were: Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem, Rome, and his homeland of Cyprus. It is accepted by many that the Apostle Barnabas was the first to preach Christ in Rome and Milan, Italy. Following a short period as the Bishop of Milan, he returned to Cyprus to preach Christ in his native land. Under his guidance, the Church progressed in faith and many came to accept Christ in a predominantly pagan environment. The success of his ministry brought the anger from the non-Christian authorities and he was arrested, tortured, and burned to death. It is said that the Christians of Cyprus buried him next to St. Mark in the city of Salamis, "holding a copy of the Holy Gospel of Matthew that he had transcribed with his own hand."
The Holy Apostle Barnabas was greatly respected by the other apostles. It was said that he possessed the ability to bring consolation and encouragement to others and for this reason, was given the name Barnabas. He was recognized for his enthusiasm to preach the Good News and possessed such noble qualities like kindness, sympathy, and generosity. Luke the Evangelist describes Barnabas as: "…a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…" (Acts 11:24). What a marvelous example of Christian Orthodox Stewardship. Through the intercessions of the Holy Apostle Barnabas may Jesus Christ our Lord, God, and Savior bless us with these same qualities of Stewardship.
"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven"
It has been said many times that the: "Young people are the Church of tomorrow!" It is disturbing to hear Orthodox Christians make this statement because nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that our "young people are the Church of TODAY!"
At a very young age our children participate in the Holy Mysteria of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist. They are full members of the Body of Christ — the Church! In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism a person is established with the life of the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ.
We include our children in the sacramental life of the Church, but neglect to teach them to live the Faith in a holistic manner. As the young person grows from child to adult, and participates in the life of the Church, one’s personal response becomes crucial. Keeping our lives focused on Christ, we unite ourselves to Him through prayer and sacrament.
On June 13 we commemorate the life of a young girl who gave a most impressive Christian Orthodox witness to people of all ages. Born in Palestine at the end of the third century, her Christian parents named her Aquilina. By the age of seven, she was recognized for her deep faith and zeal as a Christian and at the age of ten, she was preaching Christ to all people, especially to her young friends.
This was a period of great unrest for the Christian Church. The pagan rulers were persecuting Christians all over the empire. It was during one of these periods of persecution that Aquilina was turned over to the regional governor. His hatred towards Christians was so great that he sought to make an example of Aquilina, by this time a young twelve-year-old girl. Not once during the horrendous suffering she endured did the young girl deny Christ; on the contrary, she became more zealous for her faith in the Savior. Furious that she would not renounce Christ, the governor ordered that she be beaten and tortured by passing a heated rod through her ears and brain. The physical suffering caused her to collapse and appear as dead. Assuming that he had triumphed over the faith of this innocent young girl, the governor had her body disposed of for the wild animals to consume. During the night, an angel of the Lord appeared to her and said: "Arise, and be healed!" and the young girl was restored to health and praised God beseeching Him to permit her to die a martyr’s death. A voice from heaven responded: "Go; and it shall be to you as you wish" and Aquilina went into the city. She immediately headed for the governor’s palace and appeared before him. Terror seized him and he became so furious that he ordered the executioner to behead her with a sword. Aquilina knelt in prayer and immediately gave up her spirit to the Lord.
Imagine a twelve-year-old girl having the ability to draw people to Christ. This is the lesson we learn from the life of St. Aquilina. No matter what age one may be, the light of Christ can shine and illuminate through them and attract others to the life that is united in Christ Jesus.
The greatest gift we can offer our children is the gift of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is for this reason that we must instill in them the Orthodox Christian understanding of living the true life in Christ. Our grasp of Christian Orthodox Stewardship is exactly this — it is the response we offer by living our faith in a proper Orthodox manner. We know no age limits in accomplishing this — young and old, parents and children, united as one family in Christ Jesus are called to draw near to the Lord.
Among the most rewarding, challenging, and enjoyable experiences in life are the blessings that come with being a parent. The environment we strive to create in rearing our children must be one that provides opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential. It is with an optimistic spirit that parents overcome the mistakes they make, reevaluate the situation, and return with a renewed spirit to provide opportunities for responsible growth. Promoting an understanding of love and trust strengthens the bonds between parents and their children.
It is a sad thing indeed that we can pick up a newspaper almost any day of the week and read of children being abused by parents. These tragic events, unfortunately, are not new to society. Let us take a look back into the sixteenth century and study the life of St. Markella of Chios.
The life of St. Markella does not reveal that she experienced any divine visions, but it does tell of a young girl who possessed great devotion to and faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Still a young child, her mother died leaving her to be reared by her father. Known as an atheist to fellow villagers, Markella’s father was recognized as having had an abusive temper. He believed that his daughter was the cause of all his frustrations and failures. One day he became so angry with Markella that she ran from the house to escape his violent punishment. Seeking to find a suitable hiding place, she fell among the rocks and became lodged between them. Helpless and unable to break free, she found by her father who killed her on the spot. Not many days later a villager happened upon the place and noticed that water was coming forth. He informed the rest of the village of this location, and to their amazement, the villagers realized that there was miraculous healing power from that water. The people recalled the life of Markella and realized that she had died a martyr’s death. In memory of her sacrifice a chapel was built on that location. The people of Chios will tell you that there are times when the rocks at that spot will turn the color of blood as a symbol of the sacrifices made by the holy martyrs of the Church. Miracles continue to be attributed through the intercessions of St. Markella.
We learn from the life of St. Markella that the parental influence in her life was lacking, to say the least. As Christian Orthodox parents we have the awesome responsibility of nurturing our children. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians has written about parenthood teaching us to: "…not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). The greatest gift we offer our children is the gift of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We learn from the example of the Lord Himself that we must be parents who give love and understanding to our children. It was with great tenderness that our Lord called the children to Himself and said: "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14).
The challenge we face as parents and stewards is to teach our children to progress in life with the blessings of God and to respect humankind. Parenthood is most definitely an expression of our understanding of Christian Orthodox Stewardship since we must beseech God to grant us the insight to relate to our children — pray to Him that we be granted the patience and hope to manage the most difficult situations — and be blessed with the wisdom to teach our children the way to make proper decisions in life. We will most definitely make mistakes in raising our children, but as one noted child psychologist has written: "The definition of perfect parenting is easy to express — Just err and err and err again, but less and less and less."
This welcoming of the saintly hermit Ioannikos was rendered to a beautiful young lady from Cappadocia named Irene. It was the ninth century, the most beautiful and virtuous young women were being summoned to Constantinople so that Empress Theodora’s son, Michael, could choose a wife. Irene was from an aristocratic family of Cappadocia and she gladly accepted the invitation. The envoys of the Empress were impressed with Irene’s presence and were confident that she would be chosen to be the future emperor’s wife.
While traveling to Constantinople, Irene asked to visit Ioannikos, a holy recluse who lived on Mt. Olympos in Asia Minor. The saintly hermit possessed the gift of spiritual insight and foresaw not only the arrival of this young girl but also her future role in the life of the convent of Chrysovalantou.
When Irene arrived in the Imperial City she was greeted by her relatives. In the meantime, however, it had been arranged for young Emperor Michael to marry another girl. Far from being disappointed, Irene gave thanks to God who had led the Emperor to make this decision. Remembering the hermit’s prophecy Irene visited the holy convent of Chrysovalantou. She was so impressed with the environment of the monastery that she freed her slaves, gave all her wealth to the poor, and entered the convent.
While in the monastery, this young aristocratic girl served the community with humility and obedience. Not once did she reminisce about her past and she cheerfully accepted the most despised tasks of the day-to-day chores in the convent.
In accordance with the discipline of the monastery, she read the lives of the saints and was impressed with the life of the great Arsenios who taught a discipline of nightlong prayers. She requested permission to emulate this teaching regarding prayer. Her devotion to communicate with God through prayer enabled her to stand for 24 hours without movement. Through abstinence and prayer, she was now totally free of worldly temptations. So great was her devotion to God that she was blessed with the Holy Spirit in the manner of St. Paul, living no more according to the flesh, but so dwelling in Christ and Christ in her that she appeared transfigured to those who sought her spiritual counsel. In time, the Abbess of the monastery would die breathing her last wishes to the nuns who had gathered in her cell. She said, "Do not lament my departure for in my successor you have a leader who is wiser than I. Be obedient to her, this daughter of light, lamb of Christ and vessel of the Holy Spirit. Do not accept anyone but Irene." Then closing with the words: "Glory to you, O Lord, in your mercy" she committed her soul to the care of the angels. Irene would become the spiritual mother of the convent and she increased her prayer life and received wisdom from above to lead her community. The Holy Convent of Chrysovalantou grew and enriched the lives of many pilgrims who would seek the humble guidance of Irene. There are many miraculous stories that pertain to the life of St. Irene. People from all walks of life experienced a renewal of faith when they spoke with her and followed her advice.
We, too, can be strengthened in our faith if we consider the lives of the saints. The life of St. Irene Chrysovalantou offers Christian Orthodox stewards the opportunity to understand that our involvement in the Church is an expression of faith. We are expected to be humble, obedient, and faithful as individuals and as members of an assembly of the faithful who glorify the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit through ministries offered by the Church. Prayerfully and faithfully let us move forward into the 21st century encouraged by the holy example of the saints.
THE STEWARDSHIP OF ST. KOSMAS THE AITOLIAN - AUGUST 24
The missionary activities of the Apostles brought the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to people throughout the world. Many dedicated people have carried on their sacred work, but few have been given the title "Equal to the Apostles." One of these individuals is known to us in the person of St. Kosmas the Aitolian.
Born in the early eighteenth century, St. Kosmas lived during the time of the Ottoman occupation of Greece. More than two hundred years had elapsed since that Christian Orthodox nation had been taken captive and it would be another one hundred years before this nation would begin its fight for independence.
Kosmas received his theological education on Mt. Athos. When he completed his studies, he was ordained deacon and priest at one of the monasteries on the Holy Mountain. Disturbed by the sufferings the people endured under Ottoman occupation, Kosmas left Mt. Athos and vowed to serve Christ by preaching the Christian Orthodox Faith. He realized that for our Faith to be perpetuated under such difficult times, schools had to be established throughout Greece. For almost thirty years, he traveled throughout Greece encouraging the people to establish schools. Kosmas knew that a good education would lead to the growth of the Church and the rejuvenation of the Hellenic ideals. The success of his ministry was evident when schools began showing up all over Greece. The missionary work St. Kosmas offered to his homeland reached every corner of the land as he ignited a burning desire for people to live the Christian Orthodox Faith. As his popularity grew, people began realizing that Kosmas was not only a priest but a prophet, scholar, patriot, and miracle-worker. Wherever he went, he preached to the people and then planted a cross to remind them that he was praying for them. Throughout the countryside, these crosses also served as reminders to passersby that somebody cared about them and that God had not forsaken them. It was only a matter of time when the Ottoman oppressors would find out about Kosmas’ efforts and bring them to a halt. At the age of 65 he was arrested and executed by hanging for conspiring against the Ottoman Empire.
During his lifetime, Kosmas was recognized for his saintly character and demeanor. The success of his missionary work enabled him to establish over 200 schools, charitable institutions, and small churches in rural areas where itinerant priests could conduct the sacred liturgies. Although acknowledged as a saint of our Church by the people he served, it was not until April 21, 1961 that the late Patriarch Athenagoras presided over ceremonies that officially put his name on the calendar of saints.
The efforts of St. Kosmas are worthy of our emulation. He loved two things: God and the people of God! As a priest of the Church, he faithfully devoted all his energy to live according to the will of God and to bring people to a greater understanding and appreciation of our precious Christian Orthodox Faith. From the many teachings of St. Kosmas, we learn that: "God has many names, but His principal name is love!" Christian Orthodox Stewardship is our invitation and response to do all things in love.
Much of the life of the Virgin Mary has been revealed to us from a book known as the "Protoevangelion of James." Although not considered a canonical book of Holy Scripture, it contains vital information pertaining to the life of the Virgin Mary. From this book we also learn about the parents of the Virgin Mary, Ss. Joachim and Anna.
It is important to study this saintly couple for we gain a good understanding of the environment in which the Virgin Mary was born. St. Joachim was of the tribe of Judah and therefore, a descendant of King David. Anna’s family was derived from the tribe of Levi and her father was the high priest Nathan. She also had two sisters: Mary, whose daughter was Salome and Zoia, whose daughter was Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist.
Ss. Joachim and Anna lived pious lives obedient to the teachings of the Old Testament. Whereas the Old Testament prescribed that God’s people should give a tithe (10%) to the Temple (See Leviticus 27:30-34), these saintly people gave one-third of their income to the poor, one-third to the Temple, and one-third was spent on their livelihood.
Unable to bear children, Ss. Joachim and Anna prayed fervently that God bless them with a child. One day they each received a visit from the angel of the Lord who informed them that God had indeed heard their prayer and that it would be granted. Speaking to Anna, the angel said: "Fear not…For I am that angel who has offered up your prayers and alms to God, and am now sent to you, that I may inform you, that a daughter will be born unto you, who shall be called Mary, and shall be blessed above all women…" Rejoicing over this wonderful news, they went to the Temple to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. When their daughter was born nine months later, they offered the child to the Lord and promised to dedicate her to the Temple at the age of three years old. In the Temple, the Virgin Mary was reared in prayer and fasting. Her parents visited her every day until they finally died, St. Joachim at the age of eighty years and St. Anna at seventy-nine.
Christian Orthodox parenthood must be viewed in the light of Stewardship. This beautiful opportunity to study the lives of Ss. Joachim and Anna reminds us that in Christ, we are all one family. God has placed upon us the responsibility to raise our children in the best possible manner. To some parents this may be understood by providing financial security for their children. To others, it may be found in providing a good education. While these are both worthwhile, are they the most important things in life? Of course, we should not neglect the necessary financial needs of our families and we should encourage our children to get the finest education, but there is something greater.
Christian parents will be successful if they educate their child according to the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Family participation in the life of the Church will instill the Christian virtues that are necessary to be happy and content with life. Perhaps it is for this reason that when the Dismissal Prayer is offered in almost every divine service of our Church, we commemorate Ss. Joachim and Anna as a reminder for Christian Orthodox parents to be faithful and obedient to the teachings of our Lord.
"your heavenly Lover, Jesus Christ, is eternal health, inexpressible beauty and life eternal. When your bodies are slain by torture, He will clothe you in incorruption and the wounds on your bodies will shine in heaven like the stars."
These words can hardly be considered the sage advice of a mother to her daughters, or are they? These words are exactly what the mother of three daughters said to them prior to their being martyred for Christ.
Living in Rome during the second century was not an easy thing for Christians. They were being tortured for refusing to worship the pagan idols. Sophia was widowed and rearing her three daughters, Faith, Hope, and Agape. It is not often that we find a mother who sacrificed herself and her three children in the name of Jesus Christ. We may even think that this story should not be shared with our families and yet, it is a dynamic revelation about a family united in Christ Jesus. The spiritual accomplishments of this family reveal that our Christian Orthodox Faith can exceed every aspect of worldly cares and bring us to the enjoyment of eternal blessings.
Sophia and her three daughters were recognized in the Christian community for their deep devotion and dedication to the worship services. Having joined fellow stewards in the candlelight of the catacombs, the worship experience strengthened Sophia and her lovely daughters during a violent period of Christian persecutions. This was a period when the Roman authorities viewed the Christians as a threat to their society. The Emperor Hadrian ordered his soldiers to gather all the Christians in Rome. Among those arrested were Sophia and her three daughters. No one could have imagined the harm that was to come to the three young girls aged twelve, ten, and nine. As Sophia and the children stood before the magistrate, the mother was challenged to deny Christ or suffer the torturing of her children. Sophia pleaded with the judge to release her children and that she would suffer the decision of the court. The children, as if with one voice, assured their mother that they would remain faithful to the Lord. One by one the girls were tortured before the eyes of their mother. With each sacrifice came greater praise and glory to the Heavenly King. When all three girls lay dead, their mother was dragged to their side where she prayed for the repose of their souls. Released by the Roman authorities, Sophia took her daughters and buried them. She remained by their graveside for three days and nights, and then retired her soul to God to be reunited with her saintly daughters in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christian martyrdom was a real issue for the early Church. The example of St. Sophia and her three daughters is a genuine act of faith that involved extreme physical and moral sufferings. The gift of faith that St. Sophia instilled in her daughters, Faith, Hope, and Agape commands our respect and remembrance. We may not face such extreme torturing for Christ and His Church, but we must be steadfast in living our faith. We are called to have the same conviction of faith that St. Sophia and her daughters possessed. This conviction should be expressed in good Stewardship by each and every one of us. The gifts that these martyred saints offered were their very lives; the gifts we offer to the Lord will be our Time, Talents, and Treasure!
Christian Orthodox Stewardship is a practice that is often misunderstood and misused in the Church. Many think of Stewardship solely from a monetary perspective, as a means to financially support the sacred work of the Church. This is, of course, important, but Stewardship should not be limited to this - it is much more!
Christian Orthodox stewards are taught to give their Time, Talents, and Treasure to the glory of God. There are many opportunities in parish life that enable us to support the Lord’s work. It is a sacred privilege for each of us to participate in the life of the Church. We pledge ourselves to the Lord so that our offerings may be faithful and obedient to His teachings and the Sacred Traditions of our Christian Orthodox Faith.
Among the many ways we can participate in our parish ministries is as a chanter, a reader, or member of the choir. We emulate the angelic choirs in heaven when we sing to the glory of God. There are also a number of saints whose example we follow by managing our Time and using our musical Talent to sing to the Lord. Among them are: St. Romanos the Melodist, St. John of Damascus, St. Andrew of Crete, Joseph the Hymnographer, and St. Kassiane. There is also another saint who is known for his love for the music of our Church, a pious man who possessed a marvelous voice, and a steward of the Faith who gave his Time and Talent to the glory of God. Who was this person? St. John Koukouzelis!
As a young man, St. John Koukouzelis was recognized for his musical talent. He was sent to the Conservatory of Music in Constantinople, where he became a popular singer for the Imperial Court. The success he enjoyed as an entertainer for the Emperor and his court should have given him every satisfaction, but John was not content with his life. He was concerned about the flattery and praise brought upon him for his musical talent and felt that his voice was not being used for its real purpose. John knew that the Emperor would never allow him to leave his position, so he fled to the Holy Mountain to search his soul and to pray to God for guidance. The Emperor became concerned about the disappearance of his favorite singer and offered a reward to anyone who could give him information about him.
At the Great Lavra Monastery, John did not reveal who he was or what position he had held in the Imperial Court. He simply wanted to be a shepherd and monk. While taking care of the flock, John would sing hymns to the Lord and to the Theotokos. One day, a couple of monks heard him singing with a voice so sweet and melodic that they thought that it was that of an angel. They moved quietly, hoping to see the vision of an angel but instead they saw John with his flock. The monks rushed back to the monastery and told the abbot what they had heard and seen. When John returned, he was summoned by the abbot who asked him why he was not willing to use his voice during the divine services. John explained his story to him, but the abbot assured him that the Emperor would understand and accept his desire to pursue the monastic life. The abbot instructed him to never hide the Talent that God had given him, but to use it to praise and glorify the His Almighty Name. From that moment on, John served as the lead chanter in the monastery. ?As the Akathist Hymn was being sung during Great Lent one year, John was exhausted and sat down and fell asleep near the icon of the Holy Mother of God and soon fell asleep. The Theotokos appeared to him and said: "Greetings, John! Sing, and don’t stop singing; and for this, I will never leave you." She then placed a gold coin into his hand and disappeared. John woke up immediately, and in his hand was the gold coin.
The life of St. John Koukouzelis is an example of how important it is to manage our Time so that we may use our Talents properly. We have all been entrusted with blessings from God, and He desires that we put them to good use. Take a moment from your busy schedule and ask yourself: "Am I managing God’s blessings as a good and faithful steward" May St. John Koukouzelis intercede on your behalf and be an inspiration so that you use your Talents for the glory of God.
"In this sign conquer!"
(Vision at the Milvian Bridge)
We usually recall these words when thinking of the vision that St. Constantine the Great saw prior to entering into battle. This vision inspired him to have the Cross painted on the shields of his soldiers. Their victory placed Constantine as the sole Emperor of the Roman Empire. But, what happened to the soldiers that witnessed this event? This month, we call to mind the life of St. Artemios the Great Martyr.
Artemios was one of Constantine’s generals. When he saw the Cross he pledged himself to Jesus Christ and was baptized. With the Empire now united, Artemios was charged with the responsibility of taking the relics of St. Andrew and St. Luke to Constantinople. He carried out his orders with joy and was honored to be able to carry the sacred relics of these saints. Recognized as an able military leader, Artemios became the Governor and Ambassador of the Emperor in Egypt. He held these positions for a number of years and protected the Eastern region of the Empire.
The politics and intrigue that surrounded the Imperial Court in Constantinople led to the rise of Julian the Apostate as Emperor. He desired that the Empire turn from its Christian direction and return to paganism. When Julian declared war on the Persians, he summoned Artemios and his army to meet him in Antioch. Artemios was obedient to the command and joined the Emperor. While in Antioch, Artemios witnessed two priests being persecuted by order of the Emperor Julian. Outraged, Artemios went to the Emperor and said: "Why are you so ruthlessly torturing these innocent and dedicated men, and why are you putting pressure on them to turn back from the Orthodox Faith?" Artemios’ intercession saved them from death and they were exiled to another land. As for Artemios, however, the Emperor stripped him of his military rank, had him beaten, and imprisoned. While in prison, he endured a number of tortures and was finally beheaded in the year 362.
How many of us would risk our jobs, our positions, our financial resources to defend someone wrongfully being treated? This is the example of St. Artemios’ life. He knew what the consequences of his actions would be when he supported the two priests being tortured because of the Emperor’s command. Nevertheless, it was his Christian Orthodox duty to stand up for what was right, no matter what the cost might be to himself. St. Artemios had converted from a pagan lifestyle to become a soldier for Christ. He was a good and faithful steward who used his Time, Talents, and Treasure on many occasions to glorify God. The time came, however, when he had to be completely truthful and ask himself how far he would go in expressing his faith. By reviewing his life we know his answer, but what about our response? Are we willing to risk our possessions or status in the community in order to defend someone being wronged? Take a good and honest look at your Stewardship commitment to God and His Church and answer those questions yourself. The witness we are called to fulfill is one that requires our full and complete support through truthful and faithful Stewardship. Our every effort in contributing our Time, Talent, and Treasure to achieve this may not bring the type of death that the martyrs suffered, but will most assuredly bring life eternal!
"Saintly Unmercenaries and Wonder Workers, regard our infirmities; freely you have received, freely share with us."
It is during the month of November that we should pause for a moment to thank the stewards throughout our holy Archdiocese who serve as members of the Philoptochos Society. It was in November 1931 that the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, who was then serving as Archbishop of North and South America, established the Philoptochos Society. Their purpose was clear; they were to become the official philanthropic organization of our Church in the Western Hemisphere. This year, we celebrate their 70th anniversary and, in so doing, we recognize their efforts in providing a ministry that serves the philanthropic, humanitarian, and Christian mission of our Church.
The selection of Ss. Kosmas and Damian as patron saints of the Philoptochos Society was a prudent and admirable choice. Their lives exemplified the meaning of Christian service and dedication. Let us take a closer look at these two saints so that we, too, might renew our conviction to be better Christian Orthodox stewards.
Born in Asia Minor of a pagan father and a Christian mother, these two brothers lived during the early years of the Christian Church. When their father died, their mother devoted her time and energy to giving the boys a Christian education. They were both recognized for their intelligence that led them to pursue studies in medicine. The combination of their faith in Jesus Christ, along with their academic aptitude, convinced them that healing came from God! They promised to offer their medical skills to all people without payment and, in this way, they would fulfill Christ’s teaching: "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8).
How was it that they could minister to people without payment? Ss. Kosmas and Damian inherited their fairly sizeable parents’ estate, but it was not so great that they could be careless with their spending. Vowing to minister to people freely meant that they had to be prudent stewards in managing this estate. There would be no extra money for luxuries that they could afford if they charged their patients even a nominal medical fee; for this reason, they were named the "unmercenaries."
The medical assistance they provided was offered as an expression of prayer and faith in Jesus Christ, the Healer of both soul and body. During the many years of service, it became evident that they attributed their work not to the medical achievements of their time but to the healing power of our Lord and Savior. All the people, Christians and non-Christians alike, respected the brothers for their generosity and abilities. Their lives were long and their ministry was an inspiration for generations to come. Consider the fact that within a few centuries following their life, there were two more sets of Christian brothers named after them. In each of these cases, the brothers pursued medical carreers and ministered to the people free of charge. The one set of brother lived in Rome and they are commemorated on July 1, while the second set of brothers was from Arabia, and they are remembered on October 17.
In remembrance of Ss. Kosmas and Damian, we express our appreciation to the members of the Philoptochos Society and all the stewards of our parishes who freely contribute countless hours and effort. As Ss. Kosmas and Damian reached out to those in need, may we also reach out to all people and embrace them with the love of Christ our God.
"We will soon see, Lord, which of us two will win the contest: You, Who ever gives me good gifts, or I, who will never cease distributing them to the poor. For I know well there is nothing of mine that is not owing to Your mercy, which upholds my life."
(Prayer of St. John the Merciful)
Born in the year 555 on the island of Cyprus, the saint we remember on November 12 is a beautiful example of Christian Orthodox Stewardship. Known to us as St. John the Merciful, he was the son of devout Christian parents who were affluent and able to provide a comfortable living for their family. His father served as governor of Cyprus and was involved in the politics and business of the island. As John grew older, he married and had children. When his father died, he took over the family’s business interests, but this did not last long. Soon after the death of his parents, his wife and children also died from a rare disease. John’s faith in the Risen Lord gave him great comfort in dealing with the physical loss of his family. In thanksgiving to God, he surrendered his life to Christ and the Church. He was instrumental in the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, and gave his entire estate to the poor and needy so that he could pursue a life of prayer. His reputation as a philanthropist spread throughout the Byzantine Empire and he was soon asked to become the Patriarch of Alexandria.
Among his first actions as Patriarch was to call together all the clergy and trustees of the Diocese of Egypt. He sent them out to register all the poor and needy people in the area regardless of whether or not they Christian. Over 7,500 people in need were found. The Patriarch ordered that they were to be fed every day and given the clothing they needed. He called the indigent his "Masters" and recognized that by serving them, God was providing an excellent opportunity to express faith in Him! As Patriarch John depleted the treasury of the Church in Alexandria, concern arose as to how future expenses would be met. Through his trust in the words of our Savior, the people soon experienced the promise of the Lord: "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; nor about your body, what you will put on…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you…" (Matt. 6:25, 33).
There is a story about a poor man who thought he could beat the system. He would receive his alms from John and then disguise himself to receive more. This happened three times when it was finally pointed out to the Patriarch. Without hesitation the Patriarch ordered that the man be given twice as much, saying: "Maybe he is Jesus my Savior who has come on purpose to put me to the test."
St. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, was recognized by his flock for being generous and kind to all people but especially to the poor and needy; for this reason, he was called "the Merciful." In being merciful to others, St. John knew that it was the Lord Himself Who grants mercy and that he was simply His humble servant.
We can learn much about Christian Stewardship from the example of St. John the Merciful. He recognized that his stewardship was both to serve people less fortunate and to teach the wealthy that contributing to the sacred work of the Church was an opportunity and a privilege. He encouraged the wealthy to realize this opportunity as an expression of their faith in Jesus Christ. Once, when some wished to thank John for his kindness and generosity he replied: "No more of that, brother! I haven’t shed my blood for you yet, which is what the Savior asks." With this in mind, let us reconsider our understanding of Christian Orthodox Stewardship and learn from the life of St. John the Merciful.
"You are a guide of Orthodoxy, a teacher of piety and modesty, a luminary of the world, the God-inspired pride of monastics. O wise John, you have enlightened everyone by your teachings…"
Christian Orthodox Stewardship is the means by which we manage the gifts God has entrusted to us in accordance with our theology and ecclesiology, which is centered in the love of God. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). As stewards of our precious Faith, we use our God-given spiritual gifts, seen and unseen, material and immaterial, physical and mystical, to the glory of God.
Is this really how we understand and express Christian Orthodox Stewardship It is time to be honest. For many of us Stewardship is a foreign concept, simply a new way to say we need money. This is only natural since we live in a society founded on principles like material success and hedonism. Needless to say, the time has come for each of us to not only understand but to also practice good stewardship!
Turning to the experience of our Church, we are blessed to have the example of the saints as intercessors to God and as our role models. Daily, we commemorate these blessed people who experienced the same things we do but came to understand their life in relationship to Jesus Christ. This month, we have many saints to reflect upon, as exemplified by St. John of Damascus.
Born around 675, John was the son of Christian parents who lived in Damascus, Syria. His father, Sergios, had earned the favor of the Muslim Caliph, who entrusted to Sergios the Christian community in that area. In this capacity, he used his own resources to help the people of God. It was in this environment that John grew and learned the virtues of kindness and mercy. When John was about thirty years old, he succeeded his father and worked closely with the Caliph.
This period was one of great unrest in the Byzantine Empire. While a portion of the Empire was invaded by the Muslims, Constantinople was being ruled by Leo III the Isaurian. He persecuted the Church of Christ actively by prohibiting the faithful to venerate the sacred icons. When John of Damascus heard of the Emperor’s attacks on the Church, he began writing in defense of the Faith. Collecting scriptural and theological references, John expressed the teachings of the Church in a most convincing manner. The Emperor despised him for this and vowed to ruin John. He informed the Caliph that John had sent him a letter that suggested a way that he might send troops to recapture Damascus. Infuriated at John, the Caliph had his right hand cut off. That night, John took the severed hand and placed it before the icon of the Mother of God. He prayed for hours before the icon and eventually fell asleep. While sleeping he believed the icon had come to life and that the Theotokos was consoling him. When he awoke, his hand was miraculously healed. In thanksgiving to God, John vowed to devote himself to our Savior and to the Theotokos, and to the writings that would defend the Orthodox Faith. When the Caliph heard of this miracle, he apologized to John and invited him back to his court. John refused this worldly honor and distributed his possessions to the poor, departing for Jerusalem in order to become a monk at St. Savas Monastery.
In the monastery, John obediently fulfilled the responsibilities of a monk. Living a life in prayer, he was inspired to write many of the hymns of our Church. We continue to sing these hymns in our churches today! The hymns attributed to St. John are: the Canon of Pascha, hymns of the Funeral Service, and numerous hymns honoring our Lord, the Theotokos, and the saints. In addition to being a great hymnographer, John wrote in the style and tradition of the Holy Fathers of the Church. The author of a work entitled "Fount of Knowledge," this work is a concise and accurate description of Orthodox Christian theology. It is in the writings of St. John of Damascus that we find the explanation that clearly teaches the importance of venerating icons. These writings are based on the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the truth that God humbled Himself and became Man for our salvation. St. John of Damascus fell asleep in the Lord on December 4, 749 at the Monastery of St. Savas.
We see in the example of St. John of Damascus that he centered his life in the love of God. In so doing, he was able to express love to all God’s creation through hymns and theological writings. He allowed his faith in Jesus Christ to be a beacon for others to come to a greater knowledge of the Lord. He went from a life of prosperity and prominence to a life of being falsely charged; being acquitted by a miracle of the Lord, he dedicated himself to the monastic life. The light of Christ that was within him continues to shine before us in the singing of Church hymns. St. John of Damascus found his place in the Stewardship of the Church and his example teaches us: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).
"…when the number of disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of disciples and said…brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business…And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit…"
Stephen was the first of the seven deacons ordained by the Holy Apostles in order to provide service to the poor. This is why he is regarded the "Archdeacon," the first among deacons.
Born into a faithful Jewish family, he spent his youth studying the Old Testament and desired to become a rabbi. Stephen was driven with the desire to be the most competent rabbi so he became the student of the famous rabbinical theologian, Gamaliel. Stephen lived during a time when the Christian Church was being established. Upon completion of his studies, Stephen questioned the validity of the Christian teachings. In short time, he discovered its truth in Jesus Christ, the Risen Messiah. The descent of the Holy Spirit fifty days following the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ inspired many to be baptized (Pentecost). The first Christians sold all their possessions and made their offering at the feet of the Apostles. This generous act was one that freed them from worldly cares and enabled them to live as one community. However, the growth of the Church meant that the Apostles had less time for prayer and ministry. To assist them, the Apostles established the ministry of the deaconate.
As the Archdeacon, Stephen did more than serve the material needs of the Christian community, he also preached with a knowledge and power that comes only from God. The leaders of the Jewish community in Jerusalem became angry at Stephen’s ability to bring people to belief in Jesus Christ and brought charges of blasphemy against him. As Stephen stood before the Jewish tribunal, "the council looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). In chapter seven of the Book of Acts we read the account of Stephen’s remarks to the high priest and his council. As he spoke of God’s love and kindness their hatred towards him grew and they were convinced that he should be put to death. As he concluded his God inspired testimony Stephen said: "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" This infuriated them and they dragged him out of the city and "they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ The he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:39-40). Being the first to give his life for Christ earned him the title of "Protomartyr."
How did this young Christian express his stewardship to his new Church and Faith? A learned scholar of the Old Testament, Stephen did not aspire for positions of leadership or honor as other learned men would expect, but to a life of service and teaching. He was ordained a deacon, and as such, he spent his life assisting the priests in their liturgical functions and teaching the people every day. As a deacon, whose task it was to provide various services, his was not a role that was subject to a particular authority, but a position that was offered in imitation of Christ Whose example is one of servant leadership. We, too, can learn from the example of St. Stephen if we contemplate upon the words of St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians and apply them to our lives: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor. 4:5).