"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).
To learn more about the stewardship of the saints, click here.