Christian Unity and Christian Stewardship
Carpatho-Russian Diocese is in the midst of a year of Stewardship Education.
Our Diocesan Stewardship Commission has been working hard to provide resources
throughout the diocese for such education. The aim is to help bring our diocese
to a better understanding of Christian Stewardship as a way of life. In fact,
that is the theme under which our Diocesan Stewardship Commission is working:
STEWARDSHIP: A WAY OF LIFE.
The mission statement of the Stewardship Commission is this:
Orthodox Christian Stewardship is a
Christ-centered lifestyle, which acknowledges accountability, reverence, and
responsibility before God. Orthodox Christian Stewardship is a call to all of
the faithful to share willingly and cheerfully the gifts that God has bestowed
on them including sharing these gifts for God’s work in His Church.
Stewardship, our caring for all
that God has given us, is related to all aspects of life. The Orthodox
Christian life is not divided into compartments that we neatly separate from on
another. Our practice of our faith is not limited to going to church, praying
or reading the Scriptures or Church Fathers. All we do, all the time, is
practice our Christian faith. And so it is that the idea of Christian Unity has
something to do with stewardship.
The seventeenth chapter of the
Gospel of St. John the Theologian is the prayer that Christ prayed right before
He was arrested and went to Cross. This reading from the Theologian is part of the
first of the Gospel readings for the Service of the Twelve Gospels, served on
Holy and Great Thursday. That reading includes nearly five chapters from the
Gospel. This portion of Christ’s “High Priestly” prayer is the concluding
chapter of that reading.
One desire dominated this
concluding part of Christ’s prayer. The desire was that we, his disciples, be one
as He and the Father are one.
When we read this unity prayer we
think that Jesus is seeking for all Christians simply not to fight among
ourselves. In some respects that is true. But what He wants for us is so much
more than that! What Jesus wants is for all Christians to be one as He is with
Father. Unity is more than absence of conflict. Christian unity is a total,
unreserved total communion, that is, a total sharing, of everything with one
Listen closely to what Jesus prays
to the Father. In the tenth verse of chapter seventeen, Christ prays, “All
that is Mine is yours and all that is yours is Mine.” While the Orthodox
Study Bible translates this verse as “All Mine are Yours and Yours are Mine”
with reference to his Apostles, an equally acceptable translation is “All
things that are Mine are yours – and all things that are yours are Mine.” After
all, Christ is praying for unity. This might mean a unity in the family, a
unity in the local parish church, or, as most take it, a unity of all those who
profess Jesus Christ is Lord.
Blessed St. Augustine in his
Tractates on the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 10, interprets this to mean that
every creature is subject only to God. And that because each creature was
created and sanctified by Him. Blessed Augustine goes on: “…and for the same
reason, everything also that is theirs must of necessity be His also to whom
they themselves belong.” Now this is unity from God’s perspective – a total
sharing of everything, because everything issues from God and belongs to Him.
In our society we have a very different
concept of sharing. Our concept of sharing is if I have $100 and you have a
need I give you $ 10 and pray others will give as well. Or my compassion might
even cause me to give you $50 and I keep $50. I think most of us would feel
pretty good about ourselves if we did that. As good as that might be that is
not the unity that Christ prayed we would have. Christ prayed that we would be
one as He and the Father are one. That unity is described in these terms: “All
that is Mine is yours and all that is yours is Mine.”
When our daughters were small we
taught them to share. When Becky was 5 and Beth was three, one had two pieces
of candy. We would say to them (as probably all parents have said): “Now share
.... “All that is yours is Mine and all that is Mine is yours.” Sharing (Christian Stewardship) can be
learned at any age.
Here is the truth about sharing with
God. It’s not that Christ has two pieces of candy. He gives me one and He keeps
one. No, we both get two pieces of candy. We both have it all. We all
have it together. All that God has becomes yours and mine. We never fully
realize what sharing with God is until all that I have and am becomes His.
That’s sharing. It’s a whole lot more than simply coming to church. It’s a whole
lot more than putting a few bucks in the offering plate.
Man was created in the image and
likeness of God. But that was turned upside down when Adam sinned. We now
choose for ourselves rather than to choose as one made in God’s likeness. Take
this little test. When a group picture is taken, what’s the first face you look
at to make sure the picture is acceptable? When a new phone book comes out,
what number do you check first? These are symptoms of a preoccupation with
Christ became human, died and rose
again to free us from the tyranny of self. Before we could ever hope to live in
unity with others something has to be done about that. Until that matter is
dealt with in our lives we will be frustrated about the lack of attention
others give us. We will be offended by the lack of appreciation we receive from
others. This is where our relational problems originate. Our biggest problem,
my biggest problem, is not one’s spouse; it’s not the church; it’s not your
boss. It is the selfishness in my own heart.
We live in a highly individualistic
society. The percentage of people who volunteer in a political
campaign-stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, going door to door- is today
about ½ what it was in the late 1960’s. The percentage of active membership in
local clubs and organizations, like PTA is ½ what it was in the 1970’s. People
are visiting one another less frequently. Having friends over is happening less
frequently. However, interaction with an electronic machine and not a person is
In short, every objective
measurement of participation in community is declining. Why? Some blame TV.
Others blame dual career families. There are probably a number of factors
involved. The point is there are forces in our society which are pulling people
apart and isolating them. This makes it more difficult to come together in
community. Those forces affect Christians as well as non-Christians.
But for sure, unity in community is
hard. The more people come together, the more problems seem to result. Perhaps
that is another reason why communities are so hard to form. People are afraid
of the problems. They don’t want to take on the problems of a community. You’ve
heard it before: “I’ve go my own problems.” It’s like the group of porcupines
that the famous philosopher, Schopenhauer, once used to illustrate a point. A
group of porcupines were marooned in the middle of a frozen field during a
terrible blizzard. There was no way they could escape the biting wind. They
could not borrow into the frozen ground. As they huddled together to keep warm
their sharp quills began to pinch and hurt. The closer they moved together the
more the pain increased. Some of the animals could not bear the pain and drew
apart to sleep. In the morning those who had drawn apart had frozen to death.
The Holy Fathers of the
Ecumenical Councils of the Church worked tirelessly for the unity of the
Church. They accomplished their goals. Yet today, 1500 years after, the
Christian community is divided into thousands of different groups. What is to
be done to fulfill the unity prayer of Christ?
We can’t even get all of our Orthodox brothers and sisters together in
Unity on its grandest scale begins with each of us as individuals. We must
demonstrate to the world that we are one in Christ. We must show that we are
willing to live in that sharing relationship with Christ. We must see that all
we have is not ours – it has been shared with us by Christ and through Him. How
we accept that truth in real life shows how willing we are to share what we
have with others. “All that is Mine is yours and all that is yours is Mine.”
He has given us all He has. May we ever give Him all we have.
Fr. Frederick Watson, Chair
Diocesan Stewardship Commission