Friday, June 30, 2017

Planned Stewardship at St. Vladimir Church - Making a Conscious Choice about Supporting our Parish Family

This is a pamphlet that we have posted on our parish web site and which is available at the parish church, but it is important that we challenge ourselves in this regard, and that we have a continuing conversation in this regard, so I am including this here in the hopes that more people will have the opportunity to read it by doing so. You can find this in PDF format on our web site in English and Russian.

A more in-depth treatment of this subject can be found here, also in English and Russian.

Please share your thoughts here, by sending us an email, or by using our feedback form. And if you have questions and don't want to ask them publicly please send us an email - we are happy to discuss this with any of our parish family any time!

Fr. Gregory

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:21)

St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church has always, throughout its 35+ year history, been well supported by its parishioners.  This is something that we can be proud of and thankful for.  However, this is also something that we often do not think very much about.  We know that when we are in church on Sunday there will be some sort of collection, but we don’t usually think very much about this, either before the collection or afterwards.  We see this as just a part of going to church. However, stewardship, how we use what God has given us, is something that we should consider and something that we should plan. 

The reasons for stewardship are numerous, and no doubt, you have heard many, if not all of them. Sometimes we are told that we should give because the parish needs more money for next year’s budget. Other times we are told we should give at least as we pay for a newspaper subscription or our cable bill – as if God's Church is equivalent to other “entertainment” choices we make.  Finally, we are sometimes told that we should give because the parish needs something (a new church, vestments for the clergy, a new hall, etc.).  None of these reasons are illegitimate, for in many parishes, sometimes including ours, these things are true.  However, stewardship is a spiritual question, and not a material one. We should give to God out of love, and for no other reason. In the beginning God created man out of love, He gave us our personal existence out of love, He sent His only-begotten Son to us out of love so that we could again gain the paradise that we threw away by the actions of our first forefather Adam.  Love is the reason that God created us all, and this is the reason that we should give back to God. “God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Thus we see that our reason WHY (love of God) we give helps us to determine HOW MUCH we give, for if God gave us so much, can we not give Him back just a little of the bounty with which He has blessed us?  The purest motive for our stewardship is to give to God because we have been given to by Him.  That is, in gratitude for His great love towards us.

We urge you to make stewardship part of your family budget – to actively plan what you give to St. Vladimir's just as you plan other family expenses. We further urge you to keep in mind that we give to God out of love – and that He asks us to give to His Church just a small amount (some set percentage of our net income: ten percent according to the Old Testament – even more than this according to St. John Chrysostom) of all that He has given us. The Lord, having given us all that we have, generously allows us to keep all the rest! Perhaps starting with ten percent would impossible. That is understandable – this is a major paradigm shift for most of us. But it is spiritually helpful to set a percentage for ourselves and do our best to stick with that for a year, and then try to increase that the next year. When we tithe the Lord blesses us many times more than the amount we give (see Malachi 3:8-10)!

If you have any questions about stewardship in general at St. Vladimir’s, or questions about the best ways to give (recurring donations benefit the parish the most) please contact Fr. Gregory, our Starosta, Jack (Alexey) Mitchell, or the other member of our Parish Council Stewardship Education Team, Leta (Ksenia) Nikulshina. ~ ~ 734-475-4590

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Matthew 25 – Our Parish Family Response

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46)

The reading above is provided to us by the Holy Church for our edification annually on the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We know this Sunday more as Meatfare Sunday, and given that this is the last day that we are allowed to eat meat before Pascha, sadly this gospel is often not reflected upon adequately, since we are usually in a rush after the Liturgy on that day to get to the table.

Still, even if we are not as attentive to this gospel reading as we should be, it is nonetheless applicable to us. We are bound by the instructions given there. That is, as long as we desire to attain the Heavenly Kingdom. Given that this is indeed our desire, we need to find a way to fulfill the instructions our Lord gives us in this gospel.

Sometimes the scripture readings need some explanation to make them clear. Honestly – this one doesn’t need much. The Lord simply and clearly outlines for us how we will answer at the Last Judgment. This is good – we do not want to guess about such things. That being said, we tend to dismiss spiritual things that seem difficult or impossible to us, and I think we do that often in regard to this reading. The problem is that our priest has not really stressed the importance of fulfilling the Matthew 25 challenge in our parish (yes – the priest who is writing this note), but it is time for that to change. We are not a small parish. In fact, we have more members than any other parish in the diocese. Thus, we need to be leaders – and this is a very good place to start.

Let me say here that in our lives we have three ways that we can apply good:

  • Time
  • Treasure
  • Talent

At different times in our lives we have more or less of each of these things. Often when we are young we have little treasure, for instance, but we have some talent, and likely a lot of time. When we form a family and start having children the time disappears for the most part, but we likely have more talent than we did as young people, and probably more treasure too. In our later years we might not have a lot of ability to apply time or talent, but we might have more treasure. The point is this: we need to examine our lives and see how we can apply each of these to the Matthew 25 challenge. And your reality is almost certainly going to be different than the reality of your neighbor. Thus, there is no need to judge another in this regard. As long as we are all working towards the same goal, applying the time, treasure, and talent that we have available, we will, as a parish family, meet the Matthew 25 challenge to the greatest extent possible. The bottom line: EVERYONE can and should and must participate if we are going to meet this challenge, but participation might look different for you than it does for the person standing next to you in church on Sunday morning. You might only have treasure to give, while that person might only have time…

I have been thinking praying about this for a good long time now. That does not mean that I am any wiser in this regard than I was when I started, but I have at least, hopefully guided by the Lord’s merciful hand, come to a few conclusions about how we, as a parish family, can best meet the Matthew 25 challenge.

Here are the major action items from the gospel of the Last Judgment:

  • If we help others in need we give into the Hand of the Lord – thus we need to help those in need:
    • We need to feed the hungry
    • We need to give drink to the thirsty
    • We need to give housing to the homeless
    • We need to give clothes to the naked
    • We need to visit the sick
    • We need to visit those in prison
  • If we do NOT do these things we have NOT given in the Hand of the Lord when He (in the place of those made in His image) was in need

To support this point (although I am not sure support is really needed – these are the words of the Lord Himself after all) I would like to include a brief excerpt from the life of St. Martin of Tours:

“At the gates of Amiens, Martin saw a beggar shivering in the severe winter cold, so he cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the saint wearing Martin’s cloak. He heard the Savior say to the angels surrounding Him, “Martin is only a catechumen, but he has clothed Me with this garment.” The saint was baptized soon after this...” (FULL LIFE HERE)

From this point forward I will assume that all agree that action is needed on our part in light of Matthew 25. If I haven’t – please talk to me. The Church has never interpreted the instructions in Matthew 25 to be optional or a suggestion – these are action oriented orders and we need to act, or fall in with the goats at the Last Judgment. I’m hoping to be with the sheep, and I’m hoping you all will be too. To increase our odds in that regard we need to put the Matthew 25 instructions to work in our lives as St. Martin did. But how?

I suggest we combine the need to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.  If we do that we get to these major action items:

  • Nourish (food and drink) those in need
  • House those in need
  • Clothe those in need
  • Visit/support the sick
  • Visit/support those in prison

That is five major points that we need to attend to as a parish family. I think this will work best if we have five volunteers to work closely with me in this regard – to help facilitate our parish family’s participation in fulfilling the Matthew 25 instructions. I would also argue that our philanthropic efforts as a parish should also be focused mostly in these areas, and volunteers will work with me to help identify local partners that can help us facilitate these efforts. We will work with local volunteer partners to allow our parishioners to apply their time, treasure, and talent to this challenge.

That is not to say that we will never work with those outside our local area. Of course we will. But we have an opportunity to help our parish family spiritually in this regard, and although a few may choose to work with IOCC nationally or internationally on relief projects – not many of us will have the opportunity to do that. But to work locally – that is a lot easier. And the point here is to make it as easy as possible for our parish family to follow the Lord’s guidance in Matthew 25.

Please contact me if you can help. I think the “Visit/Support the Sick” piece is already mostly filled, but having another volunteer coordinator there is not a bad idea. Otherwise – first come first served! :)

I would like to have all this in place, including providing opportunities for our parish family to volunteer/donate by September 1, 2017. I am confident we can do that if we begin today. Please help us by volunteering to lead one of the efforts listed above!

Fr. Gregory