The Great and Holy Council – The Orthodox Hierarchy Wrestles with the Stewardship of the Church
By Fr. Robert Holet
The timing couldn’t be better – as the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church convened in Crete with the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, concluding on the Sunday of All Saints. Much will be written by many with far more profound insights into the historical, spiritual and theological meaning of the Council – as well as the implications of the participation of the Churches and, more notably, the non-participation of others, for whatever reasons. From my perspective, what is so encouraging is the refreshing sight of the Fathers of the Church as they step up – prayerfully, visibly and publically – to act as the stewards of the Lord’s Church in our age. Quietly, the prayer of many Orthodox Christians was that, through the Council, the Lord would pour forth a wave of spiritual enthusiasm, renewed insight and where necessary, needed change, to the Orthodox Church’s life and witness in the world today.
Herein is set forth one of the challenges of Orthodoxy today. We know that Christ is the Head of the Church, and so the Body lives in harmony with Him (or is cut off and dies). But the Head has ascended to Heaven – leaving us, in a manner of speaking, without a visible head. The natural human inclination is to select a new visible representative – so that we have a ‘chief steward’ to preserve order. Some lament that we need a ‘visible’ Steward of the Church in our own day, as in the practice of the Roman Catholics, whose Pope has the responsibility to steward/shepherd their Church.[i] This approach would certainly be more understandable to our modern sensibilities; every organization needs its leadership head, every business its CEO. If the Orthodox Church had one, it surely wouldn’t have taken hundreds of years to convene such a Council to initiate this process! It can be argued that this leadership-stewardship role was exercised in an earlier age by the Christian Roman Emperors, beginning with Constantine – and probably out of practical as much as spiritual need. The Roman Catholics have not had a problem calling wide-ranging councils since the Great Schism in the 11th. It’s been much more difficult for the Orthodox to so gather – even though the conciliar model is at the heart of the Orthodox understanding of how the stewardship of the universal Church takes place. For Orthodoxy, Christ did not set up such a singular, ultimately empowered, overseer.
Local or Global? Broadening the Circle
A related challenge facing the Hierarchs, and highlighted by the Council, is the very tension between ‘local’ and ‘global’. In Orthodox ecclesiology, the bishop is always bishop first and foremost of a ‘local church’. But what about the Church around the world? This typifies a tension present more broadly in Christianity today. Where do our responsibilities lie? Are we to focus on ‘working out our salvation in fear and trembling’ – with a strong focus on our individual, private life? Are we to also broaden our spiritual awareness and take responsible stewardship of our family? What about our local church communities (parish)? Do we look beyond the walls of our parish to reach out with the gospel and also endeavor to express the stewardship of the Church in our locale, finding some way to ‘love our neighbor’ in the local community or region?
As a member of our Metropolitan Council, I’ve sensed the need of our national Metropolia to be supported (in ministry and love, not to mention financially) by local parishes – and when that’s absent we are like leaders without followers, and our bishops are shepherds without sheep. Are we not also called, as Orthodox in America, to see the breadth of our cross-jurisdictional Church, manifest in the work of the Assembly of Bishops, or IOCC, or OCMC, or OCF or any of a score of ministries that have a national reach that we are supposed to steward by our support, because they really are important? And let’s not forget the international concern of many of Orthodox Christians today in our parishes and our jurisdictions, that extend across the oceans to a faraway place and a faraway people who are our ‘brothers and sisters (no less)’, many of whom are deeply in need.[ii] Then too, there are inter-Church and ecumenical concerns that reach into international ecclesial activities and discussions. Just thinking about all this makes me dizzy! Is it little wonder that the oft-quoted saying of St. Seraphim about acquiring the Holy Spirit is so popular today – focusing/stewarding our thoughts and energies on what is closest, and manageable?
But for a hierarch, the global dimension of their calling cannot be ignored. It’s their responsibility to bear that broader, global concern. When Christ gathered his disciples at that Mystical Supper and entrusted to them the Mysteries, the Keys to the Kingdom, and all, He also entrusted a distinct, global expression of a united, conciliar Church and ministry to them as well. They cannot deny or ignore it – and the diptychs[iii] remind them of their global connectedness to the entirety of the Church whenever they offer the Liturgy. Further, if the hierarchs don’t faithfully serve as stewards of the global Church (oikoumene), no one will because no one else can. What we should all appreciate, regardless of any of the documents or other outcomes of this Council, is the determined effort led by the patriarchs, especially by the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew, to overcome all manner of impediments so that this distinctive expression of stewardship of the worldwide Church could be exercised. It had been hundreds of years since it was so manifest – because it is, as expressed in the icon of Pentecost, a stewardship function which can only be exercised in the Spirit, in council and solidarity with others.
Stewardship of the Gift of Unity through Conciliarity
We can glory in the expression of this Pentecost-enlightened Church because it shows us the need for stewardship expressed as conciliarity. If, as the Council theme resonating the Kontakion of St. Romanos indicates, “He called all to unity,” maybe this is the very image of the Church of Christ we so desperately need; especially as communities and collaboration collapse – sometimes in violence – in an individualistic and secular age. International, national, jurisdictional, regional and local – all of the other levels of life in Christ – need the discovery of this conciliar dimension of stewardship and mission in the Church. Perhaps the stewardship of our very souls relies not just about our-selves, or what we do even in serving others in the Church, but through the very relationship and union with God the Trinity, and with others in holy communion in love.
Essential, then, to the stewardship of the Church is this search and longing for unity. This will lead each of us, especially the shepherds, to repentance – as we realize the disruption of the unity in each of our Church circles. Only repentance and truth can bring healing and restoration. Efforts to bring reconciliation, though imperfect, in the Great Council exemplify the hierarchical role of calling us to the dialogue, and if necessary, repentance that leads to unity – true among Patriarchs, within national churches, down to the family level. The world will know the love of Christ when He sees us love one another, and reconcile with one another.[iv]
As with the stewardship of any important ministry in the Church, unity cannot accomplished solely by individuals. Rather, an effort to gather the Church in the oikumene assumes a global vision and multi-national strategic planning and practical execution. As anyone hanging around the Orthodox for a short time may have observed, gathering the Orthodox for anything beyond eating a meal can be a challenge! Gathering theologians, media support, people gifted with multi-lingual skills to address staffing needs, hospitality concerns, etc. – this was a herculean task. Perhaps most daunting was the challenge to firmly and fairly address the concerns of all the Patriarchs and their delegations, not the least of which was the patience required to address (even to the final moments before convening the Council) the concerns and reluctance of those who opted not to attend. Even choosing a safe and accessible site was inspired – in light of the bombing of the Istanbul Airport on the very day that many of the Hierarchs were traveling home at the end of the Council. And I’m sure that there will be a few stories in the days to come of other near-misses and events that managed to find resolution so that these men, called by God, could actually sit down and begin to address, as faithful stewards, the global needs of the Church throughout the world.
A Moment in History?
I can recall, as a youth, hearing wisps of information about the Second Vatican Council which was taking place and how it would change forever the life of the Catholic Church. What could not have even been anticipated made history – beyond anyone’s imagination.[v] Is it possible that something of similar great importance is in store for the Orthodox Church? In the words of our Metropolitan Antony of Hieropolis,[vi] “This Council will be part of the history of the modern world.”[vii]
All I can say is it’s about time. God’s time. God takes His time – often taking millennia to act – but when He does, big things happen. This is a new beginning. As the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church around the world get exercise their profound ministry as stewards of the whole Church in Orthodoxy, we will have a new glimpse of the icon of the Church for Pentecost. In a sense, the Apostles in the icon can now be flanked not only by the Fathers and Hierarchs of the previous ages – but now we can see, sharing in that glory as stewards of His Church, our own Hierarchs, assuring us that our Church is not only one with that Church of Pentecost, the Councils, and the Saints, but expressed in a powerful, new, visual image in our own age. Ω
[i] Of course, in the Orthodox view, the Pope is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome, and the scope of his pastorship extends to a degree as Patriarch of the West (but never replacing a local bishop). Some popes recently have eschewed the ‘Patriarch of the West’ title, notably His Holiness Pope Benedict. For one Orthodox take on this, see http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/HilarionPope.php But the papacy is globally recognized in the Roman Church as a ‘Universal Pontificate’, effectively making him the steward of the entire Church.
[ii] Among the most pressing needs are those of the Syrian and middle-Eastern Churches due to the war and persecution in their lands, as well as the suffering in Ukraine due to civil unrest and its accompanying ecclesial issues.
[iii] The diptychs record the names of rightly ordained bishops in Communion with the Church, as successors to the apostles, and for whom prayers are offered, especially in the Divine Liturgy.
[iv] Jn. 13:35
[v] Some would argue – for better, others, for worse.
[vi] Presiding Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora
By Lisa Ryan
Prayer is one important way we serve as stewards of the time. Future posts will discuss morning and evening prayer, as for most of us that is the bulk of our individual prayer on a daily basis. It is worth remembering, however, that the Body of Christ is one, although it is made up of many people with many different vocations; and even if you and I are in the midst of the secular world, odds are pretty good that somewhere within our time zone there are monastics who are praying the Canonical Hours all day every day. Have you ever wondered why services are set for certain times of the day? The schedule of Divine Services is constructed so that when it is prayed by monastics, they are sanctifying the time for all of us, hour by hour each day. Their prayer is offered to make holy even the hours when most of us are lost in the cares of the world. We are one Church, monastics and laity, and so all of us benefit from their labors.
It is good to remember their efforts, and also to find little ways to keep the hours ourselves, so that we feel connected to the rest of the Body of Christ. The first thing might be to have an awareness of the hours so that when you glance at the clock and see one of those times, know that somewhere prayer is offered to make this hour holy. If you would like to make a small offering yourself, perhaps you could cross yourself or say the Lord’s Prayer as a way to keep the hour. Short prayers to honor the hours have been written by several church fathers: St. John Chrysostom has one for each of the twenty-four hours in the day, you can see them here on the OCF site: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/chrysostom.html. Perhaps a Lenten project would be to pick one of these and memorize it and pray it at that hour each day during Great Lent. A larger and more worthy project, learning to pray the Jesus prayer, helps us sanctify the time in another way: praying continuously is a stewardship of prayer time offered to God continuously in the heart.
What are the Canonical Hours? Time in the Church differs from time that we learned in school: each day begins at sunset, and the services keep the rhythm of life as it was before clocks and artificial lights changed our ideas of day and night. So the Hours as the Church understands them are: sunset, night, midnight, sunrise; and then the hours of daylight: first (approximately 6am), third (9am), sixth (12pm), ninth (3pm), and then back to sunset and the beginning of the next day. In the days without clocks, judging the third hour by the position of the sun roughly halfway between the horizon and directly overhead (and the ninth the same way in the other direction) was more practical than trying to judge 9:30am, so scheduling services at those Hours was natural. Night time was a good time for prayer in those days, not only because it was so bad for productive laboring, but because it is a good way to counteract the fears that are so natural when it is dark outside. The four night offices: Vespers, Compline, Nocturne and Orthros/Matins, are the beginning of each day in the Church and help us remember the Light while the world is dark.
Keeping the Daily Services in mind can greatly help us in our stewardship of the time each day. Each service has its own character which is appropriate to that time of the day. Even when we do not attend the services, we can look for little ways to live that particular theme in our everyday lives, to let it shape us spiritually, and to find little ways to offer that back to God and to others. In future posts we will discuss the Daily Services in more detail, but for now, consider some little ways you can “keep the hours” in your daily life. Here are a few suggestions, but please post others you may think of in the comments section!
- Do your daily Scripture readings at the appointed hour. We’re reading Isaiah now at the sixth hour during Lent, which is lunch time for most of us. Say a prayer to thank God for your food and read while you eat: monastics also contemplate the Word of God during their meals.
- Say a prayer at 9am (or when you get to work) dedicating the morning’s work to the glory of God.
- Counter the mid-afternoon urge to nap with a brief walk while reciting the Jesus prayer.
- Listen to an Ancient Faith Radio podcast during your morning or evening commute.
We welcome your comments and invite you to share your thoughts about the following questions, or other ways that the theme for today can be better lived out in our Christian walk:
- How do you keep the hours in your daily life?
- What does an awareness of God and your calling as his Steward do for you during your day?
Lisa Ryan is a member of St. Peter & St. Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Carnegie, PA. She is an IT Business Analyst in her professional life; co-Head Coach of the UOC of the USA’s Strategic Planning initiative; and an enthusiastic convert to Orthodoxy.”
By Fr. Robert Holet, Director – Consistory Office of Stewardship
We all know how Father has been ‘encouraging’ us to attend services and activities in Church during Holy Week. It’s one of the best examples of the challenge we face in the stewardship of time. Parishioners will tell me that Holy Week is the ONE week when the boss decides the extra project needs to be done now, the taxes need to be sent in, the prom has been scheduled for months (Great Friday of course) or your co-worker has decided to have her baby. Or maybe the Lord decided for her.
It’s a conspiracy.
So maybe it’s appropriate that the Church reads from the Book of Job in Church this week, because it reminds us that the Devil will work overtime, over lots of time, to upset our Holy Week apple cart in any and every imaginable way. I can feel the angst in my chest today remembering the moment when I blew out a tire on the Interstate on Great Friday, heading at high speed to one of the most important services of the year. But the Lord took care of things then – and may He protect us this year!
Take a Look Ahead
Although it’s a little late this year, it’s always a good reminder to set your Holy Week schedule during the first week of January. This way you open up at least as much time as possible by taking vacation days (at least for Great Friday!) and setting your electronic calendar to ‘Busy’ as much as possible – so that no one schedules you to that critical meeting at the wrong time – like Holy Thursday evening. In addition to taking off Great Friday (and Saturday), I strongly recommend taking off Bright Monday – as it allows us to celebrate with the Church the second day of Pascha and drink in the spirit of that special time called Bright Week, when the joy of Pascha resonates its beauty, light and joy. And don’t forget, it shortens the work week by a day too!
In terms of Orthodox Stewardship – setting aside your time is a sacred offering, of yourself, to Christ. Your time is where you are and what you’re doing – so when that’s in Church, it can be a way of spiritually committing yourself to your Orthodox Faith. But it will be a sacred offering only if you do it willingly, and intentionally. Sometimes I wonder if we Orthodox Christians have ever graduated from junior high school. What do I mean by that? Remember that in junior high or middle school, your parents could still control where you were at any point in time; and so they took you to Church during Holy Week. You may have disliked it, even hated it and wanted to it to end as quickly as possible – perhaps because you couldn’t understand a word in some foreign language the priest was mumbling? But you survived. And here we are, some 20-40 years later, perhaps still going to Holy Week services not because we want to participate, but rather that if we don’t, we’ll feel guilty, break tradition and perhaps disappoint people who are “counting on us”!
Here’s the truth. Your time is God’s gift to you. When you offer it back to Him, attending the services of Holy Week, you give Him an opportunity to bless you in unusual ways. Over the years, I’ve sensed countless people ‘get it’ regarding the meaning of their Orthodox Faith – the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, by participating in the services. God communicates the truth in all of this – in His own ineffable way. How about trying something different this year? Attend the services of Holy Week with an open heart – try to listen to the words being chanted, the meaning of the Gospel, and experience the solemn atmosphere of the Great Friday services reminding us that this Jesus, who we proclaim as Lord, was ‘truly the Son of God’. (Mt. 27: 54). The Holy Week services are perhaps the most powerful moments – intervals of time – where we truly learn what it means to worship God – in venerating the shroud in silence, processing around the Church at Resurrection Matins in hope, seeing the brilliance of Christianity in joy at the Paschal Liturgy, enjoying the bounty of God’s blessings in the feast that pours out of our Pascha basket.
Stewards of Precious Time
Of course, there are a few hours left in the week outside of the services! First, it’s good stewardship of time to get rest during Holy Week, especially if your lifestyle involves family life and laborious work responsibilities. Throw in the extra time needed for special activities involving Holy Week – like special housekeeping, preparing foods for your basket, writing pysanky, preparing for Confession – all can be very time intensive. No, today we don’t have the kind of lifestyle that allowed Baba to spend hours braiding her Pascha perfectly. For many, the pressure of trying to keep up with ‘tradition’ can become extremely disruptive. In one family I know, the mother never made it to the Paschal Services – she was so busy trying to keep up with everything else that the stress lowered her resistance; and she always succumbed to a debilitating sickness late in Holy Week.
Finally, part of wise stewardship is recognizing special opportunities in life. Holy Week comes only once a year, and then only after a buildup of many weeks of spiritual effort in the Church. This time is special – take advantage of it! And yes, we never know if this will be our last opportunity to participate in these services – to ponder in silence the mystery of God’s redemption of our souls, or to see in the flickering candlelight the faces of children who have much, much more pure faith in Jesus than do we adults. As adults, we can choose to attend the services in a way that we are fully present in our minds and hearts to Christ – as stewards of our time in this most sacred and life giving way. So we can take that well-formed habit from our youth, the witness and memory of Baba and our forebears, and our respect for all the traditions – and schedule a personal appointment with Christ in His Church.
Wise stewardship means getting ourselves to a place where we can enter into the festal Banquet. (Lk. 14:16ff) At Divine Liturgy on Pascha, we proclaim the Prokimenon of the Feast,
“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118:24)
This is God’s gift – of the Day that He has fashioned and entrusted to us. Our faithful stewardship leads us to rejoicing and gladness on that Day – the Feast of Feasts! Ω
Note – Do check out the following links for some great ideas about managing family time and resources during Holy Week.
by Mark Host
To answer this question, let us first look at what Christ tells the Pharisees. The Pharisees confront Jesus and ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes,
“And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:16-17).
If it is right to give tribute to Caesar because it is his image upon the coin, what then is it that belongs to God that we are supposed to render unto Him? The answer of course is us. We who profess to believe in Jesus Christ are His people. The word translated here as “render” in the original Koine Greek is ἀπόδοτε, which means “return back”. This reminds us that God is the source of everything. When we render unto God, we are not giving away something that is exclusively ours, we are giving back something that belongs to Him, and that He gave to us as a blessing.
Moreover, just as the coins are imprinted with the image of Caesar, it is we who are imprinted with the image of God: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). It is we who bear His image, and so we must render ourselves unto Him. When we think of this it becomes easier to be oriented toward stewardship. Most of us never think about the taxes we pay because it’s automatic: they are taken out of our paychecks, or added onto the cost of an item at the point of sale. It’s built into the system, and we rarely think about it. When we build into our systems the idea that we are made in the image of God, and therefore to be rendered unto Him, it becomes easier being stewardship oriented. Yet what we do not want is for our stewardship to be automatic, like taxes. The key idea to being stewardship minded is that it requires mindfulness. Stewardship is an act of thanksgiving for the grace and love that God gives us. If it becomes an automatic response we lose the heartfelt gratitude that is the reason we give back to God.
We often are reminded to see the image of Christ in others, because this helps us to be compassionate towards those with whom we often might not be able to find common ground, or even an agreeable disposition. Yet we should also remember to see the image of Christ in ourselves and in them. In this way we can remember that our actions should be reflective of God.
From this orientation, small, everyday interactions become a chance to interact with God. They are an opportunity to live our stewardship. Little things can become big things. Consider something like working a fish fry at your local parish during Lent. When you do, do you save money because you’re not eating home or out? It is often tempting to use that money to buy more material things that we probably don’t need. This is being oriented towards self. When you are oriented toward stewardship, you might instead see this as an opportunity to give more where it is most needed. Save the money you would have spent on dinner in a jar. At the end of Lent, give it to the church, or the seminary, or maybe even give it to your parish priest to give to a family in need. To give the money away even though you already gave of your time to help at the fish fry is what it means to truly be oriented towards God.
Think about the ways in which little things you do each day can be oriented towards God; think about the ways you can render yourself unto Him. Does the person behind you at the coffee shop look like a struggling student that could use a free coffee? Does someone in your Facebook feed sound like they’re calling for help? Is there something you can do that would save your parish even a couple dollars? Every day we encounter numerous opportunities to practice our stewardship, and in so doing reflect the image of God in us, so that His Glory shines forth into the world.
- Stewardship Question to Ponder – What is some simple thing that I routinely do in my life in which I can be more stewardship-minded? What kinds of fruits or benefits might be forthcoming if I did?
Mark Host is a member of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH. He works in IT, teaches college English on the side, and is planning to return to school in 2017 to pursue his PhD.
The Stewardship Concepts blog site is an outreach effort of our Church, Consistory Office of Stewardship of the UOC of USA. Our goal is to provide a space for thoughtful, sound, engaging and spiritually edifying content and discussion about how we can faithfully live as Orthodox Christians in our rapidly evolving experience in America, and in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in specific.
While I will post blog articles and resources on this site as part of our ongoing effort in UOC Stewardship education, we’ll also welcome submission from others who would like to contribute their thoughts on this essential discussion for our age. Lisa Ryan and Mark Host are already lining up contributions for our conversation.
Please note that the focus of our approach here emerges from a basis of Orthodox understanding of Stewardship as Sacred Offering – which embodies the insights of Orthodox thought based in the Scriptures, Holy Tradition, the liturgical tradition, and Church praxis. For more information on this approach, you can read more in the book, The First and Finest, Orthodox Christian Stewardship as Sacred Offering (Authorhouse 2013 – From Amazon) or from my personal website on the topic – where additional articles on Orthodox Stewardship are made available as well as other helpful links: www.orthodoxstewardship.com.
There are exciting things happening in the Orthodox stewardship world – and especially in our Church. Please feel free to join in the conversation – and be a faithful steward of what God has entrusted to you in your life and in your heart.
Yours in His service,
(V.Rev.) Fr. Robert Holet, Director
Consistory Office of Stewardship – Ukrainian. Orthodox Church of the USA