It’s Really Just about Everything

As we reach the conclusion of our series on stewardship, I know that I’ve left many stones unturned. We could have talked about our role as stewards of the environment, or stewards of our particular talents, or stewards of our relationships. The truth is, each of us will have to figure out exactly what the Lord expects from us as a steward in the time we have in this life.

Christ

The secret is to remember that it’s really just about everything.

Remember this scene from the Gospel of Luke?

He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.  –Luke 21:1-4

I think this story is about more than the two copper coins being added to the treasury. It’s about putting in “all the living” you have. The word in Greek is literally the same as the word you would use to talk about someone’s life—as in, she out of her poverty put in all the life she had. Being a good steward, then, is a sort of martyrdom, a pouring out of your life as an offering to the King, even when you don’t think you have much to offer.

Yes, stewardship is about the things you are given to care for, the time you have to spend, the people you are charged with loving, but most of all, it’s about you. It’s about offering up your heart to Christ the King. It’s about saying with Samuel and Isaiah, “Here I am, Lord.”

To be an excellent steward, you must know that you, yourself, are not your own. You are the King’s servant, beloved by Him, and He is calling you with your every breath to draw nearer to Him by living out your stewardship. He is asking for everything, but promising to guide you along the way and to stand by you no matter what, even if you fail miserably. He is asking for everything, but promising you even more in return. He is asking for everything while He offers you His everything.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t despair. Take each moment as it comes, trying your best to pour your life into it as Christ poured out His life for the world. And know that it is ultimately the King’s return that we long for, as we serve as His stewards.

OCFers are Giving Back

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of making it a habit now of giving back to the Church as young people. Well, today I have the privilege of sharing with you how an amazing group of young men decided to do their part and give back to OCF!


Meet *Ncense.

You may have heard of this Orthodox “boy band” or one of their three recorded albums of Byzantine chant. But maybe you didn’t know that the proceeds of every *Ncense CD goes—not into the pockets of the amazing chanters you hear on the albumsbut to OCF. These young men are an example for all of us of good stewards of God’s giftsgiving of their talents as well as their income to edify and glorify God’s Church.

I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of the founding members of *Ncense, John Abud and Chris Shadid, about *Ncense and OCF, and I’m happy to share with you their perspectives.

Thank you to John, Chris, and the rest of *Ncense for sharing with us and for being an example for the rest of us!

OCF: What gave you the idea for *Ncense?


John: So how the guys from *Ncense started singing together is amazing, but how the name came up is the silliest thing in the world. Most of the guys in *Ncense have dads that went to seminary together. Our families were all friends growing up. We would see each other at church conferences, which were pretty much our family vacations, at least once a year and our relationships developed that way. There are some challenges to being a priest’s kid—beautiful challenges, sure—but challenges nonetheless, so that helped us to form special bonds. One of those special bonds was our love of the church and especially its music. During retreats and conferences we would do what we called “rebel chanting”, which was to sneak into the church after hours (usually breaking curfew) to sing with each other. We were all very amateur singers and only a few of us even had experience in choirs at school or at church, but we soaked up the music of the church like a sponge. We encouraged each other and challenged each other and learned from each other. It was an imperfect system, but in the way it nurtured our love for the church and each other, it was perfect.

Naming the “founding members” is a bit difficult. There were a number of guys and girls that sang with us as we were growing up. Matthew Yazge was the first one to ever say the name *Ncense as a joke because of our boy-bandishness and our church-centric repertoire, but he never actually sang with us on any of the albums. Without the encouragement of our parents, especially Khouriyee Janet Shadid, we probably never would have thought about recording. But we made it over the hump eventually. The guys that sang on that first CD, Every Good and Perfect Gift, became the core group: Charles, Nick, and Chris Abdelahad; Chris and Steve Shadid; Nick and Michael Holwey; George Matook; my brother, Nick Abud, and myself.

Chris: John’s answer here is great. I’ll just add a little. Most of our dads went to seminary together, and a lot of THEM sang together in seminary. I think we “officially” started singing together when we were at the Archdiocese National Convention in Detroit in 2005. Most of us had just spent 2 weeks at the Antiochian Village Camp together. We were all kind of hanging out and got to talking about how much we liked church music and how we had some favorite songs, such as “The Angel Cried” and “Bless the Lord”. We quickly realized that among us we pretty evenly made up each of the 4 parts (Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Baritone and Bass). So we’d just kind of start singing a hymn and the rest would fill in the parts. Throughout the week at that convention we just kept singing together and having a lot of fun—church as well as secular music. The bishops even heard us singing and asked us to sing at the Order of St. Ignatius dinner—a banquet for a national philanthropic group within the Antiochian Archdiocese. I think that was our first “official” time singing as *Ncense. I remember Matt Yazge throwing out the idea of the name, and it just kind of stuck. As John said we would often resort to “rebel chanting”, and whenever we were together we would just sing together. We all love the music and we all love singing together.

OCF: Where did you all go to college?

John: One of the miracles of *Ncense is how these guys from all over the place were able to come together and in a relatively short time put together some beautiful music. The music isn’t perfect, but we tried hard for our prayers to be perfect. Chris S. went to the University of Pittsburgh, Steve is at Duquesne. Nick H. went to the University of Illinois, Michael is at Bradley University. Charles and Nick Abdelahad both went to Northeastern University, Chris A. is at Quinsigamond Community College. George M. went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Nick Abud went to the University of Michigan and I went to Michigan State University. So we were all over the place and finding one time and place for us to all get together once some of us started getting into college was definitely a challenge, but we found a way.

OCF: How were you involved in OCF?

John: I went to Michigan State University for a 4-year undergraduate career as an English major. One of the first things I did upon my arrival on campus was seek out the MSU OCF at a student organization fair. We were a small group at that time, led fearlessly by a couple senior girls. We got along well and with the assistance of our spiritual advisor had a number of edifying experiences, including 4 members of our OCF taking a Real Break trip to Project Mexico in the spring of 2006. As pretty much the only consistent member of OCF remaining on campus the following year, I was ushered in as the de facto president when I was a sophomore. It was tough for me because I was still getting to know the campus myself, but my experience as president helped me really take ownership over the OCF experience and believe in its importance. I passed on the presidential duties in the years after that, but was still often in attendance.

Chris: I went to the University of Pittsburgh, so I was active with the Pitt-CMU OCF, went to college conferences, and did 2 real break trips in Guatemala (07) and Mexico (08).

OCF: How did you decide to dedicate your work to OCF?

John: As I said above, the idea of *Ncense seemed to develop organically from our love of the church and our friendship with each other. The idea of doing recordings was encouraged by our family and friends. Deciding to donate the proceeds to OCF was the easy part. OCF has played a part in all of our lives, through local chapters, Real Break, and College Conference, and we wanted to see it flourish. And to be able to take something that was given to us for free and turn it into something meaningful is part of our calling as followers of Christ: “Freely you have received, freely give.” And the parable of the talents also guided us to the decisions we made. I won’t presume to say we were given ten talents or five or one. Some might listen to our music and say, “What talents?”, and that’s okay! But we always said that if our music helped one person to pray, then it was worth it. And if we made a few dollars for OCF, then it was worth it.

OCF: Where are you all now?

John: We’re still all over the place. I’m working as the Youth Director at St. George Orthodox Church in Boston. Charles and Nick Abdelahad are teaching in Kentucky and Florida respectively. George does undercover work for the government, very hush hush. Nick Holwey just finished PA school. Chris is out saving the world somewhere. And the rest are still in school.

Chris: John got this pretty accurate, with the exception that I am not saving the world. Rather, I just took the job as Program Director at the Antiochian Village Camp. My brother Stephen Shadid is finishing his pharmacy degree at Duquesne University (and will hopefully contribute to his brother’s retirement!).

OCF: How did your experience with OCF and *Ncense develop you as an Orthodox Christian?

John: I think each person, especially those born into Orthodoxy, comes to a time in their life that they have to take their faith upon themselves. For many people, college is a time when we’re away from home, no one is telling us to go to church. We have to decide for ourselves to embrace Orthodoxy and a life in Christ. OCF helped me to start exploring the world of my faith. To be honest though, these are decisions I still struggle with today: to live Orthodoxy, to emulate Christ-like love, to give thanks to God in all things. But my experiences through OCF equipped me to face these struggles and to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Chris: Staying active in the Church through OCF was instrumental to me because it helped keep me grounded through college. It introduced me to a new network of friends, and gave me opportunities to go on mission trips that were wonderful experiences.

To find out more about *Ncense, check them out on Facebook or email them at NcenseCD@aol.com. You can purchase their albums on iTunes.

You Can’t Take It with You, So Do Something Now

I hope by now in this series, you have gained a richer, fuller, and deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian steward. Namely, that stewardship is about a way of living, about tending to and caring for the things God loves. But I’m betting some of you are wondering how we’ve made it to part five of this series without mentioned money. Well, here it comes!

Give and receive and deprive yourself, because in Hades there is nowhere to seek luxury. Wisdom of Sirach 14:16 (LXX)

Look, money is part of stewardship for the same reasons that the other things we have mentioned are. Money is meant to be used for the caring of God’s creation in preparation for His return. We are already stewards of our money at some level when we spend it on (reasonable amounts of) food to nourish our bodies or when we treat our friends to ice cream just because they’re awesome and we love them. And just like we can be bad stewards of our bodies by mistreating them, or bad stewards of our time by wasting it away on nonsense, we can be bad stewards of our money when our financial priorities aren’t related to the King’s spiritual priorities.

We come from a rich tradition of money and goods being pooled for a common good or given liberally by those with great means, from a tradition that stresses simplicity as a way of life and self-deprivation as an expression of love. We really have no excuses to feel uncomfortable when the Church asks us to use a portion of our means to support her ministries. They are Christ’s ministries, for which we—as His stewards—are responsible. They are the ministries that keep us alive when everything around us is falling apart, and they do the same for millions of other people around the world. And I mean all of the Church’s ministries, from the most blatant and obvious responsibilities like caring for the poor, the sick, and the hungry to the beautiful responsibilities of building new churches, painting new icons, and providing vestments for new priests down to the most mundane responsibilities like making sure the lights are on in the parish hall, there are enough stamps in the church office to send out newsletters, and the cleaning staff gets paid a living wage.

These ministries are all in our hands and rely on our generosity.

I never could stomach these.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m a poor college student. I make it by on student loans and ramen noodles. Are you seriously asking me to give money to anything right now? Maybe when I graduate.”

Ok, fair point. I know that when I was in college, I certainly wasn’t swimming in cash and dining in extravagance—honestly, I’m still about a million dollars away—but I also think that now is always the right time to build the habits you want to have for your whole life, even if it’s on a small scale for the moment. As Sirach tells us, now is the time to give because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. You are a steward today, so I think, my friends, today is the day to make a commitment to be a steward of whatever means we have.

Here’s a list of some college-friendly giving suggestions:

  1. Give from Your Chapter Budget: Does your OCF chapter have a yearly budget? Consider donating a portion of your chapter budget to OCF as a way to support the Orthodox Christian campus ministry movement.
  2. Keep a “Thank You” Stash: We all have really amazing days when we can experience God acting in our lives. Perhaps on those days, you can set aside whatever is in your wallet to offer up as a thank you to the Lord. Alternatively, you could add to the stash on the days when everything goes wrong as an offering of repentance and a show of dedication to God no matter the circumstances.
  3. Fill a Coin Jar: Nobody likes loose change in their pockets. Keep a coin jar in your room and drop your change in as you collect it throughout the week. When the jar is full, take them to a coin changer, and give the balance to the Church! You’d be surprised how much one pickle jar can hold.
  4. Make a Fasting Plan: There are four major fasting periods in the Orthodox calendar (not to mention the weekly fasts). Make a plan for setting aside a little extra money on fasting days by eating simply and eating less.

These are just a few ideas. Be creative. Be pro-active. Be generous. Whatever you do, give with love and joy and thanksgiving, knowing that God has entrusted you with the care of His Bride.

This week’s challenge: Give—even if it’s only $10to the Church and Her ministries. To make OCF part of your stewardship plan, go to ocf.net/give!

Eternity Comes to Us in Time

Do you ever go to bed at the end of the day and wonder, “What happened to my day? This morning, I was committed to finishing this project and that book and making time for my friend who’s having a rough week and doing a little laundry and…about a hundred other things…and now, I’m at the end of the day, and I feel lost. What did I do with my time?”

Time is perhaps the most undervalued gift of God—at least while it’s being given to us. As soon as we’ve lost it, of course, we suddenly realize how valuable it was. Well, good stewards, it’s time to turn this pattern on its head!

In case you didn’t know, you are a created being, and one of the things that defines creation in contrast to the Uncreated is that we exist in time. It measures out our lives and moves us from our birth to our death. Like our bodies, we all have time—some more, some less, each according to God’s plan—and yet, we somehow let so much of our time fly by without doing anything with it.

Remember how we said in the beginning that everything God has put us in charge of must be offered back to Him better than He gave it to us? That we should turn a profit on each of the investments He’s entrusted to us while He’s away? Well, every minute is one of those investments we’re in charge of as stewards. We are responsible for making something out of the time we have.

It’s sort of like this. Minus the glowing arm…and the creepy economic system.

Now, I’m not talking about becoming a busybody, simply filling up our time with activity so that we feel accomplished at the end of the day. That’s like stacking and restacking your coins without ever taking them to the bank (not recommended by investment managers).

Instead, what I’m talking about is making the most of every moment that we pass through, investing in what will bring us the most spiritual profit. Sometimes this means motivating ourselves to take care of our responsibilities with joy and without resentment—you know, just doing our homework or chores without procrastination and whining. Sometimes it means stopping all the activity around us to make space for prayer and meditation. What it always means is living in the present moment without worry for the future or stress about the past.

In this way, we are able to allow God to enter into each of our moments, and when the King enters in, our fleeting, passing moments become tastes of eternity. Minutes and hours are most valuable because they are opportunities: opportunities to repent, to live, to love. Don’t waste even one more! Become a steward of time so that you can enter into eternity.

O Lord make me to know my end and what is the measure of my days, so as to know what I lack. Behold, You made my days as a handbreadth, and my existence is as nothing before You; But all things are vanity, and every man living. Psalm 38:5-6 (LXX)

This week’s challenge: Reevaluate how you’re using up your precious time. Before you let another hour pass, make sure you aren’t missing out on better investments.

Keepers of the Temple of the Holy Spirit

There are a lot of things that make us different from one another and that make our stewardship vary: some of us have been given little plots of land to care for while others have been given vast kingdoms to rule, each of us based on our talents. But there’s one thing all of us have that we’ve been asked to prepare for the coming of the King.

Our bodies.

Every one of us has been given a particular set of appendages and features, organs and bones. All of our cells are working together in a crazy and delicate way to animate our unique souls. We aren’t, well, ourselves without our bodies.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

Ok, and like everything else, our bodies are not our own, but are God’s gift to us to that we might use them to come to know Him and glorify Him. It is through our bodies that we taste the sweetness of the Eucharist and with our bodies that we embrace one another in love. As St. Paul tells us, our very flesh is filled with the Holy Spirit. Sure, we also know that it’s often (though not only) through our bodies that we fall, but it is with the knees we’ve been given that we fall down in contrition and with the eyes we have that we shed tears of repentance.

So what can we do to be faithful stewards of God’s temple? Here, I could probably give a long list of things not to do (and I would 100% stand behind that list). But probably you’ve heard them before. Good stewardship requires a heaping portion of temperance, but let’s look at it from a different angle.

We should treat our bodies with the utmost respect as hand-crafted creations of the Creator Himself. Think about it like this: if you were given a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handmade bowl by someone you love, you’d probably treat it differently than a paper plate you got at a dollar store in a pack of 100. You’d probably save that bowl for special meals, when you could serve others and not just yourself. Of course, you wouldn’t put the bowl on a shelf never to be looked at or used–it is a bowl after all. You’d use it as such, but when it got dirty, you’d probably wash it carefully and store it somewhere safe. If the bowl ever got a chip or a crack, you’d probably be a little sad and do your best to repair it–not only because the bowl is beautiful, but because someone special gave it to you.

The paper plate, on the other hand, you’d probably use once to eat some greasy pizza and then toss out without a second thought.

Alright, maybe the metaphor is strange, but you are the beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handmade bowl. When you treat your body as such a prized possession, or rather, as a possession of the King lovingly entrusted to you, your body will be an instrument of grace and glory. It will be a temple that is used as a temple should be: for prayer and worship, a place where offerings are made and purification is found.

Ponder how you were molded. Consider the workshop of nature. The hand that received you is God’s. May what is molded by God not be defiled by evil, not be altered by sin; may you not fall from the hand of God. You are a vessel divinely molded, having come into being from God. Glorify your Creator. For you came to be for the sake of no other thing except that you be an instrument fit for the glory of God. And for you this whole world is as it were a book that proclaims the glory of God, announcing through itself the hidden and invisible greatness of God to you who have a mind for the apprehension of truth.  -St. Basil the Great, On the Origin of Humanity, Discourse 2
 
 

This week’s challenge: let your body express the virtues of your soul.