August 28, 2012

Apostles and Money

Today’s gospel recounts the choosing of the twelve apostles. Jesus “called to him those whom he desired…and he appointed twelve to be with him.” And among those he chose was Judas Iscariot, his betrayer. I find this strangely comforting because it means that even Jesus was not a perfect judge of character. It also means that when He was betrayed, He felt it. It hurt. It didn’t come as a predictable outcome that could be brushed aside. He had placed genuine hope in him, as he had in all the apostles. The writers of the gospels and our Holy Week services link Judas’ betrayal with his love of money, accusing him as keeper of the purse of stealing from time to time, and then “selling the Master” for thirty pieces of silver.  Surely there were deeper reasons for the betrayal, but it’s true that how we treat money and what we do with it says a lot about us.

The close link between money and character is the reason Saint Paul, in today’s epistle, is so careful about how he treats his appeal to the Corinthians to help the poor in Jerusalem. They have pledged repeatedly to help but haven’t yet delivered, and he needs to collect the money. Everywhere he goes he’s been collecting, and Corinth, the wealthiest of his communities, hasn’t produced. The Macedonians in contrast are the poorest but have been the most generous, so Paul works a bit of guilt to exact a “willing gift.” Paul is also at pains to show that the process is honest: two other disciples have been appointed by the churches—not by him—as auditors to oversee the collection. Money can be a toxic issue, and Paul doesn’t want any questions about financial honesty to undermine the good work for the poor. This is a constant theme in Paul, “For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of men.”

Studying Theology

Today is the first anniversary of the repose of Archbishop Dmitri of the South. Memory eternal!

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BBQ at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary.

I had a busy weekend but one of the pleasures was being at Saint Tikhon’s and Saint Vladimir’s seminaries as they prepare to start the new year. Twenty-one new students are beginning at Saint Tikhon’s (two more are in Ethiopia are waiting for visas). Thirty-five are starting at Saint Vladimir’s. And at both schools the diversity of the new students is remarkable. The majority are from the Orthodox Church in America—from across the US and Canada—but a third or more come from a full range of churches: Antiochian, Greek, Moscow Patriarchate, ROCOR, Ukrainian, Serbian, Coptic, Malankara, Ethiopian…and I’ve probably left some out. As Father John Behr said at orientation on Saturday at SVS, this diversity reflects the complexity of contemporary Orthodox life.

Father Behr went on to speak about what it means to study theology. Above all, it is not abstract speculation but “Contemplation of God as He has shown Himself to be.” And as Christians, this revelation is “the broken God on the Cross, who confronts our own brokenness.” He gave six key demands for the study of theology to these beginning students.

  1. It demands “sweat and blood.” The Fathers often linked “mathein” (to study) with “pathein’ (to suffer).
  2. It demands intellectual rigor.
  3. It demands faith.
  4. It demands “creative fidelity to the Fathers,” as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says. “We are not merely to repeat the Fathers but to learn how to think like the Fathers.”
  5. It demands to be translated into service, “when we voluntarily die to ourselves.”
  6. It demands a future perspective, from the Kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem; “it is not archeology and aimed at the past.”

We are blessed to have our seminaries, with their faculty, staff, supporters and volunteers, and especially the students and their families who are living by faith, making sacrifices and stepping into unknown futures to serve the Church.

I hope that you will encourage your parishes to join others in setting aside 1% of your parish income to support the work of the seminaries. That’s less than one Sunday collection per year. Isn’t that doable?