Time, Money, Renewal

Bishop Seraphim : Article
Time, Money, Renewal
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Winter 1998/99]


It is now almost twenty years since I spent a year in Finland in New Valamo Monastery in what is called North Karelia. I went there at that time unexpectedly, as part of the “baggage” of Archbishop Paul of Finland. This came about as a result of a simple request for a priest to serve for three months. Almost a year of blessed events followed, and when the time came, it was very difficult to leave there. I had met holy monks of Old Valaam and many active, God-loving youth. I had touched living history. I even could almost serve everything in Finnish. Nevertheless, I had to return to North America. Obedience is necessary, but obedience which is offered and accepted, not imposed.

About ten years ago, I encountered one of the young people I had met then. He is now a parish priest. He persuaded me to agree to return to Finland for the consecration of the Church of Saint Herman of Alaska, whenever it should happen. This October it did happen, and I kept my promise and journeyed back to Finland for twelve days. The Church of Saint Herman is now a beautiful Temple located in Tapiola, part of Espoo (a suburb of Helsinki). It is a very active parish, ministering to the needs of many people. What can I say about the concert given by the youth choir, which I heard there ? I have not yet heard the like anywhere in North America. Beautifully and with discipline, these young people sang very difficult compositions at a late-evening concert, in addition to eagerly joining the larger choir for the four hours of consecration and Hierarchical Liturgy. It was very stirring and encouraging.

One of the main elements of the celebratory weekend was an afternoon seminar in which I participated, along with Professor Ilya Grits from Moscow. He spoke about parish communities, and I hope at some time to be able to acquire a copy of his talk and distribute it. At another point, he spoke about time which unites and time which separates. The latter we live with most of the time because of sin and its attendant separations. The former we can sometimes experience as a taste of the Kingdom to come, where there are indications of the passage of time, yet in a manner which gathers, which unites. It is this insight which I wish to express here.

I am sure that others have experienced this – returning to a place or to persons after many years’ absence, and sensing that it is like yesterday or last week since we met. This is much how it was on my returning to Finland and to Valamo. Time has obviously passed. People are a little different in appearance. Some are gone. Others remain instead, but it truly seems as though little time has passed. I think that this is a taste of uniting time : time which has to do with life in Christ, in the Church, in the Eucharist, in the Kingdom.

Often, too, one can be standing at the Divine Liturgy, or some other long service, and yet not notice the length. Sometimes, there is a sense of Presence, a sense of focus ; and when the service ends, it seems as though it has only just begun. To my mind, this is a taste of Kingdom time, of uniting time.

I believe that this is something for which to give thanks to God. We spend so much of our lives lamenting the many farewells we must make along the way, and especially at death. The graceful experience of time which unites us is clearly one of the fruits of the love and mercy of Christ.

Then there is the experience of the unexpected. In the course of my time in Finland, this experience was frequent. I met friends I did not expect to meet. Without preparation, I was taken to visit Old Valaam on Lake Ladoga. These events are not so much indicators of uniting time, but they do demonstrate God’s love poured out upon us.

It is important for us to notice these details and interventions in our lives and readily to give thanks for them. They bestow Grace, and they renew our awareness of the intimacy and immediacy of God’s love. Glory to God for all things !


Stewardship is a topic I have written on before, and I probably will do so again. This is mostly because we seem to have difficulties about catching the fundamentals of our Christian way here in the world.

When we think of making a donation either to the Church or to some charity, one of the strongly motivating elements is the question : “How much will Revenue Canada allow for tax credit ?” That Revenue Canada sees fit to give a tax break for charitable contributions is laudable, but that this should become the governing factor in our motivation to give makes it a factor in accusing us. Why ? The fact is that considering tax credit at all to my benefit reveals that I do for others, care for others, only insofar as it does something for me. If that is my motivation, then I am not behaving as a Christian, but as any worldly person, just as our Lord has said (see Matthew 5:38-48). The accusation is that I am still self-centred.

From the beginning, the Lord has said to us : “Give back the first-fruits of everything”. This essentially means the first tenth of everything. This tenth is a token to demonstrate that we understand that we are only caretakers and stewards of God’s Creation, and that all that we have is actually from the Creator. Of course, this directive was given to us long before Revenue Canada existed, or even before anyone thought of Canada. However, from the earliest times, in addition to this tenth, the Lord has directed us to give another tenth for the sake of the poor, orphans, widows, strangers. This shows how seriously the Lord wants us to take our sense of community, solidarity with, and responsibility for other human beings. This is not even to mention our stewardship of Creation itself.

We live in a seductive atmosphere. In every possible way, our environment encourages us to make ourselves comfortable here in the world ; to forget that we are instead pilgrims and caretakers ; to satisfy our every desire ; to put me, “number one”, first. When we rise to the bait, like the old trout, we are lost. We are taken. We are trapped.

When we remember Christ’s command to be in the world but not of it, when we remember to put serving God and neighbour first, when we keep our concern for ourselves last, when we with the Apostle Paul call ourselves “chief of sinners” (see 1 Timothy 1:15), then we are aimed towards life eternal. When we turn in on ourselves, satisfy ourselves, shut out others, and relegate the Lord to a minor place in our lives, then we are aimed towards death.

As Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us in his Homily IV on Ephesians, this concrete care for others (regardless of tax benefit) is crucial for the Christian. If there be a tax benefit, I rather expect Saint John would encourage us to use the total benefit (deduction or return) for yet further relief of the needy.

In his exhortation, Saint John says that when we neglect or refuse to do good works, this provokes God to wrath :

He puts this before all terrible things, for it is our duty to love our enemies. How much more liable to punishment will be the man who turns away even from those who love him, and how much worse is he in this respect than the heathen ? In this case the greatness of the sin is such that it will make him go away with the devil. Woe to him, it is said, that does not do alms, and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, it is much more under the New. If, where the acquisition of wealth, the enjoyment of it, and care of it were allowed, provision was made for the care of the poor, how much greater is the New Dispensation, where we are commanded to surrender all that we have ! (see Matthew 19:21) What did they do in olden times ? They gave tithes, and tithes again upon tithes for orphans, widows and strangers. But someone was saying to me, because he was astonished at another person : ‘Why, that man tithes !’ What an enormous disgrace his expression implies, since something that was clearly understood by the Jews [our spiritual ancestors] has become a source of amazement to Christians ! If there was danger at that time in neglecting the tithe, then think how great it must be now !

Therefore, let us turn about and open our hearts, our hands, our wallets. Let us love as Christ, and act as He does towards us. If we have courage to tithe from our gross income, then we will notice how the Lord’s blessings come to us. To make this possible, why not make the offering weekly ? It will not come to a large amount at once, but rather many smaller amounts.


There are many dangerous elements influencing the life and perception of modern Orthodox Christians. The dangerous elements are presenting themselves to us either in the form of pleasant half-truths, or as lies in disguise. One of these half-truths is romanticising the past. Especially in North America, with its short history and its shorter memory, there is a tendency to believe in some sort of golden age either in the Eastern Roman Empire (popularly called Byzantine) or in Russia. In both cases there have been great bright lights, teachers of the Orthodox Faith. However, what is usually forgotten is that most of these great, exemplary Christian persons lived in a rather hostile environment. It is forgotten that Saint John Chrysostom died in exile ; that Saint Paisii was a refugee ; that Saint Seraphim and the Optina elders were not very well received in their day. I believe that the great lights came to be so because they were, in part, refined by opposition. They had to deny themselves, take up the Cross, and carry it daily (see Luke 9:23).

People like to think that the old Roman Empire was totally Christian, or that the Russian Empire was totally Christian. It does not take much reading of history and literature to reveal a different reality. In fact, there has been no time and no place where and when all has been pleasant and peaceful for Orthodox Christians. We are but pilgrims here. However, the temptation to escape from painful reality leads many to create an imaginary golden past into which they try to retreat.

I suppose that another major destructive factor, which is reflected in today’s secularism, is the primarily western preoccupation with the mind and with categorisation. The result of this is the complete fragmentation of life. We westerners have become deeply materialistic in a negative way. However, we Orthodox Christians understand that we are and can be correctly, properly and positively materialistic. Of course, we can be this way only by living in deep harmony with God’s Will. North America is making psychiatrists need psychiatrists because of the resulting heavy demand. The worst face of this is found in the way so-called scholars of the last two centuries have reduced the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers to be treated as being mere literature or philosophy. With this reduction, all that is essential to the Christian way is removed, because these writings otherwise do not fit our secularist and megalomaniacal mould. Indeed, we insist on calling Christianity a religion, when Christianity is by definition nothing of the sort, but rather a movement, a way, which is based on the relationship of love.

Reading Christos Yannaras, one can see that it is his opinion that our modern, western, technological environment makes it difficult, if not impossible to live as an Orthodox Christian. Yet, seeing this difficulty, we cannot simply resign from the struggle, because our Lord said that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). He told us that we must be in the world but not of it (see John 15:19). Therefore, we must face our responsibility, accept it, and live it. We must take up the Cross.

Renewal of any sort can be found only (as has always been the case) in repentance. It is important for us to remember this word, and to understand its meaning. A North American living in a vocal Protestant environment (and nowadays even in a Roman Catholic one) will quickly understand repentance as an emotional expression. However, that is limited to a short period of time. It is true that in repentance we may feel pain and sorrow and shed tears. This is only a symptom of what is the essence. Repentance is a condition of the whole life, a state of being. Repentance is willingly turning away from evil, away from darkness, away from death, and turning instead to good, to light, to life. It is the daily determination to take up the Cross and follow Christ. It is making the sign of the Cross on ourselves as we rise, and attempting with each passing day to become increasingly aware of the enabling of Christ’s participation in every activity of our life. Even without a theological education, our ancestors knew about this. They knew how to bless every activity and undertaking, and they tried to support each other in remembering to do this, even sometimes a bit roughly. For us, a necessary element of this renewal has to be found in these daily practical expressions of cultivating memory in our hearts of Christ’s eternal presence.

Cultivating the essence of our life is perhaps the most important. What is this ? It is love. We are not Christians because of having agreed to some philosophical principle. We are Christians because God loves us, and we love Him. We commit ourselves to this relationship. We will to love our Lord and Saviour, and our neighbours as ourselves, just as He loves us. Commending ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God, we all together support one another, encourage one another, nurture one another, pray for one another, and say for each and all that essential prayer : “Lord, have mercy”. Love is not so much emotion as it is work. However, in our day, we Christians make this work more difficult because we tend to live far from each other.

Remembering that the Incarnation is central to our lives is extremely important. That the Word of God took flesh because of love for us is a clear indication of our path. The Lord does not ask us repeatedly to say only with words that we love Him. We must demonstrate it by how we treat our fellow human beings, and other creatures as well. We were already learning this with Moses. It is not enough only to venerate icons. We must be ready to venerate Christ’s presence in human beings, and especially difficult people. It is not enough to prepare and to receive Holy Communion regularly. We must at the same time show Christ’s loving hospitality to others – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the aged and lonely. In these are found the demonstrations of our love for Christ ; and in these concrete acts, together with receiving Holy Communion often, we enable our Saviour to renew and multiply His love in us.

If we are hoping for and asking for spiritual renewal, then we cannot begin by thinking of the spirit alone. God did not make us angels, as bodiless minds. He created us human beings with both body and spirit. From the earliest times in the five Books of Moses, we can see that the Hebrew understanding of a human being is that this being always consists of inseparable body and spirit. This understanding did not in any way change with the Incarnation, except that this reality was emphasised. The fracturing and division that we often can feel in our persons, in our lives, and in our societies is a breaking which results from sin, and from our accepting the tempter’s lies about what is real and what is not. We therefore need the Lord’s help to be healed of such poisonous lies and distortions. We must, with His help, treat ourselves, and understand ourselves, as one united whole. Our salvation involves our whole selves. We must not divide ourselves.

Monastic life has always been and must be for us the living, visible example of the way of repentance and Christian spiritual renewal. Those who are monks are ones who seriously and completely embrace the Gospel, and who try to live their lives totally for Christ. In doing so, they help those who live in the world to find their way. However, if, as some do, we treat monastic life as a “profession” or “alternative life-style”, we will make a mockery of this way. It is neither of these. It is better to live in an organic food commune, or some other beneficial community such as “L’Arche”, if that be one’s attitude. If one is to live as a monk, then one must be ready to live by the Gospel, and not by the misunderstanding of the world. It is a radical response of love.

Spiritual renewal can be found, I believe, only in daily taking up the Cross and following Christ in the communion of love. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). We must live in that Way.