Rev. Dr. John Panagiotou, author of The Path to Oikonomia with Jesus Christ as Our Lighthouse, shares a powerful framework for stewardship that arises from the Old and New Testaments as well as patristic and liturgical writings. He discusses:
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:10
You are listening to Doulos: a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. My guest today is Father John Panagiotou, author of "The Path to Oikonomia with Jesus Christ as Our Lighthouse." Father John holds dual professorships at Erskine Theological Seminary and Cummins Memorial Theological Seminary and specializes in early church history, Patristics and Greek New Testament theology. Welcome Father John! So glad to be talking with you today.
Fr. John Panagiotou 0:44
It's great to be here, Hollie. Thank you.
Hollie Benton 0:47
As you know Father John the mission of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative is to nurture generosity and servant leadership, supporting clergy and laity of all jurisdictions, working together, nationally, regionally and locally. To this end, one of the modules of the intensive program and servant leadership that we call Doulos, was created for parish leadership to inspire generosity and stewards. And your book, Father John, "The Path to Oikonomia with Jesus Christ as Our Lighthouse" is listed as a resource for our parish councils or stewardship committees who are attending to this really important ministry of inspiring generosity and stewards. So, thank you for this great resource, Father John. What prompted you to write this book?
Fr. John Panagiotou 1:29
Well, Hollie, when I was working on my doctoral dissertation, as some years ago, I really had a passion, a long seated passion for writing about stewardship, and doing something from a biblical and a patristic perspective that I thought we really didn't have that many resources on that. I had come across at least in one place, and then looking for practical applications of our situation regardless of which Orthodox jurisdiction, we're part of. Whether it's Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, OCA, Serbian Orthodox, Antiochian--whichever--then even for the Oriental Orthodox as well. Definitely. I didn't see a resource there in the Morris study that I saw in Roman Catholicism and even in Protestantism, they didn't have a complete resource. There were bits and pieces so I tried to in a succinct way to have in one volume, basically a blueprint for origins and reflections on where we are and how we got here.
Hollie Benton 2:27
I'd like to frame this conversation, this interview today by reading a few verses from First Timothy chapter six, it's something that you bring up in your book: "There is great gain and godliness with contentment. For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith, and pierced their hearts with many pangs." Father John, you bring up the love of money as being the root of all evils, as you begin your address in stewardship and oikonomia. Could you say a little bit more about that?
Fr. John Panagiotou 3:17
Yes, you know Hollie, the stewards is inheritors of our primordial parents of Adam and Eve. We all share the dangers and the propensity towards idolatry, whether it would be a fruit from the forbidden tree, the forbidden fruit in the garden, or whether it was the golden calf, in the desert of the Israelites. Idolatry, can take many forms, and as the Apostle Paul points out, the love of money is an idolatry. It's the root of many evils. A lot of times people get that confused and think that, they misquote that verse and say "Well the apostle Paul-" But they don't even know the Apostle Paul said it first of all, they just say that they know it's from somewhere. "The money is the root of all evils." No, money and in and of itself is not evil. It's neutral, it's what we do with it and how we view it, it's our disposition. As with anything in life it's our disposition, our intention, our attitudes, our mindset, our phronema that create these problems, and the love of money, the avarice, the covetousness, all of that, pathways, gateways to idolatry. That is something that removes God from the center of our lives, instead of us having Jesus as the center of--the God-man--the center of our life. We replace it with anything. And in this case the Apostle Paul says "the love of money", instead of the love of God, it's the love of money. And that is what I think is very prescient and understanding of what the Apostle Paul is saying here, and that is why I expanded on that in the book.
Hollie Benton 4:58
The love of God puts us in a position of being steward in his household and I so appreciate the mindset of steward, you establish and develop throughout your book Father John, you write "People need to be taught how to be a steward, instead of a volunteer. Volunteers come and go as they please, on their own terms but stewards, have been divinely entrusted with the sacred mission from God. All of the members of the Body of Christ are to be seen as stewards. These stewards are called to contribute their time, talent and treasure." And we've taken this message to heart in our Doulos program as well and really try to avoid using that term "volunteer," and instead, emphasize rather the blessed responsibility as steward or doulos in the household of God. Say a little bit more father about this distinction between volunteers and stewards?
Fr. John Panagiotou 5:49
Well, to be a steward you're called to be a steward. Volunteer you choose to be part of something. Totally volitional. I think the two are quite different because when we're called, and we understand that as a calling to be part of Christ's Body, the Church and to work within the church to serve within the church. It's a two way street, we wouldn't be there without understanding, unless the Holy Spirit has brought us there in God's providence. But then we have to respond by saying "yes we want to do it." Volunteer is "why I've taken it upon myself to choose to affiliate." And we kind of like leave the God part out of it. With that, it also indicates a lack of long-term commitment. When we're called to do something, we're going to, in some way, some fashion some form of the Holy Spirit will bring us into situations where we want to be part of serving in a capacity and we're led to there and that's our true desire. Volunteers say they don't have that idea that it's for the long haul, and they say "Well you know I don't like what's going on here, I'm just going to up and quit over nothing."
Hollie Benton 6:57
And so it's being in there for the long haul, being a steward in the household, yet we find that many priests and people in the household, in the church really have a difficult time talking about money and inviting people into that opportunity to steward their time, talent and treasure. We easily discuss prayer and fasting but rarely touch on the topic of almsgiving, which is also one of the great salvific practices we're called to develop as Christians. And as you know in your book Father John, people need to be encouraged to see the connection between stewardship and the liturgical life, particularly with the Eucharist, which is ultimately in its essence the offering of Christ to a broken world. Christ is the one who offers and is offered as the Divine Liturgy proclaims "Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee on behalf of all and for all." And if we truly take this prayer to heart, we must accept that the Lord already provides everything we think we own, in terms of my house, my time, my skills and my bank account. If it already is the Lord's, why is it so difficult for us to offer back, even a 10th of it? Say more about this connection, Fr. John between stewardship and the liturgical life,
Fr. John Panagiotou 8:12
Everything we have in the liturgical life is based on the fact that we're offering to God our worship. We're giving Him back everything that He's given us. The idea is that, whether it's the gifts, whether it's our time, whether it's our very presence. And when we're in worship, whether at vespers, whether at matins, whether at the Divine Liturgy itself. We are there to be stewards of our time and our efforts and our energy which is, first and foremost, to be doxalogical, worshipping beings. That worship, that latreia is only for God alone.
So that's where it begins, if we're going to take it from an historical liturgical church perspective, in that the mysteries, the mysteria, the sacraments, are all the things that we don't do, we're giving them back to God, whether they're in the elements of bread, or in wine in the case of the Eucharist, the central mystery, or in the mystery of unction, Holy Unction, the anointing of holy oil where there may be oil there and maybe a floating wick candle but we're offering it to God. These are things that in everything that He has given us in one way, shape or form. Ultimately, He's the source of all good things. And we're offering them back to him, and even then in our offering, you know as the prophet Jeremiah says they're like filthy rags. The Holy Spirit that sanctifies them.
So even our faith, our very lives, are gifts from God that we have given, in fact the apostle Paul in the Greek says this in and Epistles and Colossians and Galatians and Philippians, and also in Ephesians is talking about, of course, in Romans, he talks about in the Pauline epistles that "it's by faith you have been saved." Now, the understanding and the Greek is, it's not even our faith. It's Christ's faith in us and through us, and we can't even believe properly! So, even our very faith, even our prayers. As the Apostle Paul says, again, it's the Holy Spirit, even through utterances and groans, prays and gives us words when we don't even have words to give in our prayers. Likewise, when we bring forth bread and wine, our time, our tithes to God, within the context of the liturgical Eucharistic worship, we're giving back to God, everything that He has given to us. So we are fulfilling our purpose as being doxalogical beings that are offering ultimately ourselves every time, every day, on an individual basis, and collectively, when we gather together as ecclesia, as church, around the Eucharistic table.
Hollie Benton 11:03
As you teach, and people are reading your book, what are some of the "aha!" moments that people are experiencing things that they have never really quite realized? But because of your foundational work looking at the Old Testament and New Testament and patristic and liturgical texts to really give a comprehensive view of stewardship? What are some of those concepts and practices that really seem to turn a light bulb on for people?
Fr. John Panagiotou 11:31
Well, Hollie, I found that the notion of personal pronouns of "my" and "me". People challenged those initially. They're resistant when I give stewardship seminars and parishes, I start off with a survey and it's the same questions at the beginning of the seminar that there are at the end, gauging the responses. And one of the questions is "What I have, I've earned." And and that can be 401k, that can be house, that could be your salary, whatever, "and it's mine." Oh that's the second part of the question which is important thing I want to say. Well, is that true or false? "It's all mine." Now, we can look at it ostensibly and say, "Yeah, this is yours." But when we look at it from a transformative experience of oikonomia in the truest sense then, we understand that it is not all yours. You have been entrusted with it, entrusted with it to be a manager of it.
And Jesus pointed out in the parable of the talents, the lord of the manor gives all of these people, talents, and they do very different things with them. But what do they do? The bottom line is did they manage it to the best of their ability. There's a big difference between being a manager and an owner. We're not owners. God owns everything, whether it's our children, whether it's other family members, whether it's our own very lives, let alone all the material things that we have. We've been entrusted with these by God, whether it's your pet cat, or pet dog. All of these things have been gifts, and we're going to have to give an account on how we stewarded each and every one of those gifts when we stand before the Lord. That's been the biggest game changer throughout. If there's one common thread that's instructive for the whole book is that God owns everything. And we are called to be good managers of what He's entrusted with to us.
Hollie Benton 13:38
I love that even in thinking about leadership itself, it's nothing that's earned, it's a responsibility, it's been entrusted to you and just like Christ emptied Himself and gave himself for us, even taking the form of a servant and accepting death on a cross. It's the same thing whether it's our possessions or family, leadership responsibilities or whatever, I don't have it because I've earned it. I've been entrusted and I have a responsibility to attend to it, and in many ways, empty ourselves of it, because God is the one who owns it. He's the one who provides and takes care.
Fr. John Panagiotou 14:15
Yeah 100% I agree with you, you stated very succinctly,
Hollie Benton 14:19
I'd really encourage our listeners to get a copy of your book, "The Path to Oikonomia with Jesus Christ as Our Lighthouse" by Fr. John Panagiotou. You can find a link to it from our website or this podcast page, it's a really great resource to use as a parish book study or with your parish leadership or stewardship committee. Thank you Father for providing this wonderful resource. Thanks for the great conversation today.
Fr. John Panagiotou 14:45
Thank you for having me, Hollie.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai