Do you ever get the feeling that the more you own, the more it owns you? Why are we so tempted by accumulation? What do our cupboards, closets, garages, and storage units reveal about our trust in the Lord's provision? How do we faithfully steward what the Lord so generously provides?
Professional organizer, Presvytera Stacey Dorrance, reflects on the teaching of Jesus who instructed, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matt 6:19-20)
Presvytera Stacey Dorrance is one of many presenting at this year's National Leadership Conference which you are invited to attend online or in person.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And of course, I'm joined by my co host Fr. Timothy Lowe, former Rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Christ is risen!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:28
Indeed he is risen, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 0:30
And we are so happy to be talking with Presvytera Stacey Dorrance today. Many of our listeners have probably heard her chant and sing. She and her sisters are the perfectly blended voices on the Eikona albums, filled with beautiful liturgical music. But did you know Presvytera Stacey has a hidden talent? She is a professional organizer, and believes as Christian stewards we are called to live simply, generously, orderly, and within our means. Presbytera Stacey is the head chanter and is assistant choir director at St. Catherine's Greek Orthodox Church in Denver. She and her husband of 36 years, Fr. Theodore, have four children and eight grandchildren. Welcome Presvytera Stacey! It's so exciting to be speaking with you today.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 1:16
Thank you. I feel blessed to be a part of this. Thank you for inviting me.
Hollie Benton 1:19
So Presvytera, I'd like our listeners also to know that you will be speaking at the upcoming Sixth Annual Leadership Conference this September 2022, at St. Vladimir's Seminary, the theme for this conference is Money -The Gospel Changes Everything. And you will be speaking on something we all struggle with in America, and that is "Tempted by Accumulation." Presvytera, could you just say a few words about how the gospel changes everything when it comes to money and accumulation?
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 1:51
Absolutely. First of all, we just got through the Paschal season, and it is so overwhelmingly beautiful and striking, how the Lord's resurrection has changed everything in our life. Sometimes we go through our life not realizing, you know, death is around the corner. And with Christ's resurrection, he brings new meaning to the short life that we've been given, to the gift of life that we've been given. He brings so much meaning to it because we know that this is only our earthly home. This is not where we're headed, we're headed towards the kingdom of God. And when we see life in that light, we have more perspective. And we can become more intentional with how we live our everyday life, every moment, what we put our trust in, how we perceive the material world in regard to the greater world which involves the spiritual world. So the gospel changes everything for us as Christians, it changes how we live every moment of our lives. And coming out of the resurrection. I just feel so blessed that we have this faith that stresses how important it is that we believe in Christ, and that He loves us so much that He has prepared a heavenly kingdom for us. And yet in the meantime, we have this earthly home and our church and our community. So we take that to emulate what is to come. So yes, it changes everything.
Hollie Benton 3:18
You suggested that we read a few verses from Matthew's Gospel today to frame our discussion. Specifically, these verses come from the Sermon on the Mount which provides such rich teaching for all of us to live by. Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."So we hear this rich teaching just after Jesus instructs us to pray in secret and teaches us to pray "Our Father who art in heaven." He gives us those words. And then just a few verses about fasting in secret. Then we hear these verses about laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven. So after hearing what we should do in secret, praying and fasting, I can't help but think that this instruction warns us about what we should not do in secret and that is tucking away those earthly treasures. Then comes the teaching about the eye is the lamp of the body where the light can expose all those hidden corners within us. Followed by, "No one can serve two masters," which I think is just genius in how it links all of this instruction together. I tell you, the Sermon on the Mount is just packed with wisdom. Presvytera Stacey, what is the treasure you've received in this teaching?
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 4:49
Okay, well, so many. As a professional organizer, I have entered the homes of many individuals, so I've seen firsthand what kind of is going on in secret in the homes of America. Now, obviously, those that reach out to me are struggling, and they need extra help. But I have found overall, because I've given many talks on this topic, that people are struggling with their possessions. The treasure in this teaching is, first of all, that Jesus lays down the order of things, okay? Without prayer, we really are unable to live our lives as the stewards that he has called us to be in our life. So I believe strongly, and of course, you know, I'm in a little bit of my latter years, my kids are grown. My son is almost out of college, I don't want anybody to think, Well, I'm glad she's got it all together. But I do believe that setting aside time for prayer is going to set the table, set how we are going to live in our life. If prayer is that table, then we can come and go and eat of the life that God has given us. Prayer establishes us in Christ, which gives us the right perspective on our life and the purpose of it. And then what is our relationship to this world which he has provided for us, for our salvation. These verses give us the proper perspective on our life and our possessions. When it says, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," obviously, that's living a life with integrity and character, to live a life of virtue. But in the meantime, we have to do it in this material world. So I don't think Jesus is saying that we don't live in a home, that we don't have furniture, that we don't have money to buy groceries. But he's just saying that that's not where we're supposed to put our heart. Our heart is supposed to be remembering, as I said earlier, the resurrection, that our life is headed towards the kingdom of heaven. And with that in mind, I believe that we begin to use the material world in a proper, and we'll say, a holy way, the way that God intended us to use the material world. So that's what I take from this, as well, you know, no one can serve two masters, if your head is down, and all you're thinking about is what you can acquire in this world and you forget the kingdom of heaven, then yes, we lose sight of God. And so we don't want to only think of the material world, Jesus became material, he acquired a body for our sake. So we don't downplay the material world, but we always keep it in perspective of the spiritual world. And that is the kingdom of heaven, being made in the image of God, okay. And he's a God of order. It says, "God is not a God of disorder, but a God of peace." So that's 1 Corinthians 14:33. If you look at the holy altar, at church, it's beautiful and functional. And to me, that's the blueprint for our homes. The priest uses what he needs to prepare the gifts, the holy gifts that we are going to consume. So if we can look at the altar, as a prototype, to set up our homes, I think we will be less likely to accumulate. You don't look at the altar and see all sorts of clutter in there, that should be the same for our home. If we create a home that is functional, and beautiful, and Jesus gives us this prototype in the church of how to order our homes, and to how to have the right perspective on the material goods that we really only have in our hands for whatever, 70-80 years.
Hollie Benton 8:36
You mentioned, the altar, and what's striking is, Scripture is right at the center, the teaching, the words. I mean, yes, it's contained in this beautiful gospel book, but unless it's opened and read, that becomes the table, the food upon which we feast.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 8:52
It is on the table, the Holy Gospel is right there on the altar table. Yes. And you know, talking about a prayer time involves personal prayer, the prayers of the church, the Jesus prayer, praying for others, our own personal needs and to use our gifts, reading of the saints, and then reading the Scriptures. Because, you know, just reading through the Sermon on the Mount here, you can't help but take away some real teachings that will teach us how to live. And obviously, when you go to church on Sunday, you do hear the Gospel and the Epistle, and that's wonderful. But if you bring that into your daily life, oh my gosh, it's so powerful. It is a light, right? A lamp unto my feet, right? It teaches us how to live properly and so yes, I agree so much that the Gospels are so much a part of our grounding in Christ and it's right there on the on the altar table which is very uncluttered and beautiful.
Hollie Benton 9:50
These verses also remind me of the words of Saint Basil the Great. "The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment to the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit." So with these words, my sins are exposed! In my mind, I know I do all sorts of backflips to justify storing up these treasures for myself, and not offering them to my neighbor. There comes a point where all this clutter enslaves me. The more I own, the more it owns me. Do you find this to be true with the people you work with, Presvytera?
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 10:35
Yes. So I'll just give you a little glimpse into some of the homes that I enter. Generally, when you walk in, and you think, oh, not too bad, you know, maybe the family room. It's when you start kind of digging in to the closets, into the back bedrooms, into the office, into the basement, that you realize that things are really out of balance in this home. Something is not allowing this person to let go of their material possessions, and they've become enslaved to their possessions. And it's supposed to be the absolute opposite. We were the master in the Garden of Eden. The animals, everything was within our stewardship. They weren't supposed to be master over us. But it has become flip-flopped, especially now in America. And I believe it's because we've lost our perspective on the kingdom of heaven, we've become glued to the world, because we've forgotten that this isn't the end, that the kingdom of heaven is our end goal. And so we start filling our soul with more possessions. Maybe we lack the prayer life, we lack the Eucharist, something has to fill that void in us. So we ended up accumulating and socking away more than we need. And the end result is we aren't free. And we don't really fully use the talents that God has given me. Because we're tied, we're tied down. When we declutter our homes, when we stop being attached to things that really aren't serving us anymore. All of a sudden, God has room to bring us and to help us use the very talents that are just dying to be used inside of our body. First of all, for the sake of others, correct, you know, we're going to be better stewards, and help others more when we ourselves are in proper balance with our possessions. We will have time to perform works of charity. But even beyond that, we will have the freedom to be who Christ created us to be because we don't feel bound. We don't open rooms, and just like, our heart just sinks, dread. My clients, they hated opening closets for me, they were so ashamed. And to live in shame like that. And to think that you're going to be joyful and use your talents. It's not in harmony, it doesn't work that way. I'm not talking about living a minimalistic life. Some people want to. I'm just talking about having enough and enough to share and not having so much that you've lost your freedom. My spiritual father said something to me once and it just changed my life. He said, Presvytera, he said, We should leave our home in such an order that if we die, there are no regrets. We've left our finances in order, we've left our relationships in order, we've left literally the order of the home, people can find what they need, everything should be in order so that if you leave, I could die tomorrow, I could die today. We don't know that. So if we keep our homes in order, and not accumulate too much, we will be free to live the Christian life and to give to others, and most importantly, I believe, is to use our talents for the glory of God.
Hollie Benton 13:55
You know, it just struck me. Could you say a little bit on the flip side where order, household order, cleanliness, everything in its proper place becomes like an end in itself. And still on the other side, we may lose sight of the freedom that we have in Christ by being so obsessed with the containers around us, with the neatness around us, with the order of my household.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 14:21
Yes, yes, relationships first. And if our desire to have order and cleanliness puts relationships in jeopardy, then we have crossed a line. If we're mad at our family members because they're not being orderly, we've lost perspective. I live by a monastery and the nuns were very orderly. There's no doubt, everything they did, it was beautiful and orderly. But you know, when we came, we were the most important thing. They sat down and spoke with us. The souls of your family members are not to be compromised for the sake of your order in your home. You have to put your priorities correct. However, I will say this, I've seen that the other extreme is you don't really care about the house and you do care about your family and you take them. But they're you're kind of living in a place that is not helping them because they feel the mess. There's a balance there. And I've crossed that line. I have. I mean, obviously, I'm a home organizer, I have that talent. So I also have that inclination to overdo it, right? So we have to be honest with ourselves. But I think we've become so busy in America, we've lost the importance of making time to clean up after ourselves. We're not like the deer in the forest. They eat, they do their duty, and they move on. Okay, we live in the messes that we make. But I think what's happened in America is because homemaking has become so downplayed, we've lost sight of how important it is and how much time it takes. So if you just leave dishes in the sink after dinner, and you want to see them again, in the morning, you're already behind. The Lord said, Hey, each day has to be taken care of its own. So there's that balance of there's the preparation, there's the execution, and then there's the cleanup, of everything in life, paperwork, eating, there's always some mess involved. The priest is in the altar for like 20 minutes after liturgy, cleaning up, saying his prayers. He doesn't come to the altar the next day, next Sunday, and it's a mess. Nor should we live in a way that we're meeting the same mess that we created yesterday. I think that that's one of the things that's lost in America. And I think that we're all suffering from it, the lack of understanding of the time it takes to create a home that is orderly and beautiful. It takes time to clean up. And if we're shortchanging that, then the accumulation is not just of material possessions, it's the accumulation of dirt of dishes and all these things. So I'm 58 years old. I've made many mistakes in my life, I understand that that fine line is very hard to walk on, especially if you're a more of a type A person. And I think it's a gift sometimes when you're not a type A person. But that doesn't give you an excuse. I'm glad you brought it up. Because this is the temptation and this is the line that we need to straddle as spiritual beings in the material world. This is the line and I think it's worth a whole retreat. Thank you.
Hollie Benton 17:33
Yeah, if nothing else, it just brings to light, the backflips we do in our own minds to justify ourselves and, you know, make excuses in sin to have it our way. And we are caught in the messes that we create.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 17:45
Yes, a one wise nun said to me, Presvytera, we should go to heaven, exhausted, having really worked hard on our time on earth, to serve our families, to use our talents, to have relationships, it all takes time and energy, we can't be lazy. We don't want to be lazy. We don't want to be workaholics either. And each person has their own talents. But we have to strive and continue to strive. We are working against a culture. One sweet lady that I was helping, I was helping her reorganize her garage, it was so full. And as I was getting rid of things, Amazon was bringing boxes, loads of boxes more. And I thought, Oh my God, there's something wrong with this situation. It's so easy to acquire possessions, we have to be targeted buyers, we have to do, buying should be a very purposeful act, we don't just go shopping for the heck of it. Or we're going to come home with loads of stuff that we don't need. Don't just buy for no good reason. That's the temptation in America right now,
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:49
As you say this, this Sermon on the Mount, or I like to call the mount of instruction because it's not a sermon, he's sitting there instructing on the mount and replacing Moses and speaking by the authority of his own self, which means we need to pay extra attention. It's all about the trust in God. He's teaching us that God is the Father and He will provide. In other words, it's like an image of Eden once again, we have a job, we have a stewardship, we have relationship with the rest of creation and so on. But it's not object of our self fulfillment, or of our lusts of material things. It has to be in relationship that God will provide, the rest takes care of itself. Now if you actually try to live what he's saying, you got to put the trust to the test, and God to the test. And so it's one of the few areas I think that we are allowed to test God. You're the father, okay, do what a father does. But as far as America's material obsession, its capitalist economy, all the things that makes America run, presupposes that we are running on the treadmill. We are earning. We are buying. We are throwing and recycling back with Amazon boxes as you just described. It's an endless, meaningless, painful enslaved reality. How do we say no to all of that? Yes. In a culture that is built upon it, can you really live a subsistence life, one coat? Go to our closet, Stacey. Check out how many coats, how many unnecessary stuff and you're right, it's a weight, it's a burden. I mean, I, for one, have given all my stuff away more than once. And unburdened down to 10 suitcases with four kids. But then, this is America. You leave the country, you come back, you don't have anything, and within six months, you got everything again, even if you don't have the money, you know, to just go out and just just purchase it. Well, all the things you now need, because you have to live in a house and a home and have all the equipment. You got to be willing to take on the culture of America, and spit in its eye, and live differently and live more simply and subsistencely. Not just because it's an ideology that you're sort of superimposing on your life and your family and whatnot. But it's just because the point is, it frees us up to do other things. Because there is a slavery to daily life. Tell it to my kids who are in the midst of their work lives and raising their children and paying the expenses of school and so on, so forth.There is a slavery, and it's unavoidable. So we're challenged to the core, of our values, of our lack of trust, of our need for security, which we think our possessions give us. And therefore there is no time to seek the kingdom of God, without going into an analysis of what does Christ mean when he says, Seek the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be added unto you. Clearly it is a reorientation of priorities and values, and where our energy goes. But poverty is real. Subsistence is tough. The challenge is there. And so let us not massage the challenge away, but live in its tension, and the call.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 21:58
I agree with that. Without God, we can't do any of this. If we're trying to put Christ at the center of our life, if we're putting our trust in God, as you say, Father, then our nerves are calmed down our mind is calmed down. And we can do this beautiful work of homemaking, without all the stress, because we're not thinking of the resentment that I feel that my husband left his socks on the floor, or that the kids are everywhere, or how dare they leave this mess. We have to let go of all that and just do our work and serve our families. But we can't do that, if we're not trusting God, You are going to bring me through this day with these kids. I have spent a lifetime doing it, and I feel thankful now. I feel thankful. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by my possessions. Not easy things. I think it's the hardest thing I've ever done is managing my life in Christ. And my family, loving my family. It's the hardest thing I've ever done.
Hollie Benton 22:52
Yeah, accepting the challenge of his instruction. And as Father said, living in that tension, knowing that we're not going to be perfect. We can't do it perfectly.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 23:00
Yes, perfectionism has to go out the window. Yes.
Hollie Benton 23:04
Yes. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the conversation. I look forward to having you be a part of this upcoming conference, Money - The Gospel Changes Everything. People listening can learn more and register to attend. We have options to attend at St Vladimir's Seminary or you can attend online. Go to orthodoxservantleaders.com and click on the leadership conference. Thank you, Presvytera Stacey. Christ is risen.
Pr. Stacey Dorrance 23:33
Truly He is risen. Thank you both.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 23:35
Indeed He is risen. Thank you
Transcribed by https://otter.ai