With plenty of grain in the barn or money in the bank, we may be tempted to relax, eat, drink and be merry. But like the rich fool, when we stand before the judgment seat, what will we have to show in being rich toward God?
The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast on 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 of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And I'm happy to have Fr. Timothy Lowe, a regular podcast contributor, join me as a partner in the next few episodes. So welcome, Fr. Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:29
Thank you, Hollie. Glad to be here. Andy, nice to meet you.
Hollie Benton 0:31
And as Fr. Timothy said, we're delighted to welcome today's guest, Dr. Andy Geleris, who serves on the board of directors for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative and for FOCUS North America. Some of our listeners may be familiar with his recent articles and presentations on the topic of generosity, stewardship, almsgiving, which he's consolidated into a manuscript and St. Vladimir's press is preparing for publication this year in 2022. So welcome, Andy, and congratulations on the forthcoming book.
Dr. Andy Geleris 1:02
Thank you. Hollie.
Hollie Benton 1:03
So Andy, tell us a little bit about the title of your forthcoming book, Money and Salvation, An Invitation to the Good Way. What motivated you to write this book?
Dr. Andy Geleris 1:15
It's motivated by the observation I've made that I think in general, the Orthodox Church has severely neglected the topic of money, and its importance for finding salvation. We regularly say that the three pillars of Orthodox spirituality are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And we do a great job talking about prayer and fasting. But we severely neglect the topic of almsgiving. I think a lot of that's because in the English language, arms is an antiquated word that we usually think of as giving a few dollars to a homeless person by the side of the road. But prayer is something we don't just mean that you know, you go into your room and pray. It's not just that, but we have an expansive definition of prayer and includes attending liturgical services, it includes private prayer, and it includes saying the Jesus prayer, it includes all kinds of things. And I believe that the definition of almsgiving should include things that have everything to do with how we use our money. Jesus talked far more about money in the Scriptures than he did about prayer and fasting. And that's true in the New Testament. But the Old Testament talks also a lot more about how we use our money. We are suffering. Our people are suffering from not hearing God's message about almsgiving, which is the third spiritual pillar of the Orthodox Church. Especially now that we're in Lent, we need to think about it. And our organizations, our parishes, our seminaries, our schools are suffering from this too. So I think there's a desperate need to address this topic.
Hollie Benton 2:52
And I understand that you tell the story about a woman named Hannah Good.
Dr. Andy Geleris 2:56
Yes, for me she's almost the personification of giving alms. My father's best friend for 50 years until my father died was a man named William Good. Hannah Good was his mother. They were living in Vilnius, which then was part of Poland now part of Lithuania, in the 1930s and 1940s. Hannah's husband's name was Dove Good. And they had two children, William, my father's best friend, and another son named Mottel. They were Jewish. And when Hitler invaded Lithuania and Poland towards Russia, in June of 1941, Vilnius was overrun by the Nazis. So they escaped to the countryside. Dove Good, who was a brilliant man, he was a rabbi. His wife was somebody who was well known all over the area as someone who would help poor people. She wasn't a nurse, but she nursed people who were ill. So she had a reputation for generosity. In September, they had been in hiding in Menchen, which is a town close to Vilnius, and Dove had prepared a hiding place because he expected that there might be an invasion as the Nazis were spreading across Lithuania and Poland. And in the hiding place, he put his wife and his 14 year old son Mottel. Mottel was a virtuoso. He was a prodigy as a violinist. He was a very sensitive young man. He played with the Philharmonic Orchestra, even though he was 14 years old, very sensitive, very quiet, so he put them in that hiding place. And then William and his father Dove hid in the forest. Well, after a few days, the Nazis were overrunning the place, but Mottel who was very sensitive and not the smartest guy just kind of poked his head out of the hiding place and was captured, and he was taken to the local police station. Everybody knew what his fate was going to be. He was going to be killed within a matter of days. So Hannah Good, Dove, her husband, and William got together and tried to think what should they do? Hannah, who was this generous, kind person all of her life, decided that she would turn herself in at the police station in order to comfort her son in his last journey. The story is so powerful for me because you know, the history is full of people who have given up their lives for somebody else. The story of Maria Skobtsova did that and other people have sacrificed their lives to save another person's life. But Hannah Good did not sacrifice her life to save her son's life. She sacrificed her life to comfort her son, just for the last few hours or days of his life. And I should add that a couple days later, William and Dove, and many other people around heard them being murdered. They were just murdered outside the police station. So the question arises, and I've asked many people, did Hannah Good do the right thing? By sacrificing her life, and from one standpoint, it was a waste. You know, here she was this brilliant woman who helped many people all the time. She could have done much good for the next many decades of her life. She had a husband to take care of, she had a son who loved her dearly. I've thought about this and theologians could hold conferences about this, was it the right thing for her to do or not? You know, we hear, I think Chrysostom talks about one tear of genuine repentance from a sinner will cause God to forgive even great sins. And I think it comes down to deciding how much one tear of pain in the hearts of God's beloved children such as Mottel. I think it has almost infinite weight in God's compassion. This has really affected how I view God and how I view Jesus and how I view the saints. We often look at the saints as these heroic people who've done amazing martyric deeds, and they've lived very sacrificial lives, done a great ascetic disciplines, but really what they've done is they've purified themselves so they can love the way God loves us. How does God loves us? God loves us that if we were like Mottel, in a prison cell, about to be killed, God would come to us, the Theotokos would come to us, the saints would come to us just for a few hours of comfort. That's how sacrificially they love us. That's why they purified themselves to become holy like God.
Hollie Benton 7:31
Thank you for sharing that story, Andy. Wow, you're right, people judge and think, was her life worth it? A simple act of mercy just to comfort her son in his last hours. Andy, you suggested that we look today at the story commonly referred to as the parable of the rich fool. It's found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 12. And just to provide some context, it comes after we hear what to be afraid of, and what not to be afraid of. Thinking about Hannah, I'm sure that there was some fear about what to be afraid of, and what not to be afraid of, and also thinking about her son as well. Jesus says to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But don't be afraid of those who kill the body. But do be afraid of him who has the power to cast into hell. But don't be afraid, don't be anxious about what to say when you're brought before the authorities. Then the parable of the rich fool followed by more encouragement to not be afraid or anxious for your life, what you eat or what you will wear, but to seek the kingdom of God. And the final summary of this passage: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." I think it is the parable of the rich fool in the middle of this context that pointedly demonstrates the problem and common struggle to store up treasures for myself, rather than being rich toward God. I also think it's important to be aware of the double meaning in the imagery of the leaven or the grain, the seed, the bread. These words relate not only to eating and provision for the sustenance of a physical body, but consuming a teaching, a word, the bread unto what we hope would be a spiritual life, being rich toward God. Here's the parable now from the Gospel of Luke. "And he said to them, Take heed and be aware of all covetousness for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And he told them a parable saying, the land of a rich man brought forth plentifully and he thought to himself, What shall I do for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he said, I will do this, I will put down my barns and I will build larger ones. And there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, Fool! this night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." So if I may, on the one hand, this is a straightforward parable that warns no matter how rich you are, you cannot take your possessions with you when you die. And because the New Testament enriches this notion of grain or bread, with the idea of a teaching, a word to be consumed unto eternal life. It's also interesting to think of this parable in terms of storing up for oneself, all of the commandments of God, everything that you've heard from His Word, perhaps housing them in beautiful temples with exquisite frescoes and icons and gold ornamentation, or perhaps even housing them in performative rituals of fasting or cleansing and temple sacrifices, yet doing nothing to share and distribute the gift of His Word to others through acts of mercy as God instructs in the commandment. I think this perspective even harkens to the warning about beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which transitions, Luke 11 into the start of this chapter 12 and this parable that we've heard. Andy, in what ways are we laying up treasures for ourselves still today and fail to be rich toward God?
Dr. Andy Geleris 11:26
Well, I love the way you present that, Hollie, about storing, comparison of the leaven of the Pharisees and the grain stored up in the barns. I think that's a wonderful way to think about this. But I think it's interesting to point out that this parable of Jesus was provoked by someone, by a man coming to him and saying, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me. And Jesus says, No, I'm not going to get involved in that. Instead, he talks about covetousness. From what I understand, Fr. Timothy, you can correct me if I'm wrong, I understand the Greek word for covetous has to do with wanting more. It's not wanting somebody else's. It's wanting more for myself. All of us know we're going to die. If somebody asks any of us, are we going to die? We of course, say yes. But everybody knows, and this is why we know when people are hypocritical, they say one thing but live another way. The question is, we all say we're going to die. Do we live like we're going to die? Jesus challenges this farmer, who I'm sure would say that he's going to die. But he doesn't live like he's going to die.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 12:29
Yes, everybody agrees about death. Absolutely. Okay.The parable also focuses on the idea of judgment. Today, your soul is required of you see, the problem is we perhaps don't believe in judgment anymore. Because the scary part isn't dying. It's standing before God!
Dr. Andy Geleris 12:52
I agree with you. Every human being believes in death. But I think you're exactly right. We Christians say we believe in judgment. I think the test of whether we believe in judgment is not what we say with our mouth. It's how do we live? Jesus clearly makes the point we can't take our money with us. In fact, the only thing we can do with our money is to do good deeds. To take the seeds, I love to think of these as seeds, as in the agrarian society, they didn't have banks and bank accounts like we do. But imagine we had the seed as our dollar bills or our money, or ledgers in a bank account, and the barns were bigger and bigger and bigger investment accounts. And when we die, it's all gone. Have we planted seeds? Seeds are very powerful things. Paul talks about this in Corinthians. He's trying to raise money. He says, he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, he who sows abundantly reaps abundantly. He's talking about planting seeds. The seeds are of the gift to the people in Jerusalem. People are always afraid about the prosperity gospel. If you give money to God, God will multiply it back to you and you'll get rich. But that totally distorts what a seed is. You plant a seed, as Jesus said, a small seed of a mustard seed and you grow a huge tree. He talks about that twice. He says unless a grain of wheat falls on the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. And I think we can think of the fruit of that is a spiritual fruit with the gifts of the Spirit that Paul talks about. The Greek word that we translate a seed is sperm. I mean, it's astonishing the power of a human sperm to create a human being imbued by God with his image. That's just an example of the power of seeds that we plant. And it can be of course, the word of God in our hearts, but it can also be things that we do with our money, good deeds we do with our money, that we can't possibly imagine. The power that comes forth like a sperm.
Hollie Benton 14:56
You're right. Seed, sperma, and this is the very thing that God addresses throughout the entire scripture, even in the Old Testament. It is His Word unto the barren woman that actually produces the fruit. And that's the very thing that challenges even the human sperm, what we create unto ourselves for our own prosperity and longevity. It's God's Word that actually produces and makes the barren woman bring forth life. And that's the very seed that is supposed to produce in us. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." So the believing in the Word, not in human biology, that is actually unto life. I do find that it's very easy with these agrarian parables specifically, to immediately think about the grain, the seed, being very similar to our everyday mode of commerce and exchange, you know, equating that with money. And you said, giving money is actually producing something. But what if we were to take a step back and say that it's actually the word of God that is the seed that produces in us, and the giving of money or the almsgiving, is actually the germination of that seed, the producing something that is more fruitful. So then we're not looking to the dollar bill, as the content, the thing by which seed is produced, or by which life and fruit is produced, but it's the commandment. And the giving of alms is actually the germination of that commandment in us.
Dr. Andy Geleris 16:31
I know that's a very good point. I don't think those are mutually exclusive, though, that's part of the scandal of the Incarnation, is that it's not a belief. We don't just accept the Word of God in our hearts and believe it. Abraham believed the Word of God, and how do we know he believes that Word of God? It's what he did with it? How do I know I believe the Word of God, the seed of God in my heart? It's what I do with the seeds, the financial seeds, not just the financial seeds, I mentioned, Hannah Good. She didn't spend any money on behalf of her son. It's a paradigm of the sacrificial way that God calls us to live not just with our money, but with everything. With the seed planted in our heart, and I agree with you completely. How do we know that seed is there? It's by the way we live. One of the things I think we do very badly in the Orthodox Church these days - Jesus clearly says that if you want that spiritual fruit, the donations need to be done anonymously. In the beginning of Matthew six, in the Sermon on the Mount, he says, if you do your charitable deeds to be seen by men, you can get your recognition before man, he doesn't begrudge that at all. You know, we put plaques on the wall, bishops honor certain people, we have all kinds of different things. But Jesus says, unless you do it secretly, and only if you do it secretly, will you have God's reward. I would love for that to be much more prominent in the Orthodox Church, for us to have people giving anonymously so that no one, literally no one, knows. And if we do that, I think we will see enormous spiritual fruit from these financial seeds that we plant.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:08
As you know, people need motivation, because of the impurity of the reasons. So recognition, prestige awards and whatnot. That's a little bit of a conundrum.
Dr. Andy Geleris 18:17
Yeah. Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins and five were wise and five were foolish. And Chrysostom, what he says is that the oil, you know, the Greek word for alms is eleos, and is very similar to the Greek word for mercy, and so Chrysostom himself says that the oil is almsgiving. When Chrysostom talks about this, when he says and I'll quote him here, he says, "I am ashamed." He's talking about these virgins. He says, these virgins are people he regards like our greatest monastics, the greatest ascetics in the history of the Orthodox Church. He had deep admiration for monastics, and what he says about them, "I am ashamed, I blush and weep when I hear that a virgin is foolish, after they had achieved so much virtue, trained in virginity, elevated their bodies to heaven, and competed for superiority over the heavenly powers. I hear this statement that five were foolish, and blush." He then comments on what made them foolish, "For virginity is the light, almsgiving the oil. Therefore, when the light does not have oil to burn safely and steadily it is extinguished. Virginity is likewise extinguished when it lacks almsgiving." I want to say one other thing about almsgiving. We think it's about giving a little money to Ukraine or giving - and those are good things - giving to a homeless person. I deeply believe that the first step of almsgiving for all of us in the church is tithing to our local parish. This is the fundamental aspect of all generosity throughout the scriptures from beginning to end. It is to our local parish. If we want to give additional things beyond the tithe to Ukraine, to homeless people, I think that's fine. But I think that the Scriptures are clear about that. Sometimes we wonder, Well, how should I give them the money? How should I give alms? That's a very common question that people ask me. Well, what do you mean by give alms, I say if you want to start on the journey of almsgiving, if during Lent, you want to pray and fast, beautiful, but don't forget what Chrysostom talks about, the mistake that the five foolish virgins made. They didn't give alms. What's the first step of almsgiving? Tithe to your local parish?
Hollie Benton 20:36
Thank you, Andy. This is a great parable, the whole chapter, all of Luke is very enriched with stories about the agitation in our hearts to be rich towards God, or to try to store up in our own barns, so that we can sit back, relax, eat and drink, and be merry.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 20:53
There's a whole aspect of this parable that is reflected in the whole biblical teaching, starting from Genesis. The idea of the land, the idea of us coming from the land, the idea of our relationship with our fellow human being is tied up in the land and the sharing of it, the forgetting that the land is a gift. Therefore what it produces comes from God and not from our own abilities, the self-absorption of the guy, you know, having a conversation with himself, thinking that the bounty that he received from the land, it's not like it's Amazon, and you know, you've created this great commercial enterprise that is vast beyond, you know, reaches to the far ends of the world, and therefore it goes on by itself and because of your brilliance, but it has to do with a whole relationship with nature, with land, and anybody that's done any farming knows that it's a very tenuous process with nature. The depth of this guy's forgetfulness of all these relational connections, it's unbelievable, and it is stupid. So he's abandoned everything fundamental to how, certainly from the biblical point of view, of how life is lived, and the interconnection and the relations. And it is that point that when we abandon the poor, Chrysostom's concern about not giving and alms and showing mercy, and it breaks all those relationships, and it is ultimately the sin of sins, greed, covetousness, it is the key. While you focus on the issue of money, and almsgiving and its importance and whatnot, which I laud, you know, again, this parable has so many layers that goes deep into the rejection of what has become of the human being, in whether modern or ancient times. I like it when a parable like this, that is so old, is still so relevant and hits to the heart of our own reality, even now, as we seek to live faithfully, to the seed, which is God's word that has planted and hopefully germinating in the good soil of our hearts and bringing forth much fruit. But at the end of the day, we have to always acknowledge, and this is where the human being to me fails is, is that the fruitfulness is God's work. It is what he has done, whether it's the abundance of the barns, or it's even the abundance of inspiring Hannah or anybody else, you see it is the fruitfulfulness, the growth that comes from God.
Hollie Benton 23:09
Amen. Thank you. Thank you, Father, Tim. Thank you, Andy, thank you for all the work that you've done in thinking about these scriptures, these multiple scriptures that deal with almsgiving. And may we be mindful to hearken to what the Lord would have us do and be faithful to the seed that hopefully is implanted in us through baptism.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 23:33
Thank you, Andy.
Dr. Andy Geleris 23:35
Thank you for the opportunity to be on this podcast. And thank you for all the good work, Hollie, you've done with this podcast.
Glory to God!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai