WEBSTER, MA – The Saints Constantine and Helen parish in Webster, Massachusetts, instead of asking its parishioners for money as all the parishes typically do, does exactly the opposite. As unbelievable as it sounds, it is true and certainly radical and unique.
The leaders of the parish decided to give each of its parishioners a gift – an envelope with $300/$200/$100 cash. That’s right. The Church gave out to its church members $30,000, instead of asking for the parishioners to give their weekly offering.
“Yes, it’s radical!” declared Father Luke Veronis, the priest who has been serving Saints Constantine and Helen Church for the past 15 years. He said, “we decided to kick off a year-long celebration of our Church’s 100th Anniversary by doing something exciting, something shocking, yet something that would really challenge our understanding of who we are as Orthodox Christians and who we are as a Church. We are calling this the “Good and Faithful Steward Challenge.”
Fr. Luke also said “we wanted to do something that would engage every member of our Church and get them involved in the spirit of giving” and he added that, “we are people richly blessed by God, and we are a Church that wants to share God’s blessings with the larger community all around us. So, we gave out $30,000 asking only for one thing in return – we want everyone to use their gift to glorify God. By this, we mean that we want our people to notice those in need all around us, and then share God’s love through our words, through our presence, and through a concrete gift from this money. We hope that all our Church Family members will develop the eyes of compassion to notice those in need around them, to discover the great joy of giving to others, and to understand what it means to be a good and faithful steward with all the gifts we receive from God.”
Fr. Luke also said that “one other expectation for this gift is that we want everyone to give us back a card that describes what they did with the money they received, how they felt when they offered their act of love, and what the response of the recipient was. We want to gather inspiring stories to share with one another, so that we all can be motivated to do even more! We hope to create a contagious spirit of giving in our Church Family that will multiply and that will hopefully encourage others.”
Fr. Luke reveled that “the day after we gave out this gift someone came into my church office and handed me $250 in gift cards. The woman told me that she had been so inspired by what she heard in Church the day before, she and her husband decided to give me the money they would have spent on their Thanksgiving meal and share it with those in need. She emphasized, however, that this wasn’t the money the Church had given her. Her family was still going to use that to help some other people. Instead this was extra money she wanted to give away, and she promised me that over the next year, she was going to try to do some similar deeds of love every month. This is the spirit that we want to cultivate here.”
When asked if there was any resistance to the Challenge, Fr Luke smiled and said “we have a beautiful Church Family and I was so happy when the 13 members of our Parish Council unanimously approved this idea. In general, I have heard many very positive comments and only one skeptical remark. The main question, of course, was where this money was coming from. Thank God we recently received a legacy gift of approximately $150,000 from one of our faithful members, Emmanuel Pappas, who passed away last year. Manny was a great philanthropist, so we thought we would honor his memory while also imitating what our Lord Jesus Christ taught through this Challenge.”
When The National Herald asked him “what does Christmas mean to you,” Fr. Luke said, “Christmas is all about giving. God incarnate is the One whom we celebrate at Christmas, and He is the greatest Giver. Christmas is all about giving precisely because God was the first one to give to the world His greatest treasure – He gave Himself to the world by becoming a human being, becoming one of us. He gave Himself by offering His Son – who is “Light of Light and true God of true God”, the second person of the Holy Trinity – to not only enter into the darkness of this world and into fallen humanity itself, but to actually lift up fallen humanity to the divine heights of our unlimited potential. St. Athanasios the Great summarized God’s gift to the world in the most succinct manner – “God became human so that humans could become one with God.”
Can there be any greater gift than this? God offers us His Divine, perfect love to the world. He reveals to us that no matter how far we fall short of our divine potential, we are still truly His beloved children, an integral part of His eternal family. And in Christ, we always have a new opportunity, another chance for a new beginning!
Christmas is the beginning of Jesus Christ entering into the world and radically changing world history – He revealed Love Incarnate, the perfect human being; He taught the world perfect wisdom; He lived in this fallen world, experienced all the darkness and evil of the world, tasted even death itself, and then overcame it all; He conquered death and showed that He is the ultimate Victor, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End; and to all who allow Christ to be born in their hearts, Christ promises that He will make each of us into a new creation! God is the greatest Giver of Gifts! And we are called to and inspired to imitate Him.”