[T]here has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39%) – a seven-year high. Jews are much more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society than by governments. In Europe, for example, Jews were harassed by individuals or social groups in 34 of the region’s 45 countries (76%).
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has published a new report on Orthodox Monastic Communities in the United States (here). The report contains a lot of great information (“great” for nerds like me, anyway), including a whole section entitled, “‘Monastic Economy:’ Ownership of Property and Sources of Income in US Orthodox Monasteries.”
According to the report,
In summary, the three most common sources of income in US Orthodox monasteries are:
Occasional private donations including bequests and offerings for performed sacraments (87% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);
Sale of religious items (except candles) that are not produced by monastery (52% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income);
Production and sales of candles (24% of all monastic communities mentioned this source of income).
Thus, after private donations, the top two sources of income are through commerce: 52% sales of items not produced by the monastery and 24% candles produced by the monastery. Income from other items produced by monasteries, such as books, devotional items, and food items, was also significant. Our Merciful Saviour Russian Orthodox Monastery in Washington state, for example, lists sales of their “monastery blend” coffee as their primary source of income.
This does not come as a surprise to me.
The most recent volume (vol. 8, 2014) published by the Sophia Institute, of which I am a fellow, includes a paper by me entitled, “Markets and Monasticism: A Survey & Appraisal of Eastern Christian Monastic Enterprise.” While my paper is not a comprehensive history, it does include a section on modern Orthodox monasteries in the United States.
When asked by the BBC interviewer what he would say to the terrorists if they were sitting in the studio at that moment, the bishop replied:
I would say that any religion starts from a premise of a sanctity of life. And no matter what differences there are, this doesn’t justify by any means the taking of a life and especially so horrifically. I pray for them and I pray that somehow hearts are touched. I’m sure that not everyone there is this callous. I’m sure people’s hearts must be touched. The only hope we have is a sense of humanity again.
Islamic State (IS) released a video on Sunday that appeared to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. The footage showing the deaths of the Egyptian martyrs appeared on the Twitter feed of a website that supports IS.
In the video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange overalls, to a beach the group said was near Tripoli, the capital of Libya. The victims—all men—were forced down onto their knees and then beheaded.
A caption on the five-minute video read: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” Before the killings, one of the militants stood with a knife in his hand and said: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for. . . The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
The militant speaker then pointed northward and said, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”
The video is one of the first showing beheadings by IS affiliated group outside their core territory in Syria and Iraq.
Why were the Egyptian Christians in Libya?
According the Jerusalem Post, despite the increasing chaos in Libya, thousands of Egyptians have traveled to the region over the past four years in search of jobs. The 21 Christians were workers kidnapped by IS in December and January from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya, an area now under the control of Islamist groups.
When I consider the state of the world, the total obscurity enshrouding our personal destiny, and my present imprisonment, our union—if it wasn’t frivolity, which it certainly wasn’t—can only be a token of God’s grace and goodness, which summon us to believe in him. We would have to be blind not to see that. When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that “houses and fields [and vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,” it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to that world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”
Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.
But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.
And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”
A friend of mine recently shared this short clip of Thomas Merton’s last lecture. He has some interesting things to say about communism and monasticism, as well as what is clearly a sly promo for Coca-Cola at the end.
“From now on, brothers, everybody stands on his own feet.” This would be a great summary statement of what the monastic vow of poverty actually meant to most monks, historically. With regards to monasteries being the only places that have ever fulfilled the socialist ideal “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” I would add that they were able to do this because they valued the division of labor and the potential good of enterprise.
Monasteries, ancient and medieval, were centers of production, invention, and exchange, in addition to faith and worship. We may often think of the Scriptures and works of literature, philosophy, or theology that they copied in their scriptoria, but these same communities have also left us volumes of financial records, documenting extensive holdings in land and capital, as well as ventures in banking, lending, and long distance trade.
For one monk’s take on the good of commerce, see my recent Acton Commentary, “The Monk as Merchant,” here.
Also, I’ll be lecturing again on “Markets & Monasticism” at this year’s Acton University, our summer conference. If you haven’t done so already, take the time to learn more about it here.
“This is useless. This is gratuitous. This is wonder.” –Evan Koons
When we consider the full realm of Christian stewardship, our minds immediately turn to areas like business, finance, ministry, the arts, education, and so on — the places where we “get things done.”
But while each of these is indeed an important area of focus, for the Christian, stewardship also involves creating the space to stop and simply behold our God. Yes, we are called to be active and diligent and fruitful in acts of service and discipleship, but at the core, what is driving the work of our hands? Do we take the time to simply delight in our God, to behold the beauty of his creation, to reflect on his goodness, to fear him deeply and profoundly, to open our hearts and eyes and ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit?
Today at Ethika Politika, I examine some ancient economic wisdom from one of the desert fathers: Abba Pistamon. Far from the newest of Nintendo’s Pokemon monsters (despite the sound of his name), Abba Pistamon was one of the first Christian monks. The dialogue between him and an unnamed brother that I examine from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers has a lot to say about production, labor, profit, and exchange.
Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.