2 Cor. 9 : 6–11
These words by St. Paul: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 6:6) are about voluntary giving. They inspire me to think about us and to make some unavoidable comparisons.
We Serbs are a rather strange people, and we often say so ourselves. It’s true in many cases. In our constant need for self-deception and self-justification, we have burdened ourselves with superlatives under whose weight we often stumble and fall.
We consider ourselves to be the “most” macho men in the world, but the truth is that we are slowly disappearing as a nation. The somber prediction is that, if we do not act quickly, we will definitely disappear as a nation and become history.
We love to sing songs about our manhood and heroism. One would think that we have conquered the whole world and brought it to its knees, but the sad truth is that we don’t even know the name of our poor and suffering motherland, nor what her borders are. The words of the songs are sometimes really ironic: “All you need to do is call, o Motherland, and all the young falcons will readily die for you!” is the rough translation of a song we often sing. Yet all the “young falcons” have flown away to the four corners of the world…
We also consider ourselves to be a good and generous people. Just look at us when we are partying at a restaurant or at a wedding – no one is more generous than us in showering the singers and musicians with money. Anyone would say that we are the most generous people on earth. One could say that we are insanely generous. Unfortunately, this is where our generosity ends.
But when we look around and see the accomplishments of other Orthodox communities, we can get a clearer picture where exactly we stand on the scale of generosity.
Here is an example which may be familiar to many of you. Some ten years ago, our brothers in Christ, the Coptic community of Toronto, contacted us and asked to rent the space of the old chapel at the Serbian Centre in Mississauga for the purpose of conducting their services until they found аn appropriate location. We rented out the chapel to them, and the fact that they have now forgotten all about us shows what good hosts we were to them.
Anyway, at the same time they were renting our chapel, we were also making big plans for a new church. While we were building our church, the Copts built their own church, bigger than ours, which was already the “most beautiful and the largest on the continent,” as we loved to brag. What happened next was that soon the Coptic church became too small and a brand-new, even larger church appeared back-to-back with the other one almost overnight. The new church is so spacious that our church can fit in it several times. They connected the two churches with the monumental building of the Coptic Cultural Center. Anyone wanting to see this architectural wonder can drive by Eglinton and Mavis Street in Mississauga.
The paint on their walls hadn’t even dried completely when again, overnight, another monumental Coptic church sprung up on Don Mills Road, north of Eglinton.
I am told that they are set on building another church, this time in Markham. They gathered to raise the money and this is what happened. That very same evening they raised more money than was needed for the location, so that they had enough to cover half of the building costs, as well! If our Coptic (half)brethren get together one more time, I am sure another grandiose church will be on the way.
As for the Moslem community, I am not even going to talk about their accomplishments. It will be quite enough if I remind you that minarets graze the sky at every strategically important part of the city.
And we, the super-generous and best-in-everything Serbs? Here is an example from our community. Five or six years ago we began raising funds for the construction of our parking lot at the back of the St. Sava church. The cost of the parking lot was around fifty thousand dollars. We begged, we pleaded, we organized fundraising dinners, we asked for donations in every single Sunday bulletin and in all these six years we managed to collect seventeen thousand dollars. Even if I, in my anger and helplessness, were to decrease the sum, our accountant did not make a mistake: seventeen thousand from more than one hundred thousand Serbs in the greater Toronto area in six years. Congratulations! In the end, we had to borrow money in order to solve the problem of the parking lot.
And no matter how many times we repeat the sad story about the parking lot, no matter how much we plead for money and donations, there will always be those who “know” that “the priests are making huge amounts of money on the side and living in luxurious homes.”
We built our new church in Mississauga – or did we? One half of the mortgage has been paid off, but the other half has yet to be paid and the Church community is up to its neck in debts. Not to mention the fact that the church is not even finished yet, there are still the frescoes to be painted and other work – that, alone is going to cost more than our current debts amount to.
These are the facts, reflect on them: both of our houses of prayer, the “old” as well as the “new,” are barely able to make ends meet. Let me be even clearer: if we were forced to pay all of our debts here and now, our entire Church community would go bankrupt. With all this in mind, the appearance of a certain species of “zealots” is even more shocking. These new “zealots” are ready to give and donate to everyone else but their own Church. While enjoying whatever hospitality and warmth their own Church is able to give them, it does not occur to them to ask who pays the bills for the modest conditions in their own church. Were it not for those parishioners whose priority is their own home – their own church, these “zealots” would not have a place in which to show of their religious “zeal.”
A strange kind of Serb has grown out of the weeds of the old socialist system of “self-management.” While enjoying all the benefits of our poor and needy Church, they utter the most nonsensical statements imaginable: that this same church “owes” them and that they will not allow the Church to “use” them and “rob” them. I hear this with my own ears, and I know others, who I believed to be the salt of the earth, also heard this, but remained silent.
This is how we should compare ourselves with other communities in this city and, in doing so, we will know exactly where we stand. This would be my answer to those who so easily judge us and compare us to “others,” not lifting a finger in situations in which these very same “others” give generously.
I often think, if these “others” were our parishioners (the Copts, for example), we would be able to do wonders in this city. We wouldn’t even need a tenth of their total income, a tenth of a tenth would suffice.
St. Paul’s words from his epistle are truly applicable to us. “He who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly” (2 Cor. 9:6). We do sow very sparingly, therefore our harvest is very meager. This is how it will always be, for as long as our church donations amount to the spare change that we happen to carry around in our pockets.
At the same time, we are flooded with pleas for help. I am sometimes afraid to open my electronic mail as well as the regular church mail. My correspondence with these unfortunate people who ask for financial help and for whom I feel genuine compassion, usually ends with my comment that the Church is able to do no more and no less than what her people allow her and enable her to do. I cannot be sarcastic and answer them that the Church can give them back only what they have given Her.
We must begin to change in many aspects of life, and especially in this one. If we wish to constitute a presence in this country and to be a strong, respectable community, then we must do all we can, we must help and lend a hand whenever we can. We must do so joyfully, knowing what we are doing and who we are helping.
The Lord gives back a hundredfold to a generous hand. And God, as the holy Apostle tells us, is able to make all grace abound towards us, that we, having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for good work (2 Cor. 9:7-8).