Freely Did You Receive, So Freely Give
By Protodeacon Peter Danilchick
We are born into a specific place and time and into a family with established values and customs. We develop and grow within this reality but also with our very own God given personalities and talents. God also gives us personal mentors and examples, from our earliest days, who impart their wisdom and their own life lessons to us. If we are receptive and sensitive to these opportunities, our lives are enriched and our personalities develop into adults who not only strive to achieve great things in our own lives, but also strive to share and care for others in need.
Growing up I attended church regularly, serving as an altar boy for many years. At school I was good in mathematics and science and was encouraged to study engineering, which I did. My undergraduate college department of electrical engineering had adopted an unusual team-based approach to education in which individual study and student team problem solving was the norm. The professors did not lecture; rather, they posed tough problems and asked probing questions. As a result, I became very interested in inter-personal dynamics and management processes, without losing focus on technology.
While in graduate school, I was very fortunate to get to know Fathers Alexander Warnecke, John Kozak and Alexander Schmemann. They were to me the very icons of the Church’s challenge to the world (and herself) through the Gospel, the Liturgy and action. Their initiatives and passion for the Church inspired me and encouraged me to become more active in church life. At the age of 24 I attended my first NY NJ Diocesan Assembly as a parish delegate. That was the start of my interest and active participation in the organizational side of the church. I worshipped regularly and met my wife at a university OCF meeting. We were both very committed to our church community and church sponsored activities. We volunteered at a church camp, taught Sunday school, and remained very involved.
Following graduate study in electrical engineering, I was offered a position at Exxon in the very new area of information technology. My career with Exxon rapidly segued into general operations management, strategic planning, and new business development. By then we had three children. Soon after that, I was encouraged to enter the late vocations program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. I studied and completed the program and was ordained deacon. Not very long after ordination we started moving around the world with my job at Exxon, spending sixteen years overseas in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany and Australia. In all these places, we worked to build up the local Orthodox parish community (and established the first legally-registered Orthodox Church in Singapore).
We were so very thankful for the church communities we found in many of the places we lived. When there were no established churches, like in Singapore and Hong Kong, we simply knew that we had to do all we could to serve the Orthodox Christians in those countries. We felt that we had been so blessed by all those who had come before us and dedicated their lives to the church that we, in our own way, had to do what we could where there was need. Although it was often a lot of work, it was extremely rewarding and we met so many wonderful people along the way.
In retirement, we continue working in the Church with St Vladimir’s Seminary as a member of her Board, with the OCA in various governance and advisory positions, and with the Assembly of Bishops Secretariat, trying to help the bishops to bring about Orthodox unity in America. Many of the skills that I learned with my career with Exxon, such as management best practices, financial accountability, organizational development, and strategic planning have been very useful in my service to the Church. As well, my experience working with people in varied international cultures has enabled me to better relate to the different ways people approach problems and relationships. Serving in churches of Russian, American, Antiochian, Japanese, Greek, and Romanian traditions around the world have given me the gift of experiencing the fundamental Gospel ties which bind us together and which supersede language, custom and rubrics.
I have, for as long as I can remember, been amazed and challenged by Jesus’ sending out of the twelve disciples as recorded in Matthew 10. He gave them seemingly impossible tasks: heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, witness without fear before authorities, and expect hatred and persecution in return. How could this be possible? I think that Jesus gave the key in two simple commands: firstly, freely give what you have freely received and, secondly, don’t worry about what you will say at times of trial, those words will be given to you then. We thus come out of ourselves and place ourselves in the hands of God.
Man is a Eucharistic being, in the words of Fr Alexander Schmemann. Our destiny is to receive the gifts given us by God and to give thanks for them. By giving thanks, we recognize that they do not come from us, neither do
we deserve them, but they are a free gift from God. And part of giving thanks for a gift is making the best use of that gift and sharing it with others. All of us have gifts, whether of knowledge and expertise, wisdom and insight, compassion and love, to name a few. God presents us each day with opportunities to share these gifts. It is up to us to seize those chances to be a transmitter of God’s gifts to others, in whatever life environment we find ourselves.
Sometimes we do not think that we are up to the task involved in these opportunities. We do not think we have sufficient knowledge or expertise, or wisdom and insight, let alone compassion and love. But Jesus said that we shouldn’t worry about these imagined inadequacies; remember his words that we should not worry about what we will say in times of trial. Conversely, he said that his power is made perfect in weakness, precisely because that is where we cease to rely upon ourselves and rely upon the Lord’s power at work within us. Our problems come when we hold back because we are afraid of what others will think of us, or that we will fail and appear weak and foolish.
In the simplest terms, we need to do what we need to do, instead of worrying about what we should do or what we might do. If there is an opportunity to learn, to serve, to help, seize it! Seize it in faith that God will help you. “Freely did you receive, so freely give.” And do not worry about results. Have faith that God will perfect his strength in your weakness. And in all things, give thanks for each other and everything!