"It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating."
- Oscar Wilde
Dear readers, Christ is Risen!
Recently I've been trying to re-acquire a mind for business. Perhaps I've been watching too many episodes of Shark Tank, or browsing too many of my friends campaigns on Kickstarter.com, or maybe it was my recent third-time read of Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends & Influence People. The truth is, I need a better source of income than what I currently have, or it seems all is lost.
After spending eleven years in higher education towards the goal of initially entering the priesthood and then becoming a professor, due to life circumstances, among other things, these no longer became an option for me. Instead, I got into Sales to make money in order to pay the bills. Over the course of five years in Sales at various jobs, I burned out. I realized that I could only be a "go-getter" for so long when it comes to personal gain. I've been on many dozens of interviews for Sales jobs, and one of the most common questions has been: "Why do you want to get into Sales?" There's only two words in your answer they want to hear - "Make Money!". In Sales, if your primary goal in life is not your personal gain, you will burn out. Few really can handle the "dog eat dog" mindset, which is why there is such a high turn-around in Sales and why I could never last more than a year in any given position. If you think Alec Baldwin's Glengarry Glen Ross speech was over-the-top, I can assure you that it is real, and I've heard it many many times from my Managers and CEO's of companies, often word for word (see here).
Yet, I did have one Manager who was really nice to me and gave me the single best advice I probably ever received. This particular job was the one I made the most money in, but it was also the most difficult and competitive. One day we were driving around looking to close some deals, and he asked me the following: "John, you're the smartest person I know, yet you chose to hustle around in the most mind-numbing job there is. If you could do anything besides this, what would you really want to do?" I proceeded to tell him what I went to school for and the circumstances that led me where I was, which is something I usually hid for fear that it would expose my weaknesses, and he insisted that I pursue something along those lines I mentioned. He knew I was burned out at this point, and I no longer had the heart to hustle, so when I would report to him once a week to review why I was no longer reaching my goals, he would often advise me: "John, you got to give yourself a chance." Though simple and meaningless to most people, till this day this is probably the single best advice I've ever received, and I still often repeat it to myself in various circumstances. Yet in that particular circumstance, I could not apply it. I was done.
It was soon after I left this job that I began my Mystagogy weblog. I won't get into the complete dark and sad story behind why I started this weblog (perhaps one day but not now), but one reason was to get my creative and intellectual wheels rolling again, and use it as a tool in my own personal spiritual journey. In the beginning it was nothing like what it has become, and it even went by a different name. I was mostly posting movie reviews, music reviews and book reviews in the beginning, as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to focus on. I wanted it to be a personal weblog where I could talk about my personal interests in various creative ways. But this became a bit tedious quickly, as my heart was more into posting about my primary interest and passion, which is Christ and His Church. I ended up removing all of those previous posts, and took another path that over the years has become more and more focused, which is what it is sort of today. This started about five years ago.
Though Mystagogy is still a personal site to me, the content I came to realize was soon filling a major gap on the internet when it comes to Orthodox websites. To be clear, I don't necessarily consider Mystagogy an Orthodox website, but rather it is a website by an Orthodox Christian. Five years ago most Orthodox websites were run by converts to Orthodoxy, who had something to say about their journeys, experiences and what they were learning as they were studying Orthodoxy. Many other Orthodox websites I found to be extremely problematic in their approach to Orthodoxy. In fact, at the time I would say there were maybe only a handful of decent Orthodox websites around in the English language, and the best of these were more geared towards the Russian side of Orthodoxy and not as Greek and universal as I would have preferred.
At the same time I was reading something completely different on the Orthodox websites in the Greek language. Though many of those had their problems as well, I also noticed a more mature Orthodox mindset that instead of troubling me every time I visited them, they actually moved me and inspired me. It was more in tune with the Orthodoxy I knew from my experiences having been raised in the Church, of having known its most authentic expression, and having struggled with the Church and its teachings growing up till I decided to devote my life to it. They were presenting an Orthodoxy that most Orthodox in America have either forgotten or just never heard of. It was an Orthodoxy that I struggled long and hard to know with much blood, sweat and tears, and knew that most would not give even a percentage of their time to get to know as I had. Eventually, my personal website, though remaining personal, also began to provide small morsels of a presentation of Orthodoxy that I could be much more comfortable with, and hope in turn people will wake up to begin accepting these truths and ideas. This is why I called my weblog "Mystagogy" - this is the type of Orthodoxy I'm interested in presenting, for those familiar with what the word encompasses.
I believe I have been somewhat successful, though I have also failed in many respects. People throughout the world know this website and visit it often. I never thought I would get more than 20-30 visits a day, but now I have about 5,000 people reading my content daily from every country and city and even village you can imagine. When I started getting hits from isolated islands in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, that's when I realized I had a pretty powerful tool. Though I am happy and grateful for what I have, I am still not satisfied. I have friends that put half the time into their own websites than I do, and they have over 100,000 visits a day. These aren't Orthodox or even Christian websites, but to me that makes it even harder to swallow, as I consider my content much more interesting most of the time. But what makes it harder to accept is that in the great scheme of things, to get only 5,000 people a day interested in my content among all English-speaking Orthodox in the world is actually pretty pathetic, and I place the majority of the blame on myself.
I know people are going to think I'm crazy for thinking this way, but it is what it is. The reason I blame myself is because I have allowed myself to get stuck in a rut of doing pretty much the same thing every day, without giving myself the chance to grow and expand as I had intended. Of course, what I do is not for my glory. There is no glory in what I do. Ultimately my goal is to point the world towards Christ, and this has been my primary desire since my youth. Yes, I can boast over the fact that my website has helped bring many to Christ and drawn many back to the Church. I have dozens of correspondences to prove this if I wanted, but I decide not to. That's not what I'm about. I'm not out to prove to my readers how successful my website has been in other peoples lives and boost my own ego, but I want them to evaluate it for themselves and see how it moves their own spirit. Yes, here and there I post some very controversial things that I know will provoke many of my readers, but I do this mainly for two reasons: first, to weed out the readers who are not willing to learn and be provoked, and second, to provoke my readers to think a bit more deeply than what they are used to and accept the fact that things are often more complicated than they seem. Though I highly value and promote simplicity, sometimes things aren't always as simple as a simpleton would think it is.
Yet this is part of my problem. I am not presenting things with the completeness I desire to present them. About a year ago I made a decision that I would not put more than 2-3 hours of work a day into this website. I made this decision because I wanted to only put the time into it that I believed equaled the value my readers put into it. At one point I came very close to shutting it down, but then someone graciously donated $200 and I decided to hang on a bit longer. When the time came again for me to shut it down and take another path, someone anonymously gave me $1000 to keep up the good work. So I did.
I don't want anyone to think that I have lost any zeal for the little work I do here. Just the opposite. In fact, I'm zealous to do much more than what I am currently doing. But considering some of the things I have written above so far, among other things, my desire is to grow in a way I can't possibly grow on my own. Now I am calling on my readers to place value on my website and help me to grow the way I desire and envision. What do I mean by this?
As I said in the beginning, I'm trying to re-acquire a mind for business. James Altucher, an interesting writer I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd. Do I really want to go back into the business world? Absolutely not! But his basic premise is similar to what I have been thinking for a few years now. And now that I am in a position in life where I can decide on a new path, I realize that it may be possible to actually do what I most desire to do. What I most desire to do is expand this little ministry I have going and establish an Orthodox Christian ministry or institute unlike any other.
What do I mean by "expand"? As any regular reader of my website knows, I often touch upon many topics and translate a lot of material. However, this is only a very small portion of the work I do now and wish to do in the future. I am currently in the process of translating eight books and I have started a few of my own books. For example, one of these books was written some centuries ago and in Greece it has for centuries been the most popular Orthodox text which inspired Christians in the darkest times, and it is often referred to as being the last book read by martyrs under the Turks. I believe this book is among the most important Orthodox text for Christians today, and I'm determined to get it done. Part of expanding my ministry would be to publish these books and get them out to the people as soon as possible. I have also desired for a long time to build a better and more user-friendly website. I have made over 6000 posts, but they are very difficult to find and access, so I would like to make this easier and provide even better content that what I have. Currently I have over 2000 fascinating pieces of content waiting to be posted, that I would love people to read and learn from and be inspired by just as I have been. I have no desire to keep these things stored away in the attic of my personal folders, but my great desire is to share these and many other things in the coming months and years. Also, instead of only putting 2-3 hours a day into this work, my desire is to put more like 10-12 hours a day into this website and into my expanded ministry. What people also do not know is how many emails I respond to pretty much every day, and these take a portion out of my 2-3 hours. Currently I am many days behind in answering some of these emails. With the start-up of a new website and a new publishing house, translation center and institute, my other desire is to start going out to the people and perhaps go on a speaking tour, start a podcast, produce videos, work closer with parishes to make their own ministries more successful, and many many other things. If you sort of like what I have done so far, imagine it many times better, and that is what I mean by "expand". To go into further details now would make this post much longer than it already is, so I hope to present more details soon.
What do I mean by "value"? In 1998 I took a break from my studies at Holy Cross School of Theology and decided to move to Charlotte, North Carolina where I attended a Protestant school for three years, completing the requirements for a Masters in Philosophy degree. Being a Protestant seminary with an emphasis on Philosophy, all the students and staff there were very passionate and united in their love for apologetics. Since an apologetic ministry usually entails being independent by nature and not really a part of any specific parish, we would often be advised to place our own personal value on our ministries and live up to that value so that the people can also place value on it and thus help support and expand our ministry. This advice was put forward not only for apologists, but for pastors and anyone else who wanted to work in ministry. For someone to support their own ministry is pretty much impossible if it is to be effective, unless they are rich. But even then, it means that the people who may be benefiting from your ministry are not putting the value they should be putting on it. Without value, ministries die. And the way people place value on something is not by simply supporting it by taking from it what it offers, or even just praying for it, but it primarily comes through financial support.
Aren't our local parishes enough? Absolutely not. If one visits any country where there is an Orthodox majority, they will come across ministries that work together with their local parishes to fill the gaps in ministry that parishes usually are not equipped to provide and focus on. People in America often talk about monasteries filling this need, but monasteries, though essential in their own part, are not able to fill this void either. Lay ministries are just as essential for the Church as parishes and monasteries, and if you go to Greece or Russia or elsewhere you will see how parishes and monasteries often rely very much on these ministries to help in the holistic work of the Church. We are a bit familiar here with charitable organizations that work with the Church, but hardly at all familiar with what I am proposing and is fairly common elsewhere. Yesterday I posted an address from last week by Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece in which he mentions this very thing. Speaking to the graduates of Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology this past Saturday, he said among other things:
It is obvious that those who will not become clergymen are also called to labor in the Lord’s vineyard as lay theologians. Nothing of what I mentioned earlier can be put into practice by the bishop or the priests without the sacrificial presence of the lay staff of pastoral work, where theologians should have a leading part. Today, maybe more than ever before, activities such as catechism, the study of theological literature, the staffing of pastoral activities and the presence of the Church in every aspect of social life, at school, in hospitals, in charitable works, but also in arts and culture more broadly, create high requirements and the adequately trained representatives and laborers of the Church are not only more than valuable but absolutely indispensable. (Source)
I don't want to make this longer than it should be, so I will withhold further details for the time being. I think I have stated my case enough for now. Will you invest in the future of Orthodoxy in America and beyond as well as my vision for my minstry? Freely you have thus far been given, now freely give to make this vision a reality. Without your support, this will be my last post. I believe five years has allowed me to build enough trust that I will do what I say, and more so I hope it has established a zeal within you to learn and be inspired more with the riches of Orthodoxy that I can help bring to the table.
What am I asking from you?
I am asking from you to place value on my ministry and support it that it may continue and become bigger and better, to God's glory. This online ministry will no longer continue unless I receive this financial support. I say this with both sadness and hope. Sadness because there is nothing more that I want than to continue and expand, and hope because I do believe that Orthodox Christians are willing and able to support such ministries. It is rare that I will receive a donation from the United States. Most often, when I do get some show of support, which is not often enough but accepted with much gratitude, it is usually from either Australia, Western Europe and Canada. I am hoping this will expand, as most of my readers are in the United States and Greece.
What I am asking for specifically is just a mere $60 from each of my readers. Now I know that this sounds like a lot of money for some, but let me explain why I am asking for this amount. Personally, I am about as frugal as they come. Yet, I often find myself spending an average of $60 on things I don't really need, but enjoy having. For example, I spend about $60 a month at Dunkin Donuts and another at the movies. I recently spent about $60 for a concert ticket as well. Most will spend $60 just to take their family to a movie, or to buy one ticket to a sporting event, at least. Dinner for two at a local inexpensive restaurant is about $60, and if you have a vending machine at work you are probably spending about $60 on that every few months. I am not asking for $60 a month, but $60 a year. This equals to $5 a month and about 16 or 17 cents a day to support a ministry that you not only receive personal benefit from, but one that helps literally thousands.
I believe that Orthodox Christians should at least give two or three of their weekly paycheck amounts to ecclesiastical ministries that they benefit from and where they can benefit others. This can be divided by giving one paycheck at Christmas, one at Easter, and another some time in the Summer. One can ideally go to your parish, one to the ministries you believe bring benefit to you and others, and another to an ecclesiastical charity of some sort. This may not be possible for everybody, but I do recommend looking into it.
A few things to further consider. First, this would not only support me to do the work I desire to do, but it will also help me expand and become more professional, as I've stated already. But this also includes bringing in people to help bring my vision to reality, where a small sum can be paid to ensure I get quality work from all. Also, it will initially help me get a new computer that I desperately need. My current computer is very slow and frustrating to work with, so this is the first thing your support will help me get in order to be more effective in both my time and work. Also, the website I envision will cost thousands of dollars. These I hope to accomplish in a fairly immediate amount of time, depending on the support.
I understand that many of my readers may not be financially able to give what I ask for. This is why I am also providing other options. $5 or more a month may help alleviate the pressure. If this is even too much, then your prayers are appreciated. I'm not looking to bring anyone to financial ruin.
Also, for those feeling more generous than the $60 I ask for, please feel free to give what you can. My vision is very costly. What I hope to accomplish in the short term will be a struggle with only $60 from everyone. If you wish to expand your gift by ordering something from my Mystagogy Webstore, please do by clicking here. I have about five more books I want to add to this list, which may be done within the next few weeks.
I know some will think that 5000 people giving me $60 is a lot of money. Not for my goals. Also, I don't think even half of that amount will support me with even a penny, to be honest. That half is the casual reader coming to my site probably just looking for information on something. And half of the 2500 will probably not believe in my vision to support it. Then another half of the 1250 people will probably sit idly by waiting for others to step up. In the end, I can only hope that probably 625 people will be willing to step up. Of those who will, I have no idea. To keep this website and ministry alive, with little initial expansion, at least 500 people will have to step up and give $60.
I will initially wait and see what will happen until June 5th. If my goal is not reached, I will close this website and give people the option of having their funds returned. I don't plan on stopping to do what I am doing if my goal is not reached, but anything that comes from me in the future will only be acquired by paying for it and the online ministry will no longer exist.
As a thank you gift for your $60 support, I will send you a booklet I am just finishing to translate on the Resurrection of Christ that contains some never before translated and valuable material that will be of much interest. I have not given it a title yet, but it will be ready next week at the latest to be sent out. Anyone that has donated to my ministry in the past couple of months will also receive this.
As a further thank you, all who donate will have their names submitted to about five monasteries I am connected with in order to be prayed for and blessed for your contribution.
I have no interest in fundraising. Your continued support is appreciated, and of course I will do what I must. My desire is to expend my energy on the things I have mentioned, and I have much energy to give. If you have further questions, please submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I ask that you not send me comments regarding this post, positive or negative, but only send in questions that will help you to support this ministry.
How can you donate?
Right now, I only have two ways you can donate: either through Paypal or by sending a payment to my PO Box. My PO Box address is:
PO Box 320284
West Roxbury, MA 02132
As for Paypal, you do not have to be a member to donate if you wish to do so online with a credit or debit card. All you have to do is click on the DONATE button below, and on the bottom left corner you will see where it says "Don't have a PayPal account?", click on "Continue" and follow the instructions. It's very simple.
For those who do have a Paypal account or are willing to open one, you can make a donation of any amount by clicking on DONATE. If you would like to contribute a monthly amount that will be automatically deducted once a month, you can click on SUBSCRIBE and choose the amount you can afford.
Thank you in advance very much for your support, and God bless you all abundantly.
With love in Christ,
Summary Note: The above was written not because I am in personal financial trouble, but to encourage financial support for my ministry so that I may devote more quantity and quality time to it and develop it to eventually become self-sustaining. For me to work full-time in a secular job will prevent further growth and make me focus solely on my book projects and no longer on my online activity, which is why I am looking to devote my full-time to this ministry. My immediate goal is for my readers to place value in this ministry to help me expand it. Eventually other means of financial support will be initiated to sustain and expand future worthwhile and exciting projects.