Orthodox Christian Alms-Giving and Tithing

Below is an expanded version of a talk I gave March 26th after both Liturgies at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Synodal) in Washington, DC. Lively discussion followed each presentation, but, considering that the Church Abroad can't even support a full-time pastor at its headquarters, I think this is the single most pressing issue of practical life facing our Church today. And this is so because we don't teach parishioners about the proper role of money in their lives. "Where there is no leadership the people perish." Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Deacon David James


For many of us, the need for raising money in the Church is viewed much as the Victorians viewed sex: necessary, but not very nice. Clergy and lay people alike see the fund-raising task in the parish as an unwelcome interruption in the continuing spiritual life of the parish - if, indeed, even that, and not instead as an unwelcome intrusion of a totally needless element in their personal lives, as opposed to their spiritual lives. For most the issue of parish finances is often treated a little like the commercials in the middle of the Rose Bowl or Super Bowl. It is something separate from the program itself both in sound and in content, with no connection to what occurs just before the collection or just after. It is not, for most, a part of the Divine Liturgy itself. Even the clergy are tempted, and often surrender to the temptation, to keep the "money" messages as short as possible in order to get on with the real business of what we are here to do - Worship. Sometimes the topic is wrapped in such a series of onion-like layers of spiritual cliches and piety as to go unnoticed; too much repetition renders a message invisible - and inaudible. The "feeling" persists that many of our people are still theologically and spiritually crippled when the subject of money is raised. If the topic of money makes you uncomfortable (and it usually does), it does so because of your conditioning, for the most part; it is because you are not aware of the recorded approach of Jesus to the subject of your relationships with money. Many who do discover (and they are few) that relationship are astonished to find that Jesus understood the deep and compelling potential for both good and evil that exist in man's relationships to 'his property.' Many think Jesus spoke only of 'Peace" and 'Forgiveness' and 'Prayer' and 'Sacrifice' and 'The Kingdom of God.' Not at all true. A FULL SIXTH OF ALL THE WORDS JESUS EVER SPOKE CONCERN THEMSELVES WITH THE RELATIONSHIP OF PEOPLE TO THEIR MATERIAL POSSESSIONS!

A FULL SIXTH! An astonishing percentage. There are few subjects to which a higher percentage is allocated. A full third of all the PARABLES are devoted to it. Money, and what money represents to us, has been a major preoccupation of every generation in the history of the Church, and I submit that neither the Church, nor pastors, nor you, the parishioners, should treat discussions about money as though it were a 'dirty subject.' On the contrary, this subject should have the same high priority in every church's program of education that Jesus Himself placed upon it; it ought to be right up there with the reception of the Sacraments and religious education. All year round all of us, from the priest at the altar to the youngest child still learning to cross himself should be made mindful of our responsible relationships to our material possessions, and to the obligations which 'possession' of them entails. At the outset, I want to establish different definitions for "fundraising" and for "Christian Stewardship." "Fundraising" means "getting people to give more money." "Christian Stewardship," on the other hand, helps people to be more giving. Christian Stewardship could be defined as the "effective commitment or investment of human and material resources in participation with Christ in His love for others." There are two primary points to be made. The first is that Stewardship always has to do with a Christian's task to give away gifts that have already been given to him by God. This presupposes, of course, acceptance of the belief that all things are conferred on us by God. The second point is that stewardship always has to do with a Christian getting free of what binds him. In our culture, nothing binds us more than money - the symbol of material things. The first point has to do with turning to a new life; the latter, with turning away from an old life. In other words, stewardship is entwined with conversion. One has to be turned away from what binds him, and turned toward what frees him. This is the test of genuine conversion. We must become deeply convinced that the relationship of a person and his money is fundamentally a spiritual matter, as fraught with implications for an individual's spiritual life as is his life of prayer or any other "religious" activity. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Somehow, in some way, what a person does with his money, how he thinks about it, where he spends it, what he will do to earn it, and the things to which he will give it, are some of the real clues to who he is inside, to what is essentially important to him, to what is really in his heart. It is significant to note the order of things in the words of Jesus. He does not say, "Where your heart is there shall your treasure be also." Try an experiment. Go out and buy a few shares of stock. Make it enough so that the financial interest is important to you. Then notice what part of the newspaper you turn to first when you pick it up. I'd be willing to bet it will be to the financial page to check on your investment. Interest and enthusiasm follow one's money. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." To put it another way, the places where we make our most serious financial investments are the places where our real self, our inner self, is going to be most interested, most teachable, most responsive, and most open. To deal with a person in terms of what he does with his money is to deal with most people where they really live. A properly conceived stewardship effort in the church can thus be an avenue to genuine spiritual growth. Good stewardship has that potential. That, I believe, is something of what Jesus meant when He said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." It is therefore extremely important that we begin to recover a soundly Orthodox theological basis for our stewardship efforts. A well-conceived, theologically sound stewardship program can be the most exciting spiritual adventure you can undertake in your entire life. We are all aware that the basic questions of life will ultimately be satisfied only by theological answers. This includes questions about money and our uses of it. And yet, how seldom we think of theology when promoting the issue of financial support for our parishes, and how badly we handle the task there! The Theological Basis for this Dissertation A sound theology of money has the potential to tap the spiritual roots of Orthodox Christians at a point where they are most teachable, because it is here where they are most concerned and involved. There are as many different approaches as there are parishes, but there are three common styles that are guaranteed to bring failure and misunderstanding - and sow hatred, discord and bitterness and resentment through the spiritual lives of the people of any parish. The Numbers Approach. One of the three methods guaranteed to bring failure and misunderstanding is "the Numbers Approach." The people responsible sit down and calculate what will be needed next year to carry out the work in that parish. For example, let's suppose that in a given parish a 10% increase will be needed next year. The message is communicated that if everyone would just raise his/her contribution for next year by 10%, we will make it fine. Several things go wrong with this approach. First, it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The fact that the emphasis has always been in the wrong place is small comfort. The Numbers Approach will always put the emphasis on the dollars the church needs, rather than on the giving itself. When you start with a budget, the center of attention remains on the numbers, on the balance sheet. That's also the problem with reports and statements; they tend to focus the attention on things other than on the giving itself. You can talk all you like about "giving as responsible Christians," but few will hear what you say because there is this natural tendency to sharpen pencils to go over the budget to see what can be cut or to complain about how much legitimate programs in fact cost. Second, the Numbers Approach is essentially unfair. The basis of the message is in the assumption that everyone is giving evenly, that Family A and Family B are already giving conscientiously in relation to their means. In fact, there is no parish I know of where this is in fact the case. In NO parish do families give fairly and conscientiously in relation to their means - only a small portion of each parish does. The facts belie the assumption. While some families do give conscientiously, many more - FAR many more - give far less than they could. Far less, in fact, than they should. To ask for a percentage increase puts an unfair burden on those who are already doing their best to be faithful in their giving, and it allows the token giver to remain exactly where he is in comparison. Even if he does respond to the increase, he will remain a token giver. Third, the approach represents a minimum rather than a maximum request. Perhaps it's the fear of asking too much and facing failure that tempts us. But with the Numbers Approach, what we ask as an increase is pretty already 'educated' by what we are already fairly certain is 'achievable.' We tend to cut the cloth to the measure of the expectations, rather than the other way around. Consequently, it doesn't challenge anyone spiritually. We ask our people to give to the Church, the diocese, or a given parish, and the effect is to base our appeal on the people's responsibility for the survival of the parish (as legitimate as this is), on parish loyalties, or on interest in parish activities. Or even on loyalty to a particular parish priest - a popularity contest, in effect. To base our appeals on any of these things is to preclude any serious consideration of giving as a matter of a person's spiritual life, as a serious matter between an Orthodox Christian and his God. Church people operate on at least three levels of loyalty. We live on the level of denominational loyalty; that is, loyalty to the Orthodox Church. In addition to that, we live on the level of parish and jurisdictional loyalty - to the parish and to the diocese. We have an interest in seeing our parish survive, prosper and grow. And that's perfectly legitimate. Beyond these loyalties, however, there ought to be a loyalty, a COMMITMENT - to God in and through Jesus Christ! At our best, all three loyalties complement and supplement each other. However, all too often the first three loyalties are used as a substitute for the loyalty to Jesus Christ. We can so easily be caught up in a kind of "Churchianity," a particular form of modern heresy and schism. Indeed, to be faithful to a parish is a far EASIER commitment than to be faithful to Jesus Christ! And when we deal with our stewardship duties on the level of parish commitments, we run the very real risk of allowing these to be a substitute for any challenge to grow in relationship and commitment to God Himself. While we may say that our stewardship is a matter of the spirit, when push really comes to shove, it's the other loyalties on which we are really banking. That's the real message church members will hear - and it's the real message most of you have heard over the past half-century and more. Please consider that seriously in your examination of conscience before confession. The "Shame on You" Approach The "Shame-On-You" approach is the second of the three ineffective avenues to church funding. The message comes across something like this: as a nation we spend $3 billion on cosmetics, $3 billion on tobacco, $10 billion on entertainment, $12 billion on alcohol and $1.5 billion on churches and charities. The climax of this is the question, implied or explicit, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" The question is a valid one - but, of course, validity often has little to do with effectiveness, as when Christ told the Scribes and Pharisees to "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, but render unto God what is God's." They continued to do neither. If it is not obvious, it ought to be. The statistics above are, sadly, all too true. The priorities of most Americans, and likewise of most Orthodox Christians, are not what they ought to be. But this approach, like the one mentioned last week, puts the emphasis in the wrong place. As a nation, we are a comfort-loving and pleasure-seeking people. We must learn to recognize this not as something healthy and good, but as a sign of spiritual disease; we must learn to beg God's forgiveness, and with His help to begin loving Him more than we love our own selfish desires. But to play on people's guilt, as well-deserved as that guilt usually is - (it is that very guilt which probably caused them to be spending their money on comfort and pleasure in the first place) - can only increase their involvement with "how I feel," and concentrate their efforts all the more on feeling good again, because now they have been made "to feel bad." The emphasis on "feeling good" is a spiritual disease in its own right. But it serves little purpose, I think, to cater to it simply for the sake of a single purpose. There is a case to be made for making people feel guilty about those things for which they need to feel guilt, otherwise there is rarely ever any motivation to correct the habits and attitudes which give rise to the guilt - but it ought to be done for the sake of the spiritual welfare of the people themselves rather than simply and solely for the purpose of raising funds. The practice may get an increase in offerings, but almost certainly because the parishioners are thinking "Give him some money and he'll be quiet and I'll feel better." In the end, it always leads to leaving the church even more lacking in funds than before. But when a people will respond to nothing else there is nothing a pastor can do but to preach the truth and jab their consciences, no matter HOW badly it makes people feel. In the end, it all boils down to how prepared a people are to love their God and to demonstrate it in the details of their lives. The "Cry Poor" Approach The third tactic, often tried, is the "Cry Poor Approach." Not an illegitimate tactic as all that, since the facts of the matter are that the parish is living "in difficult times," but realities seldom seem to matter to people who are intent on maintaining their own values, rather than those of Jesus Christ. The message comes out something like this, however legitimate it may be: "Friends, we are living in difficult times. Our parish is in grave danger." And then are listed all the desperate needs of the parish which might include leaks in the roof, cracks in the sidewalk or foundations, the need for parish help (secretaries, housekeepers, janitors, etc.), perhaps a whole new school curriculum, if there is a parochial school attached. It all adds up to a message that says: "Poor old SS. Peter & Paul! Won't you all please dig a little deeper to help her out in this time of crisis?" The theory, of course, is that very few people can resist such a plea from their own parish. But the approach seems to have some severe liabilities. Far too many people use the "power of the pocketbook" to punish either the pastor, the parish or the bishop for real or imagined wrongs. Some simply like the feeling of power that defiance in the matter gives them. Some simply like to resist - against what, they do not know. But it feels good to reject the legitimate appeals of legitimate authority. It is a substitute way of "feeling free" without actually assuming the burdens of "being" free. The approach plays upon feelings, like the others. This time on the feeling of pity. Pity is NOT a Christian virtue. It is, in fact, the antithesis of one. Compassion is the Christian virtue; so is Empathy, so is Sympathy. But not pity! Pity is no more an appropriate basis for Christian Stewardship, for Christian giving, than is guilt. Certainly, when there is a special need, one beyond the normal resources of the parish budget, a special appeal must be made, and, indeed, should be made. And the parishioners should, from compassion, from divine love, respond generously. But simply to "cry poverty" as a matter of routine, is either to misrepresent the Church, the Glorious Mystical Body of Christ, the radiant Bride of Christ - or to represent sadly the real spiritual state of the parish when it becomes necessary to make those constant appeals. In an ideal parish, there ought hardly ever be a need for any appeals at all, save for the most serious of unexpected circumstances. And that should be the case simply because the people already are providing willingly, freely and out of love for their Divine Savior and the Church which He founded for their salvation, all that they already can provide. I'm very much afraid that the last circumstance is without doubt the least common circumstance in the United States. I know of no parish anywhere which is achieving, as a matter of course, anywhere close to the most minimal of what conscience would demand. There is a pettiness and smallness to stewardship in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad which indicates that our members have learned little of what is expected of them: "Of them to whom much has been given, from them will much be demanded." Note - the word is DEMANDED. Not "asked." Experience has shown that there is a way that is more theologically sound and much more spiritually challenging than the approaches just described. The Book of Genesis begins with the words: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The theme of God's ownership recurs in both the Old and the New Testaments. The author of Deuteronomy, after listing many of the accomplishments of the hand of man - the building of his house, of his herds and flocks, and his accumulation of money - then warns: "[Beware that] thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day." (Deuteronomy 8:17-18} God is the source, and man is the recipient, of God's gifts. In 1 Chronicles 29:14-16, King David prays, "But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from Thee, and of Thy own have we given Thee... Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building Thee a house for Thy Holy Name comes from Thy Hand and is all Thy Own." The same theme is caught by the prophet Malachi. He chastises the people for withholding their offerings to God, and He asks: "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, 'How are we robbing Thee?' In your tithes and offerings ... Bring the full tithe into the storehouse." {Malachi 3:8-10} Turning to the New Testament we hear the same basic principle sounded again: GOD IS THE OWNER OF ALL THINGS! In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus is saying that whatever we possess has been given by God's hand. And from the gift, some return to God is expected. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard declares that God is a giver of gifts, not wages, and that we do not earn His bounty. The words of the parable, "Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me," put in the mouth of God, are a proclamation of God's ownership of His creation. Indeed, the earth is the Lord's, and we are the recipients of His great gifts. Any coherent theology of money, the earning, spending, and giving of it, must begin with this. Indeed, the earth is the Lord's, and we are the recipients of His great gifts. Any coherent theology of money, the earning, spending and giving of it, must begin with this. This principle is expanded for a Christian in one magnificent way. The greatest gift of God to us is the Gift of His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and, through Him, the opportunity to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, when we think about the gifts of the earth, of life, and the human qualities of body, brain, talents and the like, and identify these as gifts of God, we have only begun to recognize His gracious self-emptying love to us. The Motive for Giving Understanding this, we give because that is one way we have of directly expressing our thanksgiving to God for these gifts. The purest of motives for giving is to give because we have been given to! Giving can be our thankful response to God, who has given to us. It is critical to note what that kind of motive does to (or for) the giver. To ask him to give out of thanksgiving is to ask him to relate creatively with his God, and NOT to a parish budget. This makes "giving" a matter of spiritual survival, rather than of parish survival. It asks a person to be a Christian with his money - and not just a fund raiser or budget supporter, which tends to support a parish with other people's money. A foundation built on these principles is not only desirable, but essential, to any stewardship effort. Indeed, built on such a foundation, our considerations of stewardship can then open up the genuine possibilities of spiritual growth, both in the life of the individual Christian and in the life of a parish as a whole. At this point we must begin to talk about a truly crucial concept. It is the principle of "Proportionate Giving." Proportionate giving involves two points: (1) that our level of giving rises out of our level of income; (2) that giving out of thanks for God's blessings will involve sharing a portion of that income with others. A great deal is said today about tithing as the highest form of proportional giving. The 10% tithe has often been held up as "the standard" for Christian stewards, and there are many advantages to it. (1) It is a Biblical standard; (2) It is related to income and not to a church's budget; (3) It has a "universality" about it, in that the concept itself is at least as old as the Old Testament; (4) It is childishly easy to figure. Write down the amount of your gross weekly income, and move the decimal one place to the left. THAT is your "tithe." However, as St. Paul observed, we are no longer under the Law, but under grace. This is what St. John Chrysostom has to say: "Woe to him, it is said, who doeth not alms; and if this was the case under the Old Covenant, much more is it under the New. If, where the getting of wealth was allowed, and the enjoyment of it, and the care of it, there was such provision made for the succoring the poor, how much more in that Dispensation, where we are commanded to surrender all we have? For what did they of old not do? They gave tithes, and tithes again upon tithes for orphans, widows and strangers; whereas some one was saying to me in astonishment at another, 'Why, such an one gives tithes.' What a load of disgrace does this expression imply, since what was not a matter of wonder with the Jews has come to be so in the case of the Christians? If there was danger then in omitting tithes, think how great it must be now." St. John Chrysostom, Homily IV on Ephesians, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 13, p. 69. If a Christian, recognizing that all he possesses is from God and wanting in gratitude to return a portion of his income to Him, is nevertheless afraid to give 10%, the loving Father accepts his gift. No gift of ours can ever "repay" God's gift of Himself to us, but in love we give what we can. We use something dear to us - not nearly as dear to us as His Son was to Him - MONEY - to express in practical terms our relationship with the Lord. The advantage of "proportionate giving" is that it allows us to express this love no matter how little we happen to have, or how we happen to feel about it. The method is simple. Take your annual gross income and multiply it by the percentage that you want to share with God in your material giving: (e.g., for 12% multiply by .12) then divide that amount by the weeks in one year, fifty-two. Or figure the percentage you have chosen from your income for each week as it comes. The amount you come up with seldom comes out to even dollar amounts. But that has the real value of moving away from the prison that puts gifts in round numbers without basing the giving on any systematic measure. A weekly gift of an odd amount - $72.11, for example - will continually focus attention on the percentage and will be a constant affirmation of the person as a proportionate giver every time the check is written. The major advantages of proportionate giving are: (1) It puts the emphasis where it belongs; on giving out of income. (2) It keeps a person honest about his giving; honest about the real value of his gift in relation to what he has. The measure is not by pure dollar amounts, against what others with more can give, or against what others with less are able to give. The measure remains where it needs to be - yourself against the Biblical standard, what you give against what God has given you. (3) It allows every person to stand on equal ground as givers. The giver with modest income who gives 10 percent of that income is able to be affirmed in his giving along with the big giver who gives 10 percent of a much larger income. Their dollar amounts will vary considerably, but each is sharing equally with God through the Church out of what he has. EVERY good gift comes down from the Father of Lights. In giving to His Church a proportion of those gifts, we follow His glorious example in love. "Let each of you regularly on the first day of the week set aside a proportion as God has prospered him." (1 Corinthians 16:2} Proportionate Gift Per Week If Annual Gross Income is: Annual Income 1% per week 3% per week 5% per week 10% per week 12% per week $5,000 0.96 2.88 4.81 9.61 11.54 $10,000 1.92 5.77 9.62 19.23 23.08 $15,000 2.88 8.65 14.42 28.85 34.62 $20,000 3.84 11.54 19.23 38.46 46.15 $25,000 4.80 14.42 24.03 48.07 57.69 $30,000 5.76 17.30 28.84 57.69 69.23 $40,000 7.69 23.07 38.46 76.92 92.30 $50,000 9.61 28.84 48.07 96.15 115.38 $75,000 14.42 43.26 72.11 144.23 173.07 $100,000 19.23 57.69 96.15 192.30 230.76 $125,000 24.03 72.11 120.19 240.38 288.46 Proportionate Gift Per Month If Annual Gross Income is: Annual Income 1% per month 3% per month 5% per month 10% per month 12% per month $5,000 4.16 12.50 20.83 41.66 50.00 $10,000 8.33 25.00 41.66 83.33 100.00 $15,000 12.50 37.50 62.50 125.00 150.00 $20,000 16.66 50.00 83.33 166.66 200.00 $25,000 20.83 62.50 104.16 208.33 250.00 $30,000 25.00 75.00 125.00 250.00 300.00 $40,000 33.33 100.00 166.66 333.33 400.00 $50,000 41.66 125.00 208.33 416.66 500.00 $75,000 62.50 187.50 312.50 625.00 750.00 $100,000 83.33 250.00 416.66 833.33 1,000.00 $125,000 104.16 312.50 520.83 1,041.66 1,250.00 "And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to have it and keep it."{Genesis 2:15) When the Lord had finished the original work of creation and called it "very good," He took man, the walking, breathing, thinking Icon of Himself, and set him in the midst of it all to manage it and care for it. The world was God's and everything in it, but the joy and honor of being eternally occupied with His Father's business was given to man. This worked out well for a while. As long as Adam realized that it all belonged to the Lord and while he lived in harmony with the Lord's Will, he was able to make all the right choices and keep the Garden the way God wanted it kept. The trouble came when Adam got the idea that he knew as much as his Creator: that at least part of the creation (the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) belonged to him personally, and that it was selfish and unfair of God to tell him how to dispose of his own property. In short, man lost Paradise because he thought that his ways were better than God's ways. He said to God, "I can take care of myself." It was a kind of Declaration of Independence. God honored man's demands and withdrew from the harmonious communion they had shared. Adam discovered, however, as is the case in most divorces, that what had promised to be freedom turned out to be slavery, and that instead of Paradise, there remained only a wasteland. The final blow as man's discovery that he had cast off a loving Father only to acquire two wicked and harsh taskmasters: Sin and Death. Fortunately, God was too kind to abandon man to the eternal tyranny of sin and death. At once He set out to woo mankind back. He spoke to a few who were still faithful to their true Father. Enoch walked with God and "was taken up lest he should see death." (Heb. 11:5) Noah also had such faith and ignored the scoffing of his neighbors to prepare an ark. At length, God called Abraham who abandoned the wealth and prosperity of his earthly city to wander in a strange country. (Genesis 12:1-8) God taught man through sacrifices and through the written law, to offer Him a portion, the best tenth of all that he acquired, as a sign of acknowledgment that God is King of all. Not that these sacrifices, offered time and again by feeble and sin-laden men had any real value, (Heb. 9:9) for God does not eat the flesh of bulls or drink goat's blood. (Psalm 50:13) Rather these were like primary school games meant to prepare children for adult life. They were "shadows of things to come." (Heb. 10:1) God also sent holy men: prophets, to warn the people that the mere performance of rituals was not only unacceptable, but a stench to His nostrils. (Proverbs 21-27) Then, in the fullness of time, God the Father sent His Only and Eternal Son, born of a woman, born under the Old Law, to buy us back. Jesus Christ was the Father's special gift of love to us. As Jesus Himself declared; "God the Father so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life." (John 3:16) Jesus didn't die only for the good people, otherwise nobody would have been saved. Saint Paul rather tells us that all have sinned and "fallen short." (Romans 3:12) Rather, He was, as St. John the Baptist announced, "The Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29) It was "While we were yet sinners that Christ died for us." By His coming and offering of Himself for us, He not only opened the Gates of Paradise to Adam, and to all who had lived by faith under the OLD Law, but He gave us New Life as well - and the power to become the Sons of God! Not sons "born from above," as He was, (John 1:12-13) but sons "born again of water and the spirit." (John 3:1-9) Now we are beneficiaries not only of the first creation, but also of the second. Not only are we the restored Icons of our Heavenly Creator, but we are His SONS AND DAUGHTERS! And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been made true members of the Mystical Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) "For thou didst not cease to do all good things for us until Thou hadst raised us up to Heaven and bestowed upon us Thy Kingdom which is to come." (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom) What, then, is our task but that of Adam? To be stewards of all good things, and to tend the Treasure House of God? For us, then, there can be no talk of "paying my dues." We, with Abraham, realize that we are but strangers and pilgrims in this world; that we brought nothing into it with us, and that we can certainly carry nothing out. The whole earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it! We acknowledge that we owe God everything, even Life, both natural life and everlasting life. We recognize a summons to a commitment that is not partial, but TOTAL. Or, in the Words of Our Lord: "Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength." (Mark 12:30) If you disagree with the assertion that God has a claim on your entire life, or that He is ready and willing to direct you in the discharge of your duty, lovingly to manage all that He has given to you - if you don't agree that you owe ALL to Christ and that Christ is able to take care of you - then don't bother to read any farther. Furthermore, you might very well be questioning whether it is of any benefit to you, personally, to consider yourself a Christian at all. It is certain you are doing no good at all for the cause of Christ, and little, if anything for your own. If, however, you accept Christ's lordship in your life, then you are a Christian; and as an Orthodox Christian, a steward (trustee or manager) of the Mysteries of Jesus Christ. It is to you that what follows will be of interest and of help in living your total commitment to the Lord. Of What Am I a Steward? As you have already gathered, to be a Christian means to be "a steward or trustee for God." But what does this involve? Well, we said that Christian Commitment must be unconditional and total, so that it involves quite literally everything. Jesus often equated unrepentant sinners with bad, dishonest, careless or unappreciative stewards. (e.g. Matt. 21:33-43) As we have seen, this was the cause of Man's original downfall and the source of the great problems which yet plague mankind: war, famine, pollution, etc. These are the collective manifestations of a whole lot of mismanaged lives. Let's make an inventory of the things of which we are to be stewards. Of course, we think first of our money and possessions, and it is surely these with which we will be dealing primarily; still, let's make a list of the things God has given us to hold in trust, and we'll find that these things still fall pretty close to the bottom - which is not at all the same thing as saying that they are negligible therefore, and can safely be ignored. 1) The Christian Gospel and the Mysteries (Sacraments); 2) Life itself - our own, and those given for a time into our charge (children, etc.); 3) Physical health; 4) Personal relationships with others; 5) Time; 6) Talents, skills, education and abilities; 7) Material possessions, property, wealth; 8) power or authority conferred by rank or honor (political, military or ecclesiastical office). I am steward of: 1) THE GOSPEL AND THE MYSTERIES OF JESUS CHRIST. We are all called to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ to all men (Mark 16:15) and to come together with our brethren to offer our common Liturgy (Greek = "leiturgeia" - "the work of the people.") to God and to make frequent use of the Mysteries of God and other means of His Grace. 2) LIFE: We are to cherish and to protect human life, born and unborn; to stand up for the right to life of the weak, the defenseless, the elderly, the unborn. We are to cherish our own everlasting life and the everlasting lives of others over and above our mortal lives, and to seek first the Kingdom of God. We are to direct the hearts and minds of our children, grandchildren and other charges toward the attainment of everlasting life. 3) PHYSICAL HEALTH: We are to care for our own bodies and those of others and to treat them for what they are - living temples of the Holy Spirit, and not willingly to weaken, destroy or profane them by excessive eating, drinking, smoking, use of dangerous drugs or immorality of any sort. 4) PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS: We are to love others in much the same way as we are to love ourselves, and we are to be like unto Christ and to see Christ even in the most wicked and insufferable of our fellow human beings. 5) TIME: We are to extend the victory of Christ over death into every moment of every day, to "redeem the times," "to pray without ceasing," and to do everything we do, whatever it is, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. 6) TALENTS, SKILLS, EDUCATION, AND ABILITIES: We are to consecrate to God both our inherent and developed talents, skills and abilities; to employ them for the building up of the Kingdom of Christ; to seek our place in the life of the Church; for there are many gifts from the One Spirit, just as there are many functions assigned the organic members of the human body. (1 Corinthians 12:1-12) 7) PROPERTY, MATERIAL POSSESSIONS, WEALTH: We are to hold our material possessions in trust, to provide for our needs and for those of our dependents, to care for the poor, and to provide for the spreading of the Gospel; for the spiritual and physical well-being of the clergy and the people of God's household. ("Do good unto all, most especially to those who are of the household of the Faith") and for the erection, provision and maintenance of the temples of God. 8) POWER: We must never exercise any office of authority as if the power were our own as the "princes of the Gentiles do" but as a trust from God. (Jesus said, "All authority in Heaven and on earth is given to Me.") All of these areas, and perhaps as many more, demand our personal care as stewards, and we have said that stewardship of money is not first on the list. As with many other matters, however lesser things require the first attention. Thus, in the management of our earthly goods lies the key to our stewardship in all other areas. Perhaps this is because men tend to make idols of their possessions. St. Paul warns us: "Brethren, put off the covetousness which is idolatry." At any rate, Jesus tells us that a man must serve either God or money, but not both. (Mt. 6:24) and that where our treasure is deposited is where the true affections of our hearts will abide (Mt. 6:19-21) All of which brings us naturally to the next question. How Should I Give? And How Much? The question "How should I give?" is clearly answered in the Holy Scriptures. First, we must remember that our gifts will be no more acceptable to God than the grudging offering of Cain, if we do not first give ourselves to God totally. (2 Corinthians 8:5} Secondly, we must give out of love for God, not for the praise of men, nor for the feeling of superiority it gives us, nor for the tax benefits that accrue from a deduction under IRS regulations, nor even because we'd feel guilty if we did not give; WE give only because we have a sincere gratitude to the Father for His gift of His Only-Begotten Son to us. We are to free our hearts from bitterness toward our fellows ("Go first and make up with your brother, and then come and offer your gift!") We are to give with JOY ("For the Lord loves a cheerful giver." See Saint Paul's encomium on love in 1 Corinthians 13:3.) We must also, and above all, give with hearts full of love, not only for God, but with love for one another. For even if we gave everything we owned to the poor, if we did so without love, it would be as nothing. We should, then, give prayerfully, lovingly, and quietly, having first given our very lives. Only then may we begin to give of the outward symbols of our lives to God and have it be a meaningful gift to Him. But the Scriptures give us even more explicit directions on how and when and what we should offer. Here is what Saint Paul tells us: "Upon the first day of the week (Sunday) let every one of you lay aside some of that with which God has prospered him." (1 Corinthians 16:2) Who Then Should Give? EVERY CHRISTIAN! When should we give? EVERY SUNDAY! How should we give? REGULARLY! How much should we give? A PROPORTION OF WHAT THE LORD HAS GIVEN US! So we can see that our giving should be regular, every Sunday, and proportionate to our income, and that it is an obligation incumbent upon everyone throughout the entire Church - not simply to those who are rich or comfortably well off. The obligation binds EVEN THE POOR! Now, as to what proportion of our income we ought to give, there is a different matter. We have already demonstrated that the OLD Testament standard was a tithe, 10% of one's increase. Early Christians took this a minimum and had all things in common, as we see in the Book of Acts. If Orthodox Christians today even approximated the tithe, the Church's finances would permit it to do immensely more good than it can at present. Current giving for the average Orthodox Christian in the United States is two-tenths of one percent of what God has given them! Frankly, that's a disgrace. Twenty years ago, the average Orthodox Christian, who made a good deal less in comparison to his peers then than he does now, gave on average nearly three percent. But we have also seen that Christians are constrained by the Law of Love, not merely by the Old Covenant. A better question then would be, "HOW MUCH OF MY INCOME MAY I WITHHOLD FOR MY OWN USE AND FOR MY FAMILY'S? The obvious answer, of course, would be "as much as you need to fulfill your real needs as the Lord leads you, in prayer, to see those needs. If this rule - first pray for direction, then keep out what you need and give away the rest - were followed, most families in the U.S. would give WELL over 10% of their income a week to the Lord's Work. The Lord has been that generous to them! I know, I know. Some of you folks out there are going to complain that I'm ignoring poor old grandmother, living on Social Security, who dutifully puts her dollar into the collection basket every Sunday. As a matter of fact, some of those on Social Security are giving considerably MORE than those who make many times their income already. But that's hardly what's intended at all. Remember how much Our Lord approved of the poor widow's mite, which was all she had, far more than he approved of the rich man's gift of thousands, which was only a small portion of his wealth. (Mark 12:41) The fact is simply that if Christians gave as they should there wouldn't BE any poor or hungry people in our parishes! And we wouldn't need the government to do it for us! Seeing, then, that the Lord Himself has made it clear how we should give of the material possessions with which He has trusted us, the question remains, and continues to require an individual answer from each and every one of you: "Why don't you give as the Lord has said you should? Why don't you give what the Lord has asked of you? Do you truly love the Lord? Or can you not trust Him to provide what you think you need? How strong is your faith, anyhow?" Hangups and Copouts Two of the more recent contributions to our vocabulary from the "Youth Culture" have been the "hangup" and the "copout." Descriptive, indeed. It would be difficult indeed to find two expressions more apt in describing the problems too many Orthodox Christians have with the Biblical command to give regularly and proportionately in sacrificial giving to the Lord's work. We can probably best define "hangups" as the unconscious attitudes or prejudices which effect our behavior. "Copouts" are those conscious or unconscious excuses or rationalizations which we use to conceal the real motives for our acts or for our failures to act. Now, inasmuch as God's command to worship Him with the first fruits of our increase, and to do so on a regular and proportionate basis is quite totally unqualified by any "ifs," "ands" or "buts" whatever, and inasmuch as it is addressed quite specifically to every Christian, not simply to the well-to-do, we MUST assume that anyone who fails to do any of the above (i.e., give either of the first-fruits, give proportionately, or give regularly - or any combination of the above) is either (a) not really a Christian at all, or (b) is ignorant of the Lord's commands in the matter, or (c) is "hungup" about the idea. Or (d) is "copping out" by giving what may SOUND like a good excuse where in fact THERE CAN BE NO EXCUSE!!! Now, the answer for someone who isn't really Christian is conversion. For the ignorant, the answer is education, which is the purpose of this entire series of articles. But for the others, c and d, the only possible solution is to expose "the hidden things of darkness" to the all-revealing Light of Christ. We are all familiar with the questionnaire which allows one to avoid making simple YES or NO answers by checking a box marked "yes, with qualifications." God's call, however, is to TOTAL COMMITMENT, and there IS no "yes, with qualifications" you can give to Jesus' question, "Do you love Me?" The answer, remember, was that "If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments!" All of them. Not most of them. Not all but one. ALL of them! Next I'll examine the problems people have with making their offerings - problems YOU have, and you'll see that NONE of them can stand up in the Light of the Gospels and the Word of God. The "Money" Hangup Most people, including most of the Orthodox Christians I know, have very peculiar feelings about money, which they do not, for the most part, really understand. They have been deceived by Satan in much the same way as Satan deceived our First Parents, just as he did Cain, and the Children of Israel in the Wilderness when "they exchanged their glory for the statue of a calf of gold that eats hay." Money is a little bit like a sacrament, in the sense that, like Sacraments are "outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace," money is an "outward sign of our lives and our labors." So, if people are hung up about the nature of their lives, they must necessarily be hung up about "their" money, too. If they are hung up about their money, on the other hand, it is an absolute certainty that they are quite wrong about the nature of their lives as well. To some, money is power. When they have lots of money and the things it buys, they feel superior, powerful - important. "Money talks," goes the old saying, and the promises it whispers can be a cruel, and misleading mockery of the Gospel's Message. Some try to buy love and affection with their money, but having failed to have first given themselves to the Lord, who alone is the Source of Love, they are either unable to give OR receive love - they can only have the outward appearances of it, never the reality. Since they cannot buy the reality of love from God, the only thing they can now do with their money is try to buy, to own, other people. And even when they appear to succeed at this, they succeed in appearance only to the destruction of that which they most wish to possess - the love of these people, because people WILL NOT LOVE A SLAVEMASTER! Some seem to believe they can even buy Eternal Life, either through medicine and expensive treatments, or through imposing monuments to their own importance - big buildings, streets named after them, statues raised in their honor. Sometimes they establish large and famous trusts to extend their influence into future generations - as though God could not provide for those generations without them. Like the fools of old, they seem to say "We have made an arrangement with Death, and an agreement with the Grave." Jesus has already spoken of and to such as these: "He who seeks to save his life will lose it." Some even try to bribe God. I cannot tell you how often I've been told by people seeking favors from me as pastor that they can find a priest to do it for them, however wrong. All they have to do is offer enough money. I've always suggested they go and try to find one. They never do. For some things, there isn't enough money in the WORLD to pay for the kinds of things these people want. Then there are the ones who give - often generously. But usually very selectively, and with much show and publicity - sometimes to the Church, sometimes to charities. But these invariably insist that their "generosity" be made known, somehow. Either by printing it in an annual statement, or with a public announcement in the bulletin - somehow, they demand recognition for having done what was already their duty to have done. Like the Israelites of Elijah's day, they "go around limping with two opinions," and because such a person has already failed to give himself or herself totally to God, tragedy awaits him. Sooner or later. "His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth. On that very day all his plans perish." "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26) "I Can't Afford to Give!" This person has an apparent dilemma. He may know that God has commanded him to give regularly, sacrificially and proportionately, of everything he possesses. On the other hand, his needs (as he feels them) consume all his income. Often more than he makes. A real Christian solution to this dilemma is to re-evaluate those "needs" and see which ones are really necessary, and which are really luxuries. Cigarettes, alcohol, second automobiles, weekly visits to the beauty parlor, daily visits to the local bar, Bingo games, lottery tickets, candy, assorted "goodies" - none of these things have anything at all essential to do with Christian life. There are, of course, unusual cases, in which an individual truly has nothing left after necessities provided for himself and for those dependent upon him. He should then offer, like the trusting Widow of the gospel, his token "mite" and trust that by God's grace he will "reap abundantly." Besides, it is for the sake of such as these that the rest of us are commanded to be diligent in our giving - that from the abundance given us, others may not do without. Indeed, even the rare person who can make only a "token" offering, if he has first given himself to the Lord, will find ways to contribute to the work of the Lord in ways which are sometimes far more constructive than money itself. He can labor in God's Temple, work for the relief and comfort of the sick and lonely, and finally, when there is nothing left to give, offer his own prayers and sufferings as prayers and petitions of incense before the face of God for the sins of all mankind. Usually, however, when people say "I can't afford to give," what they really mean is "I can't afford to give, without giving something UP." Or, "I am not willing to suffer the disruption to my plans and lifestyle which true Christian giving would require." Like the seed cast among the thorns, they may want to live the Faith, but because they are afraid to give themselves totally to the Lord, "they are choked with cares and riches and the pleasures of this life, and they bring forth no fruit." (Luke 8:14) With the rich young man "who went away sad," these people, hearing Christ's invitation to abandon everything and follow Him, go away full of sorrow. Some will sincerely ask, "OK, but what difference does my little offering make?" To the world, perhaps not much. To the Lord, and surely to YOU, it is all the difference IN the world! Our Lord showed us the answer to that one when he took five little loaves of bread offered sincerely by a poor little boy, and with them fed five thousand hungry people. He still feeds us the very Precious Mysteries of His Own Body and Blood with a few pennies worth of homemade bread and a little bit of inexpensive wine. Even a small gift, in the hand of the righteous, is better than the offerings of princes. Who can say how many hungry mouths have been fed, how many cathedrals to the glory of God, how many souls brought to Eternal Life, through the devoutly offered pennies of the humble and blessed poor? More than all the riches of the powerful, I suspect. How much more, then, ought we, the twentieth century inhabitants of the richest nation in the history of the world, almost all of whom, including those WE call "poor" live better than the Kings of our Lord's Own day lived, how much more then ought we be grateful, and give generously to the Lord from the substance He has given us? "I'll Give Later - When I'm Established!" Back in the early Sixties, there was a popular song titled "Use Me, God...But Not Just Yet." There is and always has been much of that sentiment around. It is no more valid than the previous two. This is the one most often affected by the young and middle-aged people who are often, because of that very fact, BEST able to carry the burden of the Lord's work. For these folks, commitment (usually in their marriages and careers as well) is something they always PLAN to make... sometime "soon." Sadly, experience shows that most of these will go to their graves either still procrastinating or no longer even bothering to make excuses. The latter is far and away more common. They live as though life in this world is the important thing - and everlasting life just an afterthought. Like the men who told Jesus they would follow Him - but let me just do this one thing first... they say: Sure, Lord, I'll follow You! Just wait till I (finish my schooling) (establish my family) (build my home) (raise my kids) (peak my career) (get my kids through college) (take care of my retirement) (pick one)." Our Lord told us of just one such a man who did awake - in Hell, to the realization that he had thought just a little TOO long about his own comforts. But by then, it was too late, and there was already a "great gulf" fixed between himself and Father Abraham. (Luke 16:19-31) Again, Jesus told of another man, who, like so many all of us know, devoted all his energy and concern toward building security for himself. He found his life cut short at the very moment he thought he had succeeded. To him, the Father said, "Thou fool! This very night shall thy soul be demanded of thee," and of him Our Lord says, "It is the same thing with anyone who lays up treasure for himself, but is not rich and generous toward God." (Luke 12:31-21) "But I Give In Other Ways!" HURRAY! OUTTASIGHT! Restricted gifts for special purposes (i.e., icons, vestments, gifts-in-kind, labor, materials, time, skill, whatever) and work on special parish charitable and fund-raising projects are all good and important ways to serve the Lord's Kingdom. Nevertheless, one must recognize as well, that one may not substitute this kind of giving for the monetary gift which is commanded. These kinds of gifts are to be offered either in addition to, or in lieu of inability to provide the first. Even so, the fact remains, THE REGULAR, SYSTEMATIC, SUNDAY BY SUNDAY, PROPORTIONATE GIVING OF THE FIRST FRUITS OF OUR INCREASE TO THE LORD IS THE KIND OF GIVING THAT GOD HIMSELF HAS COMMANDED." That kind of giving enables us to be spiritually responsible in our giving. It permits the Church to budget its resources, and by allowing it to budget, instead of forcing it to hold back in fear that next week the income will be less, allow it to exercise good stewardship in the disposition of what is given. Finally, it allows us the grace of prayerfully entering into that Covenant with the Lord which is a covenant for eternity. When we h Faith and Trust and take the Lord into our day to day lives as a partner, then we become privileged to see how HE works to bring good to us - in ALL things, including the things that give us the least pleasure. "SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD," Christ admonished us. "And the rest will be added unto you." "Don't worry about food or drink or clothing; these are things the heathens and pagans worry about. Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things. He will provide them." (Matthew 6:31-32) ONLY when we give our total commitment, when we give our entire life to the Lord, can we sing with David: This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes! Responses Since I began to talk about tithing more than ten years ago, I have had a good deal of response (or feedback, if you will). I find it utterly fascinating that so many have considered it as "too idealistic," by which they mean, I gather, that however much tithing is a correct teaching of the Church, there is no way most people will be persuaded to give that kind of money. That had occurred to me, even as I was writing it. Oddly, though, that same standard seems not to apply to sins of other categories. For example, nobody has suggested that we cease to preach against the sin of stealing on the premise that one is not going to stop theft from occurring anyhow. Nor has anyone suggested that we quit preaching against murder, abortion, rape, fornication, adultery or any of the other manifold sins of which human beings are guilty simply because it was foreseeable that one would fail to dissuade everyone from doing it. It's odd that it should ONLY occur when money was involved, almost as though money and morality are not intrinsically linked and intertwined in the Plan of God. Nonsense. As I have shown, they ARE intimately linked, and your very salvation will depend upon how you react to possessions and money, how you deal with them, how you administer them. Heaven and hell hinge upon this, among other things. But we need only to fail in one area to lose the Kingdom of Heaven. It does not require a failure in every area, just one. And this is probably going to prove the most common one of all. The prime duty of every bishop and priest is clear and simple. It was given by Christ Himself, shortly before His Ascension into heaven. "Go forth into the world, preaching and teaching them all whatsoever I have commanded you, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Everything else, EVERYTHING ELSE, is absolutely peripheral. We are not to pretty things up to make things more palatable, nor make things darker than they are. We are to preach whatsoever He has preached and commanded that we, in His footsteps, preach as well, however unpopular. This the Church has always done. This She shall continue to do. We, ourselves, will have to make the ultimate decision of whether or not to obey the Lord, and provide Him with that which is His due. That, or be prepared to accept His Just Judgment upon us for having willingly and knowingly chosen to have done otherwise.

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St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas