Stewardship?

Christ The Sower

Per OrthodoxWiki, “A tithe (from Old English teogoþa, “tenth”) is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to the Church as a part of Christian stewardship. Because it is voluntary and based on percentage of income, it is distinct from the concept of a due. Today, tithes (or tithing) are normally voluntary and paid in cash, checks, or electronic funds transfers, whereas historically tithes could be paid in kind, such as agricultural products. Several European countries operate a formal process linked to the tax system allowing some churches to assess tithes.”  Several European countries collect tithes on behalf of church organizations along with state taxes.

In recent years, tithing has been revived in Orthodox Churches as a form of stewardship that God requires of Christians. The primary argument is that God has never formally abolished the tithe, and thus Christians should pay the tithe (usually calculated at 10 percent of all gross income from all sources), usually to the local congregation (though some teach that a part of the tithe can go to other Christian ministries, so long as total giving is at least 10 percent).

I will not review Holy Scripture as it pertains to Tithing, as there are plenty of Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testament to support a Tithe.  Though some would say Jesus Christ abolished the Tithe, and others will say He did not.

Fr. Dmitri Cosby states, in Tithes and Firstfruits; “Our basic understanding as Orthodox Christians, derived from the Old Testament, is that everything comes from God. All that we have or hope to possess, beginning with life itself, is His gift. We acknowledge this fact in our spiritual life through prayer and fasting and through our struggle to follow His commandments. With regard to our material blessings, we confess that He is their true source by returning a portion to Him, to be used for His purposes in this world. These works include the maintenance of worship, the support of those called to His special service, and aid for the poor. By thus giving a portion of our wealth for His purposes, we sanctify the remainder. Through offering a part, we bring the whole of our lives into harmony with God’s will.”

St Irenaeus, writing toward the end of the second century, notes that Christ Himself “gave directions to His disciples to offer the firstfruits of His own created things not as if He stood in need of them, but that they might be themselves neither unfruitful nor ungrateful.”

St John Chrysostom contends that the tithe is more binding on us than on the Jews. In one of his sermons, he notes that under the Old Testament, tithing was the norm. Among Christians, however, it has become a cause for amazement; we exclaim in wonder, “Why, so-and-so tithes!” St John finds this a sad reflection on our piety and ends with the warning, “if it was a danger to neglect the tithe then, imagine how serious it must be now!”

So how does a Parish survive?  How are the bills paid and supplies purchased?  How does the Priest provide for his family?

As much as we might groan and grumble about it, we know that paying taxes is part of our responsibility as citizens of this country. Just as we should know that as parishioners we have a responsibility to contribute to the financial support of our parish. It is evident, however, from the strained and meager budgets on which so many of our parishes operate that this is a sadly neglected area of our Orthodox Christian life especially in ROCOR where a majority of Her Priests have to work a secular job in order to provide for their families, while also providing for their Church!

These practical considerations, that is, paying the bills and providing for the Priest, however, are not the heart of the matter, which is, first and foremost, a spiritual concern. Supporting one’s parish should be as much an accepted part of spiritual life as prayer and fasting. We give not for the benefit of our parish – this is simply a consequence; we give for the benefit of our souls. Our giving should be guided not by parish budgets but by Biblical principles.

In this spirit, we can see that tithing is a baseline requirement, as it were, of our spiritual life. We should practice tithing as a matter of course. Nor should this give us cause to be proud, for we are simply doing that which is our duty to do, as unprofitable servants (cf. Luke 17:10). Tithing precedes almsgiving on the path to perfection where, far ahead of us, we have the example of those early Christians who sold their houses and lands and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet for distribution (Acts 4:32-25), and of the widow whose two mites that she cast into the treasury constituted all her living (Mark 12:42-44).

Yes, in the ‘old country’ the state provided for and in some countries still do, provide for the Church and her Priests.  We live in the United States where this does not happen, and rightly so.  It is our duty as an Orthodox Christian to provide for the Church.  It is a matter of our souls!

Why do we not do this?

Why do we talk about “stewardship” and not “tithing?”

 A Steward is a person who has temporary custody of a particular item or piece of property until the owner asks that person to give an accounting for the way that item was used. We are all Stewards. God has given us our Time, Talents, and Treasures so that we might invest them wisely as we work together as agents in His plan for the salvation of the universe. Like all Stewards, we will one day have to give an accounting for the way we used these precious gifts.

Tithing is only one element of our responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ. Tithing (or committing 10% of our income to the work of the Church) is the biblical minimum standard of giving for all Christians, first stated in the Old Testament and explicitly called for in our own Archdiocesan regulations. But Jesus calls us to commit 100% of ourselves to Him. When we fill out our pledge cards, we should budget to follow the biblically mandated minimum of the tithe; but when we plan our day, do we plan to live as Christians only 10% of the time? God forbid!

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About padrerichard

I am a Priest with ROCOR and serve as Rector at St. Joseph of Optina Parish in Virginia Beach, VA
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