TITHES and OFFERINGS, 1
Very Rev Dr Michael Protopopov OAM
Dean of the Churches in the State of Victoria
THIS MONTH, we enter the Holy and Great Lent, a time when, among other spiritual disciplines, we apply ourselves more especially to almsgiving. It seems a good time then to introduce the whole subject of our financial commitment to the Church and her ministry. Below, with permission, we print one of the talks given at the 42nd Annual Russian Orthodox Youth Conference of the Australia - New Zealand Diocese of ROCA, held in Adelaide, 2006. The article is addressed to young people and is set in a particularly Russian context, but we believe that it will be helpful for all Orthodox Christians, of any age or any cultural background.
MANYYOUNG PEOPLE, having heard the account of Our Lord overturning the tables of the money changers and driving them from the Temple in Jerusalem,1 believe that money has no place in the life of the Church. This belief is reinforced by such quotations as: “Money is the root of all evil2 … A rich man shall find it almost impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven3 …etc.”
Furthermore, in the Russian psyche; money and the clergy have had a bad press for years. The Bolsheviks, in their class war against the clergy, promoted the image of bishops and priests as money grabbing oppressors of the working class.
Simplistically, money is portrayed as something evil, when in reality money, per se, is neither good nor evil. St Paul reminds Timothy that it is the love of money which is the root of all evil, whereas money is what we make of it. If we use it for good - it can become a blessing as in the case of the widow who gave two mites at the Temple door,4 or as in the parable with the two silver shekels.5 Or if used selfishly, it can become a thing of great evil and condemnation, as with the Rich Man who ignored the plight of Lazarus at his front gate.6
Money in the form of offerings and tithes has existed in the life of the Church since the beginning of corporate worship as introduced in the time of the Prophet Moses. In the Book of Exodus, the Lord instructs Moses to take a census of the Israelites and each person was to make an offering of half a shekel to the Lord.7 Obviously, the Lord was not in need of money, but He understands that it is in the human nature to be protective of one’s own property and disinclined to share it with others. Thus the offering was to teach the Israelites the lesson of giving, of sharing and not of regretting the loss of something they prized; whilst contributing towards the upkeep of the Tabernacle. This money was called atonement money8 and was given to the Tabernacle as an offering, a sacrifice, together with the prayers of the faithful for the remission of sins.
This becomes the first important lesson for us to learn. Whereas God wants nothing from us save a contrite heart, He has instituted for our salvation the principle of us sharing those things which appear to us to be important. As the sin of greed destroys the virtues of compassion and charity, so generosity reverses the process, and teaches one to show love through giving.
The second important lesson is that the Tabernacle and the Temple of the Old Testament and, consequently, the Church of the New Testament, are supported by the faithful through offerings and tithes.9 Moses reminds the Israelites that they must not only support the Tabernacle but also the priests who serve the Tabernacle. The Prophet instructs the people that the clergy were to be provided for by the Tabernacle because they serve God in the Tabernacle.10 Hence the introduction of tithing.