6 Reasons Why Tithing is Good for an Orthodox Parish

magi
Tithing is good for the Orthodox Christian and therefore good for the Orthodox parish. So why don’t more Orthodox Christians tithe?

We know the usual reasons: We’re not used to it. Back in the old country the government paid for the church. The parish was founded on the “dues” model. Tithing is “Protestant.” Orthodox people are stingy. We just don’t have it in our culture.

Those things are all true in one way or another, but I don’t think those are the real reasons that we do not tithe very much as Orthodox Christians. There are some who do, of course, but it’s not very many of us. So what is the reason why we’re so terrible at tithing?

I believe that it is because we don’t know why we tithe.

And because we don’t know why, we don’t do it. And when we don’t do it, then we come up with the various reasons given above as the cause of our non-tithing. But those aren’t the real reasons. It’s because we don’t know why we should tithe.

Now, the reasons I am going to list below are not all equally important. Indeed, if I had to answer the question, “Why should I tithe?” I would answer only with #1. That’s the real reason. #2-#6 are essentially useful effects of tithing that should help us to focus on #1.

So here are six of my reasons. #1 is the most important and really the point of all of it.

1. Tithing enables us to be saved.

As Christians, we want to be saved. We want to be healed. We want to “go to heaven” rather than to hell when we die (setting aside for the moment all the details). We want to become like Christ. Tithing doesn’t purchase all that for us, but tithing is a powerful way that we give of ourselves, that we turn over what we have to God so that we are opened to received His healing and blessing.

It’s a basic principle of Christian spiritual life that we cannot receive God’s blessing if we are holding back on Him. Why? We can’t be filled with God if we remain full of ourselves. Tithing helps us to empty ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong—giving money is not the only way that we work out our salvation and become open to receiving blessings. But whatever we have, we have to give to God. And if we have money, then we have to give money. If we don’t have money, then of course we don’t have to give it. But we have to give what we have, whatever it is, and with the way our culture is so grasping and possessive about money, it really is one of the best things for us to give if we can.

Money is one of the places where we spiritually hurt the most! So we need to pay attention to that wound.

2. Tithing shows that we’re serious.

When I speak of tithing here, I am referring most obviously to giving 10% of income, but for this article, you can define tithing as serious giving. 10% is serious for most of us. For some of us who are more affluent, 10% is not that serious, and we should do more because we can. And for some of us, 10% is unaffordable, so we need to be serious with another percentage. But the point is to be serious. So if you’re not serious, get serious.

How do you know if you’re serious? Well, to start with, if you’re spending more on cable TV or other forms of entertainment every month than you’re giving to the Church, it’s a safe guess that you’re not being serious about giving.

I love the phrase “put your money where your mouth is.” It’s definitely true. Jesus says almost exactly the same thing when He says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21, Luke 12:34). Where we put our money proves where are hearts are. Where is your heart?

3. Tithing is absolutely Orthodox.

Some people say that tithing is not Orthodox. This is nonsense. Giving is Orthodox. Asceticism is Orthodox. Generosity is Orthodox. Ministry is Orthodox. Discipline is Orthodox.

The purpose in tithing is not because it is an “absolute requirement” in order to be saved. It’s not. But how can we be saved if we do not nurture a truly generous heart? And how can we nurture that generous heart without becoming disciplined about giving all that we have? The Orthodox Church understands how to become disciplined. We understand asceticism. This is one of the best ways to do it.

Tithing was a minimum set up in the Old Covenant (and there were multiple tithes, equaling about 23%). 100% is the standard in the New Covenant (Acts 4), and when the Fathers talk about tithing, they say that because the New is superior to the Old, we give more than the Old Covenant people did.

So perhaps it’s true that “tithing is not Orthodox.” But that’s not because we give less than 10%, but because we give more than 10%.

God is merciful, of course, and if we’re not ready to meet that standard, we can work toward it. But are we working toward it? If not, let’s get on it.

4. Tithing becomes ministry.

There are things that a parish would love to do but just can’t because they don’t have the money for it. Perhaps they could improve or repair the building or build a new one. They could start that iconography project. They could get an assistant priest. They could hire a youth director. They could give to charities. They could fund continuing education for the priest, the choir director, or other parish workers. They could bring in special speakers. They could sponsor kids to summer camp. They could sponsor people to go on pilgrimages. They could do a lot more outreach. They could feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

The possibilities really are almost endless. The point is that God takes what we give, blesses it, and then returns it to us for our sanctification. When we give our money, God turns it into ministry.

And sometimes ministry is just the most basic things, like keeping the priest from having an outside secular job, keeping health insurance in place for him and his family, paying the parish’s utility bills, buying supplies, etc.

When we tithe, that’s what God does with our money. It doesn’t go to lining anyone’s pockets. Most clergy—not just Orthodox, but all clergy—are actually rather underpaid for their level of education, experience and the labor they put in. And almost none of them ever get a raise for preaching about tithing. And a lot of them are tithing themselves. In many parishes, the priest is one of the top givers, and he usually does it on a salary far below the parish average.

5. Tithing ends money problems for the parish, once and for all.

If a mission parish has 25 tithing families who each make roughly the national average ($50k/yr.), the collective income for the parish would be $125k, which is usually plenty for a mission to function on.

If a parish has 50 tithing families who make that average, pledge income would be $250k. We are now well above the income of most medium to small parishes.

If there are 100 families who tithe like that, the income would be $500k. And they’re probably about to burn any mortgage, buy new land, build something new or start a new mission. Or maybe they’re hiring a couple more clergy, a secretary, etc. How many 100-family parishes have half a million dollars to use every year?

Even if half the families in a parish start tithing or even if that same half started giving just 5%, the parish would probably never have any more money problems ever.

6. Tithing changes a parish culture.

Related to #5, I sometimes hear that, if only the membership knew all the money problems in their parish, they would be inspired to give a little bit more. But usually the people who say that, knowing full well the financial situation of their parish, have not themselves increased their pledge. Giving information and insight to the unmotivated usually doesn’t accomplish much.

But what if we started thinking about parish life in a whole new way?

What if we stopped talking and worrying about paying for things and started thinking about why each of us needs to become generous, serious givers? We have to put the horse before the cart: We don’t develop a culture of generosity by complaining about money problems. We develop a culture of generosity, and our money problems go away.

A tithing parish sees itself as a group of people ministering to one another, not as a group of people who are paying for something or expect to get something. And that’s the kind of parish that’s truly Christian, because they have love for each other (John 13:35).


So those are some of my ideas. What are yours? There’s a lot more we could say here, of course. Giving all that we are and have is at the heart of what it means to be Christian. So we certainly can’t leave money out.

33 comments:

  1. Regarding #1/#2– To coin a deliberately provocative claim, do you think it would be theologically accurate to say: “You may not be able to *buy* your way into Heaven, but you can *give* your way in…”? Taken in the spirit of your points, naturally, and not deliberately misunderstanding them…

  2. I have a practical question– are we supposed to get the tithe amount from our net income, or our gross income? And what are we supposed to do if there’s a big difference? I know a guy whose take home is literally half of his gross, because he has a small business on the side of his day job.

  3. I just have to say this: I’ve been a member of two parishes in the OCA, neither of which tithed, neither of which had any money problems with one having two full time priests, full benefits etc. And both regularly supporting seminarians even when they weren’t from our parish. Both parishes encouraged free will offerings, and didn’t get bogged down by the legalities of ‘ do I take this from my net, or gross’. Both were parishes in the ‘old oca’ (north-east and midwest) which were built in the 20’s on the backs of their faithful, faithful who didn’t tithe (I’m not sure if either parish would had made it if they simply tithed). They did more than tithe, they gave of everything they had, not just 10%. It is a shame their our communities have not kept this torch lit. But I maintain, the way our older parishes were built up leaves a tithing parish in the dust. Go ahead and simply, and only tithe like the protestants, or be orthodox and give cheerfully without calculation.

    1. I also wanted to add that a culture of regular, disciplined giving is much more sustainable than almost any other model. So while we would hope for overwhelming generosity from everyone most of the time, a proven, long-term model is to pursue tithing or other levels of proportional giving. It would be nice if everyone gave in such a way as never needing to calculate, but like fasting and other spiritual disciplines, some calculation, calendars, etc., are what make for a coherent culture of asceticism.

    2. Dear Joseph,

      Just like the Orthodox, many protestants have a robust understanding and praxis when it comes to the tithe in addition to sacrificial giving; and like many Orthodox, there are also plenty of those who attempt to check a spiritual box or not offer first fruits at all.

      Thank you Fr. Andrew for the timely exhortation. Your comments on the dynamic when people choose an excuse to not tithe because they truly don’t understand why they should is spot on in my experience.

  4. \\o// We have an Annual Subscription system for all the members in our Parish – The total amount is NOT specific, yet everyone contributes according to their capacity !! The point is that this amount can translate into @10% of the ‘Net Income’ either left in the bank without doing any purpose for a whole year…. Fr Andrew, I’d add a (7)th reason from my personal experience: From Jessus sayings: ‘Blessings & Judging Others’… Give, and it will be given to you…[Luke 6:37,38] This Tenet is taught by my mentor in 2004 – has done wonders in organizing my life !!!

    1. \\o// My understanding in Islam is, one of the five ‘Pillars of Faith’- Its compulsory donation to Charity – There is an arbitrary amount of @2.5 % at the ‘Total Income’ … But, this mandatory contribution become more than the tithes Christians are advocating, that is the point !!! The principle behind the Faith is concern for others who are less fortunate than themselves- Almighty bestow blessing upon the giver without he purchasing OR asking for salvation by bribes….
      [Baboi George, London, U.K.]

  5. It is good to support the Church, however don’t forget to read the New Testament.

    Galatians 5:4

    Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

    Romans 6:14

    For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

    Galatians 2:21

    I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

    1. Right, though these things are by no means in contradiction with the Christian practice of tithes and offerings. The Orthodox do not, in any event, oppose grace to good works the way that Martin Luther mistakenly did when he equated good works with the Jewish Law.

      Those who are under grace do what is superior to those who were under the Law, so we give more! And we give not just to support the Church but so that we might empty ourselves to receive grace. It is part of our repentance.

      1. Indeed. This is exemplified by Jesus when he says, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart”.

        The Law says, “Don’t commit adultery.”

        Grace says, “Turn your heart away from the desire to commit adultery”.

        The Law says, “Give ten percent.”

        Grace says, “Turn your heart away from covetousness and give with liberality.”

        That’s my perception, anyway.

        Just as many will commit adultery and still be saved though Grace (for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak), many will not give 10% and still be saved for similar reasons.

        Nevertheless, Grace doesn’t mean adultery is okay, or that miserliness is, either.

        If we have Grace, then we acknowledge the ideals to which we aspire. Grace covers our failure to reach the perfection of God; Grace does not excuse replacing His holy ideals with our own human, rationalized ideals.

  6. Charity, giving and good works are blessings if the giver is motivated by grace and moved by the Holy Spirit. When one is motivated by ideas such as tithing and dues, these works can no longer come from a free spirit but are compelled and the blessing is lost. Look at the arguments of proponents of tithing. Their arguments are based on the Jewish Law of the Old Testament.

    Also from Galatians 3:

    2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

    10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

    11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

    12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

    13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

    1. When one is motivated by ideas such as tithing and dues…

      That’s where you’re misreading the post. For one thing, tithing is not the same as dues. But more importantly, I nowhere said that tithing was a motivation. Rather, tithing is the action taken as a result of the motivation of love for God and the desire to be saved. Tithing is one way of disciplining oneself spiritually.

      As for what the proponents of tithing argue, their arguments are not all based on what is written in the Old Testament. Indeed, I mention the New Testament and the Church Fathers pretty explicitly here.

      Please forgive me for saying so, but I get the impression that perhaps you are unfamiliar with the Orthodox Church and its traditions and practices. We don’t do the things we do out of a sense of obligation or “law,” but from love. But being under grace does not mean that we are not obedient to anything or have discipline in how we work out our salvation.

      You also continue to give essentially the Lutheran reading of Paul. Luther’s error is in conflating good works with the works of the Mosaic Law. Just because one is not under the Law of Moses does not mean that one ought to regard good works as inimical to grace. They’re absolutely not.

  7. Thank you for you reply. Maybe I don’t understand how you mean to use the word tithe. From your article, it seems that it is used as a goal for giving. If that is the case, I feel that an individual should use this as a motivation if it helps move one toward generosity of spirit. If the word is used in the legalistic sense of an obligatory offering, then I think this runs counter to New Testament teachings.

    You wrote, “Just because one is not under the Law of Moses does not mean that one ought to regard good works as inimical to grace. ”

    I don’t understand why you would respond with the statement above in response to what I wrote, “Charity, giving and good works are blessings if the giver is motivated by grace and moved by the Holy Spirit.”

    Never did I suggest that good works are inimical to grace.

    In your reply you wrote, “I nowhere said that tithing was a motivation. “

    But in your article, as the first reason to tithe, you wrote: “ Tithing enables us to be saved.”

    Finally, you wrote that ” I get the impression that perhaps you are unfamiliar with the Orthodox Church and its traditions and practices.” Thank you for your honesty. Perhaps you are right. Here is what I read on the OCA website:

    While there are numerous parishes and dioceses which encourage individuals to tithe, the OCA has never issued an official decree in this regard. There have been a number of stewardship education materials that have been published which mention the tithe as a method of giving, but these materials primarily encourage people to set aside the “first portion” of their resources for the work of the Lord.

    So it seems to me that the practice of tithing is not established in the Orthodox Church. Maybe I am wrong in my understanding. I appreciate being allowed to take part in the discussion, express my opinions and ask questions.

    1. If the word is used in the legalistic sense of an obligatory offering, then I think this runs counter to New Testament teachings.

      That’s why I wrote in the article “The purpose in tithing is not because it is an ‘absolute requirement’ in order to be saved. It’s not.”

      Never did I suggest that good works are inimical to grace.

      But the fact that you keep bringing up “the law” (which is really just the Mosaic Law, not all good works) in a negative way in response to encouragement to tithe, and then talk about grace in contrast, is definitely making the argument that grace is opposed to the law, and that “the law” includes tithing.

      In your reply you wrote, “I nowhere said that tithing was a motivation. “

      But in your article, as the first reason to tithe, you wrote: “ Tithing enables us to be saved.”

      “Enables” refers to means, not to motivation. Tithing is just a means toward salvation, but it’s not the purpose of being saved.

      So it seems to me that the practice of tithing is not established in the Orthodox Church.

      If by “established,” you mean made dogmatic, definitely not. We wouldn’t dogmatize that. If by “not established” you mean that few people do it, that’s also quite true, at least here in the US. But asceticism, discipline, and generosity are not foreign to the Orthodox faith.

    2. Also: Please submit your comments only once. This comment you submitted four times, and so our software dumped your comments into the spam folder. You only need to submit the comment once, and it will go to the moderation queue for review.

  8. God Loves a Cheerful Giver 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
    …6Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency
    in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;…

    This is what Tele evangelists quote and get the gullible to send ‘seed money’. My church prints ‘ God loves a cheerful giver’ on the covers they send us for all sorts of contributions. Priests from other parishes, mission etc. , and institutions from various denominations and faith seek support. Personal help is sought by old retainers, present retainers etc. Which of these fall under tithe? If we, the lay, must know that God is able to make all grace abound to us, how much more for the priest and the parish?

    It must not come from reminding people of the scripture, it must come from gratitude which one feels in a living church. If faith and gratitude and love is lacking, fear remains and it makes us cling to our possessions.

    One reason that I find for the lack of enthusiasm in my Orthodox Church is that though the majority are proud of belonging to an old, ‘pure’ tradition, it has all become too familiar that it is simply routine. The Church and the Sacraments no longer evoke wonder and a direct encounter with God. The Protestants with rousing songs and hand clapping get minimum a catharsis and an emotional high.

    Is it because our prayers and Liturgy are old and boring?

    I would say not. It is the lack of prayer and sincerity and no effort on the part of the Church to teach the meaning of who they are and what they do and on the part of the lay to learn. Without making any effort to understand Orthodoxy, the lay point to the slick and clever modern churches. They want modernisation.

    If we really seek with all our hearts and will, we will find the beauty. If we come to love the church, then no need for fear or reminders.

    1. “If we, the lay, must know that God is able to make all grace abound to us, how much more for the priest and the parish?”
      I agree.

      I do not conflate works with the law. To make my thoughts more clear, I would say that there are different ways to good works. Good works can be compelled by law, or good works can be inspired by love and grace. I believe the latter is the more perfect way.

      I am also encouraged by Joseph Irving’s comment:
      “Both parishes encouraged free will offerings, and didn’t get bogged down by the legalities…”
      and view his experience as testimony that freedom and faith allow grace to work more completely. I wonder if these parishes would have been as successful if the congregants had been asked/required to tithe.

      Lack of generosity is a sickness of spirit. Those who are sick should be welcomed toward healing through the sacramental life. Good health should not be a precondition for admittance to a clinic.

      1. Indeed, no, it should not. That’s why, at my parish, membership either sacramental or in terms of voting, etc., has nothing to do with what anyone gives. (Where did you read that it was a precondition for anything? You seem to be reacting to something that isn’t written here.)

        1. I didn’t mean to suggest that this is the case at your parish. I do believe financial contributions are stipulated as a requirement for membership in some churches and that this can be an impediment or stumbling block for some.

          1. I don’t know the models under question specifically, so I can’t shadow-box with whatever it is you have in mind.

            That said, I am aware that some Orthodox churches do set a minimum giving level for voting membership (for electing a parish council, etc.). But voting membership is really a relatively unimportant thing when it comes to sacramental membership in the Church. Whether one votes or not is not really that important to salvation.

  9. Thanks again for your replies. I am learning a lot from this dialogue.
    Your question
    “Where did you read that it was a precondition for anything? You seem to be reacting to something that isn’t written here.”
    prompted me to think about our communication a little more deeply. Maybe I am misunderstanding your intent. I think this is a result of the imprecision of language and failure to understand terms. From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, I found the following two transitive definitions:
    1 to pay or give a tenth part of especially for the support of the church
    2 to levy a tithe on
    I understood tithing in the sense of the second transitive definition. I think that you are using it in the first. Is this correct?

  10. I read the article and although I understand the Scriptural basis for tithing, I would have to say that the assumption must be made that those who are part of a church parish have full-time jobs. That is not my case at the present moment, and not sure when it will become so (I studied chemistry for my bachelor’s and health physics also known as radiation physics for my master’s). Accordingly, for those without full-time jobs, is it enough for them to give in the sense of participating in as many Church services as possible through either singing or reading the Epistle or helping with lighting candles, etc., or even more needs to be done? I’m sincerely asking and would like to understand what the response of Orthodox clergy would be. Thank you for posting this article, Fr. Damick!

    1. I think you will find the answer to your question within the article, but I’m happy to summarize here.

      There is absolutely no assumption in this piece about what level of employment or means someone may have. (You can have income without employment, for one thing!) You’ll note that I say that, if we have money, we need to give money. I encourage 10% as a serious level, but perhaps some other level is serious for other people—whether greater or lesser.

      As for what is “enough,” I do not think there is ever any “enough” when it comes to what we give or how we give it. I find that “enough” language is mainly designed to try to avoid something.

      The point, though, is to give what it is we have. If we don’t have income, then of course we can’t give from it! There is no “price” when it comes to these things.

  11. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”
    Tithing, as a starting point, is a way to begin to pull your heart along toward God. The idea that you can love the work of the church without supporting it from your means is a fantasy.
    “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees”
    Well, they were legalistically givers of tithes…. “These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” Christ’s words, not mine.
    “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, with all thy strength” Strength is your money folks. It just is.

  12. You wrote: “Tithing was a minimum set up in the Old Covenant (and there were multiple tithes, equaling about 23%). 100% is the standard in the New Covenant (Acts 4), and when the Fathers talk about tithing, they say that because the New is superior to the Old, we give more than the Old Covenant people did.”

    What you and most other clergy always leave out is Israel was set up as a theocracy and the “tithe” was both for paying taxes to the government and for to maintain the Jerusalem Temple (for God).. God only gave the commandment to pay the “tithe” to Jews as well
    as for special offerings for special occasions. When the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed
    the requirement to pay “tithe” was negated and not required since no Temple services and no
    sacrifices were being accomplished..

    Where in the Old Testament does it require the non-Jews to “tithe” or give money for
    any special offerings that were required of Jews?. This commandment did not exist for
    non-Jews. Please ask a Jewish Rabbi (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed) to confirm
    this statement.

    Orthodox Christians are not required to give a certain percentage of their money to
    their local church such as a tithe is a myth!!!. If there is a specific scripture that
    requires the 10 percent please email this to me.

    If you can quote me any church canon that specifically says from any of the seven church councils required an Orthodox Christian to donate 10 percent of their gross income
    please do so.

    If such a specific church canon existed requiring an Orthodox Christian to donate 10 percent of their gross income to the church then every Orthodox Church Bulletin would print this every Sunday. I have yet to see this quote from a church canon in any Orthodox Church Bulletin.
    Why? It does not exist.

    Please contact me at: email hidden; JavaScript is required concerning your response if possible.

    Joel N. Levitt

    1. Joel, you emphatically reject the idea of a tithe as a defined, required tax for Christians. So do I. And that’s why I wrote the following passages in this piece:

      Don’t get me wrong—giving money is not the only way that we work out our salvation and become open to receiving blessings. But whatever we have, we have to give to God.

      When I speak of tithing here, I am referring most obviously to giving 10% of income, but for this article, you can define tithing as serious giving. 10% is serious for most of us. For some of us who are more affluent, 10% is not that serious, and we should do more because we can. And for some of us, 10% is unaffordable, so we need to be serious with another percentage. But the point is to be serious.

      The purpose in tithing is not because it is an “absolute requirement” in order to be saved. It’s not. But how can we be saved if we do not nurture a truly generous heart? And how can we nurture that generous heart without becoming disciplined about giving all that we have?

      God is merciful, of course, and if we’re not ready to meet that standard, we can work toward it. But are we working toward it? If not, let’s get on it.

      So, in short, I never wrote that tithing is a requirement, and indeed, I specifically said that it is not. But giving who we are and what we have most certainly is a requirement—St. Paul even said to offer up our very bodies as a living sacrifice. So we cannot hold anything back.

      My point in using the tithe (10%) as a starting point is that it is about being serious and disciplined, and it also has a basis in the Old Testament. But we can also do more, because it’s not about requirements but about sacrificing oneself. This is the approach the Church Fathers often take, too—they mention the OT tithe, but then they say we have moved beyond it, not by doing less, but by doing more. But they don’t put it in terms of “requirements.”

      So when you say “Orthodox Christians are not required to give a certain percentage of their money to their local church,” I agree with you 100%. I recommend the tithe (10%) because I know the good that it does, and the good that it does is the point of this article, but it remains a recommendation. I would never attempt to compel anyone—other than myself—to tithe. But I will certainly recommend it as strongly as possible.

  13. Help the unfortunate family’s of the church; if they need any help financialy or otherwise.That is a good service to God.Reduce the burden for these suffering people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *