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Show Me the Money

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Written by Basil on 10/18/2006 11:55 PM. Filed under:


The agencies of the Standing Conference of (Canonical) Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) are advertised as pan-Orthodox. Yet, with the possible exception of the Orthodox Christian Missions Center (OCMC), they are all quite dominated by the Greek Archdiocese. I do not mean only that the staffs of these organizations are predominantly Greek, though that is undeniably the case. A dear friend and father in faith who was chrismated in the Orthodox Church in America transferred his membership to the Greek Archdiocese when he moved to work at a SCOBA ministry. Now, this is obviously coincidence (I hope), but the fact remains that every member of this particular agency’s staff is a member of the Greek Archdiocese.

I also mean that their agenda often seem clearly skewed toward the Greek Archdiocese.

This morning, while cleaning the ship, I was listening to the podcast of Come, Receive the Light on my iPod. (Come, Receive the Light is a weekly radio broadcast of the Orthodox Christian Network [OCN], a SCOBA agency.) Listening to this podcast has been very good for me; it is one of the few ways that I am able to connect with the Church in some place other than church. I’ve missed it of late due to a convergence of technical issues and a series of reruns, which I’ve skipped. This morning I listened to the last two weeks back to back.

They were both about money. Now, I totally understand that many Orthodox Christians need instruction in scriptural and traditional attitudes towards money. When we were first founding our little Kentucky Orthodox mission, Father D. was adamant that fundraisers were out of the question. I never understood why, until I attended an ethnic parish where everything was a fundraiser. Coffee hour every week was sponsored by the women’s philanthropic organization, but if a meal was served, it was a fundraiser. Five to ten dollars a head. For the parish’s anniversary, a dinner was scheduled to celebrate the contribution to the community of the parish’s overwhelmingly predominant ethnicity. It was black tie, with a correspondingly black tie ticket price.

You can almost hear them whispering, “Tithe? What’s that?”

So, I totally understand the need for instruction in stewardship. But two weeks in a row? It seemed overkill. Why would any program director schedule two programs in a row to discuss money? As if they recognized this as a problem, the second was entitled, “The Church is Always Asking for Money.”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued sweeping away at the war on dirt. I jotted a mental note to be alert for a three-peat next week. Then, the host said a curious thing towards the end of the podcast. “And, finally, today, when all of us are thinking about our gifts to the church, during these months of stewardship….” What the hell is he talking about? I thought. I thought about the last few Sundays I had been to church, and I didn’t remember discussing stewardship or tithing or money. Then the light came on; another mental note: Check the Greek website for a stewardship campaign.

Am I a bad steward because I just wished that I could have placed a bet on that hunch?

Honestly, I’m not really sure what this tells me. Does it mean that OCN thinks that only Greeks are listening to their broadcasts? Does it mean that they think we want to hear about giving money week after week while another jurisdiction is focusing on stewardship? I do know this: This week’s guest was spot-on. Giving money cannot only be the focus of a massive campaign a certain week or month out of the year. It has to be delivered continuously, like an IV. Drip, drip, drip. Shove it all down my throat in a big lump, and I’m likely to gag and vomit the whole dose back up into your face.

Two weeks in a row of nothing but preaching about money is just too much.

When I first became Orthodox, one of the best things about Orthodoxy was that an offering plate was never passed. It was expected (in our little convert parish) that stewardship was part of living the Christian life, but we never acted like we were beggars nor like we were collecting dues. In time, our little mission added taking up a collection, to be like other Orthodox parishes in our diocese. Problem is, where to put the offertory.

It’s a big problem, because there is no place in the Byzantine rite for an offertory. It’s been added on by well-meaning brothers and sisters who wanted to be less ethnic and more American. They imitated the Protestants and the Roman Catholics, but an offertory in the Divine Liturgy doesn’t fit. It just sits there, hanging off the service like a wart or a huge mole. Two thousand years of organic development means you can’t tack something on without people noticing. “One of these things is not like the others; one of these things is not the same.” About the only place that it doesn’t feel tacked-on is when the Liturgy is complete, which is the point at which the Greek parish I attended took up a collection. At the OCA cathedral in Boston, they simply place a basket in the narthex and expect you to do the right thing. That feels very good to me; it reminds me of how it used to be, how it should be.

Just in case you were wondering, next week’s episode is also about stewardship. I’m sure it will be like this until the Greek Archdiocese stops pushing stewardship or until OCN decides that SCOBA agencies really should be pan-Orthodox.


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2 Responses to “Show Me the Money”

  1. Tim Says:

    I think you’re reading way too much into the broadcasts. It is very common for the months of October, November, and December to be times of concentration for fundraising and charitable giving campaigns. I can think of at least two reasons why this is the case. 1) During this time of year, particularly with Thanksgiving and Christmas, people are hopefully more thankful for what they have and more generous with others. 2) For many, there are tax advantages to making charitable donations and by this point in the year one can hopefully reasonably assess how much to give.

    I have found the broadcasts quite informative and appreciate that they are having a period of special concentration on this important topic. After the first program, I felt like they had barely scratched the surface and I was desiring more. Some of my interest might have been driven by the fact that our own little mission in Kentucky will be kicking off a capital campaign during this time, but not all of it. I actually feel like we don’t talk about our fiscal responsibilities often enough. I was glad to have several programs devoted to this as I can’t remember any previous one devoted to this subject.

    Now it may be easy to point fingers at other parishes (or jurisdictions) but it doesn’t seem especially helpful. We all have more to learn in this area. I find the offertory in the midst of the liturgy quite appropriate and disagree that it is not fitting. (Although coming from a Protestant background, the absence of it might be more noticeable.) For me, it is a reminder that all is God’s. We are giving not just a portion of our money, a tithe, but all back to God. It is his to start with and we are just stewards of it. When we give we can recognize the similarity in our gift of money to the gift of bread for the Eucharist by those who prepared it. We are giving back to God was is already his.

  2. Basil Says:

    Let me start backwards. My statement about an offertory not having a place in the Liturgy was not a statement of opinion about the aesthetics of the matter. In the article on the prothesis (the service of preparing the gifts) in The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, Archimandrite Ephraim has this to say:

    The Prothesis is in a sense the equivalent of the Western Offertory, but this does not imply that it originally took place after the dismissal of the catechumens and before the anaphora. Robert Taft has demonstrated that there never was an ‘offertory procession’ in the Western sense in Eastern rites; the faithful brought their offerings and handed them to the deacons on arrival at church, as they still do.

    Being a traditional modernist, I do not believe that this means that no adaptation of forms can take place, but I do think that this traditional approach has a lot to commend it and most offertory innovations do not. I think that many who are disenfranchised by the emphasis on money that is incarnated in passing an offering plate during the service can be reconciled to the Church when the see how she has traditionally received the tithes and offerings of the faithful. I also believe that it more fully shows the connection between the gifts (now of money instead of food) and the gifts that are prepared in the prothesis. How can we be taking up our gifts when they have already been received, taken to the altar, prepared and processed in the Great Entrance? This disconnect is what I meant when I said that an offertory is like a wart or a mole; it clearly doesn’t fit.

    You say you felt hungry for more. I just hear the people I have known who note that the Church is always asking for more money. Several weeks on end will only reinforce that for these people. Little bits. People who haven’t been able to eat need little bites, maybe even soup or gruel at first. And it’s these people that the broadcasts are clearly aimed at. For the rest of us, I like steak as much as the next guy but not for every meal.

    Perhaps you’re right in your first point. I took a look at several Orthodox jurisdictional websites. Other than the Greek Archdiocese, the Church in America is the only other jurisdiction advertising any kind of campaign related to money: The Christmas Stocking project. However, this is not obviously related to a teaching campaign about stewardship, and we are always asking for money! So, you are most certainly correct (being on the capital campaign subcommittee has probably exposed you to way more information about non-profit fiscal matters than I would ever want to see), and it certainly makes sense. But it actually has no effect on my bewilderment on why the OCN podcasts and the Greek Archdiocese seem so closely interrelated. Perhaps all the other jurisdictions are also making stewardship drives that they are not publishing on their websites, and the OCA is the only jurisdiction that is not. That would be very curious, indeed.