Is cheer and gladness a prerequisite to giving and tithing? Or might obedience to the Lord's instruction to give alms and tithe foster true cheer and gladness? In any case, Fr. Patrick O'Grady warns against any transactional approach to tithes and offerings. Rather, in response to the philanthropy of God, the One who loves mankind, we are invited to act in kind.
Fr. Patrick O'Grady, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Antiochian Church, opens the Wisdom of Sirach and shares the story of St. Philaret to encourage generous giving with cheer and gladness.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, and co-host of this Doulos podcast along with Father Timothy Lowe. Christ is risen!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:24
Indeed He is risen!
Hollie Benton 0:25
Father Timothy, good to see you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:27
Nice to see you as well, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 0:29
Our guest today is Father Patrick O'Grady. He's the pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Antiochian Orthodox Church in Pomona, California. Fr. Patrick is an assistant professor of liturgical theology for the Antiochian House of Studies and worked as a translator for the Orthodox Study Bible. Fr. Patrick will be presenting at this year's upcoming National Leadership Conference in September of 2022. Our listeners can register to attend this conference online or in person at St. Vladimir's Seminary, by going to orthodoxservantleaders.com. The theme for this conference is Money - The Gospel Changes Everything, and Fr. Patrick will be presenting on the practice of tithing as a first step, even a baby step in the life of the gospel. So welcome, Fr. Patrick, and would you mind saying a word about how the Gospel does change everything when it comes to our attitudes and behaviors surrounding money?
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 1:27
I'm glad to have this opportunity to join you in this conversation. I'm looking forward to the fruit that it may bear with God's help. The first and foremost point that has to be made is that we Christians believe in a good God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has shown the initiative by coming to be among us, as one of us, the incarnation of the word of wisdom and the power of God, Jesus Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer has shown us the more excellent way of charity. God is charitable. He's philanthropic. This is a term we use in the Divine Liturgy and the other divine services with priests frequently saying, "For Thou art a good God, and philanthropist, Lover of Mankind and to Thee do we offer up glory." This fundamental aspect of charity for us Christians is like an umbrella over everything. Nothing is forced, nothing is coerced. God and His goodness and kindness shows us the way and when we learn His way, it becomes a way of life that we love. And it has its own self justification in our experience. We put our trust in Him and we follow His commandments. "You are my friends if you do what I've commanded you." Among the commandments of God are to express our philanthropy, our love of God, in return to the philanthropy He's shown us. This is a relationship. So that's the umbrella idea, or the lens through which we see everything.
Hollie Benton 3:15
So Fr. Patrick, you suggested we look to the Wisdom of Sirach which provides a strong foundation for any discussion that we might have about money, almsgiving, generosity. This is the first time the Doulos podcast has featured a reading from the Apocrypha, so thank you for the suggestion. Fr. Patrick, could you provide a bit of context for this reading from Sirach chapter 35?
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 3:41
Yes, the title of the book is the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach. Now Jesus is Yeshua, or Joshua. So wherever you read Joshua in the Bible, it's the same as Jesus. It's the same word exactly. So this particular venerable Jewish elder wrote this in the second century BC or earlier, and it was translated by his grandson, believe it or not, into Greek. It's a lengthy book for a wisdom book, some fifty-something chapters, but it reads like the book of Proverbs, proverbial wisdom. As a matter of fact, most of the book is a commentary on the Proverbs. Sirach 1:1 "All wisdom comes from the Lord and with him forever." So it's a meditation on Sophia, or wisdom or hochma in Hebrew. This wisdom, of course, became incarnate, and we Christians read it in the light of the wisdom of God becoming man for our salvation, Jesus Christ. That's a very illuminating perspective, because we're not reading about moral concepts in abstract, but rather a living, breathing hypostasis, right, who became man. This is very dynamic. The part of this selection comes from chapter 35 is near the end of this meditation on wisdom. The whole chapter 35 should be read to get the context. We actually use this book in some of the Divine services, Vespers, for ascetical Fathers, you'll have one or two readings from the Wisdom of Solomon; I believe there's a reading from Sirach somewhere in those readings, but these so-called Apocrypha books are used in church services.
Hollie Benton 5:39
Thank you, Father, as you said, I would really encourage our listeners to take advantage of reading the entire book, at least this chapter that we'll be reading right now, Chapter 35. Here's just a short passage from the Wisdom of Sirach 35:8-10. "In every gift, let your face be cheerful, and sanctify your tithe with gladness. Give to the Most High as he has given to you and give to him with generosity, according to your windfall. For the Lord is He who repays and He will repay you seven-fold." So, Father Patrick, I'd like to ask you about this instruction here to give cheerfully and to sanctify your tithe with gladness. It certainly brings to mind similar instruction that we hear from the Apostle Paul who writes to the Corinthians, "Give not reluctantly nor under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver." So giving with cheer and gladness seems to eliminate any notion of transaction as though I could buy the Lord's favor. In fact, the next verse that we hear in this Wisdom of Sirach, after this short passage says, "Do not bribe him for he will not accept it." But the question I'd like to ask is whether cheer and gladness is a prerequisite to giving and tithing? I'm thinking also of the parable of the two sons in Matthew's Gospel who were asked by their father to work in the vineyard. One said he would do it, but then actually did not do it. The other said he would not, but then actually did the work. And the second son was the one who was identified as the one who obeyed His Father. So I tend to think that obedience to the instruction is the prerequisite to cheer and gladness and not the other way around. It's kind of like, going to the gym to work out the generosity muscles: I may not be cheerful about starting the exercise of tithing, but once I've pushed through it, I'm grateful for the workout. So could you say more about this relationship of cheer and gladness with respect to giving and tithing?
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 7:45
Well, first of all, it's an opportunity to demonstrate our love for God, and our belief in His providence. If we have this idea that we own things, that items or materials or lands or positions can be occupied as our own personal space, and they belong to us, then we're thrust into a kind of an, if you will, at least a mild, transactional or even adversarial relationship of competition for that ownership. In other words, if God says, I want you to tithe it to me, then I feel like oh, shoot, I gotta pay this money, you know, and I got other things to do here. And God owns cattle on a thousand hills, can he sell off one or two of those cattle to settle what he wants? I mean, what does he want with my paltry whatever? But this is the wrong attitude. Nothing I have belongs to me. Everything belongs to God. My very life comes from Him. I came into the world and I shall leave it in the same condition, that is with nothing. And so anything that I have that passes through my hand in this life. When I find that the grace of God is loving kindness, extending towards me, watches out for me, Jesus says, Consider the sparrows of the air, they don't struggle and God feeds them, the lilies of the field,.Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all His righteousness and everything else will be added to you." We don't have to worry about that. What we should be worrying about is the state of our soul and our relationship with our good God. If we do that, then tithing becomes the first step in a life of faith. You can't say we believe and not act on it. Faith without works is dead, as St. James told us. So we need action. The action cuts into our ego, exposes our worldliness, and then once we tithe we discover the great blessings that of course, God himself has promised in this passage you just read from Sirach and also in the apostolic writings. The Prophet Malachi spoke very clearly on this issue of expecting a blessing. But this is not a transactional relationship. It has to be 100% on my side, just as it is 100% on the Lord's side. In other words, there isn't different sides here.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 10:17
I'm just thinking about human nature and what's in it for me, and we see it a lot in the Gospels, you know, with how Peter asks, We left everything, what's in it for us? So the hidden selfishness is obviously the great enemy. And I'm all for what you said about James, the action of just doing first, and the rest is details.
Hollie Benton 10:39
That's right. Foather, let me also ask about this line, "Give to the Most High as he has given to you." First off, it seems impossible to truly give as the Lord has given to me. My 100% is nothing in comparison to God's 100%. I will forever be in His debt. Yet, the passage continues, "Give to Him with generosity according to your windfall." So what do you think of this almost paradoxical perspective that there is no way to match the gift of the Lord, but it's still no excuse to not give generously?
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 11:13
This is my golden opportunity to promote the reading of the life of St. Philaretos of Constantinople. Philaret, to use the more common English expression of his name was an amazing man. He lived during the first millennium. This is the time during the Imperial bridal shows where eligible young women would be encouraged to go to Constantinople and make their social debut so that the Imperial Household could find suitable matches for the Crown Prince or other potential suitors. And Philaretos was a very generous man. He loved giving alms, beautifying the churches, but also giving alms to the poor. His wife would complain, he was very wealthy, and his wife had complained that he's throwing his estate away. Well, he did finally succeed in bringing his estate to the point of complete impoverishment. But just about the time when his wife was totally frustrated, an Imperial messenger said, The Emperor wants you to come to Constantinople and he's going to provide for you in a palace and you don't have to stay here anymore. And when he moved to Constantinople, he's like, oh, boy, I get to start giving away the Emperor's wealth. And his story is just remarkable as an expression of saintly charity, as expressed by a man who is completely in love with God and completely free.
Hollie Benton 12:51
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 12:53
Maybe in this regard, I should point out that there is a common place in the lives of righteous saints, those who lived a righteous way of life, married and unmarried, who in their life, it is recorded that they split their income into three. They used one-third to support the church. They gave away a third, and they lived on the third. That certainly is a graduation from the tithe, isn't it? And we haven't even answered the question of the status of the tithe in the New Testament church, but you have to come to the conference for that punch line.
Hollie Benton 13:33
That's right. Yes, graduated from the tithe yet so much farther to go when compared to Christ, who spent it all and was not invited to Constantinople.
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 13:46
Hollie Benton 13:47
So finally, Fr. Patrick, this last verse we read today about the Lord repaying you seven-fold, I think can sometimes be twisted into justification for a prosperity gospel that we hear about in America toay, which purports that health and wealth are an automatic divine right for Christians, if you just believe it and claim it, health and wealth will be yours. Surely, we can't assume that if I give $100 to the church offering that I'm going to, you know, somehow pick up a winning lottery ticket for $700. But I do think that we do mental gymnastics with our prayers and almsgiving thinking that the Lord will reward us somehow. So how are we supposed to understand this verse that the Lord will repay you seven fold?
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 14:35
Well, first of all, the verse that you just cited and also in Malachi, "Prove me herewith sayeth the Lord and see if I will not pour out a blessing." The language is quite clear, but it presumes not a do ut des relationship, I give in order that you give back to me. Quid pro quo like, here's my thing, now I give it to you, Lord, now you owe me. This is a pagan way of viewing a relationship with a god, putting the god in debt to you. This is the idea that the pagans had when they brought sacrifices. Look, I brought sacrifices, you owe me, do this favor. And conversely, if the god does something for you, then you're in the god's debt to go make the offering Now, this is nonsense from a Christian point of view. All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament were aligned according to, you might say, a pedagogy leading to the incarnation. None of them were transactional. What does it say in Psalm 50? "The Lord is not pleased with the sacrifices, but rather with a broken and contrite heart." Once you remove that part away from it, then you can see how foolish this heresy is, which is really born from a lack of charity, a lack of love for God. (As though) God is somebody to dicker with, and here's a way to put him into our debt. This is not at all how this language should be read. But the Lord is free to express Himself in this way to show that he doesn't tend, when a gift is made out of love for him, with no expectation of recompense. The gift is offered freely. That's what the widow did in the temple. That's why Christ preserved her memory for lo these millennia, until the end of time, we will remember her of the widow who put the two mites into the treasury in the temple. And what a noise that paltry offering made when the King of Glory Himself who stood watching this lauded her good intention. She wasn't expecting that she would become wealthy by that, she was expressing her love for God.
Hollie Benton 16:52
Yes, and I think it's a challenge to what we even consider a blessing. I think, as Americans, we always think that a windfall of money is a blessing, but we forget the blessing of hope, the blessing of His instruction. It's a blessing to actually do what He instructs. And we're rightly challenged by, what do we even mean by blessing?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:13
Well, I think also in the Gospel of Matthew preeminently, the reference point is the Kingdom of Heaven. The idea of material wealth and prosperity also accompanies a reality of a culture that's built on that and sees that as the sign of approval and success. And Christians don't live by that standard. We just don't. So whether our life is poor and suffering, ultimately, the reference and that was certainly in the Gospels and the teaching with the disciples when they wanted earthly power, the seat at the right and the left, and all the silliness that happens, it really references the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, why do we worry about what we shall eat and drink, you know, you already said this in the Gospel of Matthew, it's just there. We are freed up! We are freed up from the obsession of wealth and material success. And that freedom to me is the key, because then we can attend to other things. And I say that even if we suffer, let's not minimize the politics going on between Russia and Ukraine and the Orthodox background which those countries reflect, God has not abandoned it. The reference point is the Kingdom. As you say, the Gospel changes everything.
Hollie Benton 18:15
Thanks so much, Fr. Patrick, for this interview today. We're looking forward to your presentation, along with many others at the upcoming conference in September, Money - The Gospel Changes Everything. There are options for people to attend this two-day event online or in person by going to orthodoxservantleaders.com. So thank you so much, Fr. Patrick. I'm really looking forward to going even deeper on this idea of tithing, regular giving, and just our call to obedience in this area.
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 18:46
When I pastorally deal with people who are new to the faith, and they've never done anything like this before I guide them in little steps. I said, Look, God is good. Put God to the test in this, not in a mechanical way, but just show your love for God in some regular proportional giving. And don't worry about whether it's going to a good cause or not. Give it to the church. The church has oversight and will exercise it appropriately. Then as you grow, you will find a habit will grow with you. And as that habit grows, your heart will become more and more warm in your love for God. And you will see people in a different way than you've ever seen them before. So there's a pastoral edge for that.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:35
Thank you, Fr. Patrick.
Fr. Patrick O'Grady 19:37
It's my pleasure. I'm glad to join.
Hollie Benton 19:39
Thank you, Father.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai