When we read the Old Testament and the Law of Moses, we encounter the idea of the “tithe,” which is also called “the offering of the first-fruits.” The word “tithe” is actually an Old English word that means “one-tenth.” The Law of Moses required that the Israelites give one-tenth of their crop to the Temple so it could be used for the maintenance of the Temple, the support of the priesthood, and the service of the poor.
Although the tithe is something that appeared in the Old Testament, it retains its importance in the church today, because the maintenance of the church, the support of the service, and the service to the poor are all things that continue to be important in any church. This is the practical reason for having a tithe: we need to support the church and her service.
However, the tithe is much more than just a practical way of supporting the church. The tithe is part of every Christian’s relationship with God. There is a spiritual aspect to the tithe that we oftentimes forget.
As Orthodox Christians, we acknowledge that everything comes from God. All that we have, all that we hope to have, beginning with our very lives, is a gift from God. As a result, if God gave us a certain talent or gift, like the ability to learn and chant hymns in the church, it is important for us to use that gift for God’s glory. The same is true with our material possessions. Since God has blessed us with so much, we must confess that He is the true source of all our blessings by returning a portion of what He has given us back to Him so that it can be used for His purposes in the world. And just what are God’s purposes in the world? These are the maintenance of the church, the support of the service, and the helping of the poor.
When we give a portion of what God has given us back to Him, we bless and sanctify the remainder. By giving the 10%, we are blessing the remaining 90%. We are bringing our lives into harmony with God’s will. This is very similar to what we do when we fast. Whenever we fast, we sanctify our eating. We give up certain foods and we eat far less than normal, and in doing this, we sanctify what goes into our mouths. In the same way, when we pay the tithe of at least 10%, we sanctify our material possessions.
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