Our families are bombarded on a daily basis with television commercials and newspaper ads that tell us to want and buy more and more things that we really don’t need… As a nation, we are up to our eyeballs in credit-card debt and second mortgages, and “financial anxiety” is a major factor in stress-related health problems.
Since money is the most common means of exchanging goods and services in modern society (debit cards notwithstanding), we have to teach our children from the earliest possible age how an Orthodox Christian approaches money. The “love of money is the root of all evil”, according to I Timothy 6:10, and while the actual money itself is neutral, the way we make it, save it, and spend it can be either “good” or “evil” and affect our journey toward salvation. (Judas Iscariot coveted silver, and look what happened to him!)
What is money to an Orthodox Christian?
In the Nicene Creed, the First and Second Ecumenical Councils summarized the basics of the Orthodox Christian Faith, including the belief that God the Father created the “visible and invisible” — the world we know and see, and the world of the angels, that we can’t see — and that He created everything from nothing (see Genesis 1:31). He created the earth. He created the plants and animals. He created us. And He created in us every ability we possess: the ability to think, to reason, to make the decision to love Him or reject Him. He created in each of us unique talents and skills, so that we could act as caretakers for the rest of creation and “mediate” between Him and the world — offering part of it back to Him with praise and thanksgiving, and using the rest to sustain ourselves.
In the Old Testament, the “offerings” made to God by His followers were the most perfect birds, calves, lambs, and bulls, taken to the Temple to be killed and burned by the priests. God was given the “first, choicest” of what was raised by man.
After the Sacrifice of Christ, the Church also offers the fruits of man’s labor to God — bread (made from the wheat God created) and wine (made from His grapes) — only to have them returned to us, transformed, for our salvation. We also understand stewardship — the giving of our love, talent, time, and the fruits of our labor — as our personal “offering” to Him through the Church.
In our society, we apply our talents and skills “on the job” or in a profession. The result of our labor can’t usually be seen and quantified easily — there aren’t 10 full bushels of wheat in the warehouse at the end of the day. Instead, we receive a paycheck (or a direct deposit notice), which is the world’s measure of the “value” of our labors. For us, money is what we have at the end of the day when we use the skills and talents God has given us in His creation. Money is the “fruit” we are able to offer back to God — and the most significant in our cultural context because money is our standard for all types of exchange. Once we have earned it and offered some back to God, money is a tool we can use to do God’s work (e.g., provide for the homeless and hungry, spread the Gospel) and provide the necessities for our family’s own life: food, clothing, shelter, education, savings for emergencies and retirement.
How can you teach that to children?
The OCA Department of Stewardship pamphlet “Giving Children the Opportunity to Give” recommends a five-step approach to teaching children an Orthodox attitude toward money and financially supporting the Church.
Let your children see you give and let them give.
The first thing parents can do is make sure their children see them putting their envelope in the offering basket every time it is passed around. Children are “copy-cats” and will want to do the same. Toddlers can hold the family’s envelope and place it in the basket. The babas’ (baba means “Grandmother”, not necessarily your own!) custom of slipping each young child around them a quarter to put in the basket is a good one: it allows them to participate in giving, even if the money isn’t actually “their” money. (Our Katie started asking at the age of four, “Where’s my envelope?” and didn’t like giving “naked baby quarters”.)
Teach your children about sharing.
As children get older, much to the chagrin and subsequent joy of parents, they learn two things: that they can own things (“my” toys, “my” clothes, “my” favorite blanket), and that other people also can own things. As this second realization hits, you’re able to teach children about respecting others’ property and why we “take care of things”, and you can teach them how to share.
Children at this phase should be told, in simple terms, that God “owns” everything (since He made it) and that everything we have is a “gift” from God. He shares with us, and we should be ready to share, too.
Encourage children to share any gifts of money they get for birthdays, namesdays, the Nativity, or Pascha — to “thank God” for the gift they received from a family member by giving some of it back to Him at Church. (If God gave us a delicious cake with frosting and sprinkles, we’d want to cut it and give Him a piece, right?)
Teach them to give part of the money they earn themselves.
A child will eventually begin to earn money on his own, whether in the form of an allowance given for chores done in the home, or earnings from a paper route, babysitting, or a lawn-cutting business.
This is the next step: Explain that people are able to work and earn money because God has made them healthy, and given them the talents, skills and raw materials they use in their work. They are now earning their own money, too.
They are “in charge” of their money, and will decide how it is spent, but they need to remember to give some back to God every week, just like Mom(my) and Dad(dy). This is why it’s so important for parents to set the example of regular giving right from the beginning!
Most parents sit down with their children when they first start earning their own money and teach them how to “divide” it for savings (e.g., for college or a car) and spending (mad money). It’s very easy to include “God” and “the Church” as one of the regular divisions.
Parents should not force children to give part of their earnings. Children should make their offering on their own, however small or large. Once they start making an offering, they should be encouraged to “keep at it,” and give consistently.
There are two more “lessons” once a child understands and is comfortable with giving from his own earnings:
God’s part should be given “from the top”.
In the Old Testament, the animals selected to be taken to the Temple for sacrifice to God were always the very best from the herd, or the “cream of the crop”. Anything less was not a fitting offering to God.
With money, you can start the idea in simple terms: young children can select the “shiniest” coins to go into the offering basket; older kids can take the bills or coins from the top of the stacks after they’re done counting. Later, you can explain and reinforce the idea of the first portion, and that to know what is the best (fitting for tribute to God), you have to look at everything and separate out the part that will be offered to God before you do anything else. Giving to God comes first — before the part devoted to a new bike or computer game — because without Him we would have nothing at all!
God’s part should be significant.
In addition to being given consistently and “from the top”, our offerings should be a significant part of our earnings — a set percentage that is maintained as earnings rise and fall. The Old Testament guideline for giving was the “tithe”, or 10% of total income (see Genesis 28:22). This is still the goal. In our family, we started at a percentage we could struggle for and meet (5%), and increased the percentage each year.
The actual amount given by young people is not important, but if they decide to give 10% of what they earn from a paper route and follow through, they are more likely to tithe when they are through college and have established a home and family of their own.
Finally, it is important that children are taught that worldly wealth is not a sign of God’s blessings: the richest are not the most favored, just as the poor are not the least — scorned. We are cautioned against “laying up treasures on earth” and told in the Gospels to concentrate on spiritual treasure — coming to know God — instead (see Matthew 6:19-20), and to use what we are allowed to have wisely.
Joseph of Arimathea was a man of vast wealth, but also a man of faith and great love for God. He used his money to buy the pure linen to wrap Christ’s Body, and the tomb that held Him briefly.
A poor widow was praised by Christ for giving the only two copper coins (mites) she had to help those less fortunate than herself, when others gave much more in amount (see Mark 12:41-44). X
Based on a six-part series compiled by Fr. T. Stephen Kopestonsky for the parish bulletin of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Mogadore, Ohio. The series was published in 1993 when “Kids’ envelopes” were first made available through the Church school.
by Nichola Toda Krause