On Stewardship and the Orthodox Life - Part 70: Acceptable Offering? (Part 3)

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came forth from the presence of the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord has said, ‘I will show myself holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. (Leviticus 10: 1-3 RSV)

The Old Testament of our Scriptures is full of meaningful but sometimes not understandable stories. The brief story of Nadab and Abihu is one of them. The sons of Aaron (second in command of the Israelites in the wilderness under Moses) are serving as God’s priests in the tabernacle (tent-church). Of their own accord, they place fire in the censers for worship. It is clear that this offering was not acceptable to God. God had not given the command to light this fire. God’s laws and commands in the Old Testament are strict and to be followed without question. The punishment for this seemingly minor offense is death. Nadab and Abihu are dead because they did not follow the command of God in making their offering.

Why is this story in our Scriptures, and what does it mean for us? It relates directly to our stewardship topic of “Acceptable Offering?” Church Father and Bishop St. Cyprian was bishop of Carthage, born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa. In his work “The Unity of the Church,” St. Cyprian says of this story of Nadab and Abihu: “These examples are being followed wherever the tradition which comes from God is despised by lovers of strange doctrines and replaced by teaching of merely human authority.” These stories are examples for us of how we are to determine the appropriateness of any action we take on behalf of the Church.

For example, there has been little or any change in the Divine Liturgy served in the Orthodox Church for centuries. There has been no change in the teachings of the Church enshrined in the canons of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. New beliefs and practices that are based on what St. Cyprian calls “merely human authority” are not acceptable. The sons of Aaron did something on their own personal authority, and without the command of God. In Old Testament times the outcome of such outright disobedience is startling.

Church practices, including how we support our parishes and missions, must not be done under “merely human authority” or what we think will work. “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38 RSV).

This weekly series of brief thoughts on stewardship and Orthodox life is brought to you by your Diocesan Stewardship Commission.

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