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Author Topic: Charging Fees for Sacraments ... or simply poor wording ... or poor context  (Read 1529 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: January 19, 2011, 09:22:24 PM »

It was said in another thread....

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
I'm 100% against charging fees.  Asking people to pay the sexton for their time is one thing; but "sacrament fees" are completely against our understanding of the availability of the sacraments.  And I don't buy the, "that's what you get for going to the Cathedral," argument; if that's your closest Orthodox church, you should be able to get your sacraments there for FREE, not, "$500 minimum stewardship or $1,500 fee."

Simony indeed!

No disrespect, but have you seen the kinds of weddings that are generally performed at this cathedral? They are often high dollar. People chose this particular church, not out of locality or geographic circumstances, but rather an ostentatious display of family wealth and social status.   This is precisely why beautiful cathedrals were NOT intended for parish weddings, but rather those liturgical services in relation to official church business or in relation to the Bishop. The grandeur of these kinds of churches not intended to facilitate showing off by wealthier parishioners but as it has been said, for the glory of God in particular circumstances where this kind of display is appropriate.  High holiday services with a lot of bishops or ranking clergy come to mind, but local weddings for the wealthier families who desire such a settings, well, honestly I am sure they could easily pay even large fees for the services of this building. The same with family baptisms and funerals.  There is a plethora of local Orthodox parishes here, but many jurisdictions use this cathedral (we had an Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church wedding there a few months ago, needless to say they went all out) just for this kind of use, to show off, and that is fine, but for those who want that certain kind of setting for certain kinds of reasons can surely afford certain kinds of fees.

I am going to disagree with you because we don't understand the context of why St. Sophia chose to use the term "sacrament fee" instead of more appropriate language like "administrative fee", "processing fee" or "voluntary contribution."  St. Sophia's charges $300 fee (presumably administrative costs) for processing an application for a Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  Documents have to be FedEx'ed between LA and SF (where the Metropolis is located) which requires secretary's time, Priest's time, Metropolis staff time, etc.  If you have an issue with the $300 processing fee (which is what I'll use), I think talking to the Priest would help you reduce it; however, the issue raised was the term "sacrament fee" which I think is a misnomer.

If I felt St. Sophia's was charging "simony" to perform the Sacrament, I would cry "simony" with everyone else; however, my church charges $200 administrative fee (which is consistent among the Greek Orthodox Churches that I know) for processing an application for a Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  My issue is a Church forcing a sponsor to pay a certain fee if the sponsor cannot produce a letter in good standing from an Orthodox Church; however, that is not the point of this thread.

Further, your gripe is running on the assumption that this church may very well turn away the baptism or funeral or small wedding of one if its local parishioners if they do not have the money, and that is not fair.  Did you personally ask the clergy there about this? In Orthodox we implement the rules according to the individual needs of the laity in direct relationship with their Father-Confessors and clergy.  The clergy will make many necessary adjustments when needed.  Some people will be baptized without years of catechism, some may be allowed to receive the Holy Mysteries without Reconciliation.  We are not legalistic. That being said, I am sure that if the scenario you presented about there be no other local options (and I am from Los Angeles here, I can assure you that is simply not the case Smiley ) and also a lack of available funds by a couple looking to get married  there, then perhaps the priests will make exceptions.  But if you want to bring in your extended family and 3000 guests and pull up to the service in white, horse-drawn carriage, maybe you can also afford a relatively small fee for the nice setting?

You realize that you're talking to an EO Priest, correct?   Huh

The overwhelming majority of sacramental services performed at that Cathedral there are by wealthy families seeking to show off their socio-cultural and economic status, and so should the Church just take a loss so these people can show off?

Very misguided statement.  Why do you care who gets married at the Cathedral?  If I commented about every $$$$-$$$$$ dress, purse and pair of shoes I saw on any woman, I'd be condemning myself.  Instead, I shake my head at the audaciousness of modern "Big Fat Weddings" and continue with my business....

Should the majority of us laity giving tithe support the vanity of others? Or is asking a fee actually adding that bit of necessary and neglected humility to the service?  We are Orthodox, we should take it all in the spirit of humility.  If God is insistent that a person be married in that particular Cathedral, I am more than sure He can make it able, even if the money pops up in the mouth of a fish or simply the priest forgoes the fees at their own discretion.  We receive the Sacraments in the grace and Will of God, not ourselves, so we must accept and embrace them however God sends them to us.  If God wants us to get married, or baptized or buried in another church for a lack of money, who are we to complain against God?

I think your words were very misguided.  Forgive me.   angel
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2011, 05:03:59 AM »

How much to offer for a wedding?

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of London has an insightful answer to this question.

He used to reply - How much are you spending on the bridal dress, the bridesmaids, the cars, the florist, the photographer, the wedding reception, the honeymoon?  Then decide the importance of the wedding ceremony for this event.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 05:15:25 AM by Irish Hermit » Logged
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2011, 05:14:16 AM »

For comparison with the Jews...

I live next door to a conservative synagogue with a membership of about 1000.

Personal ceremonies are free for paid up members.

The annual membership fee is $800 per family.

Funerals - free if you are paid up with your annual fees.   A charge of three times the annual fee if you are not - $2,400.
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2011, 05:29:25 AM »

Most church or synagogue congregations that i know of have specific fees for certain services, or at least suggested donations. they are ussually waived for contributing memebers or in the case of financial hardship. remmeber it takes time and effort for the clergy, any musicians, cantor or choir to prepare for a service such as a wedding or funeral. there is also the cost of utilities and building cleaning/maintainence.

Congregations that don't have a tradition of "passing the plate" during services often rely on a dues system fo rmemebership, but it can be reduced or waived for lower income families.
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2011, 08:45:59 AM »

For once I'm happy that the Church of Finland is a state church. Even though Church tax has it's potential ethical problems it does make things a lot easier for the Church.
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2011, 11:34:17 AM »

Orthodox weddings and baptisms are supposed to be part of congregational worship--the same as the Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Matins, etc...In any given church, these services are performed at predictable times and one can always fit in weddings and baptisms. However, many Orthodox in this country have adopted the local approach, which is that these services are not only private services, they are to be performed as if the bride and the groom are of royalty and/or filthy rich. Such conceit, selfishness and waste of money and resources! In any case, I see nothing wrong in charging the families a fee (and a hefty one at that) if they demand a separate time than in conjunction with regular services. They are being way too extravagant anyway.

That said, what should happen if the baptism happens before the Liturgy or the wedding during/after? I think that it is unreasonable to charge administrative fees for the paperwork to tithing, pledging and/or dues paying folks. However, for those who do not pay dues, who drop coins and small bills n the collection plate (I hope this is something that will just go away over time), or give money so that their giving will be aired either in the bulletin or during the announcements--CHARGE THEM! We are supposed to be tithing and that should take care of ALL usual costs, including cost of Fedex and the precious time of the secretaries and administrators. Come on folks, why are we treating the Church as a business or fraternal organization?

Just my (frustrated) two cents....



« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 11:37:01 AM by Second Chance » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2011, 11:49:20 AM »

I can understand some administrative fees, and I do indeed know that clergy will waive the fee (i.e. the parish will "eat" the costs) but "sacrament fees" are an abomination, IMO.  And the way the information is presented about St. Sophia is a very bad case of it: either be a steward of the parish - with a minimum pledge - or pay the sacrament fee.  Either way it's simony - stewardship is to be free-will, and all sacraments are to be free for Orthodox Christians, period.  If someone can only pledge $0.01 to the parish, they should be able to and be a member in good standing.

Now, I have to imagine that based on the history and situation of St. Sophia's (being in a downtown neighborhood, having an excellent relationship with many of the poor families and businesses that live in the vicinity) they must waive the minimum in true cases of need; if that is the case, though, then that information needs to be presented as openly as the fee structure.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 11:50:12 AM by Fr. George » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2011, 03:23:03 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Excuse me Father, but I am not quite sure what you are trying to say here exactly.  You are being ratehr ambiguous about it, could you please elucidate the point you are contending?

It was said in another thread....


I am going to disagree with you because we don't understand the context of why St. Sophia chose to use the term "sacrament fee" instead of more appropriate language like "administrative fee", "processing fee" or "voluntary contribution."  St. Sophia's charges $300 fee (presumably administrative costs) for processing an application for a Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  Documents have to be FedEx'ed between LA and SF (where the Metropolis is located) which requires secretary's time, Priest's time, Metropolis staff time, etc.  If you have an issue with the $300 processing fee (which is what I'll use), I think talking to the Priest would help you reduce it; however, the issue raised was the term "sacrament fee" which I think is a misnomer.

If I felt St. Sophia's was charging "simony" to perform the Sacrament, I would cry "simony" with everyone else; however, my church charges $200 administrative fee (which is consistent among the Greek Orthodox Churches that I know) for processing an application for a Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  My issue is a Church forcing a sponsor to pay a certain fee if the sponsor cannot produce a letter in good standing from an Orthodox Church; however, that is not the point of this thread.


You realize that you're talking to an EO Priest, correct?   Huh



Very misguided statement.  Why do you care who gets married at the Cathedral?  If I commented about every $$$$-$$$$$ dress, purse and pair of shoes I saw on any woman, I'd be condemning myself.  Instead, I shake my head at the audaciousness of modern "Big Fat Weddings" and continue with my business....


I think your words were very misguided.  Forgive me.   angel

I think you misunderstood me completely.  I am not crying simony either, rather I agree with you, that this seems to be an issue of semantics and poor phraseology rather than theology.  If the website had rephrased the fee as you mentioned, then perhaps it would be in better taste.  But honestly I felt the accusations being made in that thread were off-base and were based more on personal gripe rather than sincere theological discourse.  I did not know you are a priest, but then again I was also not targeting you specifically in my responses on that thread, but you being a priest surely understand the amount of individual discretion afforded to clergy in these kinds of situations, so what about my statements are misguided?
My commentary on the exorbitant weddings was not to find any fault in the by the way, but rather to put the gripe in context, if people are having very expensive and ostentatious weddings, surely they can budget a small fee into the equation with little fan fair about it..  Further, have we established rightfully if this particular Cathedral does in fact turn away small and modest family weddings and baptisms for those who refuse the fees?

I stand by my assessment, this beautifully excessive Cathedral is not generally used for small, everyday kinds of weddings (and I say this as an Orthodox Angelino who admires this Cathedral), but is usually for the more affluent tastes, as is expected.  Do any of the large Cathedrals in Constantinople or Moscow hold small parish weddings (sincere question)?

Lastly, what is so misguided about my comment asking people to receive the Divine Mysteries in the spirit of humility and repentance, then taking their marriages very serious and putting it in God's Grace rather then their own willful volition and even worse, narcissistic, self-righteous pageantry?  A wedding is a wedding.  If God grants us such a Grace to receive this Divine Mystery and Sacrament, which is of God and not ourselves, then surely we can receive it in His mercy to the His decision as to the location? I am a bit confused as to what you are criticizing or suggesting about my comments on humility, let alone the reason you decided to start this entire thread dedicated to sort-of explaining your personal gripe with me, but Father, in all honesty you are being a bit confusing and misleading yourself here.  Could you clarify for me, I honestly respect your opinion all the more for being a priest, but I am not quite understanding your intentions exactly aside from  seemingly being a bit capricious Smiley

stay blessed,
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« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2011, 03:47:27 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Excuse me Father,

 angel Ahem, I'm not a Priest; Forgive me if I lead you to believe that I'm a Priest.   angel


I think you misunderstood me completely.  I am not crying simony either, rather I agree with you, that this seems to be an issue of semantics and poor phraseology rather than theology.  If the website had rephrased the fee as you mentioned, then perhaps it would be in better taste.  But honestly I felt the accusations being made in that thread were off-base and were based more on personal gripe rather than sincere theological discourse.  I did not know you are a priest,

I'm not a Priest and I'm in agreement with you here.   Smiley

but then again I was also not targeting you specifically in my responses on that thread, but you being a priest surely understand the amount of individual discretion afforded to clergy in these kinds of situations, so what about my statements are misguided?
My commentary on the exorbitant weddings was not to find any fault in the by the way, but rather to put the gripe in context, if people are having very expensive and ostentatious weddings, surely they can budget a small fee into the equation with little fan fair about it..  Further, have we established rightfully if this particular Cathedral does in fact turn away small and modest family weddings and baptisms for those who refuse the fees?

That is unfortunate.   Sad   The practice of charging an administrative fee is a modern innovation.  Ideally, one shouldn't charge any fee; however, there are still people who give Stewardship amounts that haven't been adjusted for inflation.  $300 in 1979 is not $300 in 2011 (more like $1,000).  It's been discussed elsewhere how people don't like to voluntarily "part" with their mammon as they redirect their mammon towards an expensive wedding (with a 40% chance of success).  If the Priest refuses to waive the administrative fee for a "small" wedding party, that reflects a cynicism (or gathering every dollar possible) that should not be present in a house of God.

I stand by my assessment, this beautifully excessive Cathedral is not generally used for small, everyday kinds of weddings (and I say this as an Orthodox Angelino who admires this Cathedral), but is usually for the more affluent tastes, as is expected.  Do any of the large Cathedrals in Constantinople or Moscow hold small parish weddings (sincere question)?

I think they do.  Their rules are different than in the USA.  I can't imagine them charging any fee; however, keep in mind that in the USA, the Old World custom of giving the Priest, the Chanter, et al. an envelope has pretty much gone away.  Most make donations to the Church and for those who don't ... the administrative fee had to be imposed.

Lastly, what is so misguided about my comment asking people to receive the Divine Mysteries in the spirit of humility and repentance, then taking their marriages very serious and putting it in God's Grace rather then their own willful volition and even worse, narcissistic, self-righteous pageantry?  A wedding is a wedding.  If God grants us such a Grace to receive this Divine Mystery and Sacrament, which is of God and not ourselves, then surely we can receive it in His mercy to the His decision as to the location? I am a bit confused as to what you are criticizing or suggesting about my comments on humility, let alone the reason you decided to start this entire thread dedicated to sort-of explaining your personal gripe with me, but Father, in all honesty you are being a bit confusing and misleading yourself here.  Could you clarify for me, I honestly respect your opinion all the more for being a priest, but I am not quite understanding your intentions exactly aside from  seemingly being a bit capricious Smiley

Two wrongs do not make a right.  Charging a "sacrament fee" as a response to a "narcissistic, self-righteous pageantry" does not rectify the situation.

My original comments referenced to your reply to Fr. George in that I was making sure you knew that Fr. George was an EO Priest.

Habte, I apologize if I have troubled you.  I intended for this thread to be a positive discussion and I'm not condoning or criticizing St. Sophia for imposing a fee, which is why there is economia for those who can't afford the fee for any reason regardless if they'd rather spend the money on a horse and carriage....
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« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2011, 03:58:17 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

^^ thanks for the clarification, I had no hard feelings by the way, just a bit of confusion, and it seems we wholeheartedly agree and most things.  In regardsto Fr. George, I thought he was priest, but it says his age is 29, isn't that young? In EOTC we can be ordained into priesthood until the age of thirty according to Canon law.

Anyways I am glad we cleared all this up.

Can anyone address the two questions I posed

a) Do other prominent Cathedrals in say Greece or Russia allow for small parish weddings at large scale Cathedrals?

b) Do we have any evidence or inclination aside from our own assertions that Saint Sophia's actually terns parishioners away?


stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2011, 04:10:06 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

^^ thanks for the clarification, I had no hard feelings by the way, just a bit of confusion, and it seems we wholeheartedly agree and most things.

The thread was designed to give St. Sophia the benefit of the doubt as to why they used the term "sacramental fee" on their website without accusing them of simony.

In regardsto Fr. George, I thought he was priest, but it says his age is 29, isn't that young? In EOTC we can be ordained into priesthood until the age of thirty according to Canon law.

The Metropolitan / Bishop makes the final call as to ordinations.  I heard the minimum age to be ordained as a Deacon in the GOA is 25 (the typical age of a newly minted Master of Divinity graduate) and most seminary graduates are employed as lay assistants, youth directors, etc. prior to Ordination.

Anyways I am glad we cleared all this up.

 Grin
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« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2011, 04:45:02 PM »

a) Do other prominent Cathedrals in say Greece or Russia allow for small parish weddings at large scale Cathedrals?

It depends; are the people members of that Cathedral?  If the answer is yes, then they do.  If the answer is no, then it depends.  But, as I said above, even if it's the case that we're speaking of a parishioner of the Cathedral, then the practice of having them either pay a minimum stewardship or a sacrament fee reeks of simony.  The minimum stewardship should be 0, theoretically.

b) Do we have any evidence or inclination aside from our own assertions that Saint Sophia's actually terns parishioners away?

We do not; in fact, in my post, I intimated otherwise: St. Sophia's of LA has a reputation for hospitality and outreach to the community around them, qualities that, I think, indicate that they will likely wave the fee for those who need it to be waved.
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« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2011, 05:19:41 PM »

IMHO, it is perfectly reasonable for a parish to ask for an amount for a wedding or baptism, for example, that would cover the costs of utilities, cleaning etc. - which would probably be additional expenses.

There may be parishes that are getting rich off charging fees but most parishes I know can barely get the ends to wave at each other, much less meet.

Rather than griping about the cost, here's a radical notion: you could cut back on the costs of the dress or the bar or the band and make a even larger donation to the parish? (Oh the horror, the horror!  Wink)
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« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2011, 10:33:54 AM »

I am happy my parish does not ask for money for sacramental duties.  We are blessed to have people who just simply donate to the Church if they want to, but no one is obligated to pay for a service to God.  We take the teachings of Christ seriously, "man cannot serve God and mammon."
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« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2011, 10:53:35 AM »

^^ thanks for the clarification, I had no hard feelings by the way, just a bit of confusion, and it seems we wholeheartedly agree and most things.  In regardsto Fr. George, I thought he was priest, but it says his age is 29, isn't that young? In EOTC we can be ordained into priesthood until the age of thirty according to Canon law.

That used to be the canonical regulation; in this country, however, we do ordain a bit younger (no one made a priest under age 25, though) since we're finishing our Theological School education around then.

In regardsto Fr. George, I thought he was priest, but it says his age is 29, isn't that young? In EOTC we can be ordained into priesthood until the age of thirty according to Canon law.

The Metropolitan / Bishop makes the final call as to ordinations.  I heard the minimum age to be ordained as a Deacon in the GOA is 25 (the typical age of a newly minted Master of Divinity graduate) and most seminary graduates are employed as lay assistants, youth directors, etc. prior to Ordination.

Actually, the average age of Theological School graduates (all denominations) is in the 30's or low 40's.  Those of us who go straight from High School to College to Theological school to ordination are in the minority nowadays.
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« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2011, 07:36:50 PM »

Can the Blame be put on the Lay Church Councils that come up with this,, new ways of raising Money for the church........
At the serbian Orthodox Monasteries, they done away with the lay church councils ....... Grin

My Brother Mentioned this ......
every year when they use to vote for a lay church president of the lay Church council ....They spends more money unnecessarily because they weren't happy with what the past presidents did,  The newly elected would have a new vision on how things are to be done and that becomes expensive ........So they got rid of them .... Grin
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« Reply #16 on: June 11, 2011, 08:22:55 PM »

bump
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« Reply #17 on: June 11, 2011, 08:39:17 PM »

bump

So, you've decided to resurrect the thread to posit your as-yet-unfounded accusations?  Or did you come to engage us in a discussion?
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