Orthodox Christian Spirituality: Alms-Giving

St. Susanna

St. Susanna

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

The Lord said: "Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me"--Saint Matthew 25:40


Authentic Orthodox Spirituality is substantive and profound because it is always based on the Divine Teachings and commandments of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Great Philanthropist ("Ο Μέγας Φιλάνθρωπος"). There can be no true Christian spirituality without alms-giving (philanthropy or charity). Saint Nikolai Velimirovich writes, "Similar things happen in alms-giving and in Holy Communion. In Holy Communion we receive the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of bread and wine; in alms-giving we give to the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of the poor and needy. A certain man in Constantinople was usually merciful. Walking along the streets of the city, he would press his gift into the hands of the poor and hurry onward, so he would not hear their gratitude or be recognized. When a friend of his asked how he had become so merciful, he replied: 'Once in church I heard a priest say that whoever gives to the poor, give into the hands of Christ Himself. I didn't believe it, for I thought, 'How can this be, when Christ is in heaven? However, I was on my way home one day and I saw a poor man begging, and the face of Christ shone above his head! Just then a passerby gave the beggar a piece of bread, and I saw the Lord extend His hand, take the bread, and bless the donor. From then on, I have always seen Christ's face shining above the beggars. Therefore, with great fear I perform as much charity as I can.'

Let us turn to another great Father and Saint of our Holy Orthodox Christian Church, Saint John of Kronstadt, who also speaks on the importance of alms-giving. He writes: "Why does the Lord allow there to be poor? For your good, so that you may be cleansed from your sins and expiate them, 'for alms doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin'; so that you may win suppliants who will pray for you in the persons of those upon whom you bestow your charity, so that the Lord may be merciful to you. 'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."

It is well in every respect to give to the poor, besides obtaining mercy on the terrible day of judgment. Even here, while on earth, those who give alms often obtain great mercies from their neighbors, and that which others only obtain for large sums of money is given to them freely. Indeed, will not the Lover of mankind, the Most-Righteous and the Most-Bountiful heavenly Father, Whose children are compassionate by the merciful, reward them here also, in order to encourage them to still greater works of mercy, or to the continuance of their previous works of mercy, as well as to the amendment of the unmerciful, who mock a the merciful? He will reward them both worthily and righteously.

"Thou shalt love Thy neighbor as thyself." We ought to have all things in common. As the sun, the air, fire, water and earth are common to us all, so ought also (in part) food and drink, money, books, and (in general) all the Lord's gifts to be shared in common; for they are given in common to all, and yet are easily divisible for distribution amongst many. For we have nothing of our own, but everything belongs to God. And it is not just for the rich to keep their superfluity in their treasuries when there are so many poor people in need of the means of existence, of necessary clothing and dwellings. However, it is just that the laborious should enjoy abundance, and that the idle should endure poverty and misery. Therefore, if we know that some are poor only through their own idleness and laziness, with such we are not obliged to share the abundance earned by our labor. 'If any would not work." says the Holy Apostle Paul, 'neither should he eat.' But the crying poverty arising from old age, exhaustion, from sickness, from fruitless and badly-paid labor, from really difficult conditions of life, from a numerous family, from bad harvest, we must always hasten to help, especially those of us who are rich. We must be guided by the history of the times of the Holy Apostles, by the example of the early Church.

Do not despise any man, however poor he may be; but behave with full respect and kindness to every well-intentioned man, especially to the poor, as to our members worthy of compassion--or, rather, to members of Christ--otherwise you will cruelly wound your soul. O, how easy it would appear to be to live in simplicity and love, and yet how difficult it is for our corrupt hearts to live in love! At every step there is a pretext for enmity against our brother.

For as the poor and suffering compel us to compassion, so let us mutually compel ourselves to almsgiving; let us compel ourselves to good, works, whilst there is yet time, as sin compels us to that by which we continually transgress and anger God, and increase for ourselves the food of the fire of Gehenna, which, by degrees, already begins to be kindled here in our hearts, and foreshows to us the eternal flame, where there shall be everlasting lamentation and gnashing of teeth. 'The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.' The enemy likewise endeavors to force into Gehenna all the imprudent, unbelieving, unrepentant, and those who are passionately attached to the blessings of this life...it is wisdom not to amass for ourselves, but to give it to the poor, in order to gain for ourselves 'a treasure in the heavens that faileth not.'

All offerings and charity to the poor will not replace love for our neighbor, if there is no love in the heart; therefore, in bestowing charity, we must be careful that it should be bestowed lovingly, from a sincere heart, willingly, and not with a feeling of vexation against the poor. The very word charity shows that it should be an act or an offering of the heart, and should be bestowed with feeling or pity for the unfortunate condition of the poor person, and with a feeling of, or contrition for, our sins, to cleanse which the charity is bestowed; 'for alms...[according to the Holy Scripture] shall purge away all sin.' He who bestows charity unwillingly and with vexation, avariciously, does not recognize his sins, has not learned to know himself. Charity is, first of all, a benefit to those who bestow it.

Be charitable to the poor, willingly, without suspiciousness, doubt, and minute investigation, remembering that in the person of the poor you do good to Christ Himself, as it is written: 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' Know that your charity is always nothing in comparison with man, that child of God; know that your alms are but earth and dust; know that any material charity must absolutely be accompanied by spiritual charity: kind, brotherly, open-hearted, loving behavior towards your neighbor; do not let him notice that you are doing him a favor, do not appear proud. "He that giveth," it is said, "let him do it with simplicity…He that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness." See, then, that you do not take away the value from your material charity through not showing spiritual charity. Know that on the Day of Judgment the Master will test your good works ("works of charity"). Remember that both heaven and earth are given to man, for to him "is reserved in heaven an inheritance incorruptible"; for man, God the Father did not spare His Only-Begotten Son, but delivered Him unto death. The Devil hinders us in our good works through our subtlety.

(To be continued)

Please note: All of the articles of faith that you have received during the Holy Nativity Fast, are offered to you with the intent that they will open the eyes of your understanding and strengthen your commitment to live a more Christian life. There is so much more that our Holy Orthodox Christian Faith can offer the true believer. Everything is Christ centered! The entire life of the Orthodox Christian revolves around our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is our life, He is our Redeemer, He is our God, He is our hope, He is our peace, He is our salvation, He is our Master, He is our Physician, He is our Alpha and Omega. All the Lenten seasons are there to build us up spiritually, to charge our spiritual batteries, to mature in Christ. They are not a dead tradition that was inherited as part of our Greek heritage. It is one thing to claim the Hellenic culture and heritage, and another to be an authentic and practicing Orthodox Christian!



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George