Orthodox Christian Spirituality: Alms-Giving (Part II)

Virginmartyr Lucy of Syracuse

Virginmartyr Lucy of Syracuse

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


"Beware of practicing your piety before men, in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do...that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father Who sees in secret will reward you." (St. Matthew 6:1-4)

[As with fasting and prayer, the gifts of help to the poor must be done strictly in secret, so much so that one should, as it were, even hide from himself what he is giving to others, not letting one hand know what the other is doing. Every effort must be made, if the gift will be pleasing to God, to avoid all ostentation and boastfulness in its giving.]

Orthodox Christian Life: On Alms-giving by Saint John of Kronstadt

Our Lord is pleased with us for our importunate request for His mercies, seeing in our importunity our faith and love to Him; while we sinners are angry with the poor, who daily and importunately ask alms of us--even with poor children, whose confidence in men is especially great, and whose belief in the goodness of other's is boundless, because they themselves are simple, good, and meek. Being covetous, sensual, and proud, we often look contemptuously upon them, cry out at them--the meek lambs--get out of temper, not wishing to understand that hunger, want of clothes, boots, urgent demand for the rent of their miserable lodgings, force them to beg importunately of us. It is not they that cry unto the Lord against us in the words of the Prophet David: "Our soul is filled with the scornful reproof of the wealthy, and with the despitefulness of the proud"? And certainly, sooner or later, the voice of their complaint shall reach heaven. It has, perhaps, long ago reached the ear of the Lord God of Sabbath, and will move Him to wrath against us and to righteous vengeance.

Doctors who have much practice, and receive much money from sick people, ought, for their soul's sake, to give alms generously, if they believe that they have an immortal soul. Rich priests who are generously rewarded for their prayers and spiritual labors ought also to give alms freely, so as not to be condemned with Judas the betrayer, who sold the Lord of Glory for pieces of silver. Merchants who make large profits ought absolutely to practice almsgiving, and be generous in adorning God's temples. Officials who receive large salaries ought not to consider the rich recompense given them in return for their labors as their exclusive property, but should remember their poorer brethren, so that they may obtain a reward from God and purify their souls. All should provide themselves with the holy oil charity and good works, so that they may not appear empty-handed before the Judge on the day of the terrible trial; that they may not appear naked and bare of virtue on the day when all hearts shall be scrutinized.

You are daily asked for alms, and you ought daily to give willingly, without anger, harshness, and murmuring. You do not give your own, but you give that which belongs to God, to God's children, who bear the cross, and have scarcely somewhere to lay their heads. You are only a steward of God's property; you are the daily servant of the least of Christ's brethren; and therefore you must fulfill your duty meekly, humbly, and unwearyingly. You will thus be serving Christ, the Judge and Recompenser--a great honor, a high dignity! Do good work with gladness. Money comes to you easily, without thinking much about it. Your labors are generously rewarded; be generous to others. They are not rewarded in accordance with their merit; do not give to others in accordance with their merits, but for their need's sake.

Alms-giving is good and salutary when to it is united the amendment of the heart from pride, malice, envy, slothfulness, indolence, gluttony, fornication, falsehood, deceitfulness and other sins. But if the man is not careful to amend his heart, trusting only to his alms, then he will obtain but little benefit from them, for he builds with one hand and destroys with the other.

When you give alms to one who begs of you, and who, apparently, is not deserving of, does not require your charity--owing to which your heart grudges him the alms given--repent of this; for the Divine holy Love also bestows His blessings upon us, even when we have a sufficiency of them already. Love for your neighbor ought to say to you, "Even although he has something, still it will do no harm if I add to his prosperity (although, to tell the truth, a few pence will not greatly add to or amend his fortunes). God gives to me, why then should I not give to the needy?" I say to the needy, for who would hold out his hand without need? Had you only received gifts from God in accordance with your merits, you would have been a beggar yourself. God is bountiful to you, not in accordance with your merits, and you yourself wish that He should be bountiful. Why then, having plenty, do you not wish to be generous yourself to your brethren?"

"...If any has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (St. John 3:17)

Such was the command of the law of Moses as well:

"If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take heed lest there be a base though in your heart, and you say, 'The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin in you. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land." (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).

According to Saint John Chrysostom, no one can be saved without giving alms and without caring for the poor. Saint Basil the Great says that "a man who has two coats or two pair of shoes, when his neighbor has none, is a thief. All earthly things are the possessions of God." "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell in it" (Psalm 24:1). Men are but stewards of what belongs to the Lord and should share the gifts of His Creation with one another as much as they can. To store up earthly possessions, according to Christ, is the epitome of foolishness, and a rich man shall hardly be saved. (Cf. St. Luke 12:15-21)

The reason why a rich man can hardly be saved, according to Jesus, is because when one has possessions, he wants to keep them, and gather still more (the passion of greed). For the "delight in riches chokes the word of God, and so it proves unfruitful" in man's heart (St. Matthew 13:22; St. Mark 4:19; St. Luke 8:14)

According to the Holy Apostle Paul, the "love of money"--not money itself--is the "root of all evils."

There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wondered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (I Timothy 6:6-10, cf. Hebrews 13:5-6)


A personal experience with true Christian philanthropy: In 1948 my father Demetrios, my sister Ioanna and I, traveled by train to Athens to meet with a distant relative who was an Archimandrite and could possibly help our family to relocate to the Athens from our town. I was five years old at the time and I remember everything clearly. We arrived at Athens late in the afternoon. It was a wintery evening, it was drizzling, and it was cold. We were not dressed for that kind of weather. We walked to his house and we met with the Archimandrite. My father explained our situation in detail and how everything we owned was lost when our house was bombed. Father was courteous but told my father he could not help us. My father thanked him for his hospitality and we left and once again we were out in the cold and rain. Everything was closed by then, except for a kafenio. We walked over and set at the table. There was no one there except for one man who was having coffee. My father didn't know what to do; we could see it in his face. He had hardly any money and no place to sleep that night. The stranger came to the table and introduced himself and said to my father, 'I see you and the children are from the country. Do you have a place to stay tonight? My father answered, no. The kind stranger said, 'not to worry' you and the children will come to my house. It is a small place even for us, my wife and my two daughters, but we will manage. And by the way, you and the children can stay with us for as long as you need to.

This kind man's compassion and charity has never been forgotten. He, and his family, not only opened their house, but also their heart. He, his wife and daughters personified true Christian philanthropy. May God bless them always.



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