August Fast: Time of Almsgiving (Philanthropy) [Part II]

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

AUGUST FAST: A TIME FOR ALMSGIVING (PHILANTHROPY) [Part II]
by Saint John of Kronstadt

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 of 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 (charity), 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 where 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 unwearingly. 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.

Almsgiving (charity) 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 not 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?

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THE THEOLOGY OF GIVING

This title seems odd to some people. We do not often think of our contributions to the Church's financial needs as having much, if anything, to do with God or theology. We should remember, however, that everything in our parishes, indeed everything in life, must be founded on the solid foundation of the Gospel. Certainly, then, our material contributions must also reflect our faith and our spiritual commitment. We must not base our donations merely on worldly financial considerations.

The theology of giving rests on two principles: (1) we have a need to give, and our donations are a response to something which is part of our very nature; and (2) we must give proportionally, that is, in proportion to our income.

To give is a fundamental human need for two reasons: Firstly, we human beings are created in God's image, and God reveals Himself above all as One Who expresses Himself in compassion and love. In other words, He is a God Who gives. Our salvation rests on that truth. The Gospel tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son..." (St. John 3:16)

Secondly, as Orthodox Christians we are subject to the law of love, taught by Christ both in word and example. We, therefore, have a need to give because the essence of love is giving, the sharing of oneself with others. One of our Lord's Parables, the familiar story of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, tells us this (St. Luke 16:19-31). Christ speaks movingly of the poor man's needs, but he also focuses on the rich man's hardheartedness. The rich man had a need, too - the need to grow in love and compassion and to express that love by helping his poor neighbor. The rich man shows that his only real concern is for himself when he gives the beggar only the crumbs from his table and devotes the rest of his wealth to providing himself with fine clothing and sumptuous banquets. Unfortunately many people give to the Church in the same way, dedicating their resources to themselves and leaving their parishes with the crumbs left over.

In many other places the Holy Scriptures address the need of the giver, as well as the needs of the recipient. Our Lord presents giving as a necessity in the Sermon on the Mount, in Saint Matthew 6:1-18). In these verses our Lord speaks of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (charity) the three pillars of piety." The key point here is that Christ links these three together as practices necessary for Christian growth. This means, among other things, that we give for the same reason that we pray or fast. We do not pray because God or the Church needs our prayers. We do not fast because God or the Church needs our fasting (nor because the fishing industry or the produce dealers need the extra business). Why then should we imagine that we give for God's benefit or for the Church's needs! We pray because we have a need to experience the communion with our Heavenly Father that prayer provides; we fast because our development as Christians requires that foundation of discipline that fasting provides. We also need to give because it is only through expressing our Christian love that this love can grow and mature. It is only through giving that we can cultivate the proper Christian attitude toward the world and toward that part of the world's bounty which God has entrusted to us, our material possessions...

"...We need, above all, to see giving as a part of our spiritual life. We must recognize that, like prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, etc., giving is something which contributes to our growth in God's image and likeness. When we do this we not only grow personally, but we provide our Church with the resources necessary to fulfill the divine mission which Christ has created it to perform.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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

+Father George