by Protodeacon Paul Nimchek
In his recent Lenten message Metropolitan Jonah writes, “Fasting, vigil, silence and prayer, denial of self and generosity to others: these are the labors by which we are invited and commanded to regain our true, paradisal home.” As we consider these labors, “generosity to others” stands out as one that best exemplifies Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Yes, our prayers for others are extremely important and are very powerful intercessions to God, but “generosity to others” or alms-giving is truly an outward expression of love for others. As we hear from the First Epistle of John, Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:17)
None of us can honestly say that we are unaware of people in need. Suffering and the lack of basic essentials to live (food, clothing, and shelter) are all too pervasive in our society and certainly throughout the entire world. Those in need often hit even closer to home for many of us among our families and friends.
What is our response to those in such need? Do we seek to find those in need in order to help them? Spiritual alms-giving is a sacrificial, committed act of love. There is no excuse that we are unaware of those in need. Even if we feel that we do not know of any one specific person or family in need, we only have to consider organizations like the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), Project Mexico, or any of our local Food Pantries, Soup Kitchens, or Homeless Shelters. These worthy charities and many others like them provide widespread support to so many in need. If our alms-giving cannot be a monetary one, we might consider donating clothing and/or food to local charities. In fact volunteering our time and efforts can be as valuable as a monetary donation to such local charities. Alms-giving is an expression of spiritual action in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Are we sacrificial in our giving or do we only give from our excess? Are we giving to receive praise from others? Consider the Gospel writing, “… when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites … that they may be praised by men … 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.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
We must make every effort to make our alms-giving a gift from God, free from any boastfulness or self-pride. We also should give with a humble spirit like the poor widow in Mark’s Gospel, not just from our excess but rather as a true sacrificial gift from our hearts. ” … Truly, I say to you this poor widow has put more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed from their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12: 43-44)
His Grace, the Right-Reverend Nikon, Bishop of Boston, New England, and the Albanian Archdiocese, wrote in his 2011 Lenten message, “The Lenten season is now upon us, and with it comes a great opportunity to engage in a life-changing spiritual retreat of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. … Reaching out to our brothers and sisters in concrete acts of mercy through alms-giving we spread the love of Christ in the world.”
Let us pray that God will enable each and every one of us to open our hearts to this “great opportunity” and respond to Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you”. (John 15:12) We pray that we might be found worthy and be inspired to grow in wisdom and truth, so that we might also grow in service to the world around us; comforting those who are afflicted, aiding those in need, and welcoming those who would be saved into the ark of salvation which is the Holy Church.