Take the Almsgiving Challenge

This Great Lent, we invite you to an intentional practice of the connection between fasting and almsgiving.

In the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord. If you observe fasting, as I have commanded you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written down; and the service thus performed is noble, and sacred, and acceptable to the Lord. These things, therefore, shall you thus observe with your children, and all your house, and in observing them you will be blessed; and as many as hear these words and observe them shall be blessed; and whatsoever they ask of the Lord they shall receive.

From the Shepherd of Hermas, Book III, a second century early Christian text, considered scriptural by many of the church fathers of the time

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From the Sunday of Orthodoxy Matins 

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Come let us cleanse ourselves by almsgiving and acts of mercy to the poor,
Not sounding a trumpet or making a show of our charity.
Let not our left hand know what our right hand is doing;
Let not vainglory scatter the fruit of our almsgiving;
But in secret let us call on Him that knows all secrets;
Father, forgive us our trespasses, for Thou lovest mankind.

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Come, faithful ones, as we fast bodily, let us also fast in spirit. Let us undo every tie to injustice; let us break all stifling covenants with violence; let us burst every wrongful contract; let us give bread to the hungry and bring the poor and homeless into our houses, that we may receive from Christ His great mercy.

From the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, Wednesday of the First Week

Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving

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The inner significance of fasting is best summed up in the triad: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Divorced from prayer and from the reception of the holy sacraments, unaccompanied by acts of compassion, our fasting becomes pharisaical or even demonic. It leads, not to contrition and joyfulness, but to pride, inward tension and irritability. The link between prayer and fasting is rightly indicated by Father Alexander Elchaninov. A critic of fasting says to him: ‘Our work suffers and we become irritable. . . . I have never seen servants [in pre-revolutionary Russia] so bad tempered as during the last days of Holy Week. Clearly, fasting has a very bad effect on the nerves.’ To this Father Alexander replies: ‘You are quite right. . . . If it is not accompanied by prayer and an increased spiritual life, it merely leads to a heightened state of irritability. It is natural that servants who took their fasting seriously and who were forced to work hard during Lent, while not being allowed to go to church, were angry and irritable.’

Prayer and fasting should in their turn be accompanied by almsgiving – by love for others expressed in practical form, by works of compassion and forgiveness. Eight days before the opening of the Lenten fast, on the Sunday of the Last Judgment, the appointed Gospel is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25′: 31-46), reminding us that the criterion in the coming judgment will not be the strictness of our fasting but the amount of help that we have given to those in need. In the words of the Triodion:

Knowing the commandments of the Lord, let this be our way of life:
Let us feed the hungry, let us give the thirsty drink,
Let us clothe the naked, let us welcome strangers,
Let us visit those in prison and the sick.
Then the Judge of all the earth will say even to us:
‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.’

Excerpted from The True Nature of Fasting by Mother Maria and Bishop Kallistos – See more at: Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha on goarch.org.

Forgiveness and Almsgiving

PRODSONIt is no coincidence that on the very threshold of the Great Fast, at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness, there is a special ceremony of mutual reconciliation: for without love towards others there can be no genuine fast. And this love for others should not be limited to formal gestures or to sentimental feelings, but should issue in specific acts of almsgiving. Such was the firm conviction of the early Church. The second-century Shepherd of Hermas insists that the money saved through fasting is to be given to the widow, the orphan and the poor. But almsgiving means more than this. It is to give not only our money but our time, not only what we have but what we are; it is to give a part of ourselves. When we hear the Triodion speak of almsgiving, the word should almost always be taken in this deeper sense. For the mere giving of money can often be a substitute and an evasion, a way of protecting ourselves from closer personal involvement with those in distress. On the other hand, to do nothing more than offer reassuring words of advice to someone crushed by urgent material anxieties is equally an evasion of our responsibilities (see Jas. 2: 16). Bearing in mind the unity already emphasized between man’s body and his soul, we seek to offer help on both the material and the spiritual levels at once.

‘When thou seest the naked, cover him; and hide not thyself from thine own flesh.’ The Eastern liturgical tradition, in common with that of the West, treats Isaiah 58: 3-8 as a basic Lenten text. So we read in the Triodion:

While fasting with the body, brethren, let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loose every bond of iniquity ;
Let us undo the knots of every contract made by violence;
Let us tear up all unjust agreements;
Let us give bread to the hungry
And welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them,
That we may receive great mercy from Christ our God.

Excerpted from The True Nature of Fasting by Mother Maria and Bishop Kallistos – See more at: Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha on goarch.org.

At EveryGoodandPerfectGift.org, we mine the feasts, lives of saints, and hymnology in the Church year for connections to giving. Use the Church Year in Giving category to search the blog to use for your personal growth or for your parish.

On the Last Judgment

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The way to God lies through love of people. At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners. That is all I shall be asked. About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: ‘I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison.’ To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need. . . . I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews. It fills me with awe.

+Mother Maria Skobtsova of Paris

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You will never overcome God’s generosity, even if you give away all that you have… And however much you bring to him, always more remains. Nor will you give anything that is your own; for all things flow from God. +Saint Gregory the Theologian

The Publican and the Pharisee

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee: Triodion Begins

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As we enter the three weeks of preparation for Great and Holy Lent, the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee are particularly pertinent to the themes of EveryGoodandPerfectGift.org. In this blog, we strive to bring together resources that will inspire Orthodox Christians to greater giving back, especially of their treasure. However, we would do well to remember the Pharisee who gave tithes of all he had, and yet he was not justified. As Christ said in the Gospel of Matthew concerning almsgiving, “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.

As we practice the spiritual discipline of giving tithes and offerings, let us learn from the mistake of the Pharisee, who “… in his pride, … has falsified the meaning of true religion and faith. He has reduced these to external observations, measuring his piety by the amount of money he gives.” And, like the Publican, let us humble ourselves before God. “He humbles himself, and his humility justifies him before God. He becomes, in the words of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3), ‘poor in spirit.’ Our preparation for Lent thus begins with a prayer for humility, the beginning of true repentance.”

Quotes taken from the Great Lent resources page, The First Sunday of the Triodion Period: Sunday of The Publican and Pharisee, at goarch.org.

The Gospel of Luke 18:10-14

The Lord said this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 

Testimonial: What am I willing to spend?

I view my stewardship as a process. I have made a small increase this year, but I hope that by continuing to prayerfully assess my means in subsequent years I may eventually reach the level of a true steward. I am certainly not there at this point. The reasons behind my desire to increase my stewardship are hardly profound. All the things I have learned from greater involvement in my church have convinced me that true stewardship should be sacrificial. That said, I knew I was not living up to that with my previous level of contribution. I thought about how much money I am willing to spend on the other things such as a daily cup of coffee, dinner out, a new outfit, etc. When I compared those figures with how much I was giving the church, I was ashamed of myself. I had no choice but to increase my contribution, and I hope to continue to do so in future years. Those considerations and my desire to make God and my parish a priority in every element of my life lead me to increase my stewardship.

See more testimonials on giving here. Share your testimony anonymously here.

On Thanksgiving and the Anaphora

chaliceThe Divine Liturgy, and especially the Anaphora (the offering) are filled with hymns and prayers that speak directly to thanksgiving and gratitude, from which spring our tithes and offerings.

… [T]hanksgiving (Greek eucharistia) reveals the essence of Christian faith. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann said in his final sermon, “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy,” for Christians find their fundamental calling in thanksgiving… [A]ny life not built upon the foundation of gratitude to God is not authentic Christian life. Thanksgiving to God proves that we are truly alive: “The dead do not praise the Lord, / Nor any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17). We rightly call the Divine Liturgy “the Eucharist” (thanksgiving), for thanksgiving is the sign of the spiritual life, and the Eucharist keeps us alive.

From Let Us Attend: A Journey Through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, by Fr. Lawrence Farley, Chapter 13, The Anaphora (the offering).