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(From a reader): Connecting fasting + almsgiving is challenging, so I’m keeping it simple. A friend shared with me that she always buys something for the food pantry every time she shops, so at the very least I am trying to do that. I hope at some point to figure out how to actually go hungry and give what I could have eaten to the poor. Not there yet.

This Great Lent, we invite our readers to an intentional practice of the connection between fasting and almsgiving. Please email us at info@everygoodandperfectgift.org with details about how you plan to put the Almsgiving Challenge into practice. We’ll share your experience anonymously with our readers.

A Little Leaven

One church’s recipe for meeting a need in their local community

Starting a new outreach ministry in a parish can be as simple as responding to a need in the local community with a few dedicated volunteers and a vision for service. Christ the Savior, a small Greek Orthodox church in Tennessee, had all the ingredients to start such a ministry. They knew that their northeastern region of Tennessee had been particularly hard hit by the economic crisis of the last several years. The local food bank reported that one in four people in the region live in poverty; nearly one in five adults and two out of five children in the area have food insecurity. This means many households have to choose between food and other basic necessities. The local food pantries and shelters saw a marked increase in clients over the past few years, some an increase of as high as twenty-five percent.

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One of the needs of the food pantries in the area is for bread. Pantries rely on day-old bread donations from local grocery stores or must purchase bread when donations do not meet the need. Christ the Savior had many of the resources to match this need: two volunteers with certification and experience in baking large quantities of bread, a professional kitchen, and the commitment of parish leadership to meeting the needs of the local community. Only one thing was missing, a large capacity mixer. Read More →

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People give all sorts of reasons to excuse their lack of charity, their hardheartedness!  Some say, “hard times.” But if the times are hard for those who have a sufficiency, how much harder are they for the poor?  This pretext alone should lead one to give all the more generously.
+St. Theophan the Recluse

consume less + give more

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(From a reader): In our efforts to connect fasting + almsgiving, we found The Food Stamp Challenge, which challenges others to eat on the food budget of those who receive Food Stamps, or roughly $1 per meal per person. I found a wealth of meal-planning tips online and also used When You Fast by Catherine Mandell. We sometimes exceeded the $1 per meal guideline, but we still saved that first year more than 25% of our normal food budget. When I shopped, I made it a habit to spend 25% of my budget on food for our Food Bank and/or our local food pantry or local homeless. At the end of Lent we made a donation of the rest of our savings.

This Great Lent, we invite you to an intentional practice of the connection between fasting and almsgiving. We’ll be adding to the blog every few days with what we hear from our readers who are taking the Almsgiving Challenge to consume less + give more. Please email us at info@everygoodandperfectgift.org with details about how you plan to put the Almsgiving Challenge into practice. We’ll share your experience anonymously with our readers.

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

For the second year, EveryGoodandPerfectGift.org is challenging our readers to consume less + give more this Great Lent. We will be sharing feedback from our readers each week with concrete, practical suggestions for making the connection between fasting + almsgiving. Email us at info@everygoodandperfectgift.org with details about how you plan to put the Almsgiving Challenge into practice (we’ll share your experience anonymously with our readers.)

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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.

Sunday of Orthodoxy

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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.

From the Sunday of Orthodoxy Matins 

PRODSON

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.

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

Testimonial: A Leap of Faith

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Several decades ago, when I was raising my children and growing in involvement at my church, disaster struck the parish budget. Our annual Greek festival, without which our parish could not survive, only broke even because of a weekend of torrential rains and high winds. That’s the year we started talking about making the change—the leap of faith, really—to total stewardship. Eventually we decided to go ahead and do it, no longer holding a festival and asking parishioners for stewardship to cover the operating budget.

I was a part of the fledgling stewardship committee, and the discussions we had in the Board room inevitably led to discussions at our kitchen table. When I suggested that our own family take the same leap of faith the church was taking—that is, that we work toward tithing—my spouse resisted, at first. We were people of modest means, raising a large family, how could we possibly afford to tithe? Read More →

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