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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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

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

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We, like the Prodigal who “came to himself” (Luke 15:17), must realize how we have squandered God’s great gifts to each of us, and return to Him crying,

The riches of Your gifts of grace, which You gave me, the wretched one, I squandered badly, O Savior, since without cause I departed, and lived in great extravagance. The demons tricked me to disperse. And therefore as the Prodigal, I am returning. Receive me, O loving Father, and save me.

(From the Exaposteilarion of Orthros on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.)

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.”

 

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The essence of almsgiving is a charitable heart burning with love for every creature, and desiring what is good for it. Almsgiving consists not merely in giving, but in compassion–when we see a fellow human being suffering in some way and if we can help him, somehow, we do it.

St. Macarios of Optina

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What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.

Augustine of Hippo

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