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Almsgiving


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#1 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 04:16 PM

Dear friends,

I thought that during this period of the Fast we might renew our attention to an older project: that of our 'themes of the month', whereby we dedicate a specific thread to a concrete theme and offer contributions to it throughout the month (for past theme-of-the-month threads, see: Joy; Renewal in the Holy Spirit; Fasting; and Humility). This has proven in the past to be a helpful way to bring together thoughts and reflections on key themes in the spiritual life, from a patristic, monastic and liturgical vantage point.

I've selected as our theme-of-the-month for December: Almsgiving. Some starter questions to prompt initial offerings:
  • What does it mean to give alms? Why do we do it? How?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Is it applicable in the modern world? Do old rules / advice have value in today's culture?
  • What is the spiritual purpose?
  • Is it for everyone?
  • Is it a Christian requirement or suggestion? What, precisely, is required - and why?
  • Are there practical guidances? Etc.
For those who have not contributed to these threads before, the concept is simple: simply offer any quotations, thoughts, reflections, reactions, responses, notes, etc. on the theme - fairly much like all our other discussion threads; only try to keep things tightly focused on the theme, examining it from as many vantage points as possible within the patristic and monastic heritage.

I look forward to your offerings!

INXC, Hieromonk Irenei

#2 Timothy Mulligan

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 04:33 PM

"Would you do honor to Christ's body? Neglect Him not when naked; do not while here you honor Him with silken garments, neglect Him perishing without of cold and nakedness. For He that said, 'This is my body,' and by His word confirmed the fact, This same said, 'You saw me an hungered, and fed me not;' and, 'Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."

St. John Chrysostom, Homily 50 on the Gospel of Matthew.

#3 Ryan

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 06:45 PM

One question I would have is, how well does donation to charitable organizations fulfill the commandment? My impression (possibly erroneous) is that in older times almsgiving consisted mainly of directly giving to the poor- personally giving them clothing, housing, food, etc. When did charitable organizations begin to appear?

#4 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 07:17 PM

Dear Ryan, a connected question that may be of interest for members of the Community to discuss, is whether giving to charitable organisations effects the same spiritual transformation in a man that face-to-face charity does. When Christ commanded 'visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, tend the sick', He in that command referred to direct engagement with such people. When, today, we telephone in a donation to a large charity which does good works in far-off places, does this effect the same spiritual movement in us?

I ask this to promote reflection and discussion -- not to suggest an answer one way or the other. It is a good matter on which to think.

#5 Mark Harris

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 07:50 PM

Matthew 25 which Timothy references above demonstrates the importance of almsgiving for ones own redemption and with consideration of Luke 9 v 49 & 50 this applies to all mankind whether they are Orthodox Christian or not.

#6 Timothy Mulligan

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 07:58 PM

When, today, we telephone in a donation to a large charity which does good works in far-off places, does this effect the same spiritual movement in us?


I think that we do need to see others as Christ Himself in need; in this respect, direct giving must be a great help to us.

On the other hand, Our Lord told us that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing. He also said that we should not give alms in order to be seen. Therefore, we could harm ourselves by insisting on personal interaction. So much depends on whether our actions, whatever they be, are done in the Holy Spirit.

Don't forget that St. Nicholas, whose feast day is today, threw the three bags of gold, unseen, through the poor family's window. Quite anonymous, and deliberately non-interactive!

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#7 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 01:18 AM

When we give, as long as we don't receive an "earthly" reward (recognition/praise), we receive a blessing. Those who receive the gift are blessed by the gift, and we are blessed by the act, the penultimate "win-win" situation, don't you think?

#8 Paul Cowan

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 01:31 AM

I have been chastised by friends for giving to people who come up to me or with signs on the street corner. I used to have a lot of struggles with this as how was i to know if I was being scammed or if the person was in real need. It put me in the place of judge. Who was I to be judge over them? SO, I settled it within myself that whomever asked of me as long as I had anythign on me to give, I would give it.

The blessing was mine for the gift and theirs if received in need. The condemnation was also theirs if they scammed me. So God be the Judge. I give from a free heart without the need to determine if they are going to use it to feed their 5 kids or buy drugs and beer. Perhaps to that person both are necessary just to get through the night.

As Jesus said, " the poor you will always have with you".

Paul

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 01:52 PM

Dear Ryan, a connected question that may be of interest for members of the Community to discuss, is whether giving to charitable organisations effects the same spiritual transformation in a man that face-to-face charity does. When Christ commanded 'visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, tend the sick', He in that command referred to direct engagement with such people. When, today, we telephone in a donation to a large charity which does good works in far-off places, does this effect the same spiritual movement in us?

I ask this to promote reflection and discussion -- not to suggest an answer one way or the other. It is a good matter on which to think.


A good question. Our parish has tried giving in both ways- both the more personal (which isn't too difficult as we are in a poorer area of the city with a lot of crime) and in terms of organizations.

At first we stressed personal giving to the many who came to our doors asking for help. However as time went on we ran into more and more problems from such people which in some cases became quite threatening towards the parish. Basically it came down to the sad reality that many of these people were so troubled that the simple reception of charity was beyond them. Instead addiction to the source of the charity led in almost every case to abusive manipulation occasionally verging on violence which led us to bar all giving in this manner. I have known of other parishes that have traveled a very similar trajectory.

Instead then what we do now is to donate to a local food bank that distributes food to all those in real need. This organization gives to those in need but also provides a protective buffer so as to avoid the abusive situations described above.

Personal giving then is I believe the ideal that would be good to follow. But due to the moral condition of many of these people such giving is now almost impossible long term. Our personal 'giving' is now kept to fellow parishioners or Orthodox in the immediate area.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#10 Angelos

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 03:57 PM

Dear Paul,

The problem with giving money to people in street corners is that since the large majority of them are alcoholics or drug addicts you might just be enabling (thus making worse) their addiction. It's not that they are scam artists, but most are addicts. Maybe the best way is to give those people food or clothing, but not money

#11 Timothy Mulligan

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 05:34 PM

The problem with giving money to people in street corners is that since the large majority of them are alcoholics or drug addicts you might just be enabling (thus making worse) their addiction.


Angelos, I agree with you. I do not give money to men or women on the street for this reason. Here in Philadelphia, there is an excellent charity that serves these folks, St. John's Hospice. I would recommend donating to them, wherever you are! They feed and shelter the guys on the street and also help them to get back on their feet. You can even drop off frozen casseroles for the men's lunch.

#12 Paul Cowan

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 03:28 AM

Dear Paul,

The problem with giving money to people in street corners is that since the large majority of them are alcoholics or drug addicts you might just be enabling (thus making worse) their addiction. It's not that they are scam artists, but most are addicts. Maybe the best way is to give those people food or clothing, but not money


But Angelos, as my post stated, I will not be the judge of them. Can you look at someone and tell what problems they have? drugs, alcohol, mental retardation. Perhaps you can. I cannot and will not try. If I am asked, I will give it. Besides, my dollar or two is nothing in the big scheme of their addiction. My gift might actually be used to buy a bag of chips for dinner.

I can give money to a multitude of charities all day long, but I know most of them have a 25%+ overhead so regardless how far they can stretch a dollar, they still have to pay staff, and operating expenses. As I have said before in another thread, Our United Way is a wonderful organization where the top dog makes over $250,000 per year.

Sometimes the best way to help someone is to give them another beer. Non-addicts don't understand that mentality.

Paul

#13 Lisa Krauter

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 03:43 AM

I have always struggled with this topic -- for me, it is sometimes too easy to give money to charities and not do the hard work of relating to the people who are struggling. I happened to find this link on another website and thought others might find it beneficial. http://www.pravoslav...glish/42177.htm

In it there is a quote from St. John of Kronstadt that seems appropriate:
St. John of Kronstadt writes about this: ”Know that material alms should always be followed by spiritual alms: with affectionate, brotherly, and pure-hearted love for your neighbor. Do not allow him to notice that he is become beholden to you, do not appear proud. See that your material alms do not lose their value through your failure to provide the spiritual.”[2] (from My Life in Christ)

#14 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 02:00 PM

I think that Paul has a point- and a very good one too since our Lord commands us 'to give without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing'. In other words, to give without calculation is very important. Not to speak of how much we (I) waste and fritter away what God has granted me.

On the other hand though we do have a basic responsibility in terms of what God has granted us; ie the life and people God has asked us to be responsible for. When giving fuels the addictive behaviour which was already there, the result is often a gradual ark from manipulation to coercion to threats and sometimes violence. I have had experience of this too many times to pass it off. (with the people we used to help that came to our door it turned out that only one did not follow this pattern). I attribute this problem though to the general moral degradation of our society. Inner responsibility is no longer taught or held up as a virtue to follow, quite the contrary- so it's no wonder the dreadful things we see.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#15 Evan

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 05:34 PM

St. Ambrose, for his part, is remarkably forthright about the need for discernment in almsgiving, in light of the limited resources we have. In thinking about these words, we should keep in mind what great lengths he took to redeem captives in his own lifetime, even selling vessels of worship in order to do so.

St. Ambrose stresses throughout "De Officiis," which was written as a practical guide for clergy, the value of justice (among Cicero's four cardinal virtues, together with prudence, fortitude and temperance, which St. Ambrose re-defines for a Christian audience)-- assigning to each what is right and what honor is due them. The positive value of treating different people of different character differently, while acting always in love and in solicitude for their salvation, is continuously affirmed.

He's also clearly of the opinion that public acts of charity, if not done for the sake of ostentation, are a terrific witness. We need to be concerned with what other people think and avoid scandal-- to the extent possible (we do, after all, proclaim the triumph of a crucified Lord, in and of itself a scandal).

"It is clear, then, that there ought to be due measure in our liberality, that our gifts may not become useless. Moderation must be observed, especially by priests, for fear that they should give away for the sake of ostentation, and not for justice's sake. Never was the greed of beggars greater than it is now. They come in full vigour, they come with no reason but that they are on the tramp. They want to empty the purses of the poor— to deprive them of their means of support. Not content with a little, they ask for more. In the clothes that cover them they seek a ground to urge their demands, and with lies about their lives they ask for further sums of money. If any one were to trust their tale too readily, he would quickly drain the fund which is meant to serve for the sustenance of the poor. Let there be method in our giving, so that the poor may not go away empty nor the subsistence of the needy be done away and become the spoil of the dishonest. Let there be then such due measure that kindness may never be put aside, and true need never be left neglected.

Many pretend they have debts. Let the truth be looked into. They bemoan the fact that they have been stripped of everything by robbers. In such a case give credit only if the misfortune is apparent, or the person is well known; and then readily give help. To those rejected by the Church supplies must be granted if they are in want of food. He, then, that observes method in his giving is hard towards none, but is free towards all. We ought not only to lend our ears to hear the voices of those who plead, but also our eyes to look into their needs. Weakness calls more loudly to the good dispenser than the voice of the poor. It cannot always be that the cries of an importunate beggar will never extort more, but let us not always give way to impudence. He must be seen who does not see you. He must be sought for who is ashamed to be seen. He also that is in prison must come to your thoughts; another seized with sickness must present himself to your mind as he cannot reach your ears.

The more people see your zeal in showing mercy, the more will they love you. I know many priests who had the more, the more they gave. For they who see a good dispenser give him something to distribute in his round of duty, sure that the act of mercy will reach the poor. If they see him giving away either in excess or too sparingly, they contemn either of these; in the one case because he wastes the fruits of another's labours by unnecessary payments, on the other hand because he hoards them in his money bags. As, then, method must be observed in liberality, so also at times it seems as though the spur must be applied. Method, then, so that the kindness one shows may be able to be shown day by day, and that we may not have to withdraw from a needful case what we have freely spent on waste. A spur, because money is better laid out in food for the poor than on a purse for the rich. We must take care lest in our money chests we shut up the welfare of the needy, and bury the life of the poor as it were in a sepulchre.

Joseph could have given away all the wealth of Egypt, and have spent the royal treasures; but he would not even seem to be wasteful of what was another's. He preferred to sell the grain rather than to give it to the hungry. For if he had given it to a few there would have been none for most. He gave good proof of that liberality whereby there was enough for all. He opened the storehouses that all might buy their grain supply, lest if they received it for nothing, they should give up cultivating the ground. For he who has the use of what is another's often neglects his own."

From "De Officiis," Book II, Chapter XVI


In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 08 December 2010 - 06:30 PM.


#16 Mikhail Kolitwenzew

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Posted 08 December 2010 - 05:47 PM

"[By alms and by faithful dealings sins are purged away;] but by the fear of the Lord every one departs from evil." (Proverbs 15:27) - From The Brenton LXX.


You can give alms in different ways.

You can give alms through the tongue, by instructing, admonishing, or helping others in any way possible.
Spiritual alms can also be given through prayers.


"And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be [ye] warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what [doth it] profit?" (James 2:16)



"He that has pity on the poor lends to the LORD; and that which he has given will he pay him again." (Proverbs 19"17) KJV

#17 Timothy Mulligan

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 01:37 PM

I think that almsgiving is especially the task of Orthodox Christians living in the world, whether married or single. I believe that it can both contribute to, and demonstrate, holiness. This is brought out by this saying from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the [Trisagion] with the angels.



#18 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 05:06 PM

Yes- however we give; whether personally, or through institutions that are more assured in getting charity to those in need, or a cup of water or a word (or listening; ie giving of one's time). Almsgiving is very important.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#19 Richard A. Downing

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 01:36 PM

Well this thread seemed to fade away in the early middle of the month. Maybe we are all tired as we near the end of the fast. I need to ask some advice which is not strictly part of the discussion however, please forgive me.

For many years my wife (who isn't orthodox) and I have made a substantial (for us at least) donation to charity as our 'Christmas Present' to each other. I started looking for a way to make that through an Orthodox organisation, but found that very difficult in the UK. I could, of course, use the IOCC, which would mean some bank taking a commission on the money going from Stirling to Yankee, and then presumably IOCC would pay more commission buying the relief. Not a big issue, but I wondered what others do? Does anyone know of a reliable, low overhead, orthodox charity in the UK?

Love, Richard.

#20 Salaam Yitbarek

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 02:06 PM

Some of us have a couple of weeks left!




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