I know that I have friends who are receiving, or have applied for, or are thinking about applying for food stamps or Medicaid, or who are getting help from their parents, or from their church, or from the local food bank. For every one I know about, I’m sure there are others who are in the same position, but haven’t told me, because they’re embarrassed or ashamed. If that’s you, there’s something I want to tell you:
If you are ever tempted to think that you are doing wrong by asking for what you need, cut it out. Stop it. Repent. Jesus said that the rich were going to struggle to get into heaven. They might as well be camels, trying to get through the eye of a needle. They can’t do it, but God will make it possible. Your poverty, your need may be the thing that allows them to get through the needle’s eye, when they give to you.
And it really doesn’t matter if the giving is voluntary. I often hear people say that God doesn’t want us to be compelled to give. He wants us to give voluntarily. Well, of course that’s true. It is far better for us to give from a cheerful heart. But God will bless our gifts, and those who receive them, even if we give grudgingly.
Remember what St. Thomas did in India. He was hired by a prince to build a palace. He said he’d work on it, and he kept going back and asking for more money, and more money, and more money. Eventually, the prince wanted to see the palace, and St. Thomas showed him all the poor that he’d been feeding and housing and caring for. The prince, in fury, had him thrown in jail. And then the prince had a dream, in which one of his brothers who had already died came to him and showed him the great palace in Heaven that St. Thomas had been building for him by caring for the poor. St. Thomas had asked God to treat the gifts as if they’d been given freely by the prince, and God had honored that prayer. The prince was being saved by the gifts that St. Thomas was making to the poor on his behalf. Once the prince understood that, he freed St. Thomas and had him continue caring for the poor. But notice: God didn’t wait for him to give freely and cheerfully. God accepted the gifts that the prince gave to the poor, even when he didn’t know he was giving, even when he didn’t choose to give, and even when he would not have given if he’d had the choice.
By accepting the gifts of money and care and services from the rest of us, whether the gift is in an envelope slipped to you after church on Sunday morning, or whether it’s through food stamps or SSDI, or whatever it is, you are ministering to us. You are helping to free us from our attachment to the things of this world. You are helping us to repent of our worship of mammon. You are our guides and our help on the path to salvation.
For this, I make a metania and kiss both of your cheeks. Thank you.
~ Charli Riggle
“Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. 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, and visit the sick and the prisoners?
That is all I shall be asked.”
- St. Maria of Paris
Mother Maria was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. On Holy Saturday, 1945, she took the place of a Jewish woman who was going to be sent to the Gas Chamber, and died in her place. It was her simple life of almsgiving that gave her the courage to do that. It was the next logical step. One does not step up to give one’s life if one has not been willing to give one’s stuff.
I shared an article about the ministry on an Orthodox Facebook page and the moderator asked me if we were Orthodox, because it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. I replied that I didn’t think we needed to be sounding our trumpets when doing good works, did we? And as far as whether we are orthodox or not, Jesus will sort that out according to Matthew 25 at the last day, now won’t He? Then I gave him a run down of who attended which jurisdiction’s churches. Then I left that group. I think we really need to be more concerned about serving Christ than which service and how many we are attending. If those officiating those services do not equip us to do works of service, they are not performing their God assigned functions according to Ephesians 4.
If we get so busy going to services that we never do any service, then the church just becomes like Amway without any soap.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”
- Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:13)
“You make golden vessels, but Christ himself is starving. You make golden chalices, but fail to offer cups of cold water to the needy. Christ, as a homeless stranger, is wandering around and begging, and instead of receiving Him you make decorations.
“If you wish to honor the Eucharistic Victim, offer your own soul for which the Victim was immolated. Make your own soul all of gold. If your soul remains viler than lead or clay, what good does it do to have a golden chalice? Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Then do not disdain Him when you see Him in rags. After having honored Him in Church with silken vestments, do not leave Him to die of cold outside for lack of clothing. For it is the same Jesus Who says, “This is My Body” and Who says “I was hungry but you would not feed Me. Whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.” The Body of Christ in the Eucharist demands pure souls, not costly garments. But in the poor He demands all our care. Let us act wisely. Let us honor Christ as He Himself wishes to be honored; the most acceptable honor to one whom we would honor is the honor which He desired, not that which we ourselves imagine. Peter thought he was honoring his Master by not letting the Lord wash his feet; and yet it was just the opposite. Give Him the honor which He Himself has asked for, by giving your money to the poor. Once again what God wants is not so much golden chalices but golden souls.”
- St. John Chrysostom
Don’t just get chills and hit the “like” button. “Likes” don’t help us feed the homeless anymore than church attendance does. Hit the Donate button. We serve the homeless and the poor. If we would only work together, we could end homelessness in this country. Start by making a donation. Continue by making it monthly.
God bless you for honoring the Body of Christ.
Nothing is ours. When we give, it is not ours to give, so there is no obligation of gratitude expected. When we lend, it is not ours, there is no repayment expected. It is all God’s. We can earn nothing except God gives us breath.
Just give thanks that you can give rather than have to receive.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” – Acts 2:44-45
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” – Acts 4:32
“Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal?” — The Didache, chapter 4
“Thou shalt communicate in all things with thy neighbour; thou shalt not call things thine own; for if ye are partakers in common of things which are incorruptible, how much more [should you be] of those things which are corruptible!” — The Epistle of Barnabas, chapter XIX
Nothing and everything.
I will just start telling the story and let the chips fall.
A man was selling a lot of his stuff on a couple of tables during coffee hour, week after week during Lent. I thought that maybe he was just trying to lighten his load of earthly possessions during the fast. They seemed mainly to be superfluous fancy baubles, candles sticks and such. Then I saw he was selling some of his icons. Even then, I thought, well, you can accumulate too many for your walls after a while. But I was truly alarmed when I saw the tiny icon I had made for him of our grandson’s patron saint. I had given it to him at his baptism as he is his godfather.
As soon as he saw me, he asked me if we could talk. I said, “Of course.” As we were about to start our conversation in the entry way to the great room, a man who wanted to buy some icons interrupted us, asking if he could pay next week. Gregory said, “I really kind of need it this week.” It was one of those rare times when we had some cash, so I offered to front the money until the next week. Gregory was so relieved. He said he was selling his things so he would have enough gas money to get to church. He was so afraid that parish council would decide that he had to stop, which is exactly what happened the following week. They told him that he would be better off taking it to Brown’s Auction House. Of course, they did not offer to help him transport it there, or pack it, or deal with the emotional trauma of coming to terms with becoming homeless. They just said Holy Week is coming, we need the Great Room cleared. (Ahem)
But I got ahead of the story. Gregory told me he had been out of work for two years. He had become so depressed that he ended up in the hospital three times. He lives alone and he is the only Orthodox Christian in his family and during the course of this ordeal, his family has become estranged from him.
I told Gregory that I had to rebuild the website for my business. Since we had received so much more than we needed to actually catch up on our mortgage from our rent party, we would use that money to hire him to work on the website. He said he did not know how to do it. I said we were even, then. So he has spent the better part of the last three weeks working on the shopping cart for “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art. It has been a good experience for both of us. He is regaining some confidence to face re-entering the workforce. We have found a place for him to live with a couple of other guys, within walking distance of church, if need be. Deacon Herman and I have organized a moving party for him for this Saturday.
I am ashamed that I did not stay in touch with Gregory better to intervene sooner. Church is more than services people. It is service. It is actual fellowship, friendship and love.
I am on the fringe of things at church, so I am not that aware of everybody’s situation. Even so, I know of four households at risk of homelessness.
Oh yeah, the birds. Gregory showed me some of his portfolio. It includes some pretty amazing work. The “Fugol” above really caught my eye. I told him so and he said, “I was just doodling on the computer.” We should all doodle so well. The runes simply spell “fugol” or “bird” in Anglo-Saxon. Soon prints and special framed prints will be available for sale on www.comeandseeicons.com to benefit the development of a badly needed new area of ministry. It will include rent parties, virtual rent parties, entrepreneurial training, computer training, shop skills training, Orthodox Worker & Catholic Worker & Mennonite Worker development for Christian hospitality. For lack of a better name, I guess it would be called homelessness prevention. We are taking this graphic as a symbol of hope and rebuilding, of hidden gifts waiting to be uncovered.
There is no shame in being poor. The same cannot be said for being wealthy, according to St. James.
During Lent, there are a lot of retreats. At The King’s Jubilee, we never retreat. Yes, we go to services and pray and meditate, but we don’t let up in our service to poor and homeless people. Lent is a time for the church to advance in almsgiving. People remember the services. Do they remember to do service? Parishioners remember to fast. do they remember to give alms?
Make a monthly pledge to help end the shame of homelessness in Philadelphia.
When I say shame, I do not mean shame on the homeless. It is a shame on us as a society for being so mean spirited that we would rather have three vacant houses for every homeless person, and we will let them go to waste based on false notions of private property, glorification of greed, and lack of creativity and sense of common humanity.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
- Isaiah 58:6-12
This month marks the completion of the twenty fourth year of The King’s Jubilee ministering in Jesus’ Name. People tell me that this is a feat in and of itself, while I am disappointed we have not accomplished so much more of what we set out to do. One thing is certain, we cannot run the race to win, if we are looking backward.
I think, as Orthodox Christians, we have forgotten this. We are always remembering our traditions and our Traditions. We are remembering our Saints and our feast days and our ethnicities, forgetting that Jesus wanted to take us from many and mold us into “one new nation.” The Saints looked forward to the prize and understood that the traditions are not there to bind us to a dead past. They are there to bind us into the living vine and give us a running start into the future; if we let them. But we need to understand that they are not the end in themselves. They are scaffolding, if you will. The services of the church are not just there to perpetuate the services of the church. That would be a grand Ponzi scheme or like Amway without the soap. Yes they have beauty. Yes they are worship. Yes they have value by themselves, but they are apostolically intended to equip us and save us to DO good works, not to sit around and just be saved.
St. Paul laid out the purpose of the church in his Epistle to the Ephesians, especially in chapter 4:1-15
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord,one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. [NIV]
The church is given the gift of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers”, sometimes called the five-fold ministry, “to equip his people”, the church, ” for works of service”; that’s the part we have been neglecting. Works of service are good works out in the world. The early church rescued abandoned infants who were left to die. They buried the pagan dead, whose families could not afford or risk the time for proper burials. These works are not recorded in our writings, because there were not arguments over them like there were over doctrines and church government, etc. They were recorded in the accounts of pagan witnesses who marveled at the risks Christians would take to do such acts of generosity, compassion and courage for people who were not even part of their faith community. It was the substance of what it was to be a Christian. These tasks are what knit the church together while they were hammering out the other issues. It was the soap.
I have been trying to communicate this for years. Recently, Richard Stearns coined the term in the title of his book which speaks of this very problem: The Hole in Our Gospel. It is not just the Orthodox who are plagued by this blind spot. We tend to get focused on organizational maintenance, instead of mission achievement.
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The gates of hell are not going to mess with the church if the church is not doing anything to mess with them. In that case, they are already winning. The gates of hell need to be stormed!
We have a vision to end homelessness in Center City Philadelphia in the next five years. It is very doable. However, it is impossible if we keep acting the way we have been acting and thinking that we can just be happy serving people meals on the street for the duration.
Last year, we had to sue in federal court to keep serving food to homeless people in the parks legal. I received exactly zero support from the archdiocese and the local church to do that. Two parish friends did come on their own to witness the proceedings for one day, but I received no pastoral counsel or encouragement. At the time, I was so involved in the case, my health and focus on the business suffered and we nearly lost our house. If we want to make a difference, we can’t just leave each other hang out to dry like that. I searched for the church for 30 years to have a covering for situations like this, not to be left totally alone like I was. So this ministry making it to its 25th year has been a feat by the grace of God.
The case brought into focus our reason for existence. It is not to serve ourselves and just satisfy our own religious needs to serve the poor. That would be to objectify these homeless people. No. We need to meet them as brothers and sisters like St. John Chrysostom said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” As we serve, occasionally we are surprised by grace and we may even find Christ. In the hearing, I also learned that there are only 170 homeless men and women who live in the parkway area. This is consistent with the number we serve. I say only, because this is a very manageable number to target to help them transition off the street. But we need to do it in a caring, Christian manner, that respects their freedom and their dignity, and equips them with the social network to cope in their new surroundings. I feel there are many in the Orthodox Church, with their immigrant experience, who are uniquely suited to this ministry. There are transferable skills of adjustment.
We need to think on a larger scale than what we have been thinking. We can do so much more. And in so doing, Christ will be glorified! We have always had a motto here: “If we can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, we don’t have time to do it.” That’s why we have never received government or United Way funds and never will. We want to be doing God’s work without strings. God’s work should be paid for by God’s people. Let us set the pace and be the example. If the government likes what they see, they can try to copy it.
If you just want to make yourself feel good about helping people, or want to make the kids in Sunday School feel good about helping people, yes, we’ll take your money and your sandwiches and your power packs. People, this may help communicate a tiny aspect of the gospel to five and six year olds, but it is not the core task of the Church, and it is not the best we can do for the homeless! We need to mature in our faith. We are to be making such a difference in the world that the world takes notice and either wants to be like us or wants to kill us! I can assure you that no one was ever martyred for having chanted the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete perfectly or even near perfectly. But “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12) To “live godly” is to care for the poor and the fatherless, the widows and the orphans.
There were not always homeless on the streets. There is no reason there should be homeless on the streets now, except for the greed of others. We have more than enough vacant homes to house all of the homeless. That is prima facie evidence for a failure of our economic system. But, just in Philadelphia, if we can muster the pressure and creativity, we can restructure the existing resources to end homelessness at a lower cost than what the social service/prison/shelter industry is spending today. We need to work together. We need to be prophetic. We can be the salt and the light that God created us to be in Christ. We need to understand that it is more important to be Christian than it is to be Greek or to be Russian or to be Lebanese or to be Serbian or to be Dutch, etc. We find when we get out into the world and do works of service together, that we are then “built up” and we begin to “reach unity in the faith.”
We are trying to solicit monthly pledges of support, so that we can actually have a reliable base so we can make a difference and start working our plan. We have received a few pledges. Mostly, we have received one time gifts and some people wanting to make sandwiches. Thank you. But we won’t be able to move off square one at this rate.
People have been talking about Orthodox Christian jurisdictional unity in North America for years. What would be the point? Let’s start working together. Let’s make a difference in our world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s make a difference in Philadelphia, where no one works together! Let us show them how. We will find unity. We will naturally grow together into the head, who is Christ. The jurisdictions will eventually catch up. It may take them a while. They are not used to dramatic forward movement.