Tag Archives: saints

One Love

Actually, apart from faith in God, Jesus left nothing of the existing Jewish religious code standing except justice and good-heartedness to one’s fellows (Mt. 7:12; 19:16-19; 22:34-40; 23:23; 54:34-36). All other obligations: sacrifices in the temple (Mk. 12:32-34), prayers at fixed hours (Lk 5:33-34), ritual washings (Mk. 7:3), distinctions between permitted or forbidden foods (Mk. 7:19) and consequently, discrimination between religious (observant) and non-religious people (non-observant), had no value for him. He affirmed that the so-called “sinners” were nearer God than those who were held to be unspotted (Lk. 18:9-14); that is, he declared invalid what was properly speaking religious practice. What God values is that we be good to others (Lk. 10:30-37) and the only thing that stains a person is evil intentions, and harming one’s neighbor (Mk. 7:20-23). Jesus asked much more: it is not enough to not kill, despising is already killing (Mt. 6:21-22). To avoid false oaths is insufficient, one has to be utterly sincere (Mt. 5:33-37). Going beyond loving those who love you, you have to love and do good to those who do not love you (Mt. 5:43-45). What Jesus wants is true and sincere good-heartedness towards everyone revealed in every detail of daily life (Mt. 7:12). Jesus cares for those who seek him. He accepts invitations from the rich as well, but without concealing his message (Lk. 11:37-52; 14:1-14).
- Juan Mateos, Vatican Theologian 1917-2003

Earlier this week I added this to my “about” page on Facebook and posted it as my status, without the scripture references. Almost immediately, I was attacked by an Orthodox priestmonk and seminary professor who took this as an attack on the Liturgy. Now the author was a Vatican theologian, so he was obviously not attacking the liturgy and I pointed this out. This man continued his attacks and what he said was most disturbing to me as it indicated that he valued the Liturgy above Love. What St. Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 13 is that the Liturgy is worthless without love. What Jesus teaches us in his vision of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 is that the Liturgy is worthless without compassion for strangers, i.e., love for mankind. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  A true liturgy should be all about love, and the atmosphere and the message attached to it, everything about it should equip the people to engage in lives of love for each other and for all mankind. It should never be about ethnic preservation or mere personal salvation. Then the medicine for our salvation can turn rancid and become a pickling agent to our souls.

A couple days later, I responded to yet another comment on a friend’s post, from yet another not so former evangelical who was busting on him for giving money to a beggar on the street. Why can’t we put this to rest, people? This is simple. Jesus told us to give to anyone who asks of us. Did He put qualifiers on it? Did He tell us to question their motives or morals? Was He stupid or unwise or unable to know our situation? Are we wiser than Jesus? OK, then. Just stop your stupid-enabling-psycho-babble-double-talk-which-is-just-an-excuse-for-you-to-feel-better-about-not-helping-because-that-is-what-your-greedy-self-wanted-to-do-anyway. Are you one of those hyper-Orthodox and Jesus’ word isn’t good enough for you; you need to hear it from “The Fathers”? OK, here goes:

“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”

“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.”

“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.”

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness . . .
“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.”

“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy.”

- St. John Chrysostom, Second Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man


On Friday, Deacon Herman shared the documentary “Marley” with us, about the life and career of Bob Marley. There were several things that were striking about his life. While the movie did not cover why he converted to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, I can understand why he did from the interviews that were included and how he lived his life. He was a serious almsgiver. Reporters would ask him if he was rich. He would ask them if they were talking about money. Then he would say: “What is that? I have people, lots of people, brothers and sisters! Friends. Love. That is the riches!” He was making millions at the time and he knew how to make a lot of money. He also knew how to give it away.

One of his bandmates said that wherever they would go, people would come up to him and ask him for money. He would ask them what their dream was, what their plan was and listen to it, then give them enough to make it happen. He was always doing this. He started out life poor, halfcaste and in the ghetto. He never forgot those roots. He was nurtured by a Rastafari master, but he got to see Haile Selassie I and he was honest enough to realize that the man did not think of himself as Jesus Christ reincarnate, but was, in fact, Ethiopian Orthodox. Orthodoxy has a rich theology of serving the poor, almsgiving, and the hope for the unity of all mankind. Bob was already more than halfway there. Very little catechesis was needed for such a soul as he, I’m sure. His whole life had been a catechesis of sorts.

What is my point? God is love. He calls us to be godly. That means first and foremost He calls us to love! Jesus said that all of the Commandments were fulfilled by love. Juan Mateus made a case from the Scripture that the Liturgy is worthless without love. St. John Chrysostom makes the case that we are not to judge those to whom we give alms, but merely obey Christ. Finally, we see the example of Bob Marley, who did not just give token, spare change alms, but intentionally earned as much as he could, so he would have more to give away. His paying audience was mainly upper, middle class, white, young people. He redistributed in the poorer neighborhoods. He gave in such a way as to make a difference in a person’s life, so they could make a new start.

So my point is this: One Love. It all flows from One Love as Bob Marley sang. That is God. If the Liturgy is just a way for us to preserve our ethnic heritage or language. If it is just a place to squabble over whose tones are better, or to showcase our excellent chorus, or which calendar is correct, or to interrupt it to scold someone for sitting, then you have missed the point. Love does not judge. Love is not stingy and does not keep a ledger sheet. Then there is the almsgiving example of Bob Marley. If you live a life centered in love, you don’t just give your leftovers or your scraps away. You live intentionally to use your gifts to help as many people as you can to the maximum benefit; or to rescue one exceptionally needy person, however God leads; but with intention, on a path of love. You can do this directly, if you have direct contact with needy people. If you do not, then give your money to agencies such as The King’s Jubilee. We will deliver your alms for you.

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness”

Some words from St. John Chrysostom:

“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.

“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.

“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness . . .
“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.

“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy.”

You were not born too late.

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“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks; with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ. All that the friends of Christ did for him in his lifetime, we can do. Peter’s mother-in-law hastened to cook a meal for him, and if anything in the Gospels can be inferred, it surely is that she gave the very best she had, with no thought of extravagance. Matthew made a feast for him, inviting the whole town, so that the house was in an uproar of enjoyment, and the straitlaced Pharisees – the good people – were scandalized.” – Dorothy Day.

Santa gives more to rich kids than poor kids.

Yesterday I posted an icon with the quote from St. Basil the Great where he wrote, “Property is theft.” It went viral with over 2,000 views in the first 12 hours and 38 shares. A friend wondered if he was speaking to monastics when he wrote this. He may have been. I don’t think it matters. It jives with the principles he enunciates everywhere else in his teachings to non-monastics and with the teachings of the other Fathers, Jesus, the Apostles, the Law and the Prophets. This ministry is called “The King’s Jubilee” based on Jesus’ message in Luke 4 where he proclaimed Himself and the Church to be the fulfilment of Isaiah 60. This is all based on the jubilary proclamation: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it!” This proclamation precludes private property. All we have, and, in fact, our very beings, belong to God. God is no respecter of persons, so if another of his children has need of something we happen to have, we have no right to hold on to it. It is theft to hold on to it. St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom all said so.

Somehow we don’t hear sermons on this. We hear justifications for holding on to wealth to make sure our children have all of the advantages in life. Are we teaching our children to live by faith and to serve the poor and to live in community with their brothers and sisters or to live like the world with a Christian gloss? This is what St. Basil the Great has to say on the subject:

“But wealth is necessary for rearing children,” someone will say. This is a specious excuse for greed; although you speak as though children were your concern, you betray the inclinations of your own heart. Do not impute guilt to the guiltless! They have their own Master who will care for their needs. They received their being from God, and God will provide what they need to live. Was the commandment found in the Gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” not written for the married? After seeking the blessing of children from the Lord, and being found worthy to become parents, did you at once add the following, “Give me children, that I might not attain the Kingdom of Heaven?”
- St. Basil, “To the Rich” (On Social Justice, p.54, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

We did not play Santa Claus with our daughters. We always told them the true story of St. Nicholas. We felt if we lied to them about Santa Claus and they found out about that, they would wonder what else we may have lied to them about. We also do not like the whole “gimme” covetousness culture that goes along with Santa Claus. We brought ex-offenders into our home who had no other home plan. I was a full-time prison minister and lived by faith of what came in in donations to support us. I once was hitch-hiking home from leading a Bible study in Graterford Prison and a couple picked me up. They apologized for how messy their car was, because they were living in it. Well, two of our daughters doubled up in a bedroom and the couple lived with us for the winter. God provided for us and them. God protected us. Have you met our four daughters? They don’t have high powered jobs or a lot of money, but they are kind and compassionate and use what they have to serve those in need. They are serious about their Christianity. Children learn what they live.

Rich-kids

Last year I saw this billboard around Allentown that said, “Santa Gives More to Rich Kids Than Poor Kids. Stop Lying to Your Children About Santa Claus.” I thought that was an “in your face” way of going about it, but sometimes that is what it takes. The Christmas message is supposed to be the Christian message. The Christian message is not the prosperity gospel of wish fulfilment and Santa Claus gimme. It is that of sharing and equality among all peoples. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” “The rough places made plain.” “The valleys exalted and the mountains brought low.” “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

This is not the time to get angry about people who say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” and turn it into some sort of false martyrdom. That doesn’t make us any friends. It’s time to renew our commitment and put Christ back into Christian. Let us serve the poor in His Name. Let us learn to live more simply that others may simply live. Let us live our lives in such a way that all will know that we are His disciples, so they may glorify God with us.

“We have fun!”

dollar-coinsMost of the time when people tell me that what we do is special, or that I am a special person for what I do, my response is, “We have fun!” And I am being serious when I say this.

Jesus told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The word blessed can mean happy. Doing something that makes you happy is kind of the definition of fun. I can tell you from experience, Jesus did not lie. Now the world has us all excited about receiving. And receiving things can be pretty happy sometimes, especially if we are in a tight spot and they fill a crying need. Well, to be the one who gets to fill that need is even happier! We don’t have much of anything of our own. What we do have, we share. So to do this ministry is such a joy. We have time and some cooking skill, so April and Kevin and I cooked yesterday. And I get to be a delivery person for what you all give, and thus, share in the fun!

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Last night we gave out the dollar coins to the people to celebrate this. I asked for special prayer, because last year things got out of hand and about $300 was stolen. Now I was there to give it away, so it wasn’t a loss to the ministry, but it wasn’t a good scene and wasn’t good for the soul of the persons who stole it. God answers prayer. We didn’t have such a huge crowd. I waited until we were just about done serving food. I did not try to tell the story to the crowd all at once. I did not carry the rolls of coins in a bag. I wore my winter coat that was entirely too warm, but had the right, zippered pockets, and carried a few rolls of coins in each pocket at a time. I just wandered through the people and handed out three dollars to each, remembering their faces. Soon someone asked why there were three coins. So I told them about St. Nicholas inheriting three bags of gold and the three daughters of the poor man. The poor man could not afford dowries for his daughters, so Bishop Nicholas, on the eve of when each of them were to be sold into slavery threw a bag of gold up and over, so that it fell down into the hearth, thus providing dowries for each of these girls in turn. Someone else asked, so I told them again, only this time I mentioned the St. Nicholas’ Cross that you see on all pawnbrokers’ shops, because he redeemed the maidens, and one always hopes one can redeem one’s possessions from the pawnbroker. I had way more than enough coins for everybody. I ended up giving to people twice and some more than twice. Steve and I started to go to the other end of the park and distributed there.

I went back and got more coins. Anthony went with me and we circled two blocks to where people were camped and gave out coins. I handed three coins to one older man saying, “In honor of St. Nicholas, God bless you.” He looked at me kind of startled. Anthony told him that they were dollar coins. The man was just so surprised and grateful. He said, “I’m a Muslim, but I understand some things about Christianity and you’re a righteous man. God bless you.” Then he said to Anthony, “Stick with him. Out here, it could get messy.” I turned back to him and gave him three more dollars and asked him to pray for me. He had tears in his eyes.

When we got back to the benches where we serve, the Project HOME outreach van was there. I reached in the window and gave the volunteers coins for St. Nicholas Day. One of them had come out with us a couple of years ago as it turns out. It apparently was when I was in the hospital, because someone else was in charge. She had very nice things to say about The King’s Jubilee and they learned some things about St. Nicholas.

I also talked to Sadie. Sadie and Daniel are two of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet. Please keep them in your prayers. They have had the worst couple of years. Daniel wasn’t allowed to come out on the damp night, because he has walking pneumonia. Sadie just had surgery for stomach cancer and has started chemo. Earlier this year she had a heart attack and stents and a broken foot. Their 14 year old special needs daughter was repeatedly raped by a fellow special needs student. They had finally moved off the street, then lost their place, because they had taken in a brother-in-law who had a criminal record that got the whole family thrown out of public housing. They were being good Christians to help their nieces and nephews, and they get penalized for it. They are off the street again. Thank God. They maintain a positive and cheerful attitude through it all. They are amazing people! Daniel’s Birthday is tomorrow. I sent extra coins home with Sadie to help celebrate.

Thank you all for enabling me to deliver a bit of happiness to some of our brothers and sisters on the street. We really are having fun!

Be blessed! Have some fun!

To my friends who are in need

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 ofcharli 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

Sentiments & Actions

mother_maria

Last week, I posted the above image as our header on our Facebook page and it took off like wildfire. It has been shared over 40 times and viewed over 4,000 times according to Facebook stats. The number is probably much higher. Our link to donate is connected to it, both in print and as a live link. Several people have expressed their admiration for St. Maria in comments. No one has given alms to the poor through The King’s Jubilee in response. This has led me to do some more thinking about Orthodox veneration of saints. We really do like our saints, but we like them dead.

i dare say that most of the people who shared and commented on the image would probably also favor the zoning that would prohibit her from running her house of charity next door to them. She certainly exceeded most health departments’ legal occupancy limits. She lived in the cellar to make room for more. That was not an approved living space! What would that do to property values? She was a demanding woman, as well. She placed higher demands on her disciples than Jesus placed on his. Jesus only asked that if you had two coats, you should give up one. She said that you should give up your only coat to the suffering. Living saints can be insufferable. No wonder she was divorced twice!

She had what it took for the times she was facing. Our saints are human. They are not sinless. But God uses them and and shapes them in spite of and because of their flaws into just the right tools for the jobs at hand. She could smile peacefully at Nazi guards while she smuggled children out of the arena in trash cans. They were just “doing their jobs.” She was just doing hers.

The quote, “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. The way to God lies through the love of people.” This is not so hard to apply to the children in the trash cans. It is hard to apply to the Nazi guards. For years, I have had a similar saying, or rather, prayer: “Lord, with each person I meet today, let me see what it is about them that You love.” It is a terrible prayer. It breaks one’s heart when the answers come.

I believe I put the wrong image on the banner above. I once saw Gary Heidnik. I actually felt his presence, before I saw him. I was in Philadelphia City Hall waiting by the holding pen for an inmate to be released for me to take to his aftercare program, back when I was Mennonite Chaplain for Philadelphia Prisons. My back was turned, but I felt a darkness of evil. I turned around to see Gary Heidnik, the serial killer, shuffling in shackles, being escorted by two guards from the courtroom into the holding area. The hair on my neck stood on end. And all I thought was, “God is gracious. He is still giving him breath. What is there possibly left that God loves and hopes to redeem? Yet here he was, the living, breathing evidence that God ‘is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’” I learned then, that even Gary Heidnik was the very icon of God in the world.

Jesus called us to serve “the least of these … .” Sometimes they are downright unlovely. I can be unlovely as well. “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief.” People are messy. God loves us anyway, every single one of us. There are no throwaway people. We serve hundreds of people every week who many have been thrown away. Right now, it feels as though we have been thrown away. We have no paying jobs, despite looking and looking. The house is being foreclosed on. I just put one foot in front of the other to serve the poor. I have worked for 25 years without pay to keep this ministry going. If all of the people who say they like this ministry would give just $10/month, we would be able to cure the foreclosure, be fulltime in ministry, and expand our services among the poor and homeless. If everyone gave just $20/month, we would be able to get a facility, organize more volunteers, and be working a plan to end homelessness in center city Philadelphia. So, don’t just kiss the icons, like the links, and share the photos. Sentiments don’t feed the hungry or keep anyone warm on a cold winter night. We need action. We need money to pay the bills so we have a kitchen in which to cook the food and a car to deliver it. We will see over 250 homeless and poor people on Thursday. We will give each of them two meals. We will try to give blankets to those who ask for them. We will try to give those who ask for it bus fare to get to jobs. We will give a few of them rides home. We do this on your behalf and in Jesus’ Name. How many will you see, so that you can give them your alms personally? Let us deliver your alms for you. Use the Paypal button below to set up an automatic monthly donation. May God bless you as you put sentiment into action.

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Apostolic Economics

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