We meet homeless people nearly every day on our life's path; people who are often contemptuously called ”bums.” We see them at the train station, near the subway, in town squares and parks, and of course, at the churches, asking for money. Each time we see them, our hearts deliberate painfully over the question, ”Should we give them alms, or not?” Then, other questions immediately arise, ”How much? How should we give them? Is there any sense in giving at all?”
People are generally divided into two groups. The first are those who give according to their means to all, without thinking about it or asking any questions, following the Lord's words, Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away (Mt. 5:42). The second group is of those who do not give money to ”bums,” considering that we mustn't indulge the ”bum mafia,” for we participate in their sin of drunkenness and sponging, lying, etc. by giving money to them. These people are ready to fulfill Christ's commandment and are willing to help people, but only those who really need help. They cite the words of the holy fathers in support of this—that the greatest virtue is discernment, for fasting, prayer, alms, or any other virtue will bring a person no benefit if done beyond our strength or out of season. Truly, no one would give anyone money for a rope to hang himself, no matter how tearfully or insistently he begs it. That rope could be a bottle of liquor, which strangles the neck of the beggar each day with increasing strength, or the rope of lies that you would indulge by giving money. There are hundreds and thousands of such ropes.
So what must we do to fulfill the commandment of Christ and please the Lord in the best way? The answer is simple: love. Try also not to do anything without love. Then everything will settle into place, and even the question itself will seem silly. As we know, Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Of course, it is hard to just up and love every homeless person, but it is usually quite possible to show compassion for every person that the Lord has brought to us. I would like to share a little practical experience in helping the homeless under various circumstances.
For example, you are walking to work, and a tipsy beggar asks you for money. What should you do? Don't be lazy—ask him why he needs money. They are often asking for food. This is the simplest case. Then you need to go with him to the nearest grocery store and buy him something he hasn't had for many long years. Give him a holiday, as if this were your old classmate. Something tasty and filling, like good sausage, chicken, cheese, yogurt—in other words, something that they could never get for themselves because it is too expensive to eat in sufficient quantities. Even if the homeless person was lying to you at first about food, he will nevertheless be thankful. Try to transfer this thankfulness to the Lord, let him thank the Lord, and not you personally. For example, tell him that it was Christ Who sent you to him today. Then it will be both bodily and spiritual alms. Try to see a deeply suffering person in him; and if you cannot see in even the last ”bum” the image of God, perhaps very soiled, clouded over, but nevertheless the great image of God, then perhaps you need to discuss this with your spiritual father and pray about it.
Ask the homeless person what his name is, where he hangs out and how often, when is his birthday, is he baptized. Be sincere and kind with him. Homeless people are very sensitive to insincerity. Do not hasten to judge him. We do not know what we ourselves would be if the Lord had deprived us of His protection and hadn't guarded us from the demon of drunkenness and other vices. Wouldn't we be much worse than that person? In a word: love him. Love him to the extent of your heart's capacity; love him sincerely, for Christ's sake. And if even a little love is born in your heart for this person, then the next time, when you are leaving your house, you will probably be prepared for another meeting with him: take some food from home, some warm clothing, a book, or something he might like. You will leave fifteen minutes early for work and find him; wait for him, call him by his name, show some concern for him, and increase love in this world, the lack of which is felt ever more sharply. Thus, from day to day you can live for the sake of Christ, taking care of one poor person. Do not just buy yourself off with money, do not limit yourself to one-time help. It is good, but it is not a perfect fruit. You can't just love for a half an hour and then forget about it.
The only warning is: do not give money for any reason, and do not cave in to their persuasion! Those on the streets in such difficult straights, spiritually sick, are in the absolute majority of cases not capable of using money properly. Buy him the thing he needs, get into his shoes, and understand his problems.
It is important to care for a person's body, but it is even more important to care for his soul. Do this without being intrusive: let your heart tell you when to talk to him about confession, prayer, or about God's infinite mercy; about how true life and healing are possible only through the Lord's healing of his soul, which cannot happen unless he wants it. Sometimes a person hungers for this and wants to hear it right away, but sometimes this happens only years later. 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.”
Of course, not all possible instances are limited to food, and there are many others. But it is all united by one thing: It is impossible to fulfill Christ's commandment to Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Lk. 6:36) without love. With regard to the homeless, this becomes especially obvious. But this relates to other instances: if you help a sick person, you must not just buy medicine; you can't just send a prisoner a package; you can't just send toys to a children's home, etc. This is all very good, but without sincere love this all often loses value, gives cause for sin and vice amongst those who receive it and those who dispense it. Medicines can make other sick people jealous, prisoners can lose your food packages in a card game; and children in children's homes can become little extortionists. We return again and again to the same question: what should we do? And the answer is always the same: love, love for the sake of Christ. Pray for the sick one, visit him, console him, buy him medicine, talk with other patients, give them little joys and holidays, talk about God's greatness and mercy; correspond with the prisoner, send him packages, console him and preach, give him hope and make him think about the life he has lived; visit children, bring them toys, draw with them, sing, treat them to cakes, teach them to pray, hope and trust the Lord God, etc. And live this way from day to day for the sake of Christ. Of course, many do not have enough time for all of this. In that case, at least help those who sincerely do these things, and pray for them with your whole heart, which was undoubtedly created for love.
But never take on labors beyond your strength: never take a homeless person to your own house for the night, do not go alone to places where they congregate, do not borrow money from someone else to give to the homeless. You have to be frank about the fact that the majority of people in this social stratum are spiritually very sick, often psychologically as well, and always physically. Such attempts often end tragically. They are often just the consequence of pride and neophyte zeal.
In the mind of some people lives a myth that if you give a person an apartment and work, he will get better. Practical experience shows that this is not the case. Without peace with God, without a divine miracle of healing of the soul, this is not possible. But we can be God's co-laborers, increasing love and helping a person to turn and face God.
Furthermore, it has to be said that mercy need to be shown toward all—the rich and the poor, the good and the bad; only we must not indulge mortal sins of lying, drunkenness, promiscuity, and others, and we must approach everyone with love and discernment. ”He who gives alms, in imitation of God, does not discriminate in bodily needs between the mean and kind, the righteous and the unrighteous”
Thus, in very complicated situations I have had to say sincerely to a persistently lying homeless person that I absolutely do not believe him, but I will help him for Christ's sake, for the sake of the love that Christ has given for him. It is important that without love, even such a great virtue as discernment can turn into judgment, justification of one's own greed, and laziness. We have to pray that God would give us the gift of discernment. This gift is given for a life in Christ that is kind and full of mercy.
When going to do works of mercy, we must not forget to pray to God that He would give us the strength and knowledge to fulfill His commandment as is pleasing to Him. In general, prayer is an inalienable part of works of mercy. Without prayer, it is almost impossible to do anything pleasing to God. We can calculate, make agreements, be sure of success; but if there was no prayer, then our works are like a house built upon sand. A homeless person who has not eaten meat for a long time can feel sick after eating it now; a new jacket can become the cause of his getting beaten; renewed identification documents can be stolen by his ”friends” and used for criminal purposes which could have unforeseen consequences; medical help could cause complications; and the list goes on.
If we have talked with someone it would be good to pray briefly about that person, even if we do not know his name, but especially if we do know it. Some pastors bless to read the prayer, ”O Heavenly King,” especially if the conversation turns to spiritual matters. When you approach someone, it would be good to smile sincerely. After all, it is wonderful to be a participant, fulfiller, and conduit of God's mercy.
You must never combine your gifts with reproaches against his way of life, with moralizing and unsolicited advice. You have to help him simply, without trying to teach him. It is hard enough for him, even if it is his own fault; added reproach and moralizing would only be one more aggravating circumstance for him. Our job is not to aggravate, but to try to ease his burden if only for a second. You can only give advice after getting to know and love the person, if he trusts you, and only with prayer and inner humility.
When talking with ”bums,” we have to watch that presumption does not show up in our speech. And if while giving alms we allow ourselves to be high-minded toward the person or vainglorious, this will wipe out our virtue, make our behavior vile in the Lord's eyes; and He will without fail punish us for this if we do not repent of it.
This may all seem hard to fulfill, but it is worth the effort. These labors of mercy are real, active proof of our faith and love for Christ. Most important of all: the Lord helps us when we do acts of mercy. He gives us special grace, often even despite our vanity and laziness. If a person sincerely tries to please and love the Lord, the Lord covers and corrects him; even more than that—He turns our mistakes into something glorious. Grace begins to transform our souls, and the grain of the Kingdom of Heaven begins to grow. A person begins to feel this special joy of a new spiritual reality more and more each day: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field (Mt. 13:44). Abiding in this grace so transforms the soul that work which seemed impossible becomes simple and even desired.
By helping people, do not hope to change the world and all the homeless, do not expect them to thank you—do it all for the sake of Christ's love. Do not despair or be afraid if after all your efforts someone turns your alms toward evil. ”Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what.… And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.”
It goes without saying that in our time there are saintly people living, but for ordinary sinful city dwellers, worn out by the rat race of consumerism, deprived of prayer of the heart, not capable of perfect fasting, not having time for apostolic service, sunk in credit card bills and everyday affairs, ”Alms given for the sake of Christ, for the sake of love for Him, cleanses us of sins more than sacrifices, opens the heavens more than virginity, and can make one equal to the apostles.”
A few words must be said also for those who never give alms at all to ”bums,” considering that these people are themselves at fault for all their problems. I will say this: Perhaps you are right, but isn't the Lord able to help and resurrect even the dead? Does the Creator of the universe, heaven and earth and all that exists need our pennies and millions? Is it really important to Him which pocket carries our ten-dollar bill? Or can't He feed the hungry, clothe the freezing, give shelter to the homeless? The good Lord can do all these things, but He has entrusted them to us. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Mt. 25:4–40). And in order to serve Christ we don't have to have lived two thousand years ago; we can simply give a bowl of soup to a homeless person and say to God: ”You are hungry, Lord. Here, eat.”
* * *
Father James posts the following article:
Value of Holy Water; Saint John Wonderworker of Shanghai &
During this time many Orthodox Christian will take from the Church bottles of Holy water to be used throughout the year. It is common for the priest to come to the home during this period to bless the home with Water that has been consecrated on the day of Theophany. Here are some thoughts on the value of Holy Water by Saint John of San Francisco.
On Theophany, the Day of the Lord's Baptism, every year a great miracle is performed. The Holy Spirit, coming down upon the water, changes its natural properties. It becomes incorrupt, not spoiling, remaining transparent and fresh for many years. This Holy Water receives the grace to heal illnesses, to drive away demons and every evil power, to preserve people and their dwellings from every danger, to sanctify various objects whether for church or home use. Therefore, Orthodox Christians with reverence drink Holy Water — a great Agiasma (holy thing), as the Greeks call it.
One should always have at home enough Theophany water to last the whole year, and make use of it at every need: in cases of illness, leaving on a journey, whenever one is upset, students prior to examinations, etc. People who drink a little Holy Water daily, before eating any kind of food, do well. It strengthens the powers of our soul—if it is done with prayer and reverence, and one does not merely expect a mechanical result from it.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Why We Need to Read Scripture Daily
by St. John Chrysostom
I also always entreat you, and do not cease entreating you, not only to pay attention here to what I say, but also when you are at home, to persevere continually in reading the divine Scriptures. When I have been with each of you in private, I have not stopped giving you the same advice. Do not let anyone say to me those vain words, worthy of heavy condemnation, "I cannot leave the courthouse, I administer the business of the city, I practice a craft, I have a wife, I am raising children, I am in charge of a household, I am a man of the world; reading the Scriptures is not for me, but for those who have been set apart, who have settled on the mountaintops, who keep this way of life continuously." What are you saying, man? That attending to the Scriptures is not for you, since you are surrounded by a multitude of cares? Rather it is for you more than for them. They do not need the help of the divine Scriptures as much as those do who are involved in many occupations. The monks, who are released from the clamor of the marketplace and have fixed their huts in the wilderness, who own nothing in common with anyone, but practice wisdom without fear in the calm of the quiet life, as if resting in a harbor, enjoy great security; but we, as if tossing in the midst of the sea, driven by a multitude of sins, always need continuous and ceaseless aid of the Scriptures. They rest far from the battle, and so they do not receive many wounds; but you stand continuously in the front rank, and you receive continual blows. So you need more remedies. Your wife provokes you, for example, your son grieves you, your servant angers you, your enemy plots against you, your friend envies you, your neighbor curses you, your fellow soldier trips you up, often a law suit threatens you, poverty troubles you, loss of you property gives you grief, prosperity puffs you up, misfortune depresses you, and many causes and compulsions to discouragement and grief, to conceit and desperation surround us on all sides, and a multitude of missiles falls from everywhere. Therefore, we have a continuous need for the full armor of the Scriptures. For recognize, it is written, that you go through the midst of snares and walk on the ramparts of the city. For example, the designs of the flesh attack more fiercely those who live in the midst of the world. A handsome face, a splendid body strikes us in the eyes; a shameful phrase piercing our ears troubles our mind; and often an effeminate song weakens the tension of our soul. But why am I saying this? That which often seems the slightest of all these attacks, the scent of perfume falling from courtesans as they pass somewhere nearby has captured and taken us away as prisoners by a mere accident. And there are many things like these which besiege our souls: we need the divine medicines to heal the wounds which we have received and to protect us from those which we have not yet received but will receive. We must thoroughly quench the darts of the devil and beat them off by continual reading of the divine Scriptures. For it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved without continually taking advantage of spiritual reading. Actually, we must be content, if even with continual use of this therapy, we are barely able to be saved. But when we are struck every day, if we do not use any medical care, what hope do we have of salvation?
Reading the Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention.
St. John Chrysostom On Wealth and Poverty , pg. 58-60 Saint Vladimir Press
The Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom
BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery.
My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.
For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.
What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.
Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.
Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.
For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.
What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me.
Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.
To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.
THE MYSTERY OF LOVING-KINDNESS
A Sermon by St John of Kronstadt on the Nativity of Christ
"Great is the mystery of piety: God is manifested in the flesh." (I Tim. 3, 16)
It is on this day that, throughout the entire inhabited world, the Holy Church brings to our remembrance and observes that most majestic and sublime of mysteries: the Incarnation of God the Word from a Most-pure virgin through an outpouring of, and an overshadowing by, God's Holy Spirit. Wondrous, inexpressible, and awesome is this mystery, both for the exalted and all-contemplating celestial minds of those who dwell in the heavens: the ranks of the angels, – and for the minds of men, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Imagine: the unoriginate God from Whom everything received the commencement of its existence: the Angels, and the human race, and the entire world, both visible and invisible, – takes a beginning in His humanity. He Whom the heavens cannot contain – is contained in a virginal womb. God – becomes an infant, and is borne upon the arms of a Mother. He Who nourishes every breath – is nourished by paps.
The science of astronomy has learned and affirms that, in the order of creation, our earth is but a barely-noticeable point; that millions of worlds around our own fill up the vastnesses of space. And, lo! this single point, this barely-noticeable globe of God's creation, being inhabited by men, – has been accounted worthy of the inexpressible honour of bearing upon itself God-in-the-Flesh, the God-Man, Who did deign to dwell amongst men, to teach erring mankind the knowledge of God, to work innumerable miracles of good, to preach repentance and complete forgiveness of sins; to suffer and to die as an holy Sacrifice for the sins of the world, to be resurrected through the power of Divinity from amongst the dead, – having vanquished death, which is natural to all men, – and to make a gift of resurrection to the entire human race.
Not a single one of the visible worlds, save the earth, has been deemed worthy of this greatest of all honours: for it was only upon the earth that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the heavenly Father, had a Virgin-Mother, and He alone was Her Son by way of humanity. Why was the earth given such preference? Why was it only on earth that God appeared in the flesh? – This is a great Divine mystery, a mystery of immeasurable loving-kindness and of God's condescension to perishing mankind.
Thus, God did appear in the flesh: rejoice and be exceeding glad, O earth; rejoice and celebrate, ye earth-born. The Creator Himself did come to you, in order to create you anew; to restore you, who were corrupted by transgressions. To you did He come: the almighty Physician Himself, – powerful to treat all the inveterate afflictions of sin, – in order that He might heal all the passions of the soul and all the infirmities of the body, – all of the which He truly did do, as we know from the Gospel and from the history of the Church.
Thus, greet Him joyfully – with pure minds and hearts, with bodies chaste and restrained by fasting and abstinence, which the Holy Church has thoughtfully instituted prior to this great feast in order to prepare us worthily to meet the heavenly Tsar', Who comes to us in order to abide in us.
He came to us with the mercy and good will of His heavenly Father, – and from us He demands mercy toward our neighbours; He is the righteous Tsar' – and He demands of us all righteousness; for He, too, as a man, fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3,15), showing us an example and providing us with grace and the strength to carry it out. He Himself did suffer for us, having borne the cross; and He taught us to deny ourselves, – or our sins and our passions, – and to follow after Him, doing what is holy out of reverence for God (2 Cor. 7, 1).
He came to heal our souls, ailing from sin, and commanded all to repent; let us ever, then, be earnestly contrite, correcting ourselves and striving toward holiness and perfection. The holy Angels, at the Nativity of the God-man, did declare peace unto the world; and unto men – the good will of the Heavenly Father. Let us then, ourselves, have within us a peaceful conscience, and let us be at peace with everyone, if possible. Be at peace and be holy with all, sayeth the apostle, – for without this shall none see the Lord. (comp. Heb. 12, 14).