Friday, November 30, 2018

Humility: Divine Protection from Spiritual Deception ( Elder Daniel of Katounakia )

“A sinner can easily repent, but it is difficult for one in delusion…” (Elder Daniel of Katounakia, Contemporary Elders, p. 258).

“All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 8:32-14:6)… With tears let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! ‘For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descend to us,’ says the venerable Symeon the New Theologian, ‘because he wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.’” (St. Ignatius, On Spiritual Deception).

The following is a story about Elder Daniel of Katounakia’s spiritual insight into delusion, from the book Contemporary Elders written by Elder Cherubim and published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (pp. 259-260). May God protect us from similar delusions and spiritual deceptions by granting us the virtues of humility and obedience!

When Elder Daniel Katounakiotis (+1929) was in the Russian Monastery, he observed that a certain monk living in asceticism in a kathisma outside the Monastery played a role of a great ascetic. He fasted severely, wore the most wretched clothes, walked around barefoot even in winter, etc. Among other things, while the rule called for 300 prostrations a day, he made 3000. For this reason the other monks marveled at him.

Elder Daniel, even though he was younger at the time, displayed no enthusiasm. His clear-sighted eyes discerned a situation that was not pleasing to God. He noticed that the door of his kathisma contained an opening which allowed the passers-by to look in and praise his great asceticism.

His love moved him to report the situation to the abbot, and thus save the brother from delusion. The abbot set out for the kathisma of the “super-ascetic”.

“How are you doing here, father?”

“By your prayers, Elder, well. I struggle and weep over my sins.”

“Only you never come to tell me your thoughts.”

“What could I tell you, Elder? You know them all. I am a sinner who struggles.”

“How do you struggle? Tell me, do you make prostrations?”

“Yes, Elder, I make a few.”

“How many?”

“By your prayers, 3000 a day.”

“What! Why 3000? Who gave you a blessing to do so many? No, don’t ever do 3000 again. What are you trying to portray – a ‘super-ascetic’? From now on do only fifty, so you won’t get proud.”

With that the abbot left. The incision had been made, and the abscess soon revealed its foul contents. For the former “great ascetic” made a 180-degree turn. He was unable to make even fifty prostrations. Instead of ragged clothes he now wore whatever was most expensive, and had the choicest foods brought to his poor table. Naturally, the other fathers were astonished, and they understood that his excessive ascetic practices had been fed by the spirit of pride. This explained this surprising change, for the spirit of delusion runs after extremes. According to Patristic wisdom, the extreme, the superfluous, and the excessive are “of the demons”.

matushka constantina

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Buddhism and Eastern Asceticism Compared to Orthodox Christian Asceticism

(Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex)

It is unfortunate that there is widespread confusion, not to mention delusion, in the inexperienced, whereby the Jesus Prayer is thought to be equivalent to yoga in Buddhism, or 'transcendental meditation', and other such Eastern exotica. Any similarity, however, is mostly external, and any inner convergence does not rise beyond the natural 'anatomy' of the human soul. The fundamental difference between Christianity and other beliefs and practices lies in the fact that the Jesus Prayer is based on the revelation of the One true living and personal God as Holy Trinity No other path admits any possibility of a living relationship between God and the person who prays.

Eastern asceticism aims at divesting the mind of all that is relative and transitory, so that man may identify with the impersonal Absolute. This Absolute is believed to be man's original 'nature', which suffered degradation and degeneration by entering a multiform and ever-changing earth-bound life. Ascetic practice like this is, above all, centered upon the self, and is totally dependent on man's will. Its intellectual character betrays the fullness of human nature, in that it takes no account of the heart. Man's main struggle is to return to the anonymous Supra-personal Absolute and to be dissolved in it. He must therefore aspire to efface the soul (Atman) in order to be one with this anonymous ocean of the Suprapersonal Absolute, and in this lies its basically negative purpose.

In his struggle to divest himself of all suffering and instability connected with transient life, the eastern ascetic immerses himself in the abstract and intellectual sphere of so-called pure Existence, a negative and impersonal sphere in which no vision of God is possible, only man's vision of himself. There is no place for the heart in this practice. Progress in this form of asceticism depends only on one's individual will to succeed. The Upanishads do not say anywhere that pride is an obstacle to spiritual progress, or that humility is a virtue. The positive dimension of Christian asceticism, in which self-denial leads to one's clothing with the heavenly man, to the assumption of a supernatural form of life, the Source of which is the One True, Self-revealing God, is obviously and totally absent. Even in its more noble expressions, the self-denial in Buddhism is only the insignificant half of the picture. In the mind's desire to return to its merely 'natural' self, it beholds its own nakedness in a 'cloud of divestiture'. But at this point there is a grave risk of obsession with itself, of its marvelling at its own luminous but created beauty, and worshipping the creature more than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The mind has by now begun to deify or idolize its self and then, according to the words of the Lord, 'the last state of that man is worse than the first' (Matt. 12:45).

Such are the limits of Eastern styles of contemplation, which do not claim to be the contemplation of God, and are in fact man's contemplation of himself. This does not go beyond the boundaries of created being, nor does it draw anywhere near to the Truth of primordial Being, to the uncreated living God Who has revealed Himself to man. This kind of practice may well afford some relaxation or sharpen man's psychological and intellectual functions, yet 'that which is born of the flesh is flesh' (John 3:6) and 'they that are in the flesh cannot please God' (Rom. 8:8).

In order to be authentic, any divestiture of the mind from its passionate attachments to the visible and transitory elements of this life must be linked to the truth about man. When man sees himself as he is in the sight of God, his only response is one of repentance. Such repentance is itself a gift of God, and it generates a certain pain of the heart which not only detaches the mind from corruptible things, but also unites it to the unseen and eternal things of God. In other words, divestiture as an end in itself is only half the matter, and it consists of human effort operating on the level of Created being. Christianity on the other hand, enjoins the ascetic to strive in the hope and expectation that his soul will be clothed, invested, with the grace of God, which leads him into the fullness of the immortal life for which he knows he has been created.

Many admire Buddha and compare him to Christ. Buddha is particularly attractive because of his compassionate understanding of man's condition and his eloquent teaching on freedom from suffering. But the Christian knows that Christ, the Only begotten Son of God, by His Passion, Cross, Death and Resurrection, willingly and sinlessly entered into the totality of human pain, transforming it into an expression of His perfect love. He thereby healed His creature from the mortal wound inflicted by the ancestral sin, and made it 'a new creation' unto eternal life. Pain of heart is therefore of great value in the practice of prayer, for its presence is a sign that the ascetic is not far from the true and holy path of love for God. If God, through suffering, showed His perfect love for us, similarly, man has the possibility, through suffering, to return his love to God.

Consequently, prayer is a matter of love. Man expresses love through prayer, and if we pray, it is an indication that we love God. If we do not pray, this indicates that we do not love God, for the measure of our prayer is the measure of our love for God. St. Silouan identifies love for God with prayer, and the Holy Fathers say that forgetfulness of God is the greatest of all passions, for it is the only passion that will not be fought by prayer through the Name of God. If we humble ourselves and invoke God's help, trusting in His love, we are given the strength to conquer any passion; but when we are unmindful of God, the enemy is free to slay us.

The title was added for publication on this site. The untitled excerpt is from Chapter 5, "The Building Up of the Heart by Vigilance and Prayer".

From The Hidden Man of the Heart: The Cultivation of the Heart in Orthodox Christian Anthropology, by Archimandrite Zacharias (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2008), pp. 66-68. Copyright 2008, The Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, Essex, UK. Posted on 8/9/2008 with the permission of the publisher.

Archimandrite Zacharias

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Love is greater than prayer ( St. Symeon the New Theologian )

Visit the sick , console the distressed, and do not make your longing for prayer a pretext for turning away from anyone who asks for your help ; for love is greater than prayer.

St. Symeon the New Theologian

Monday, November 12, 2018

An Explanation On The Holy Memorial Services

The subject of this paper is, “The Holy Memorial Services”, that is, the intercessions of the Church on behalf of our departed brothers and sisters. We shall attempt a review of the tradition regarding memorial services and the practice of the Church from the beginning until the liturgical practice became established. This reference to history, both in the present instance and in any other issue concerning worship, is made not simply for reasons of historical curiosity, but because there is a really important reason for it: it is in this way that we validate the legitimacy of our liturgical practice, in this case intercessions for the departed, which the Church conducts for the repose of their souls and the consolation of the living.

This is the way in which a traditional Church, as the Orthodox is, thinks, theologizes and acts. Tradition justifies and verifies our practice today. We don’t innovate, but rather we follow the practice we’ve inherited from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. We rest upon this with humility and confidence and in its name we continue our spiritual life of worship within the bosom of the Church, invoking the mercy of God and believing that His loving-kindness will overcome the multitude of our sins. We say as much at the kneeling prayers at Vespers on the Sunday of Pentecost, which, fundamentally, are prayers for the dead; “Measure our transgressions against your forgiveness; set the depth of your mercy against the multitude of our wrongdoings” (1st. kneeling prayer).

To the questions from believers and non-believers regarding the efficacy of and benefit that our intercessions on behalf of the departed might have, since “there is no repentance in Hell”, we reply by invoking the centuries-old practice of the Church. The apparently simplistic attitude that: “This is the way we’ve received it”, demonstrates our complete confidence and unwavering and vibrant hope in the mercy of God, as well as our certainty that the action of the Church, which expresses its faith and the truth of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus to the world, is, for all of us, the guarantee that our prayers are in accordance with the will of God and that they are beneficial for the souls of the departed. As to the manner in which this occurs, we leave it to the unsearchable depths of God’s sagacious love. That, roughly, would be our answer on the matter of memorial services, from a liturgical point of view.

Historically, the Christian Church, from the very beginning, instituted special prayers for the repose of the souls of our departed ancestors and relatives. This was a consequence of its faith and teaching that dead believers live in Christ beyond the grave and that the communion of faith and love among the living and the departed does not cease to exist, but rather that it is expressed through reciprocal prayer. The living pray for the departed, and the departed, especially the saints who have boldness of speech towards Christ, pray for the living. In this way, prayers and memorial services were established in memory of the departed. Thus, the Church continues a tradition and practice to be found among all peoples, in this case the funeral customs which existed at the time of Christ’s coming and of the establishment and expansion of the Church, and which, Christianized and purified of shibboleths and superstitions, took on new content and meaning.

There is evidence in the Old Testament concerning the Jewish practice before Christ. In Tobit (4, 17), there is the exhortation: “pour out your bread on the graves of the righteous”, which implies the holding of funeral meals at the graves or the offering of alms to the poor, clearly in remembrance of the departed. In II Maccabees (12, 43-5), there is mention of sacrifices conducted “for sins”, on behalf of “those asleep in piety”. Judas Maccabeus sent what was required to the temple in Jerusalem for a sacrifice on behalf of those who had fallen in the war. The relationship to the analogous, though, of course later, Christian practice is clear.

But pagans also performed sacrifices and offerings on behalf of the dead. Funeral feasts, at which the dead person was believed to be eating with those present, were known from the time of Homer. These memorial meals were held on specified days following that of death: the third, ninth, thirtieth and on the annual birthday- not date of death- of the dead person. The similarity here to the Christian practice is even more obvious.

As was to be expected, Christians continued the above, in two ways: alms on behalf of the departed as an expression of love towards them and towards those in need; and prayers. As early as the end of the 4th century, the “Apostolic Constitutions” suggest that alms should be given to the poor “from the estate” of the departed “in remembrance of them”. (VIII, 42). The same is proposed by Chrysostom, Ieronymous, Tertullian, pseudo-Athanasios and other Early Fathers and Church writers. At the same time, however, funeral feasts were held at the graves of the departed and these have survived to this day in a variety of local guises.

The funeral feasts were not unrelated to the practice of alms-giving, since it was not only family and friends who were invited, but also the clergy, the poor and strangers (Ap. Const. VIII, 44; Augustine Confessions, VI2; Valsamon and so forth). It is worth noting that the spiritual meaning attributed by the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 44) to these common meals is that they are an act of prayer and intercession on the part of the living on behalf of the departed (“and at these memorials eat in all propriety and fear of God, as being able to pray for the departed”).

But already, in the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 41), there were special prayers and petitions by a deacon “for our brethren who have reposed in Christ” and which basically have the same content, and sometimes phraseology familiar to us from the prayers now in use (“forgive him/her every sin, witting and unwitting… place in the land of the righteous, … remaining in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… from which all pain, sorrow and sighing have fled”. There is also evidence that memorials were established, by the apostles, to be held on the third, ninth and fortieth days as well as on the annual anniversary of the date of death.

A Biblical or elementary theological interpretation is given for each: “Let prayers and readings be said for the departed on the third day, for Him Who rose on the third day; on the ninth, in remembrance of those present and the departed; on the fortieth, because, in the old manner, the people mourned Moses thus; and annually, in remembrance of them” (VIII, 42). Many similar theological interpretations deriving from the Old Testament or from the theological significance of the numbers or, particularly, from the post-Resurrection appearances of the Lord, are used in order to justify the choice of days for holding memorial services: the Holy Trinity, the three days of the Lord in the grave (the third day); angelic ranks, or the sacred number 3X3, or the appearance of the Lord on the eighth day after His resurrection (ninth), the Ascension of the Lord (fortieth) and so on. Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki mentions other interpretations, which were in circulation in his time, which linked the days for memorial services to the corresponding phases in the conception and development of the embryo on the one hand, and of the natural decomposition of the body after burial on the other. These were based on the medical knowledge of the day and Symeon does not adopt them, correctly preferring “to understand everything spiritually and in accordance with God and not to interpret things of the Church through the senses” (Dialogue, chap. 371). One thing is clear: that the Church retained certain pre-Christian customs which did not contradict its teachings, gave them Christian significance and altered some of them for theological reasons. This is how it acted when it transposed the memorial from the thirtieth to the fortieth day, obviously under Jewish influence and by correlation with the Lord’s ascension. So also, it celebrates the annual anniversary not on the irrelevant day of the natural birth of a person, but on that of their birth and perfection in Christ and their entry into the true life, that is, the day of the “falling-asleep” of the believer and his or her new birthday. It does not engage in pointless polemics or shadow-boxing, but re-makes the world, in Christ. A very wise tactic.

From the extant Rules of various monasteries we learn the funeral customs that were observed in the monasteries and, in all likelihood, in the churches “in the world”. For the first forty days, a special supplication was made at Vespers and Matins on behalf of the departed and the bloodless sacrifice was performed on his or her behalf. From the time of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century), who emphasizes that “great benefit” is afforded to the souls “on behalf of whom the supplication is offered of the holy and most dread sacrifice (Mystagogical Catechesis V, 9), until that of Symeon of Thessaloniki (15th century), the Fathers mention the especially great importance of the celebration of the Divine Eucharist on behalf of the departed, the commemoration of them during it and the benefit they derive from it. Saint Symeon links it to traditional liturgical theology, especially the benefit of the commemoration of the departed at the extraction of the portions of bread at the preparation table, because in this way, through their portion on the paten, they partake mystically and invisibly in the grace; they commune, are comforted, saved and rejoice in Christ (Dialogue chap. 373). If someone died during the period of Lent, or if the time of the forty liturgies coincided in part with it, an easy readjustment was made. The third day was held on the first Saturday, the ninth on the second and the forty liturgies began on the Monday after Thomas Sunday. The main point is that the memorial service for the departed is indissolubly linked to the celebration of the Divine Eucharist, as was the case with baptisms, weddings, anointing and so forth, in earlier times.

Apart from the individual memorial services which took place on the third, ninth and fortieth days after death and on the annual anniversary, the Church has also introduced prayers at all services for the repose of the souls and blessed memory of our departed ancestors and relatives. These are general intercessions and prayers which can be particularized by the commemoration of specific names. Thus, we have the great litany at Vespers, Matins and in the Liturgy (“Have mercy upon us, Lord… Again we pray for the blessed memory and eternal repose of the souls…”); the service of preparation for the liturgy; diptychs in the liturgy after the consecration; “Let us pray…” at the Midnight Office and Compline; the tropario for the dead at the Third and Sixth Hours, and particularly the second part of the Midnight Office, which is called, in the sources, a “thrice-holy on behalf of the dead” and contains two psalms (120 and 133), a thrice-holy and so forth, three funereal troparia (“Remember Lord, as you are good”… and so forth), a hymn to the Mother of God as well as the funereal prayer (“Remember Lord, those who in hope of the Resurrection…”).

Every Saturday in the year is dedicated to the departed and to prayers on their behalf. On these days, hymns are sung for the departed and there is a canon in the tone of the week, as well as memorial services. Exceptionally, two Saturdays a year, the Saturday before Meat-Fare Sunday and that before Pentecost, are days of common, universal commemoration, since on these days “we celebrate the memory of all Orthodox Christians throughout the ages who have fallen asleep in the Lord”. The choice of Saturday as the funereal date is due, on the one hand, to the fact that in Genesis it is called the day “of rest” from His work for God, the Creator of the world (2, 2), and also because the Lord spent the Saturday of Passion Week in the tomb. There were similar feasts for the dead in pre-Christian times which were replaced by common memorial services and the two Saturdays of the Souls. On the Saturday before Meat-Fare Sunday, between odes six and seven of the Matins canon, there is a wonderful reading by Nikiforos Kallistos Xanthopoulos, in which he analyzes the teaching of the Church regarding life after death and where matters concerning memorial services are set out in detail, and their benefit to the souls of the departed explained.

Ioannis Foundoulis, Τελετουργικά Θέματα, vol. III, pubd. by Apostoliki Diakonia, Athens 2007, pp. 29-36.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

How to Give Alms to the Homeless..

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.”
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This article was written from experience in the Russian reality, but it is no less true anywhere. It is regrettable, however, that the abundance of Russian commentary to the article remains untranslated, for it shows how much thought was given to the problem. Here is but one short thread:
From Natasha and son:
For those who are not bums: if you have to spend the night (any time of the year) in the city, but not in a home, without comforts [running water, etc.], without a bed, in your clothes, on a cold stone or cement floor, in a desolate or dirty place, it is utterly impossible to get some sleep without alcohol or sleeping pills. After one such night your whole organism hurts, especially your head, your eyesight deteriorates to half, your thought and speech processes slow down, and you have a horrible feeling of untamable hunger, boredom and hopelessness.
I did not drink or gamble away my home—I was simply sent out to the streets by the owner as someone who is not a member of the family. That is, I am a poor person with a child, and not a professional beggar, and I pray for my benefactors each time they give me alms…
I am a bum, I have AIDS and hepatitis C. I don't have the appearance or strength it takes to get work or an apartment—serious pains, distracted attention, sudden allergy attacks (Bannister's disease), endogenic toxicity. I don't drink or smoke, but I look like a homeless nothing (my kidneys and liver can't handle the toxicity). Precious Almsgivers are goodness! Give, give under the condition that you are giving to a person unto salvation in Christ, and not for this senseless fallen life; tell him, ”Here, I am giving you this so that you would go to Church and pray to Christ in the church for yourself and me!...” Give with a name: ”Pray for me (name)!!!” Then there is sense to giving every day (also for those for whom you can't pray in church or at home).… Remember, O Lord, my benefactors—Your righteous ones, for through their alms they have given me faith in You and hope in Your mercy!!!
From Tatiana:
A very good article, but I was most of all touched by the commentary from Natasha and son. Poor woman. How can I help you?

Teimuraz Kristinashvili