by Fr. Andrew Harmon
from The Word, February 1990
Almsgiving, a very important spiritual practice in the Orthodox tradition, is when we give to those in need. Almsgiving is different than our regular tithes and offerings given to the Church. For that giving we can expect a concrete payback – a church building, pastoral services, etc. When we give alms to the needy, we don’t expect to ever be paid back in any physical way.
The giving of alms may be through one of the fine benevolent programs of the Archdiocese as "Food for Hungry People," or our local parishes, it may be through a charity group outside the Church, or it may be a matter of giving a dollar to a homeless person on the street. It is giving to those in need, whoever or wherever they are.
There are two main reasons why we should give alms. The first reason is to help others. The second reason is to help ourselves.
The first reason, helping others, is rather obvious. There are many people in need in our world those that are starving in distant lands, victims of natural disaster in our own land, and those in our own communities who have not enough to get by on. They need help and we have more than we need. Therefore, we should do something to help them.
Our words about how sad it is that there are needy people won’t help them — our actions can. As St. James wrote in James 2:15-16, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"
God has commanded us to love one another. If we love one another, then we must help each other out in times of need.
The second reason to give alms is to help ourselves. No, the money isn’t going to come back to us with interest so that we’ll make a profit in the long run. However, there are some very real paybacks from giving alms.
First, there’s a payback in this life in spiritual growth. The Church Fathers are unanimous that almsgiving is one of the best ways to work on becoming a mature and healthy Christian and that’s a very good payback indeed!
Why is giving our money away so spiritually healthy? Because we all greatly love money and what it does for us. Giving some of it away is hard. It’s one of the most direct and concrete ways of practicing self-denial, of taking up our cross and following Christ. What hurts is often healthy for us. Giving away our money hurts bad — and it’s very healthy!
Do you wish to grow spiritually? Start giving money to the poor and you will, as long as you’re careful to heed one warning given by our Lord. Give in such a way that others don’t know about it and so that even your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing. Guard against pride and showing off or you’ll end up worse off than ever.
The second payback we get from giving alms comes after this life is over. The Scriptures say that on Judgment Day we will answer for every word and deed in this life. That sounds quite frightening, but the Fathers say there will be someone to stand up for us and defend us on that day before the dread judgment seat of Christ. The Fathers say the beggars we have given to in this life will speak for us and plead for mercy for us. They will argue that we can’t be all bad because we helped them in their time of need.
Our Lord, in Luke 16, tells about a steward of a rich man’s money who was about to lose his job. Before he lost his job he lowered the debts of those who owed his master so that they would help him when he was out of work. At the end of verse 9, Christ said, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may welcome you into everlasting habitations." When we think about going to heaven we usually think about being greeted by the saints and the angels. Christ says here that someone else will also greet us — the poor whom we have helped.
Hieromartyr Charalampos, February 10
As an unshaken pillar of Christ's Church and an unwavering light of the world, thou didst illumine the world by thy martyrdom, O Charalampos, and dispel the moonless night of idols. Since thou hast boldness with Christ, pray to Him to save our souls.
Kontakion, Tone 4
O trophy-bearing Athlete and Hieromartyr Charalampos, the Church has acquired thy relics as precious treasure. Therefore she rejoices and glorifies the Creator.