Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Byzantine Christian understanding of Charity

     Too often the churches of the Byzantine tradition have been accused of not being concerned with social issues. This accusation of course is not true but often stems from a failure to understand our tradition. The local church as understood by our tradition is not a social institution with a Christian theme, like the salvation army. It's more like a local hospital which specializes in healing . This healing that we receive from our local church enables to be concerned with the needs of others. Anyone can do goodwill to others but only a truly healed person can love them the way that God intends.
     There is a tendency in the world to base the merit of religion based on how much it tends to the physical needs of others. Our Church however is a kingdom not of this world. Our fathers understood that meeting the temporal needs of a person could never fulfill their deepest need. When we express charity it is in hope that they see the source of our love and desire it for themselves. By this way we seek to fulfill their deepest need. In doing this we do not give like some of the well known rock stars or billionaires to be seen as "good people". The Lord had instructed us many times in scripture to give unseen. It's in our transparency that we make room for God to be seen. Showing others the way to their deepest need
     Many us remember the passing of Mother Teresa one of greatest saints of our time. She was known to the world for some great acts of charity. There was no distinction to those in the world that this love that she shared came from Christ. What was ironic in her falling asleep was that another person known for charity died at the same time the princess Diana. Even though both experienced death at the same time the worldly media virtually ignored Mother Teresa. It is obvious to the world that the source of the charity from the princess was not the same as the Mother. However, for the many that found God through the Mother the world will never be the same.
     The lives of the those touched by secular charity never have the same potential of those touched by the Church. In the secular we see the people of good nature and of those of the Church we see God. There is always an obligation in those that receive any charity to express gratitude. However, in those touched by the Church there is an obligation to see the work of God. Not everyone is grateful but for those that chose to respond we find that the Church is the only thing to meet the deepest need. This is where we understand in the Byzantine tradition that  only by becoming what God is by grace will enable our giving to have the greatest merit. A divinized man is the only kind of man that can authentically meet the needs of mankind.
     The Church must never become a social institution. It would be a great tragedy if we replaced our Vespers services for time in the soup kitchen. This of course is something those in the world could never understand. For them the doctrines and services that we have should be subordinate to the poor. However, those of the world fail to understand what real poverty is, which is broken relationship with God. Without the holy traditions that we have received from our fathers we can never truly give to others. From our fathers we learn our deepest need and how to heal it. As St. Athanasius said," God became man so that man could become God." The Church caries on this message in her doctrines and services. In essence, the Church many not be a soup kitchen but the healing she provides makes her members living soup kitchens. Not only do we have bread to offer but also the food that gives eternal life.
     A Church whose members fail to show charity has itself failed to heal. In the scripture the parable of the man helping his neighbor tells us that the man didn't just stop bind up the man's wounds and send him on his way. Rather, he brought him to an Inn and told the innkeeper, " ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have". The scripture teaches us to completely meet the needs of our neighbors.. Not to just give them bread but to bring them to the Inn keeper in order for them to have the complete healing. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Inn keeper. When we give charity we at the same time offer them the chance to know his love.


  1. Thank you for validating my understanding of this issue - so rare today.