"Charity" and Love

Bishop Seraphim : Article
"Charity" and Love
[Published in the “Canadian Orthodox Messenger”, Summer 1997]

With our tax-benefit consciousness, we live in a society which considers that charitable work is the responsibility of special-interest societies, registered as Crown Charities under Revenue Canada, and staffed by paid personnel who have specific training and skills to help other people. If we examine our own interior response to the word “charity”, we might also find that it is true of ourselves. In fact, it is easy enough, by making a tax-deductible donation, to pay someone else to look after the homeless, hungry, needy, maimed, sick, widowed and orphaned of the world. However, this somehow does not quite fit with what our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel is directing. Always in the Gospel there is the expectation of the personal contact.

In fact, the English word “charity” comes from the Latin caritas which is the equivalent of the Greek agape. Even though our present reactions make “charity” an institutional word, all of its history is based in the word “love”, indeed “selfless love”, which is the real meaning of this word. And so our Lord has words for us such as these :

‘But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. [...] For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:39-42 ; 46-48).

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ (Matthew 9:10-13).

Then He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has one sheep and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep!’ (Matthew 12:11-12).

‘When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. [...] Then the King will say to those on His right hand: “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”’ (Matthew 25:31-32 ; 34-40).

And He said to them: ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God’ (Luke 12:15-21).

‘Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Luke 12:32-34).

He also told the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (who is often named Dives, from the Latin word for “rich”) in Luke 16:19-31. Dives ignored Lazarus, the poor beggar who lay at his doorstep, and whom he passed by daily, and the result was that Dives was lost with his luxury, and Lazarus gained the Kingdom.

All these words from the Lord are important for us to remember and to keep at the front of our lives, our hearts, our consciences. Our love for Jesus Christ demands action. Loving Him, we must likewise love others as He loves us and them. As the Apostle James exhorts us :

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. […] What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 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? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:8-9 ; 14-17).

So it is that no matter how much we may contribute in various ways to charitable institutions and organisations, we are still obliged to do good, loving and life-giving things to the various persons the Lord sends to us – person to person.

The life of our Archdiocese, thanks be to God, has many such acts of mercy and love being worked on both a person-to-person and a corporate basis. I thought that it might be helpful to review some of these in a list. This list, however, can never be complete, because there are so many cases of one person’s ministering in hidden ways to other persons here, locally. There are many persons who have adopted children in various parts of the world, through one or another of the local programmes, and thereby help to educate and feed not only the child but also the family and the neighbours. Some find a way to buy cows for widows in India so that the widow can have an income from the milk and provide for her family. Some send help to various other organisations abroad who help to improve the survival and farming skills of the people there. Some lend aid in practical ways, sending quantities of food or clothes or other staples to particular families in eastern Europe or the Middle East.

In Vancouver, the “Miloserdie Charity” collects medical supplies, food and clothing for a children’s hospital in Moscow, which in turn sometimes shares the supplies with other hospitals elsewhere. Project Ukraine in Yorkton has been collecting medical equipment, educational supplies, food, clothing and other staples for the needy in Ukraine. For decades, under the leadership of Archbishop Sylvester, the “Saint John of Kronstadt Charity Fund” in Montréal has cared for the needs of many widows and poor in many parts of the world, and it has sent aid also directly to Russia in many forms. A group of people at the Sobor of Christ the Saviour in Toronto works very hard to help in many ways. One of these ways is helping without charge, newcomers to Canada who have immigration difficulties. A group of people at the cathedral in Ottawa now gathers to prepare a lunch twice a month for a local women’s shelter. At Saint Herman’s in Edmonton there has long been an outlet for the Food Bank, and in other parishes there are regular collections for and contributions to the local food banks. There are also many examples of the faithful visiting the hospitalised and those who are in nursing homes.

It is true that there are many works of mercy being done by our faithful in Canada. However, we are still only at the very beginning of doing what we should in order to live out our life of love in Jesus Christ. It is this work of love which enables us to become salt and yeast (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33) as Orthodox Christians in this country, and to be life-bearers in Christ wherever we are and whatever we do. It is that person who, like Lazarus, is at our very door, who demands our attention and loving ministry in Christ. Wherever we are, and whatever we have been given in life by God’s Grace and mercy, it is our obligation in the love of Christ to remember the poor. This is expressed well in the words of one venerable parishioner, who saw bread lying in the garbage. “Who would throw bread in the garbage?” she asked as she retrieved it. “I never think of throwing bread or any food away like that. I always remember how many in the world are hungry, and if I cannot do anything else with it, at least some animal can eat it”. She understands that mysterious link amongst us all, and she comprehends that our responsibility to others, even though we cannot actually touch them, requires that we behave with our goods as though that poor person were right there. We respect the sanctity of food, and remember that it is God’s gift to us, and that out of love we are to be ready at all times to share. Another venerable woman in her nineties, who can do little actively any more, is a frequent baker and distributer of bread prepared with her own golden hands. Others always keep extra food available in case someone will arrive who is hungry or could be served as Christ in Christian hospitality.

Memory. Mindfulness. Recollection of the whole picture. It is not especially easy, but it is the fruit of true love in and for Christ.