6 April OS 2016 – Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Lent; St. Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople
St. Theophan the Recluse chooses a verse from the second reading at Vespers today – Proverbs 21: 3-21, for comment.
“He that stops his ears from hearing the poor, himself also shall cry, and there shall be none to hear him (Proverbs 21:13).” And we often marvel – why does God not listen to our prayers? Here is the reason! Because there surely have been instances when we have stopped our ears from hearing the entreaties of the needy; so the Lord does not hear us either. It is no great woe if a prayer about something temporal is not heard; but how woeful if the Lord will not listen to us when we begin to pray to Him for the forgiveness of our sins. He will not listen if the cry to Him of those whom we have scorned is stronger than our prayers. We must hurry to avert this extreme misfortune, according to the example of Zacchaeus, whose wise decision caused the Lord to say, “This day is salvation come to this house (Luke 19:9).” – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 77
We know that the three main activities of Great Lent, and indeed of all Christian life, are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. “Almsgiving” translates the Greek eleemosyne, which includes in its meaning the entire realm of acts of charity towards others, both material and immaterial, corporal and spiritual. We would always know how and in what measure to give to others, both from our material substance and from our time and efforts, if we had the Lord’s commandment constantly in mind, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” We would pray always to have the prudence to act for the true good of the person in front of us, and we would so act. What prevents this is distraction from prayer and anxiety over our own welfare. We are not paying attention to what is really going on in our life, being consumed by surface realities, and we are enslaved to passions whose root is sinful self-love.
To tackle all this is a tall order, but to start is simple. At the beginning of each day, make your Cross and ask the Lord sincerely to show you how to do His holy will in regard to those around you. Also, consider adding this marvelous prayer, popularized by the Holy Elders of Optina, to your morning prayers, for it “covers all the bases”:
Grant unto me, O Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant unto me to dedicate myself completely to Thy Holy Will.For every hour of this day, instruct and support me in all things. Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, do Thou teach me to accept tranquilly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy Holy Will. Govern Thou my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all cometh down from Thee. Teach me to behave sincerely and rationally toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none. Bestow upon me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day, and to bear my part in all its passing events. Guide Thou my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love. Amen.
So, we have asked God’s guidance to do for others, in love, what is for their true good, throughout all the hours of our day. Now, practically speaking, what are the guidelines for doing it?
First of all, are we fulfilling our basic duties to Church, family, community, our work, etc.? Let us review our day each evening, and ask God’s forgiveness if we have failed even in our basic duties, much less acts of grace-filled love.
Second, what are our priorities? If, beyond taking care of the basic needs of family, we are devoting significant amounts of time, money, and so forth to what are called “discretionary expenses” – sports, hobbies, vacations, eating out, movies, partying, concerts, etc, – and this curtails our supporting the Church and those in need, we are in deep spiritual trouble.
Third, do we realize that our support for the Church is in fact not alms? Alms are what we give over and above our basic obligations. Generous support for the Church – from our substance, as a basic budget priority, not from what is left over after everything else is paid for – is a fundamental moral obligation, not an extra sacrifice, and not to give it is a grave sin.
Fourth – We should help those in need who are closest to us: fellow Orthodox Christians and relatives. Only after this should we consider those “outside.” And we should never waste our money or volunteer time for “mainstream” “charities” like the various large foundations which are multi-billion dollar rackets that promote an anti-Christian social agenda while paying their executives six figure (or more) salaries. In the name of curing this or that disease, or ending hunger, and other utopian pipe dreams, they usually are also promoting abortion, contraception, forced sterilizations, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, the “gay” agenda, and all of the related misanthropic goals of the New World Order. It is grievous to see Orthodox Christians who begrudge giving to the Church or Church-related charities, but who will volunteer their time and give money to secular organizations whose stated goal is to “help humanity” through “science,” which is code language for building the kingdom of Antichrist.
Fifth – We need to get a firm grip on, and constantly remember, the reality that everyone around us is starving for fundamental human kindness – just for someone to pay attention to them. Relationships today are so technologized and depersonalized that simply to look someone in the face, smile, and show fundamental human interest is a counter-revolutionary act of humane (much less Christian) boldness. Let us resolve to take time, show interest, and patiently listen to those we encounter each day. Let us remember, above all, that there is a famine for the Word of God. We should ask the Lord’s guidance as to when and how to share our Faith, which is our true treasure, and which is available in abundance without end.
Sixth – If we are in deep financial trouble ourselves and cannot give money to support the Church or help those in need, let us humble ourselves and give extra time to prayer for others. This is the primary alms, after all.
Seventh – Give thanks to God always, in every circumstance, for all things. This ultimately will give us the true perspective from which we can do good with wisdom and humility.
Recently our Metropolitan issued a mid-Lent encyclical exhorting us to help those in need. You can read it at http://hotca.org/documents/encyclicals/683-mid-lenten-encyclical-2016 Please read His Eminence’s timely words and ask the Lord to enlighten you how, whom, and in what measure you may fulfill the Lord’s command to be merciful to those in need.
A blessed final week of the Fast and a grace-filled Great Week to all!