Homily for 12/18/05 - charity
- Luke 12:16-21
At this time of the year it is almost impossible to read your mail, watch television, go shopping or even just go for a walk without seeing or hearing some request for charitable contributions. One of the things that is often attached to those requests is some kind of information about how you will benefit on your taxes for such contributions so that it might become easier to give. As Orthodox Christians it is our duty to give alms to the poor and to care for those in need. This has not only a tax benefit for us but also a spiritual benefit beyond calculation. St Seraphim discusses the many ways by which we can "acquire the Holy Spirit" and one of the important things that he tells to us is that we acquire the Holy Spirit by almsgiving. This is and should be a regular part of our Christian life - not only to give of our substance to support the Church (such as by tithing our income), but also to give alms above and beyond that which we give to the Church to those who are in need around us.
The Gospel parable that was read for us today reminds us of the necessity of sharing with others that which God has given to us. God has given to each of us worldly possessions not so that we will hoard them and use them only to gratify our passions and desires, but rather that we might in turn give to others, distributing our own wealth (whatever that might be) among those who are in need. If we neglect the giving of alms and hoard that which we have, not only is there no spiritual benefit, but our lack of charity will condemn us in the judgment of the world to come.
In addition to the Gospel, we have also the example of the saints to show us the importance and spiritual benefit of charity. Tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of St Nicholas of Myra and Lycia. St Nicholas was the son of a well to do family and while he was yet a young priest, he set an example for us of charitable giving. Discovering that one of his families was in great need - so great in fact that the father was preparing to sell one of his daughters into slavery so that the rest of the family could eat - he came to their house in the middle of the night so that he would not be seen or recognized and tossed a bag of gold in over the wall so that they might survive. This he did three times in all - each time saving the family from crisis and allowing one of the daughters to be married rather than sold into slavery. When all the daughters were out of the home and cared for, the father liquidated the rest of his possessions, gave all to the poor and himself entered a monastery. This tradition of anonymous giving has continued among Christian people to this day associated with the feast and person of St Nicholas and the feast of our Lord's Nativity. Even in our "post-Christian" world, the tradition of giving gifts to one another and of giving alms at this time of year has continued.
Another example, perhaps less well known outside of the Orthodox Church, is that of St Philaret the Merciful whose feast we also celebrate this month. St Philaret was a very wealthy man with many farms and estates from which he derived a great deal of income. Unlike the rich man of the Gospel parable, St Philaret used his wealth to give alms and to care for the poor orphans and widows and to provide hospitality to strangers and travelers.
Through a series of misfortune and evil events, St Philaret lost his great wealth - thieves stole a large portion of his wealth at the same time that disease and drought decimated his herds and ruined his farms. The saint and his family were plunged into poverty with only one field, some bees, a yoke of oxen, a single horse, an ass, and s cow with her calf. Of his great fortune of herds and fields and money - only this small remnant was left to the saint to provide for his family. But still St Philaret continued to give to others. When he saw a neighbor lose one of his oxen - St Philaret gave one of his own. Another time, he gave his only horse to a poor soldier. When he was given 40 bushels of grain, he divided it among all the poor families, keeping only an equal portion for his own family. Even the clothing off his own back he gave to a poor man. Although even his family were tempted to despair at their poverty and at the saint's almsgiving, he constantly reminded them, "Hope on God, God will provide..."
It came to pass at that time that the Christian empress was looking for a suitable bride for her son. Word came to St Philaret that the empress and her delegation would come to his home (for although he was now poor, he was still among the aristocratic class). When he heard the news, the saint, instructed his wife to cook a feast. when she replied that they had no food with which to do so, he simply answered, "God will provide" and began to pray fervently to God. And this is just what happened. All of those people who had seen the saint's generosity and who had themselves received help from his hands, turned around and contributed each a little bit to his household for the feast - some eggs and cheese and meat and bread - even fine wine was provided to the saint so that he might properly honor his noble guests.
When the empress and her officers had eaten, St Philaret introduced his family - his wife, his children and grandchildren who were living with him. One of his granddaughters, Maria, was chosen by the empress to be the wife of her son - the Emperor Constantine and another daughter Evanthia was married to King Argoses of Lombardy. The saint himself was given an imperial appointment to the rank of consul and his wealth was restored. Even this turn of good fortune - or rather of God's good provision - did not affect the saint's almsgiving for he continued his practice of giving to the poor, to the widows and orphans and of providing hospitality to strangers and travelers. This practice he continued to the end of his life - setting the example for all of us of charity and almsgiving.
Such a great tradition has been given to us by the saints - to give alms to the poor and to freely share the wealth that God gives to us. Not only do we gain material benefits - as did St Philaret - but more importantly we gain spiritual benefit for we acquire the grace of God through our almsgiving. Remember that all you have in this life is the gift of God and use it wisely, laying up for yourself treasure - not on earth where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal, but rather treasure in heaven where you will enjoy it throughout all eternity. Remember the examples of St Nicholas and St Philaret and like the saint always remember, "Hope on God, God will provide"
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