Giving alms during lent
28 February 2018 by Vanessa Papastavros
Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving - these three actions form the pillars of our participation in Great and Holy Lent.
But, unlike prayer or fasting, we tend not to talk about the need to be charitable during the Lenten season. Even though it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of our preparation for Pascha, giving alms is often an afterthought.
So let's unpack why it is such an important part of our journey to Easter, and brainstorm some ways we can practice the virtue of Charity.
In Christ’s teaching, almsgiving cannot be separated from fasting and prayer. When one prays and fasts, one must show love through active generosity to others.
Beware of practicing your piety before men, in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do . . . that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt 6.1–4).
Just like when we fast and pray, acts of charity should be done in secret, without any fanfare, without any boasting or public displays. If you really want to test your humility, keep your act of charity a secret.
The reason that almsgiving is connected to prayer and fasting is because being charitable is an active form of love, and love directed to those who are in need of it most - the sick, the poor, the widowed, the refugee, the needy. If prayer and fasting allow us to show our love to God, then charity allows us to show our love to our neighbour - and you can't have one without the other. As it says in 1 John 3.17 "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?"
Giving alms is supposed to be a sacrificial act. We're not supposed to give whatever is "left over" once all our needs are met. That would be worldly charity. When we want to love the way Jesus loves, we need to love sacrificially, without limits. We're supposed to take from ourselves and give to others, in order to lay down our souls for others who are in need.
If fasting and prayer help us to restrict our passions, then almsgiving allows us to overflow with virtue - to put our neighbour first, before ourself.
Ways to be Charitable this Lent
Here are a few almsgiving ideas that are outside of the box .
Donate some money // check out the International Orthodox Christian Charities website to make a difference in someone's life this Lent. IOCC, in the spirit of Christ’s love, offers emergency relief and development programs to those in need worldwide, without discrimination, and strengthens the capacity of the Orthodox Church to so respond. Visit their donation page or their gift of love catalogue to find out how you can help.
Donate some money // look into Love Mercy, an Australian charity that seeks to empower communities in northern Uganda to overcome poverty after decades of civil war. You can donate to their Cents for Seeds program or their Kristina Health Centre. They also have a store, so if you want to give an Easter gift worth giving to someone in need, check it out.
Donate clothes, food and time // if you want to give to the homeless and the hungry, speak to Father Nektarios at Sts Constantine & Helen, Newtown about bringing food and clothing parcels for their soup kitchen. Better yet, give up some time and hang around to help hand out food and chat to those seeking food, shelter and company.
Gifts with a difference // we all love to give our loved ones Easter presents, but why not give a gift that makes a difference? Shop at oxfam this year to buy ethically made items that help to tackle poverty. Find out how buying from oxfam fights poverty - they even have an Easter range!
This is not an exhaustive list. The ways that you can give alms are endless. Whether you spare your time, money, food or belongings, you are showing love to those who are in need of it.
Remember to be consciously generous and compassionate in your actions this Lent. If you see someone hungry, buy them food. If someone looks cold, give them clothes. If someone is begging, give to them without judgement. If someone needs company, give up your time. Look into the face of everyone you meet, and see Christ.
May everyone have a reflective and restorative Lent, drawing nearer to Christ's Grace and nearer to their neighbour in love.