The Nativity Fast has begun. Unlike the Great Lent, which is a particularly ascetic fast, a fast which primarily invites us to leave our bodily passions and pleasures, a severe fast, the Nativity Fast is a gentler fast, an easier fast, it is a fast of gifts.
It is a fast during which we learn how to give, we learn not to forsake the poor, those living on the streets, the sick, those in prison, the elderly in retirement homes, orphans and all those who suffer.
As they beautifully say, December is the month of gifts giving, though not because the stores are filled with all kinds of things, but because the Lord gave us a great gift by becoming Man like us, by being born of the Most Pure Virgin Mary so that we can become gods like Him.
This is a fast of gifts because the wise men came to baby Jesus and brought Him gifts to show that they welcomed Him with joy, as He was indeed God from heaven. We also must bring Him beautiful gifts like the wise men. But what kind of gifts does God like?
He likes it when there is love among people, He likes goodwill among us, He likes the joy and light on our faces when we are all like a family.
God would like us to feed the hungry, to give warm clothes to those who sleep out in the cold, a kind word to those who are sad, a smile to those who are upset.
„The King will reply: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Have a profitable fast!
Translated by Claudia
When I’ve read some while ago what Our Lord Christ said: ‘Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy’ (Mt. 5, 7), I haven’t understood very well what He meant. I was mainly thinking that those who would help the poor and would always be charitable would be shown mercy by God on Judgement Day, when they will enter the Heavenly Kingdom. Now I also understand something different besides this promise.
I understand that when I show mercy to someone poor and I help them, then God shows mercy to me as well and He helps me. I also understand that when I am generous to the wretched then God is also generous to me and He doesn’t punish me when I do wrong, instead He forgives me.
Just like I take pity on someone when I see them suffering and I help them, God takes pity on me when I do wrong and He doesn’t punish me. When I’ve been merciful to others, God did not delay in being merciful to me as well.
Some while ago I was thinking how great it would be to stop suffering, to stop having troubles and having a constantly happy life. It seems rather impossible, here on Earth. But I think that this is mostly possible.
Many times I was not punished by God, although I deserved it awfully. I haven’t received troubles from God although I should have. I have never suffered too deeply. I can’t say I’ve had troubles, but only sorrows. I’ve received so much from God and for that I’ve tried to help others the way I could and God has taken pity on me and hasn’t punished me too often, He hasn’t given me suffering, but He forgave me and made me realize that I’ve done wrong.
I think that those who don’t want to suffer must help others who are suffering. Whoever relieves someone’s suffering (hunger, thirst, etc.) will also be kept from suffering by God Who will always watch upon them.
‘Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.’ (Luke 6, 30-33)
Jesus Christ showed us the need of charity work for our salvation, and now He teaches us how to be merciful; He warns us against a great danger that can lead to pride and the loss of any spiritual fruit.
We can be merciful because of love or because of pride, and we can do charity donations in order to be seen by the others.
One can feed the hunger because of love but also of pride. Love gives all for the glory of God and pride does everything for its own glory, for vainglory. That is why God warns us: “Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)
This does not mean that charity can`t be done in the presence of people; it can be done in the presence of people, but not with the intention to be seen and to be praised by the others for what we do. If we do charity in order to be praised, than wherever we do it, it`s not for God and for the others, but for our own vainglory. But God looks into our hearts and He rewards us not for our deeds, but for the intention which we have done the charity – this is the true essence of what we do.
If we accomplish a good thing, it exists, but if we are boastful, then we change its meaning and it disappears imperceptibly the spiritual benefit from our hearts; where there is pride and all that comes from it, is no longer true goodness. A good deed accomplished for pride, it is not considered an act of kindness: “ So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others….”, continued Jesus: “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full..” So, they are rewarded as they wish: the people praise them, but their act of charity is useless because they are filled with haughtiness.
God rewards only the honest and unselfish acts of charity. How to do charity? “But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: …”, and if we want to show our goodwill to someone, we first need to show our intention to our Father, for He has the priority to reward us. But if we want to have people as witnesses, God will not deprive us of this joy , if it is in behalf of all: “Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ” So, our charity work is not individual but on God’s behalf, it was given to us to carry it out and make it of our own in order to acquire some of God’s features.
Nowaday, right in front of our eyes, this moving story is repeated daily:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores….”(Luke 16: 19-21). We must be aware that for the poor is very hard to accept and bear the humiliating condition of the survival with the others’ charity and to be fed with crumbs. Therefore, we should be merciful with the poor and give our love that they shoud not be ashamed to receive it; in this way, we lighten their cross and we also get rid of our pride. Doing so, Lord will bless us through the poor’s prayer because we had brought them joy. This good deed unseen by the people will bring us joy and we will feel the fulfillment brought by Christian love. Thus, our lives should be led by Jesus’s words:
“But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. so that your giving may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
(Ana Colopelnic, a medicine student from Baia-Mare)
My family and I are Orthodox Christians. We go to Church, we confess, we take the Holy Communion, gladly participating to the Divine Liturgy as well as in other religious services, we have a spiritual father, we read about God, we talk about God, but I don’t believe it’s enough. I believe that all of these are only the beginning, they are only the basis on which a foundation, namely salvation, should be built together with God.
Last evening, at eleven o’clock, I was leaving work and passing by some apartment buildings under construction, I thought about those living in the streets. I know they are usually living in unfinished buildings because they are sheltered there, nobody really chases them away here.
And I was thinking how it would be for me to live in a building like that. It looked really depressing, it was dark, damp, cold, the wind was blowing, and I would have had to sleep on the floor, or lay on cartons as I know some of them do, or on old clothes.
I quickly came back to my senses and I realized I was going home, where it felt warm, the place was lit up, and Iulia and Sofia were waiting for me. Good food, a soft bed, a warm bath were waiting…
And I wondered how I can be a true Christian, if I’m sleeping in luxury and deep comfort and they are sleeping on the cement, in cold, having nothing, all by themselves. I have all kinds of things and they have nothing. What is Christianity after all? Why did God come on this earth and become human? Just so that we can go to Church and to be christians in appearance by having some sort of a moral attitude towards others?
Could being a Christian mean solely not swearing, being a non-smoker, talking nicely about God and reading about Him? Being a Christian doesn’t mean being “better” or humblier.
If I’m a true Christian how come I am not taking a poor person off the streets, away from cold, bringing him home so that he can sleep where it’s warm, at least for one night? If I am a Christian how come I’m not inviting some of those afflicted living in the streets, to have supper at my house, and give them food? How can I stand having absolutely everything I need and enjoying them all, while that homeless person is suffering from filth, loneliness, cold, forgotten by all?
Frankly, I’m telling you, I am not a Christian, I am almost nothing, null. How can I say I love God whom I’m not seeing, yet I don’t love the poor person I can see beside me, and my heart doesn’t ache for them? If my heart ached, I would have taken him in, and offered him a warm meal and a glass of water. This is why saints say that the love for a stranger is the greatest deed.
We must remember that among the criteria claimed by God at the universal trial are the following:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt.25,35)
But one day it crossed my mind that maybe those people needed something more – a smile, a kind word! So I began asking them: “How are you?”, “Are you okay?”, “Have you eaten something today?”, “Is it cold/warm here?”… It is beneficial to them to know that there are people who care about them. In this way I found that those poor people enjoy listening, talking to them from our soul, and it’s then we realize how priceless is a sincere smile. It may seem strange to some, but that’s what I do: I talk to beggars!
If we listen to them without judging them, we may help them even a little bit. However, we can learn things we have never thought; they are also people as we are. This way, maybe, we will start cherishimg things we have. Many times we believe that we deserve everything, all we have or what we are given, sometimes without any effort.
Most of those who beg have sad stories. The fact that the people passing by don’t say and do not give them anything do not upset them, but there are people who make them feel sadder because the talk ugly, judging them. And this is as sad as it can be.
One day, a poor beggar (who has a sick child) told me how he took part into a scandal, in front of the Church. The poor man told me that he is not upset when someone has no money to offer him, he is happy and glad even if that person tells him a kind word, a “Lord help us!”, a little pray to God. But the fact that they talk badly to him, troubles him more. I advice him to forgive that person and to confess. I also reminded what Saint Augustine said : “Do you suffer from a bad man? Forgive him, so it may not be two bad men.” At the end of the conversation, he thanked me for talking to him. I didn’t do something impressive, I’ve only listened to him; but this set at rest his soul. People need to be heard; it’s better to sacrifice a bit of our time. A word of encouragement is always good.
Another time, on a hot summer day, I met an old woman who is expecting a penny without being insistent. I thought it will be best to give her the bottle of water I had in my bag. I marveled how much she enjoyed this little gesture! She thanked me, saying frankly that “More charity than this you could not do!”.
Another old lady told me that she is begging because she has not enough money for food, because she has to pay the rent and the other bills. It is difficult for her considering that she has a heart illness.
But young people need help too! Many of them remain without a job, without being able to support their families. They come to beg with all their children. I entered into a conversation with a young woman who was sitting on the concrete, with a child in her arms (and there are more like her); she started to tell me how she remained homeless. Neither she, not her husband have no where to work and have six children. She comes only in the afternoon to beg, protecting in this way her boy from the sunlight.
As I said, money it’s not enough , give them also something to eat (even sweets for children), clothes, toys, notebooks or anything else – all given from the heart! There are many beggars who ask only for food, clothes – things absolutely necessary.
So always try to reach your neighbor! If we have the opportunity to do a good deed, do not postpone! Postponing, we lose that opportunity. Also, we mustn’t just wait for special occasions or celebrations for doing good, but to seek opportunities, to create them! A simple example – school will start soon. There are children whose parents are unable to buy them all necessary things…Also, from time to time, we can prepare them a small snack (an apple, a packet of biscuits) to offer to a hungry person.
As much as possible, we must not do charity for reward (although the reward will come from the Lord) but for love. Even though we do not have the perfect love (and we can pray to gain it!) at least for knowing that we owe to God everything, it is better than none at all, since our neighbor receives our help. I hope that God will appreciate the will and the effort.
A Father told me to imagine that when I meet a beggar, that Christ asks for something through that person. And how can you deny Christ? How can you not offer straight from the heart all your best to the One who loves you so much, the One who gave you everything you have?
It happened to me many times to meet some child from the orphanage or a poor person on the street – both whom I knew, and in the same time, an acquaintance to appear as well. My first instinct in that moment was to “get rid” of the poor person, either by sending him off or leaving his side, ashamed to be seen in his presence. I wonder why that was.
That child from the orphanage, as poor as he is, doesn’t he have the same dignity as we have? More beautiful clothes or some more classes – can we put that in comparison with the value of that child as a being in front of God and in front of the whole mankind?
Another thing that I realized was that I myself like to be noticed by a important person – be it a professor or someone else that is well seen by society. There were many times when I tried to “butter up” to somebody more important or better seen than me, not necessarily to show others in what company I am, but to be, myself, acknowledged by someone “big”, to be considered, even for a short time, on the same level with them.
In the same manner the orphan child wanted to talk with me and to treat him as a person on the same level, I like the ones that are more important than me to acknowledge me, to greet me, to talk with me, to take me into account.
If I run from the poor persons side, from those “smaller” than me, then why do I wonder that I do not get the acknowledgement of those that are “bigger” than me? It is indeed the work of God, who teaches me to act proper with everybody, regardless of clothes and social position. If I pay attention to the poor, then God will arrange things so I am myself be taken into account by those greater than me.
A father much beloved by said once that we pass on the streets many times and we see a beggar, we give
him some money and then we run quickly from his side, forgetting to give him some word of encouragement. When we throw money to a poor, is a way of covering up some of our remorse – having all that we want and they leaving in misery, but we don’t try to treat the beggar as a fellow human being. The father said that instead of giving money, it’s more important sometimes to stop and talk with him, to ask him how he feels, what does he need; it’s more important to treat him as a person, lowering yourself to his condition. A smile and some good words can make happy that poor person for the whole day and encourage him that one day we will all go to God’s Kingdom, where there is neither pain nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life without death.
With what am I above those who sleep on the street? How am I more important or better than themm? By no means whatsoever.
This is how God arranged things in world, so that some of us are rich and some of us are poor. The poor ones need the benefaction of the rich to be able to live decently and the rich ones need the poor to gain clemency in front of God and to enter His beautiful and mighty Kingdom. Without the rich, the poor die from cold and starving, without the poor the rich will end up in Hell, in eternal torments, because of their selfishness.
How is it best to be: rich or poor? It is good to be as God left you in this world and to treat the others like same level fellows.
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Me and my family are Orthodox Christians. We go to church, we confess, we take the Holy Comunion, participate in the Sacred Liturgy and other services with great love, we have a parent father, we read about God, we talk about God but I don’t think that is enough. I think actually all these are just the beginning, are hardly the basis on which the foundation must be built with God, that is salvation.
Last night at 11 PM I was leaving from work and I was passing by some blocks under construction, and instantly they reminded me of those who live on the streets. I know that they stay usually in the unfinished blocks because there are more secure, there’s no one to cast them out. And I thought, how it would be if I was now going to sit in a block like that. It was hard disheartening, it was dark, damp, cold, windy, and I would had to sleep on the floor, or on cartons as I know some of them sleep, or on old clothes.
I’ve came to myself quickly and I realized that I was going home, where is heat, light, where my wife and my daughter are waiting for me, and where I have good food, a soft bed, a warm bath, and so on.
And I thought how I can be a Christian if I sleep in luxury and in all comfort and they sleep on cement, in cold wheather, without nothing, and sometimes being even alone. I have it all and they have nothing. Eventually what is Christianity? Why God came to earth and made itself a Man? Just only for us to go to church and to show the Christians that we have a certain moral attitude towards others.
Does being a Christian means only not to swear, not to smoke, to talk nicely about God and to read about him? Being a Christian does not mean to be just humbly.
If I am a real Christian, why don’t I take a poor from the street and put him to sleep in the my house, where is warm and cozy, even only a night? If I am a Christian, why not invite him at dinner in my house, to give him some food? How can I bear to have absolutely everything I need and those poor persons on street to suffer in misery, in loneliness, in cold, forgotten by everyone.
I tell you frankly that I am not a Christian, I’m almost nothing, and I’m zero. How can I say that I love God that I don’t see, and the poor next to me that I see, I don’t love, and my soul doesn’t care about them? If I cared about them I would have invited them in my house and give them a glass of water and some good food.
That’s why the saints told us that the love of strangers is the greatest good deed in the world.
We must keep in mind that the universal criteria for the Great judgment at the end of the world, which God Jesus Christ told us:
“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.” (Mt.25.34-36)