Orthodox America


"Always remember that you were born into this world so that you may do good to all insofar as possible on every occasion."

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven

Our Life is short. When we are young, it seems to stretch out endlessly before us, and we think we have lots of time to do all the things we postpone until "tomorrow", to fulfill our good intentions. But what certainty do we have that we shall reach tomorrow, let alone old age, and even if we do, we shall realize on looking back that our life is but a vapor when measured on the scaled of eternity. We are here to prepare ourselves for that eternity, to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt (Matt. 6:20). If we waste what precious time is given us, what shall we say when the Judge of all will come to reward every man according to his deeds, and our good deeds are found deficient in the balance.

This is not to say that the Orthodox Church teaches justification by works - an impression many Protestants erroneously hold. In our Morning Prayers, we pray, "O Saviour, save me by Thy grace, for if Thou shouldest save me for my works, this would not be grace or a gift, but rather a duty... Impute my faith instead of deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds which could justify me..." In Scripture, it says plainly, By grace ye are saved (Eph. 2:5). Good deeds, however, are a necessary expression of faith, as is well documented in Scripture, particularly in the Epistle of St. James: For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26).

"We pride ourselves on our faith," writes St. Tikhon of Zakonsk, "But do we do works in conformity with this faith?" It is not for want of opportunity. Our good Lord provides us with opportunities every day to lay up treasures in heaven, but too often we are blinded to them by our self-love and our preoccupation with the affairs of this world. Or perhaps we have an impulse to do good but we are too lazy to act upon it. One Holy Father wrote, "He who does not hasten to do good will not do it."

Almsgiving is a great good which benefits both the Giver and the receiver. A classic illustration of the value of almsgiving is found in the life of the Holy Apostle Thomas, who took money from the Indian king Gundafor, promising to build him a sumptuous palace. He promptly gave all the money away to the poor and was imprisoned by the irate king. In fact, a palace  was built for the king - in Paradise. This was shown to the soul of the king's brother just after he died. When he was miraculously restored to life, he told the king what he had seen. The king then understood the Saint's method of "building", He released him and was baptized.

Today's mailboxes are fairly besieged with solicitations, and among them are some worthy causes. The fact that we cannot afford to give to all of them ought not discourage us from giving to some. In choosing which charities to support, we should keep in mind Apostle Paul's injunction, As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of the faith (Gal. 6:10). The Orthodox community has numerous areas of need. We have waiting for available printing space appeals for the new Korean mission; for the constructing of churches in London, England, and Prince George, Canada; for the repair of the Kursk Icon Hermitage church, badly damaged by fire last winter; for building projects at St. Isaac's Skete in Boscopel and at Christ the Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island (WA), and there are more general needs for support of monastic communities - particularly those in the Holy Land - and for needy clergy. The Orthodox Benevolent Fund is useful for channeling donations to a variety of need, including those mentioned above.

People sometimes wonder how much they should give. This should not be the primary concern. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk writes, "Do you have much? Then give much. Do you have little? Then give a little, but give from the heart. Alms are judged not by the number of what is given, but by the zeal of the giver, for God loveth a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:7). Now you give  into the hands of the poor man and the pauper, but you will receive  a hundredfold from the hands of Christ. Then give, do not be afraid. What is given shall not be lost, for He that promised is faithful." (Journey to Heaven).

How we give is as important as what we give. St. Seraphim of Sarov counsels, "We should do works of mercy with a good disposition of soul.. If you give to one who asks, let the joy of your countenance precede your gift, and comfort his sorrow with good words" (Little Russian Philokalia, Vol I).

Opportunities to do good are by no means limited to almsgiving. Some months ago there was a delightful article in Reader's Digest which told of a woman who was inspired to gladden peoples' hearts through random acts of kindness: paying the fare of the car behind her at the bridge toll, adding a coin to a stranger's parking meter that was about to expire. These are seeming trifles, but the very habit of being on the look-out for such opportunities is good for the soul. This is especially important for children who, if trained in their formative years to do things for others, to volunteer their help, to be ready with a kind word - can hope to avoid being ruled by their personal whims and selfish interests, which overtake so many of them in later years.

In doing good we must be aware of self-righteousness, remembering that even the impulse for good comes from God. Let us value these impulses, and take care to act on them. We are given a myriad of ways to advance upon the path to salvation. Soon death will come and remove us from the field of action. Let us not depart this life leaving behind a path strewn with lost opportunities - and bitter regrets. We can do better than that.