In the endless and often unedifying intra-Orthodox debates about the possibility or impossibility of getting sick from what is truly the Body and truly the Blood of Christ; about the suitability or unsuitability of watching livestreams of the local priest and two or three self-proclaimed “lucky ones” receive Holy Communion when we “unlucky ones” cannot (instead of, say, using the opportunity of social distancing to imitate St. Mary of Egypt and the Desert Fathers of old by increasing and intensifying our rule of prayer at home); about how local priests might or might not provide pastoral care and access to the Eucharist without undue risk of contagion to their flocks; about same-sex marriage as the cause of COVID-19 (yes, we’ve heard this now from Ukraine’s pseudo “Patriarch” Filaret); we have seen very little—if any, frankly—attention given to the most fundamental of all ascetical disciplines for us who aren’t hermits: almsgiving and feeding the hungry from our own pockets.
St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil the Great took for granted that we would fast so strictly during Great Lent (and secretly, as the Gospel commands incidentally, e.g., not sharing recipes and photos on social media for how to make fasting as painlessly gentrified as possible) that we would save significant sums of money at the grocery store.
What to do with all this unspent money? Feed the hungry, they insisted.
If we’re not spending less on groceries, we’re probably doing Lent wrong. If we’re spending more, we’re probably doing Lent wrong.
If we’re not feeding the hungry, there’s no “probably” about it: we’re definitely doing Lent wrong. We’re doing the Orthodox faith wrong. We’ve corrupted Christianity into a resource for meeting my “spiritual needs” instead of rushing every day to the highways and the byways to meet the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless, the foreigners and strangers, the incarcerated. The Sunday of the Last Judgment fades into a distant memory…on Meatfare Monday.
If you live or work in a place where you’re unlikely to meet the hungry and the homeless, or if your social distancing practices make it impossible to meet them, you can use the wonders of digital technology not only to watch livestreamed divine services, but more importantly, to feed the hungry.
Consider this: on a busy downtown street or subway station, several hundreds if not thousands of passersby will ignore the men, women, and young people sitting cross-legged on the ground hoping for spare change to get something to eat. Some of these defenseless people have a beloved dog with them. They worry more about the dog’s welfare than their own.
But now, with most people working from home, and most non-essential vendors and businesses under orders to close, the income of our brothers and sisters on the streets who rely on the occasional almsgiver among the crowds has dropped to nightmarish levels.
Not only that. Cities in more northerly locations like Toronto, where I live, continue to experience freezing and sub-freezing temperatures. With the coffee shops and sandwich shops reduced to selling takeout and turning their seating upside down to prevent anyone from staying, and with our public libraries closed, the homeless have nowhere to go but public transit to warm up for a while—and not all transit drivers and fare collectors let them ride for free. (Some do, God bless them.)
$20 allows a person in Toronto to purchase a takeout meal or two and to get warm riding the subways for as long as he or she wants.
Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s readers have already responded to my appeals on Facebook and Twitter to the tune of almost $500. This has been placed in various amounts directly into the hands of Toronto’s neediest men, women, and young people. You know who you are, and I thank you with all my heart.
So much more is needed, though. So many more are going hungry and cold.
Send the amount of your choice via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Alms” in the message (since we receive money for a variety of uses).
When I have money to give away I consider myself an “essential worker” and go out into the streets. 100% of your gift will be placed into the hands of those who need it the most. There’s no overhead. (There’s also no tax receipt, but Holy Tradition says nothing about feeding the hungry in exchange for a tax break.)
Pray for our brothers and sisters on the streets, and for me also, the first among sinners.