9/11, Hurricane Katrina: these events will be etched forever in our minds. It was a time when individuals reached out with Christian love to heal the nation. During those days, we forgot our careers, our money problems, and focused on those in need. But just as quickly, we went back to our careers, our money problems, and focused again on ourselves. Where does Christ go, after the smoke clears? Does it take a catastrophe to open our hearts and change the way we live our lives? “Be mindful, oh Lord, of those who bear fruit and do good works in thy Holy Churches, and who remember the poor” (from the anaphora of Saint Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom).
Who are those people we commemorate, who do good works and remember the poor? Are we counted worthy? Too often, we measure our self-worth based on our income, the college we attend, the house we own, our circle of friends. But Christ calls us to be perfect in Him by following His teachings, to bear fruit and serve others, each and every day! How? What gifts do I have to offer? To consider these questions, we must lay aside our earthly cares and trust in Christ. Society teaches us to succeed in the world by helping ourselves. Christ teaches us to succeed by helping others.
As a diabetic, to stay healthy, I must eat, see the doctor, check my sugar, and take insulin. If I were to forget even one step, I would go into a diabetic coma. To stay spiritually healthy, we must fast, pray, worship, and give. If we were to do everything, but did not give, we would go into a spiritual coma. Faith without works is dead. St.John Chrysostom said,
“Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven, but to the poor; for if you stretch forth your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven; but if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing.”
In Matthew 19:21, Christ tells the rich young man to give his possessions to the poor and then follow Him. The Orthodox Study Bible explains, “to be perfect, one must willingly sacrifice all and follow Christ.” … “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Christ is the foundation for every good work. We pray, “for every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from Thee, the Father of lights.” St. Ignatius wrote, “It is fitting, then, not just to be called Christians, but to be such.” Christianity requires action.
How much are we willing to sacrifice for Christ? Recently, a young woman from our parish lost her apartment building in a fire. Hundreds were homeless. A young man living nearby heard about the fire on the news. He was so touched, he decided to move back home, give up his apartment, and let her move into it. When she moved in, she discovered he had left everything behind! The towels, dishes, furniture, everything! He walked away from his worldly possessions to follow Christ. Would we, as Orthodox Christians, do the same?
What, you may ask, can I do? Of course, not everyone has an apartment to list. There are other ways an Orthodox Christian is called to serve, such as, charitable giving, service work, or simply actions. Charitable giving requires us to sacrifice meaningfully, not just from what we don’t need, but also from what we need. From those who have been given much, much is required, for our riches are gifts from God. It’s easy to say, I can’t afford to give; the economy is bad; I should save it. This is an excuse. I hesitate to put one dollar in the Food For Hungry People box, but don’t hesitate to buy the five-dollar foot long! We must open our eyes to the needs all around us. When we give sacrificially, our gifts will multiply as did the loaves in the feeding of the five thousand. But our works cannot end with just a single gift. We must also give through service. This work requires us to put aside our physical comfort to feed the sick, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.
For college students, the Orthodox Christian Fellowship offers a trip called Real Break. It provides them an opportunity to put Christ first by helping others less fortunate than themselves. For those who participate, the experience is life changing. They can continue the transformation when they return to school, with simple acts of kindness. In our busy lives, do we stop to notice the person in the next pew or the new office, do we speak a kind work to our neighbor? There are those all around us whose lives can be changed by a single act of kindness, if only we notice. There is a story of an elderly man who lost his wife. A four-year-old boy saw him sitting alone, crying, and he climbed onto the gentleman’s lap. The boy’s mother asked, “What did you say to the old man?” The boy answered, “Nothing. I just helped him cry.” St. Theodore the Great said,
“Even if you have only bread and water, with these you can still meet the dues of hospitality. Even if you have not these, but simply make the stranger welcome and offer him a word of encouragement, you will not be failing in hospitality.”
We are called to do good works and influence others by our actions. St. Ignatius wrote, “The tree is manifest from its fruits.” The Church is a tree. We are the branches. Using our gifts to bear fruit, we can inspire others to use their gifts to keep the tree alive. In Hebrews, St. Paul calls us to be a cloud of witnesses. Like the saints, we must be people of faith, charity, and forgiveness. They used their gifts to proclaim the Faith and spread Orthodoxy to the world. Writing is my gift. As a writer, I want to influence people with my words, but without the support of those around me, those who take the time to care, I would lack the confidence to express myself. Since the time I began public speaking, a parishioner has encouraged me, supported me, taking her time to care, making me realize that I could make a difference. Because of her, I felt compelled to continue, speaking my heart on issues of the Faith. I pray that one day, perhaps today, my words will inspire someone to use their gifts to bear fruit, and be a witness to the Faith.
After 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, our Christianity poured out to the victims. Then, it was life as usual. Christ must be the center of our lives. We must live each day as though it were a time of great need, because each day there are people in great need. As an Orthodox Christian, I know that my success comes, not from worldly possessions, but from a relationship with Christ. If we are connected to our Faith, we can change the world one act at a time. If we live as Christ taught by bearing fruit, doing good works, and remembering the poor, we will continue to grow in the Faith, just like the living tree, being transfigured first ourselves, and then transfiguring the world, for we are all connected under one Faith. This is the Faith of the Apostles. This is the Faith of the Fathers. This is the Faith of the Orthodox. This is the Faith which has established the Universe.