by Matushka Constantina Palmer
Great Lent is a wonderful, if trying, time. It’s an opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries and tell ourselves that despite falling down all year, now is the time to get back up. It’s a time to guard ourselves and give of ourselves in a multitude of ways. We often hear that it is not enough to merely abstain during Lent; we should also do during Lent. To be specific, we should give alms. But almsgiving does not need to consist only in giving money. If that was so, those who have little would find it nearly impossible to give alms.
Giving alms can be done in a variety of ways. The Greek word eleemosyne means “alms, charity, mercy.” In other words, almsgiving is also the act of being merciful, so something as simple as a kind word, or a word not spoken, can be alms. Going to three different grocery stores to find those special ingredients so you can make your husband a delicious recipe because he is tired and a tasty fasting meal will lift his spirits, can be alms.
If we are watchful and mindful, we can find opportunities to give alms when we are shopping, by letting someone behind us go ahead. We can smile at someone on the street who looks like he’s having a hard day. We can go out of our way to help those we see struggling or say an extra prayer rope for those we know need it. We can visit the sick, spend an extra five minutes during coffee hour listening to someone unload about their difficult week, and tell an uplifting spiritual story. We can volunteer to help a young mother with her energetic little ones, and pick up after our own children for possibly the umpteenth time without grumbling. If we look for opportunities to give alms, if we ask God to put those opportunities in our lives, then we will see them on a daily basis.
Here’s my challenge to all of us: to give this Great Lent, to give and to pray and to thank God for the ability to do so. But, I would like to add an extra element to this challenge. Let’s give and not tell. Let’s give and not even recall our good deeds to ourselves. Let’s give and forget that we did good. For in reality it is God who should be credited for inspiring us to give. This is what the Gospel teaches us, to give to the poor (in whatever way we are able, to whatever kind of poverty we encounter) – but not let our “left hand” know what we’ve done (Matt 6:3).
Let’s become cheerful givers. And if we’re not cheerful right off the bat, let’s not be dismayed. I believe we’ll become cheerful through giving. It’s a worthy goal, for God loves the cheerful giver (2 Corin. 9:7).
Let’s arrive at Pascha having given of ourselves, having hidden our good deeds from others and ourselves. And let’s pray that while we were giving, our neighbour saw Christ in us – the True Giver of all good. Let’s pray that when we give alms, when others see us being merciful, we will be able to honestly say, “he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) because it is not us who gives, but Christ who gives through us.
Lastly, let’s not be found giving alms with our right hand and taking away the spiritual profit with our left by becoming puffed up, thinking we are good Christians. No, let’s give God the glory.
Matushka Constantina is the wife of a deacon, a student of theology, painter of icons, and the author of The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Woman’s Monastery. Originally from Atlantic Canada, she and her husband currently live in Thessaloniki, Greece where they are completing their post-graduate studies. They are attached to the parish of St. Seraphim of Sarov in Rawdon, Quebec, Canada.