Archangel Michael Orthodox Community Services
By Fr. James Worth
The poor you have always with you” (Jn 18:8). The words of our Lord are a reminder to us that in this world “the poor shall never cease out of the land.” (Deut. 15:11).
What are we to make of the poor? When we are called to reflect on the poor in America, we generally think of those people who, for many reasons, do not at once possess a place to call home, do not have adequate clothing, are without a steady supply of nourishing food, and do not receive an income sufficient to meet the normal expenses of life.
Our image of a poor person might be primarily that of the transient who moves about our public streets, living from day to day, from one handout to the next, and who seeks refuge in a local shelter at night. A far larger number of poor people, however, are those in our neighborhoods who are young children living within a family where the primary caretaker is unemployed, underemployed or irregularly employed; a single parent attempting to raise one or more children with little or no steady income; a physically, mentally or emotionally disabled person who is unable to meet his or her basic needs, or an elderly person who receives a small pension check at the beginning of each month and who is found lacking in ability to make ends meet.
Even though we are growing in our awareness of the plight of the poor through a steady growth of charities and shelters that operate in our communities and through the frequent exposure these people receive in the public media, they in fact continue to receive very little empathy from the general population. The poor are often looked upon with indifference (“I have my own problems”), contempt (“let them go out and work like the rest of us”), or with a form of pity that make the poor feel less than human (“you poor thing”).
Jesus chose to be poor
Much of the Christian Gospel, however, concerns itself with the poor. The very Lord Jesus whom we praise and glorify as our risen Lord and Savior, the one whom we confess will judge both the living and the dead, emptied himself of the glory he had from all eternity and became poor so that humanity might once again obtain the riches of the glory of God in human existence. During Holy Week we sing the following words, which come to us from the Lord himself: “With the wealth of my divine nature, I came in order to minister to Adam in his poverty. I fashioned his body and now willingly I put it on” (Ode 1, Canon of Great Monday Bridegroom Matins).
In the incarnation, Jesus took the form of a servant and humbled himself, being obedient unto death (Phil. 2:5-8). Throughout his public ministry Jesus remained poor, living - by deliberate choice - without the luxury of the comforts we today would insist we have as being necessary for survival: “For the foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58).
The Gospels speak continuously of Jesus’ ministry to the poor, of how he was constantly moved with compassion when he looked into the face of human suffering and affliction. Jesus heard the voice of those in need, and manifested the love of his Father for all creation by feeding the hungry (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-8), healing the sick (Matt 4:24), and restoring those who had fallen in sin (Jn 8:1-11). This, however, is not the end of the story. In what is perhaps one of the most striking messages of the New Testament, Jesus - through his incarnation - identified personally with the poor, saying that in as much as we feed the hungry, give clothing to those in need, and minister to the sick and imprisoned of our population, we are at the same time ministering directly to our Lord himself! (Matt 25:31-47).
With the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the Apostles and their followers devoted time to the care of the poor, appointing deacons to minister to the widows (Acts 6:1-6), collecting funds for the poor Christians in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26), and distributing possessions and goods to those who had need (Acts 2:45). The practice of the early Church was that on the first day of the week (Sunday - the day of the assembly of God’s people for the celebration of the Eucharist), Christians made contributions to the Church to be set aside for the needs of the poor (1 Cor 16:1-2). In every generation the Church has had a ministry to the poor. The poor we always have with us.
Husband and wife team started program for the needy
A ministry designed to provide regular assistance for the needy was established in Denver, Colorado, on the feastday of the Dormition of the Theotokos in 1987. The founders of this program were Michael and Ellie Anderson, a husband and wife team that worked under the guidance of their spiritual father, Archpriest Alexi Young, of the Russian Church in Exile. The organization was founded as “St. Michael the Archangel Mission Soup Kitchen and Community Services.”
From the beginning, Michael and Ellie, together with their children, David and Angelina (young teenagers), dedicated themselves to serving low or no income families, senior citizens and the handicapped of every race and faith, providing both emergency and regular supplemental assistance of food and clothing. In addition, the Andersons provided transportation for those who needed this service, purchased prescriptions, provided assistance with utility payments, and referred people to appropriate human services organizations as needed. Funds for this work were collected from contributions of people throughout the United States.
Today the organization has been renamed. It is called “Archangel Michael Orthodox Community Services” (O.C.S.). It is incorporated in the state of Colorado as a not for profit corporation. Clergy and laity from several jurisdictions serve the agency as board members, volunteer workers and contributors. A governing board meets on a regular basis to review the needs and concerns of the agency. Michael and Ellie Anderson continue to operate and administer O.C.S. on behalf of the board and the agency’s benefactors. (The Andersons receive a stipend that helps toward their support. The stipend comes out of the operating funds.)
At present the agency uses the church hall of Holy Transfiguration of Christ Cathedral as an operating base. From there it channels the voluntary donations of food, clothing and personal assistance received from Orthodox Christians and their parishes, sisterhoods and other philanthropic groups in the Church, to the needy of the Denver area. It does this through weekly food distributions, regular free clothing distributions and voluntary counseling services which are provided by Orthodox students in training to be pastoral counselors.
Presently about 160 families are receiving assistance of some kind through the O.C.S. Food delivered from the agency accounts for up to 1600 meals per month when prepared and served. The families are living in north Denver near Transfiguration Cathedral, known to the locals as Globeville. This area was selected because it was a place not already served by any similar organization and because of its close proximity to the Cathedral where Michael serves as a subdeacon.
The O.C.S. is totally self supporting and receives no United Way funds. Support comes from near and far. His Grace Bishop Tikhon, Bishop of San Francisco and the West, is a personal supporter of the agency. He directed that all funds collected in 1989 during Great Lent from Lenten charity boxes distributed throughout the Diocese, be given to the O.C.S. Contributions are also received from individuals and families throughout the country, some of whom are anonymous.
LOCAL CHURCHES SUPPORT O.C.S.
The local churches in the Denver area are also working to serve the needs of the O.C.S. This agency is the designated charity for three parishes in the Denver areaTransfiguration Cathedral, St. Herman Orthodox Church in Littleton, and St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church in Denver. At St. Herman Church, parishioners make a separate pledge for charity at the beginning of each year, and a special “charities collection” is taken on the first Sunday of each month, thus providing the agency with a steady source of monthly income. In November of each year the community also collects food and other necessities for O.C.S.
St. Catherine Church and Transfiguration Cathedral typically collect a steady supply of clothes that are given away freely. At Christmas time, the Christmas tree at St. Catherine was adorned with new mittens, gloves and hats for the agency rather than the usual lights and ornaments we are accustomed to seeing on the tree. The people of Transfiguration Cathedral prepare food that is distributed to those who come to the Church and ask for a meal. The Cathedral also sponsored a concert by a local artist with the proceeds of admission - at least two cans of food - going to O.C.S.
Michael and Ellie Anderson administer the programs of the agency by purchasing food items in large quantities, going to pick up food at government commodity centers and grocery warehouses, setting up a system that allows food items to be boxed and prepared for distribution to qualified recipients on Wednesday afternoons, and by keeping exact records of all income and expenditures on a monthly basis. Michael visits the local churches on a regular basis to speak of the work of the O.C.S. and to encourage people to continue to participate in the work of the agency. The Andersons handle all emergency requests for food also.
Volunteers provide invaluable assistance
Volunteers also serve to assist the Andersons on a regular basis. These people - members of St. Herman and Transfiguration - assist in bookkeeping matters, registering food recipients, and in moving and boxing food supplies. The Anderson children serve as invaluable assistants to their parents also.
The O.C.S. has offered counseling services to the people of the area. Dee Jaquet, a senior student at the Iliff School of Theology, took clients from the population of people that came to the agency as part of her internship in her preparation to become a pastoral counselor. Dee is a member of St. Catherine Church.
The work of the O.C.S. is not done without serious concerns. The primary concern is the availability of sufficient funds to operate the agency on a week to week basis. Periods of financial drought hit the agency, making it necessary to make cutbacks in operations and necessitating urgent appeals for more regular support and assistance from the local churches as well as from friends both near and far.
The work of the O.C.S. stands in direct continuity with the work of the people of God who have labored to continue to manifest the Gospel of Christ from the earliest days of the Church. Our prayer is that O.C.S. can continue to operate and to serve as a model of charity for the Orthodox people of our time, and perhaps allow some to see behind every good work the presence of the Lord who always enters into the lives of the poor and who receives every act of charity to them as a gift of love to Himself.
For more information about the “Archangel Michael Orthodox Community Services” contact:
P.O. Box 16247
Denver, CO 80216
1) Reading through accounts of worthwhile and successful ventures in the Resource Handbook and in other journals and newspapers, it seems that they are often begun by just one or two dedicated people. Does this hold true in your experience? Do you know any such people? What are some of the qualities you find in them? What message does their accomplishment give to the rest of us?
2) How are the needy helped in the area where your parish is located? Is there any opportunity to join in with other Orthodox churches, or neighborhood churches in general, to provide services to others in need?