And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. (Luk 16:9)
I recall a conversation long ago with a young, up-and-coming entrepreneur. He was a new member of the parish I was serving (Anglican). We had been speaking about stewardship – money. His comment to me was straightforward: “You make it sound like a man can buy his way into the Kingdom of God.” My answer was equally clear: “Yes, you can. But the price might be everything you have.” That was many years ago, but my thoughts have not changed. In fact, time has only confirmed their truth.
We are rightly skeptical when the topic of money is brought up in a religious context. We fear that we are encountering, yet again, one more scheme for getting our money. In a consumer culture, how can we not? But the topic of money, particularly under the heading of “mammon,” was a common part of Christ’s teaching. We strangely think of sex and psychology as proper realms for moral instruction, but somehow hold money to be exempt. We fail to see the true nature of anything when it is viewed as somehow removed from God.
There are interesting verses to be found in the gospel. The opening quote in this article is only one such example. Christ tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This seems to flip our modern understanding. We would normally suggest that someone should “put their money where their heart is.” Christ, instead, tells us that your heart will always follow your money. That is a very serious statement, indeed.
It is in this vein that my remarks on “buying your way into the Kingdom” should be understood. Christ told a parable about a rich man and a poor, named Lazarus. The poor man sat by the rich man’s gate but never received even so much as a scrap from the rich man’s table. In time, they both die. Lazarus, we are told, was received into “Abraham’s bosom,” while the rich man was tormented in the flames of hell. When the rich man cries out for help, he is reminded by Abraham of the injustice he refused to correct in his life: the rich man “fared sumptuously” while Lazarus had nothing.
Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. (Luk 16:25)
He then tells the rich man that there is a great gulf between them now and that there is nothing that Lazarus can do for him.
This latter comment has, through time, become almost the only thing in the parable that some remember. It is, of course, a point that has become fixed through centuries of anti-Catholic argumentation. “There is a great gulf fixed,” we are told, and so prayers for the departed are of no use. The damned are damned.
Of course, this is a terrible distortion of the parable and overlooks its most obvious point. The rich man has done nothing for the poor, and now he receives the due end of his evil works. It is quite similar to those who, in Matthew 25, did not feed, clothe or visit the “least of these my brethren,” and, in so doing, did not do it to Christ Himself. In this hardness of heart, they, too, are lost.
Strangely absent from modern thought, however, are the clear assumptions within both parables. In both cases, the care for the poor would have made all the difference in the matter of salvation. The Rich man might have come to the aid of Lazarus. In so doing, he would have discovered that Lazarus would “receive him into an everlasting home.” His refusal to be of help to Lazarus is the sole reason given for his burning in hell. In Matthew 25, those who are kind to the sick, the naked, the homeless, etc., discover that they are being given the Kingdom, even though they were unaware of their service to Christ.
It is in light of such an understanding that I made the scandalous statement that a man can “buy his way into the Kingdom.” There is no bribe he can offer God. God needs nothing from him. But he can give to the many Lazaruses that surround him. In time, perhaps, they will receive him.
This understanding actually has a long and important place in the tradition of Christianity, one that has been largely forgotten in modernized versions of the faith. Many Orthodox Christians are familiar with a practice called the “mercy meal.” It is a memorial meal eaten by family and friends following a funeral. As such, it blends nicely with American funeral customs. But its origin is something quite difference. It is a “mercy” meal because, in its origin, it was a meal for the poor. In some parts of the Orthodox world this custom survives.
Why feed the poor after a funeral? It was simply one of many actions in which alms (from the Greek word for “mercy”) are given to the poor. This distribution of such alms was for the clear purpose of the well-being of the deceased. The rich man dies. But his family invites Lazarus and all of Lazarus’ friends to a meal. And if things are well-understood, it will not have been the first of such meals.
A conversation with a Romanian friend recently let me learn of a practice in his village, probably not unusual. Some homes have been left to the Church by the deceased, for the housing of the poor and needy. After a funeral, it is common for food to be delivered to these houses. It is also common for the clothes and some other properties of the departed to be distributed to the poor after the 40th day prayers.
Some might argue that this is not an effective or proper way to organize a society for the needs of the poor. That, doubtless, is true. But this is not about the construction of a social net – it is the construction of a Christian heart. That heart, if rightly taught, will know that there is no salvation for the rich apart from the poor. I will repeat that: there is no salvation for the rich apart from the poor. Nothing could be more clear in the gospels.
We have so individualized ourselves and individualized our salvation that the love we give to others is viewed as nothing more than a moral obligation. The poor are not a moral obligation: they are a means of our salvation. God has so created us that our lives belong to one another. We could say that we “coinhere.” For example, we cannot love God apart from our brother:
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1Jo 3:17)
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1Jo 4:20)
St. John warns that “he who does not love does not know God.” Our brother, particularly our brothers among the poor, are given to us that we might know God. They are for the salvation of our soul. St. James has it this way:
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (Jam 1:27)
In the season of Great Lent, the tradition of the Church holds that we should fast, pray and give alms. Of the three, the last is by far the greatest. St. John Chrysostom says that he who gives to the poor does a greater thing than he who raises someone from the dead.
It is our foolishness that fails to see the power God has placed in our hands when He gives us of His wealth. The sole reason for such largesse is for our salvation, not for our self-aggrandizement. You can indeed buy your way into heaven. You must bribe the poor to pray for you. Be such a friend that they will always remember you before God. It is not the value of the money that will matter – but the value and power your money has over your heart. Your heart will be wherever you put your money. Only the poor have the power to take your money (and thus your heart) into the Kingdom.
Wonderful post which hits all the correct notes. Thank you Fr. Freeman.
Thank you, Father! What a beautiful perspective!
Just as forgiveness is interrelated to the amount of corruption you see in yourself, giving of alms, love and care seem to be interrelated to the amount of thankfulness one has towards God.
Pray for us, Fr. Stephen!
Thank you, Father. Can you talk a little more about how the poor receive us into the Kingdom? I’m not sure I understand.
Thank you Fr. I have a question. I’m 29, single and male, have ~$15k to my name and make about $25k year. By all cultural standards, I am poor. I live in a small apartment and spend most of my money on food and rent. And yet, I have money saved and at the end of the month, by the grace of God, have enough to spend a little on things like movies and entertainment etc.
Now most, if not all, of my friends have spouses, families, and houses. Some have very nice jobs and beautiful homes and property, and I go home alone to a tiny apt every night. I don’t consider myself poor because I have food in my belly, a hot shower and roof over my head, but I don’t fit in with any of my friends. I’m in a very odd place socially, and I don’t know whether to consider myself “poor” (and continue to save money) or “rich” (and continue to give it away).
I’ve been in the quandary for years, and I continue to tithe just a little, to spend a little on entertainment, and to save a little. But I feel like I’m not doing what Jesus asks AND I feel like I’m not a “success” by any worldly means. I feel like a failure to the world and to the kingdom. I can’t buy a house here on earth, and I don’t know if I’ve lived a life worthy of a home in heaven.
I know this isn’t a “financial advice” blog, and I’m not asking for that, but if you have any spiritual guidance for a young man as myself I would really appreciate it. I think a lot of my frustration is probably pride: I feel like I should be a “success”, but I’m just a low, mediocre American with little prospects for success. Money is such an emotional subject for me, especially as a man, because how much money I make directly translates to how valuable I am–what I can offer and what my time and energy is worth.
Thought provoking post Father. It makes me wonder that the true riches that we should share are not so much our treasure as our time and talent. Throwing money at problems seems to be the government way and by all standards it is a dismal failure. Yes, actual funding matters, but what matters more, I think, is the investment of ourselves in the lives of the less fortunate.
In our culture, money and shame are especially tied up with each other – particularly for men. “Who I am” gets confused with success in various ways. For younger men, this is especially hard because you’re at a stage in life that is culturally supposed to be about “becoming who I want to be.” When you’re old (as am I), you mostly have to deal with the reality of who you became, etc.
Money is the bottom line in many ways. Because, in our culture, it doesn’t really matter what you do (engineer, accountant, doctor, etc.) so long as it makes you a “decent” or “good” income.That’s what we mean about success. Of course, the older you get, the less it matters because money doesn’t love you back.
What matters is love. Love of God, love of neighbor, love of friends, love of enemies, etc. If I had advice, it would be to practice good stewardship with your money – establish a level of generosity and stick to it (give away, tithe, etc.). And set a goal of being a good person rather than a successful person. Put the “success” into the hands of God. And, be prepared to suffer a bit. Every good man will suffer in this world. Then give thanks for all things.
I’m cautious about this, however, in that Christ makes a pretty strong link to money itself. I think those whose heart is not changed in the act of “throwing money” are not throwing enough.
Yes, the Lord does directly address money as the primary subject, but a person concerned with their money cannot share themselves. The government fails in true charity because it does nothing in the personal realm. The Second Great Commandment is about sharing ourselves. Sharing our treasure is the first step. I draw my thinking from John Wesley’s Sermon on “Visiting the Sick” in which he points out it is all well and good for a rich person to send a doctor at their own expense but then go themselves. Bill Gates has given away Billions but dd he give of himself? Unless we give of ourselves, we remain unchanged.
Gates has not given enough for it to touch himself yet. My hesitancy in this is that I’ve seen a certain voluntarism that doesn’t touch the self either. Gates might have to give enough away to actually become poor for it to actually touch him.
There is a sacramental character to money – and this is the meaning of “treasure” in that parable, I think. But it is a sacramental character in which the amount matters. The Widow gave everything, and it was enough. Zachaeus gave away half and it was enough. The Rich Young Ruler was asked to give all, and it was too much. As I said in the article – to buy your way most cost everything you have.
Imagine that we learned tomorrow that Bill Gates had had some sort of experience with Christ, and declared that he was giving away everything.
Sometimes, I admit, we “treasure” other things – but their usually not the same as time or talent. There are other things. In some cases, it might be the cost of bearing a little shame. That was all the Wise Thief had to offer – and it was enough. I’ve long thought that if we knew that “one” thing in another’s life, we would know exactly how to preach the gospel to them. Christ seemed to know this. Generally, we have to hang around and wait to see what the one thing was – if they ever find it. But if the one thing, the one treasure, is made manifest to someone, then they are truly at a crisis point – the one thing versus the kingdom.
In your riposte I can agree, what matters most is the commitment of self to the betterment of the other. It can be in money or time or in talent. What matters is the self is sacrificed in favor of the other, the real meaning of biblical love. Most people do not have the wealth of Gates in monetary means, but they have time and talent. I spent many years in my second career in adult handicap transportation and in ministry time visiting nursing homes. What mattered most was spending time treating those people as people and worthy of respect and attention. I had no treasure to share in the league of the Gates, but I had my time and my talent.
I believe the Lord asks more of us than money. Yes, give of the treasure, but then give of the self until there is no more to give. The Lord mentions visiting those in prison in the same way as He mentions money. I agree, give money until its gone, but we have so much more to give after the money is gone.
Ah, what insight.
Although we certainly must always be mindful of our responsibility to the economically disadvantaged, I suspect that it is more important *how* we give than what we give, when it comes to our salvation. We are all poor and in need before God. Yet we all have been given the capacity to empty ourselves in the service of others. Creating categories of people, even when well-intended, can be demeaning. “The poor”, “the rich” – we are all just people.
The giving of “everything” is not so much about emptying our bank accounts but giving of ourselves in such a way that we experience risk. If I have a million dollars and give away a thousand, I will not experience risk. However, if I don’t know if I have enough money to pay my own bills but, out of love, given $5 to someone who is hungry, I will be risking myself for the other and giving “everything”. This is the Gospel.
I may experience that risk in other ways as well. I remember one Good Friday I encountered a homeless man in front of my church, crying and questioning why God didn’t love him. He didn’t ask me for money. But I stood and talked to him (and also gave him something) while others were trying to get me to come inside where I would be “safe”. (I wasn’t afraid of this man but apparently people watching out the window were concerned – sent someone out to tell me I was urgently needed inside.) There is more risk in being with someone in their distress than there is in writing a check.
That is not to suggest that money need have no part in the giving but it is certainly not the only part – or even the most important part. What is most important is that I allow myself to become “poor” as Christ did for our sake, emptying myself in the risk of giving, thus becoming united to Him in His suffering.
I have held onto this quote from Simone Weil for about 40 years – had to dig through old boxes to find it tonight: “A single piece of bread given to a hungry man is enough to save a soul if it is given in the right way. It is not easy to give with the same humility that is appropriate for receiving. To give in the spirit of one who begs.”
I agree. It is only as a “key to the self” that money has such power. Forgive me for having been argumentative. I had a lot of years enduring Anglican “stewardship” stuff – and have some gut reactions to the “time, talent, treasure” meme. If anything, it seemed to mostly minister to a sort of bourgeoise spirituality – how to be a little bit better – to not how to become a saint. Also, as a Lenten element, I wanted to push to emphasis that Christ and the saints give to the giving of alms (and their power). It is a power that many people do not understand. We continue to think about alms-giving in terms of social improvement, betterment, etc. My point was, and is, to understand its inherent power as a tool in salvation.
By the same token, in Matthew 25, Christ does not mention giving money. He mentions visiting, feeding, clothing. Those are clearly just as powerful – and they form part of the time, talent, treasure thing.
“we have so much more to give after the money is gone” – well said.
“To give in the spirit of one who begs…” That puts the finger on it precisely.
Father Bless, pushing back is good, I did not interpret your comments as argumentative. You are absolutely right about the hold that money has on many people. I do believe that the subject is one of both/and. Yes, both, give of one’s wealth, but also of one’s self. Pulling a $20 bill out and dropping it into an alms basket never had the same transformative effect on me as spending time visiting a nursing home and getting to know the people.
When I was an 18-year old Jesus Freak, I became convicted by the verses on giving things away. I gave away even my clothes, leaving on two sets for the week. I worked at manual labor, and together with some friends, lived communally, giving all of my earnings away to the common purse and accepting only our common life. It was, I suppose, semi-monastic, particularly for a Protestant. It was an act of zeal, that lasted for a couple of years. I later went to college, married and took up a more normal Christian life. But I’ve always been affected by the experience. I’m glad to have done it even for a short time – there’s something terribly powerful in it –
Again, there is a very deep difference between that and pulling a $20 bill out and dropping it into an alms basket. It’s why I keep coming back to the theme of the measure of the giving. For most, $20 doesn’t even come close to being “treasure.” It’s a waiter’s tip, a token.
Interestingly, in these encounters about money, Jesus never says, “Tithe.” That ten percent was standard, the norm. We think of it as extreme and beyond our ability. It strikes me as interesting that in our modern monasticism, many monks begin as young men, when there is actually little to give up. It limits life’s options (marriage, children), but also offers a stable life-style and a path. It can be attractive. When I gave away everything, I was young – there was very little to give away! My weekly wages were about $80.
The desert fathers, however, are filled with stories of people leaving wealth, and positions of power to enter the desert. This seems to be strangely missing today. It gives me pause.
Truly, relieving one’s self of earthly treasure is cathartic. In order to do that one has to also give away/die to the Self. It is a both/and movement towards Christ. I think this is lacking in the world today for all the reasons that you list in your discussions on the tenants of Modernity. It seems to me that these tenants are the antithesis of holiness and a movement towards utter Self centered thinking which drives consumerism. Such a mindset cannot imagine going to the desert.
Eric, I’ll be praying for you ..Lord have Mercy…Your story is similar to mine. You are like the Widow with the two mites. Mammon is falsely used by culture as a blessing of God.
This topic is very much about living faith and miracles as opposed to the kind of faith that is just a worldview.
I think giving is an opportunity to see in real time how the Lord provides
I remember going to the store years ago when my husband was in grad school and we were on a super budget. I decided that $10 of it must be for the foodbank. Once I had picked those items I got something that was on my list and found it was $10 off.
I am sorry I cannot cite the source but I love the quote which I think is from the life of a saint
God does not allow us to keep what we withhold
As we give we see how God provides for us as well
There is another approximate quote I like
Socialism invites a man to take what is not his, Christianity invites a man to give
The theme that this is not about building a social net but about about building hearts is so true
Beautiful. I did not understand this as either/or . Money versus time/talent. it’s what the person God sends your way needs.
Many people need money , not a visit.
Then sometimes people need someone to visit them.
Sacrifical giving of money is certainly salvific (the Orthodox undertanding) – it readjusts your focus on what is important – Christ and His Kingdom, helps you love your brother more, exalts your poor brother in your eyes rather than causes you to pity him, and humbles you. The few times i’ve actually given sacrificiallly i was amazed at how uplifting it is. What a blessing!
I would still love to hear more on this parable from Fr. Stephen – the part about the unbridgeable chasm and why it is not the final word for someone’s soul, how it is that our prayers can help if the chasm is unbridgeable.
Mary, your last quote is key. And I believe is aligned with Fr Stephen’s article. People often give whatever they have in a way to hold power, self-designated honor (holiness), prestige over others. In other words they use the needs of others to build their treasure. And I believe the quote exemplifies what Fr Stephen is discussing. Knowing where (what) ‘the treasure’ is, is key, whether for our salvation or for sharing the Gospel. The ‘power’ of salvation of the giver lies in the hands of the recipient. Are they actually ‘honored’ in receiving? The willingness to risk shame is an amazing eye opener regarding ‘treasure’.
Thank you. My mind is stretched.
I am trying to understand “To give in the spirit of one who begs…”
Somehow it ties in to your twice stated emphasis “there is no salvation for the rich apart from the poor”
I will continue to reread. In the meantime, could you explain this a bit more?
Regarding my question…is “giving in the spirit of one who begs” coming to the realization of our own beggerliness and how much we too are in need of mercy? God presents the poor as one of the ways (the way?) for us to demonstrate His Love…these actions “prove” (as in “try” or “tried by”) our faith?
Dee, your comment ” The ‘power’ of salvation of the giver lies in the hands of the recipient. Are they actually ‘honored’ in receiving? ” Very well put…this helps. I can recall times when I have given and there was something “sour” about the whole act.
About 10 years ago, I was returning from Romania after visiting my parents and family. My husband and my five year old at the time were traveling with me. After landing at the JFK airport in NY, we collected our bags for customs, but were told to hold on onto our luggage because our connecting flight has been cancelled. After checking their computers, they said that there was a connecting flight we could take, but it was to be taken from the Laguardia airport. We collected our luggage (too much luggage!) and took a cab to Laguardia. When we got there, we were told that our flight had been cancelled, but not to worry because they now see available seats on a plane that was flying out from JFK! We took the cab again and went back to JFK. At this point it felt almost surreal. We were tired and extremely jet legged, my five year old started to cry. We got back at JFK just to be told that there was another plane flying out from Laguardia!! We started to laugh in frustration. We gave up. We decided to spend the night in the JFK airport.
We looked for seats where we could all stay together, but we couldn’t find any. The airport was full with people stuck in the airport just like we were. After walking around for a while, I found a metal bench – I understood very soon why no one was sitting on it: it was cold, and the AC in that spot was freezing cold, too. My son put his head on my lap, but he couldn’t seem to go to sleep.
An old man, probably in his 70s was pushing a cart, stopped and looked at us. I thought he was the cleaning man: he was dressed up poorly, and had no teeth. I remember feeling bad that he still needs to work at his old age. Five minutes later, he brought us one of those foldable military beds and tolds us to use it for the night. Without too much talk, he left us the bed and walked away. My child was so happy, we were happy. It felt like a miracle. We found a corner in the airport where we set up the bed and went to sleep thanking God for sending this man in our life at this moment.
In the morning we woke up rested and happy wondering who was the man who gave us the bed, and where should we leave the bed – he didn’t instruct us on that!
We assumed that he probably works for the facilities, so an airport employee directs us to the facility manager. We wanted to thank the manager for hiring such caring people, but he said he doesn’t know who gave us the military bed. We insisted by describing the man, but he added that the airport protocol doesn’t even allow personnel to give anyone military beds – in fact they don’t even have military beds in their storage! He assured us that if the bed is not picked up, he’ll take care of that.
We were ready to leave our sleeping corner, when the old man pushing the cart comes back. We thank him, and he just smiles, he refrains from talking too much. His eyes are kind, *he understands*.
It crossed my mind that maybe he is a homeless man and that it will be nice to pay him something, but in the end, I didn’t. I didn’t give him a dime! I bear that shame. I kept excusing myself that he left very quickly, but I know my heart wasn’t in the right place back then.
Ever since then, I think life is a travel, a race to reach your final destination, and the help we all need is especially in those situations when we find ourselves stuck. And stuck is the handicapped man in his wheelchair, and stuck is the family who cares for him, stuck is the immigrant who seeks shelter from war, stuck are those without healthcare and without a job (and aside of that, we do like to complain about paying too many taxes) and stuck are the old and the lonely, anyone suffering from addiction, the homeless etc…etc.. But now imagine being stuck, and giving help to others! Giving from what you don’t have, that’s what the old man taught me.
Sorry for the long note, but I’ll add a quote from Monk Nicolae Steinhard’s book Giving You Shall Receive:
“Blind, unwise, and of a narrow mind as I am, I was not foolish and unknowing enough to believe that Christ asks us to give from our surplus: that, even the pagans do. I was however unskilled and lost in the darkness enough to think – what seems entirely in accord with Christian teaching – that we are asked to give from the little we have, if not even from the very little. I even went as far as agreeing with the idea that from the parable of the two talants thrown by the widowed woman in the offering box (Mk 12:41/>-44, Lk 21:1-4) follows that we should give all we have, our entire possessions.
It was needed that I stumbled upon reading, a while ago, a text of the French poet Henri Michaux (1899 – 1988) to understand, trembling, shuddering, that Christ asks something entirely different: to give what we do not have.
How blind, unwise, and of a narrow mind I was. And locked in the chains of the most lamentable common sense. How could I imagine that Christ-God who accepted to take on a body and be crucified on the cross just like the unhappiest and most wicked of mortals, would ask us to give from the surplus or the little possessions, or even to give their entirety? How would He have called us to actions so simple, so of this world, that is, so possible! Did not Paul Claudel define God for us, attributing to Him the saying: Why do you fear? I am the impossible who looks at you.
Christ, thus, asks for exactly this: the impossible: to give what we do not have.
But let us listen to Michaux: in the monastery where he would like to be received, a simple candidate to monasticism shows up. He confesses to the geronda: “Know, Father, that I have neither faith nor light, nor essence, nor courage, nor trust in myself, and I cannot be of any help to myself, much less to any others; I have nothing”.
It would have been logical for him to be rejected at once. Not so, however. The geronda (abbot, as the French poet says) replies: “What does that have to do with anything! You have no faith, have no light; giving them to others you will have them, too. Searching them for another, you will gain them for yourself. Your brother, your neighbor and fellow man, him you are duty bound to help with what you do not have. Go: your cell is on this hallway, third door on the right”.
Wonderful post! ” Giving from what you don’t have”…
I’ll stop with the questions and think on these things! 😉
Beautiful…. Thank you Father… And thank you Z for the wonderful quote… So much to chew on….
Within Christianity but typically when I hear of it, outside of Orthodoxy, I hear a kind of meme to suggest that having wealth or handling money well, infers that there is righteousness to those who have wealth, in other words by their ‘virtue’ (saving, working hard, etc) they have wealth. Others say (again more typically in my hearing, outside of Orthodoxy) that money is “amoral”.
Among those who ascribe to the first concept, such virtue is lacking in those who do not have money. They seem to believe that the reason the poor lack money is because of their faults (or ignorance about handling money), and their lack is caused by their own self-inflicted demise.
In the second category, the thought appears to be that money is ‘amoral’ neither bad nor good. But can be used or applied for ‘good’ or applied for ‘bad’. The actions are considered good or bad I suppose based on the effects that the money has on the recipients or on those who have it and use it for their purposes. In some cases people might apply their money for projects that they would label “works of God” or works “for” God.
In my reading of your article here, I believe that you are revealing an understanding of ‘money’ that is neither of the above. Please correct me in my understanding and my interpretation of your words: In the first case the capacity to acquire and hold onto money is not indicative of righteousness and in the second case, money is the means of salvation only if it is used to support/help others to the extent that puts the rich ‘at risk’. Otherwise, the rich will not go to heaven. I think either understanding is uncommon in this society but the latter would be a particularly tough pill to swallow in this consumerist, money hungry society.
Last, other than money, we might have other kinds of ‘riches’ though not easily related to money but of great value (virtue). The risk of losing these (or just acknowledging in honesty with ourselves that we don’t have them) might be difficult for us, a wealth (or a self-perceived wealth) that would be difficult to give up. Risking loss of this kind might induce shame, and by inducing shame would be difficult, a cross. Perhaps this is where grace and willingness to bear a little shame is so necessary and freeing.
When you have time please let me know if I understand you correctly.
Could someone please explain what it means for almsgiving and giving of one’s time to be “for your salvation”? Here is another quote from a post. “Sacrifical giving of money is certainly salvific (the Orthodox undertanding)”. . . What is the Orthodox understanding?
I have been thinking about the idea of suffering being salvific. I have also read in this blog that community saves (or something to that effect). I guess I wonder why I seldom read about Christ saving us.
I know the Orthodox belief of salvation is complicated and different from the Protestant view, and the answer to this question may be far too complex for this blog post . That’s okay. Just thought I would ask if someone could give me a “in a nutshell” kind of answer.
One small note related to your question
The life of St. Peter the Tax Collector may give you some insight. Here is part of what OCA.org has listed for him
“Saint Peter, Former Tax-Collector, was the chief collector of taxes in Africa in the service of the emperor Justinian (527-565). He was a cruel and merciless man.
One day he threw a morsel of bread to a beggar who annoyed him by incessantly begging alms. In a vision Peter saw himself as dead and how the holy Angels weighed his deeds on the scale of the righteous judgment of God. On the side of good deeds nothing was placed except a morsel of bread, thrown at the beggar, but this prevented the opposite side from being pulled down by his vicious deeds.
Peter pondered the meaning of the dream, and thought that if one loaf of bread, thrown involontarily, was of such help to him, then he might receive much more help for good deeds performed with compassion and from the heart. He repented and completely changed his life. He liberally distributed alms to the needy, and fed and clothed many.
One day, in a dream, Peter saw Jesus Christ. The Lord was dressed in clothes which the saint once gave to a beggar. “
Good questions and I’ll try to be helpful. First, by “salvation,” Orthodoxy understands the restoration of our communion with God. Our life, our true life, is a life that is constituted by communion. Another way to say that is “love,” but here love means something more substantial than the emotion, etc., that we think about. It is a true participation in the life of the other. This communion is the ultimate will of God for all creation:
This restoration is only in and through Christ who Himself reconciles all things. He is our Savior. He alone “saves” in this complete and final sense. But, because salvation is a communion, a participation in a common life, those others who share in that common life also work together for our salvation. They are “co-laborers” with Christ. Literally, in the Greek (synergeia) they are doing one and the same thing.
Orthodoxy speaks constantly about this aspect of our salvation, because it is utterly in keeping with the nature of communion. Other Christians have largely forgotten this, and have instead taught themselves to speak of salvation as an individual thing – so it’s just “me and Jesus.”
This denies so many Scriptures that it distorts the gospel. The Orthodox way of speaking (which is found in all of our services) teaches our hearts to think and understand this in a correct way – it teaches our hearts to love and to understand that “I cannot say that I love God whom I have not seen and hate my brother whom I have seen” (as St. John says).
St Silouan says, “My brother is my life.”
I am saying here, “The poor are the salvation of the rich.” It is because we cannot be saved without love – true, communion, participation, coinherence with the life of God and all others.
I hope that’s helpful. If not, ask more questions…
I have tried multiple times to write a reply, but I just can’t do it in a comments section of a blog. My writing is not good enough or succinct enough to express my thoughts here.
Thank you. Your comment is helpful in that it helps me remember what I have already learned. I easily become bogged down by the depth of these blog posts and comments and loose sight of the bigger picture.
But still, with my church’s view of salvation and the Orthodox view both rolling around in my head, it all becomes a big muddled mess. I wish I could merge them, but I know that is not possible. I would like the certainty along with a purpose for the struggle in the maze of life. I will keep pondering and reading.
Sometimes it is difficult to mix such things (views of salvation, etc.). In Orthodoxy, everything we do, from the Liturgy to household customs, etc., is rooted and grounded in the Orthodox understanding. I don’t think we would “get it” very well without being so permeated by it over time. It sort of demands an exclusivity – partly because it does not present as an idea among ideas – but as the faithful presentation of the gospel as received from Christ. I think in the long run, that were someone to actually come to embrace the Orthodox view of salvation, they would also be almost irresistibly drawn to enter the Church as well. God give you grace.
In hopes that I might help, would like to add to Fr Stephen’s words.
I came into Orthodoxy through my practice and research in science (subatomic particle, chemistry). According to the typical view of science within Protestant Christianity, this seems an unlikely path. However, within Orthodoxy, there is a tradition of an ontological perspective of salvation, that as far as I know, isn’t present in the Protestant interpretation. A concrete example of that ontological approach can be observed within Orthodox iconography-not just the presence of icons, but what is going on with icons in the act of Liturgical service and worship of God. This ontological approach within Orthodoxy enabled me to understand the Orthodox perspective of salvation and helped me to become a Christian. Without realizing it, I had been unintentionally prepared to understand the Orthodox perspective of salvation, through the grace of God within my research. This doesn’t mean I’m able to talk about this experience within science, though that is where the phenomena that brought me into Christianity, was observed. I went looking for an explanation for what appeared to be a paradox and found the Orthodox (not the Protestant) understanding of salvation helpful.
Here is another example, the pervasiveness of western culture where we live, helps us to understand depictions in paintings that arise within western cultures, however, we note that if we attempt to appreciate the the aesthetics of cultures outside of the western traditions, we might sometimes be ‘lost’, in our understanding and appreciation. One way (and likely the best way) to come to a greater appreciation and understanding of the art of another culture is by participating, living within that culture.
Certainly this is true with the use of language. This is well known and is why schools provide ‘immersion’ courses in languages. Similarly, if you try to understand the language of Orthodoxy while not being in the environment of Orthodoxy, the task of understanding is made that much more difficult, and will likely end up with misunderstandings.
I pray that you continue with your questions about Orthodoxy and the Orthodox understanding of salvation, and that God give you grace.
My own journey to Orthodoxy was hindered for a long time by my assumptions about what Christianity was. I didn’t initially realize how different the Orthodox understanding of salvation was from what I understood to be the Christian understanding of salvation. I could not reconcile myself with what I assumed the church claimed about salvation. I eventually realized that I didn’t have to, because what I was grappling with wasn’t Orthodox theology.
Fr. Freeman, please correct this if it is wrong, but I think there is a distinction between salvation and redemption in the Orthodox understanding that has been conflated in the protestant understanding into one thing.
The redemption of mankind is accomplished as a historical fact through Christ. Christ is the new Adam. He is the man who lived in unbroken communion with God and justified all of creation by his life and even his willingness and obedience to accept death on the cross. Redemption does not require anything of us. Humanity was redeemed without our cooperation. Its given as a grace. All of this is why we insist Christ was 100 percent Human.
Salvation on the other hand does require our involvement. We have to unite ourselves to Christ, the redeemer, in order to share in his life. Recognizing him as the redeemer is not enough to unite us to him by itself. Faith alone – faith as a mental formula, or a belief – cannot save us. The point of Orthodoxy is to help us live this life in union with Christ. To be made one body and one flesh with Christ, to become branches, twigs, leaves on the vine of Christ. That’s what salvation is. Its communion, and it begins here and now. Its not just a golden ticket to get us through the pearly gates. We enter into the kingdom now to the degree that we can be united with Christ, which is what we were made for. All of this is why we insist Christ is 100 percent God.
There’s no formal distinction given in Orthodoxy between redemption and salvation – in many ways it is language driven by Protestant thought. In Orthodoxy, every question in this is referred to union/communion with Christ. Sin ruptures our communion with Christ and produces death and corruption. The answer is for our union with Christ to be restored. Christ Himself acted, in His Incarnation, death and resurrection, to restore that communion. That is the “anchor” of our hope. The whole of our life is thus living out and seeing in reality that hope fulfilled. We call this “salvation,” the ongoing fulfillment of our union with Christ (“work out your salvation from day to day with fear and trembling”).
Orthodox language tends not to be very precise in all of this. The precision (justification, redemption, salvation, etc.) of language is a product of the various theological schemes of Protestantism. The NT is not nearly so precise and uses many terms in an interchangeable manner – and this continues to be true in Orthodoxy. The point is union.
Yes, I understand that salvation in Orthodoxy is union with God and that this is an ongoing process. We can separate ourselves from God or “fall away”. I believe Christ united Himself to me in my baptism. I continue, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in that union by prayer, the Liturgy, and the Eucharist.
What I don’t understand is the added layer of our responsibility to love and give to others “for our salvation”. I guess my question is, “How much is enough?” “How do I know I have it right?”
I am generally taciturn and not a people person. I know that love of others and giving of ourselves looks different for everyone. But if my very nature is prone to shy away from these activities, is my very nature (personality) sinful and in need of complete change? This is a great burden to me. I know that I am not as loving as other people. How much is enough?
My own pastor would probably tell me that these are the wrong questions – that I am looking too much to myself. But this is what I read in these posts. I know I need to do better, but it leaves me with many doubts.
I would say that your union with Christ is never just up to you – none of us lives purely as an individual. The role of others in our salvation (and us in theirs) is often a great mystery and largely unknown to us. What it is, I think, is simply a way of putting flesh and bones on what it means that we are to love one another. Salvation is never just private – is an “us” thing. You and I are not really “private.” In some sense, I am my mother and father, my brothers, my wife and children, my friends and enemies, and all strangers – all of them have a role in making “me” to be “me.” The more fully I live into my union with Christ – all those “in me” are effected – sometimes consciously and mostly unconsciously. When I refuse to help others (sharing), I am also refusing to help myself. They are somehow part of me – because to live truly as a human being is to live as a communion. Communion (love) is what existence is.
Thank you Father,
Its no surprise I stumbled upon that distinction in response to questions from a friend with a protestant background. We both found it really illuminating and it satisfied his challenges (and seemed to line up with an Orthodox worldview to me). I understand that Orthodoxy does not have a formal tradition of making that distinction, but would you consider it unOrthodox or heretical in any way? It seems like a good way to answer the challenges of a person formed in modernity to a protestant conception of salvation through right belief, and the penal substitution theory of the atonement.
THE LOVERS OF THE POOR
arrive. The Ladies from the Ladies’ Betterment League
Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting
In diluted gold bars across the boulevard brag
Of proud, seamed faces with mercy and murder hinting
Here, there, interrupting, all deep and debonair,
The pink paint on the innocence of fear;
Walk in a gingerly manner up the hall.
Cutting with knives served by their softest care,
Served by their love, so barbarously fair.
Whose mothers taught: You’d better not be cruel!
You had better not throw stones upon the wrens!
Herein they kiss and coddle and assault
Anew and dearly in the innocence
With which they baffle nature. Who are full,
Sleek, tender-clad, fit, fiftyish, a-glow, all
Sweetly abortive, hinting at fat fruit,
Judge it high time that fiftyish fingers felt
Beneath the lovelier planes of enterprise.
To resurrect. To moisten with milky chill.
To be a random hitching-post or plush.
To be, for wet eyes, random and handy hem.
Their guild is giving money to the poor.
The worthy poor. The very very worthy
And beautiful poor. Perhaps just not too swarthy?
perhaps just not too dirty nor too dim
Nor—passionate. In truth, what they could wish
Is—something less than derelict or dull.
Not staunch enough to stab, though, gaze for gaze!
God shield them sharply from the beggar-bold!
The noxious needy ones whose battle’s bald
Nonetheless for being voiceless, hits one down.
But it’s all so bad! and entirely too much for them.
The stench; the urine, cabbage, and dead beans,
Dead porridges of assorted dusty grains,
The old smoke, heavy diapers, and, they’re told,
Something called chitterlings. The darkness. Drawn
Darkness, or dirty light. The soil that stirs.
The soil that looks the soil of centuries.
And for that matter the general oldness. Old
Wood. Old marble. Old tile. Old old old.
Not homekind Oldness! Not Lake Forest, Glencoe.
Nothing is sturdy, nothing is majestic,
There is no quiet drama, no rubbed glaze, no
Unkillable infirmity of such
A tasteful turn as lately they have left,
Glencoe, Lake Forest, and to which their cars
Must presently restore them. When they’re done
With dullards and distortions of this fistic
Patience of the poor and put-upon.
They’ve never seen such a make-do-ness as
Newspaper rugs before! In this, this “flat,”
Their hostess is gathering up the oozed, the rich
Rugs of the morning (tattered! the bespattered. . . .)
Readies to spread clean rugs for afternoon.
Here is a scene for you. The Ladies look,
In horror, behind a substantial citizeness
Whose trains clank out across her swollen heart.
Who, arms akimbo, almost fills a door.
All tumbling children, quilts dragged to the floor
And tortured thereover, potato peelings, soft-
Eyed kitten, hunched-up, haggard, to-be-hurt.
Their League is allotting largesse to the Lost.
But to put their clean, their pretty money, to put
Their money collected from delicate rose-fingers
Tipped with their hundred flawless rose-nails seems . . .
They own Spode, Lowestoft, candelabra,
Mantels, and hostess gowns, and sunburst clocks,
Turtle soup, Chippendale, red satin “hangings,”
Aubussons and Hattie Carnegie. They Winter
In Palm Beach; cross the Water in June; attend,
When suitable, the nice Art Institute;
Buy the right books in the best bindings; saunter
On Michigan, Easter mornings, in sun or wind.
Oh Squalor! This sick four-story hulk, this fibre
With fissures everywhere! Why, what are bringings
Of loathe-love largesse? What shall peril hungers
So old old, what shall flatter the desolate?
Tin can, blocked fire escape and chitterling
And swaggering seeking youth and the puzzled wreckage
Of the middle passage, and urine and stale shames
And, again, the porridges of the underslung
And children children children. Heavens! That
Was a rat, surely, off there, in the shadows? Long
And long-tailed? Gray? The Ladies from the Ladies’
Betterment League agree it will be better
To achieve the outer air that rights and steadies,
To hie to a house that does not holler, to ring
Bells elsetime, better presently to cater
To no more Possibilities, to get
Away. Perhaps the money can be posted.
Perhaps they two may choose another Slum!
Some serious sooty half-unhappy home!—
Where loathe-love likelier may be invested.
Keeping their scented bodies in the center
Of the hall as they walk down the hysterical hall,
They allow their lovely skirts to graze no wall,
Are off at what they manage of a canter,
And, resuming all the clues of what they were,
Try to avoid inhaling the laden air.
– Gwendolyn Brooks