A Focus on Almsgiving for Great Lent 2021

I just finished reading Fr. Evan Armatas’ Toolkit for Spiritual Growth: A Practical Guide to Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving and highly recommend it. Especially as someone born and raised in the church, I think I can forget some of the why’s of our Faith’s ways and get caught up in the route doing without the true spirit of the task behind it. Or sometimes I get caught up in the not doing.

Our churches have their work cut out for them in just helping us remember and re-remember each week how our individual prayer and fasting is so vital to our spiritual health and growth. But the “three legged stool” of Orthodoxy also includes almsgiving which is much less focused on in my experience. While some Orthodox churches do have outlets for communal almsgiving – a prison ministry or a soup kitchen – this has not been the norm in most churches I have visited. Rather almsgiving is something quite personal and far less scripted than the two other founding disciplines of our faith (prayer and fasting).

Christianity is about caring for the other

Yet almsgiving is vital to our spiritual health and a way in which we show the power and mercy of Christ’s love. Many historians discuss how Christianity took off originally because people were amazed by how Christians cared for the poor and needy. Today many non Christians do not always see this connection – some see Christians as associated with political groups or causes that may disenfranchise the “other” – and associated with political opposition to government programs which might serve to help those living in poverty. Some may doubt that Christians are motivated by love of our neighbor (both those neighbors whose way of life we approve of and those we don’t) despite this being a backbone of Christ’s teachings. Whatever our political affiliations, we, as Christians, are called upon over and over again in scripture to serve others. Just last week we read the Last Judgement where we see that our own judgement will be heavily based on how we cared for others. This part of our spiritual focus cannot be forgotten!

An Almsgiving Project

So as we head into Great and Holy Lent I thought I would use the season to focus on almsgiving with my family. I am so excited this year to be using the new felt Lenten Calendar from Draw Near Designs as a visual for the 40 days. But if you don’t have it or can’t afford it any form of visual will do. The wonderful women of Tendering the Garden of our Heart’s suggested in a video last year to make a sand bowl and placing smooth stones each day in a spiral until you reach Pascha at the center. Or you could use a bulletin board with 40 colored bits of paper shaped as flowers – or even just a printed out calendar could work. The possibilities are endless but I do highly recommend having a visual for the kids. We are going to use each of the hanging calendar’s pockets to put a piece of paper with an “almsgiving” to-do on it which will work for my kids ages. I include my list below – not amazing but an effort to expose my kids to the different forms that almsgiving can take as well as a chance to spend 40 days thinking of doing something explicitly for someone else – which is a good amount of time to form a new habit! There are a few space fillers (“Random Acts of Kindness”) to allow kids to come up with their own ideas. Each morning we will pick out our to do after morning prayers and aim to complete it by the end of the day. I am placing more time-consuming to-dos on the weekends. If you don’t have a calendar keep these in a bowl or jar by your icon corner and you can tack them up somewhere as a visual.

Other things we do…

In addition, each year we read the daily reading from Tending the Garden of our Hearts and, excitingly, Kristina Wenger made a PDF activity book to accompany the text which you can buy for only $10 on her Etsy store here. We also add the prayer of St. Ephraim to our morning prayers and I love this print of it for the prayer corner. And we do 1 – 3 prostrations which are such a physical way of humbling ourselves and I find that the children generally really enjoy. Of course, it goes without saying, there are services and the more you can attend the better – if not physically at least virtually.

For Our Own Lenten Journeys

And for our own spiritual journeys I highly recommend daily Psalter reading (even better if you can join a psaltar group – Sylvia Leontaritis organizes a virtual one for Lent and Nativity each year). Sylvia also created an Orthodox Lenten Study which I hope to try some year. I just bought the book Pilgrimage to Pascha from Ancient Faith which sadly appears to be our of stock there right now. I also LOVE Archimandrite Vassilios’ Meditations for the Great Feasts series and read them each time the Great Feasts come around.

Finally remembering that our fast isn’t just a time to brush up on our Vegan cooking skills (although I do enjoy this aspect) but a time to simplify our lives and create more time and space for prayerful living. If you watch TV consider forgoing it. If you are on your phone or computer a lot – see if you can cut back. Spend more time with your little ones both in prayer and play. They are only little once. And as parents our almsgiving – giving of ourselves – begins with them!

Wishing you a blessed start to Great and Holy Lent. Forgive me a sinner!

In Christ,

Sasha Rose

40 Ideas for Almsgiving for Kids

Random Act of Kindness
Random Act of Kindness
Random Act of Kindness
Random Act of Kindness
Random Act of Kindness
Write a letter to someone to say you are thinking of them
Find a charity to donate some money to
Donate some food to a local food pantry
Choose a few of your toys to give away
Put together a bag of things to donate
Donate blankets or hats to a shelter
Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while to say you are thinking of them
Write a letter to one of your cousins to tell them why you love them
Pick up trash at a local park
Help a neighbor rake their lawn
Help a neighbor bring in their trash cans
Help each of your siblings with something without being asked to
Deliver cookies to a neighbor
Plant wildflowers in your neighborhood
Bake bread for a neighbor
Set up a free lemonade stand
Send some books to an orphanage
Develier some books to some local free little libraries
Pick up trash from a local beach
Make a painting and frame it as a gift for someone
Make some birthday cards to send to people
Drop off clothes to a clothes drop
Drop off books to a book drop
Make a friendly sign to put up for when neighbors walk by
Make more homeless care packages
Put together a donation kit through Orthodox Christian Charities
Deliver some food to someone who needs it
Make something to brighten someone’s day
Write a few encouraging notes and deliver them to people we don’t know
Random Act of Kindness
Make a funny video to send to someone to make them laugh
Find someone who recently moved into the neighborhood to say hello to
Find a charity to donate some money to
Pick up trash in your neighborhood
Make an Easter basket for a loved one
Send a care package to someone you love and haven’t seen in a while

About Sasha Rose Oxnard

Sasha Rose is an Orthodox Christian and a mom. She also happens to be a family doctor, a wife, friend, daughter, amateur gardener, lover of music, dance, art, animals, nature and all things playful. Now adding blogger and writer to the list. She currently lives, works and prays in New England with her husband, four small children, dog, 2 cats and 5 chickens.

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