How to Strengthen Your Lenten Prayer Life

The traditional acts of asceticism associated with Great Lent (and the whole of the Christian life) are prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and repentance. In my experience, Orthodox faithful tend to concentrate on fasting and perhaps making a good confession. If we have weaknesses, they are found in our prayers and almsgiving. These two belong together. Christ said:

And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. (Lk. 16:9)

For many, this saying seems extremely obscure. Who are these friends who will receive us? They are the poor. Like Lazarus in the parable, they will rest in Abraham’s bosom. The rich man called out for help but found none. Christ suggests here, that had the rich man “made friends” with Lazarus by acts of mercy, kindness, and generosity, he would have found ready help and a path from Hades to Paradise.

If you want to strengthen your prayers, make friends of the poor. This story is a great illustration:

During the reign of Alexander I, a certain nobleman fell into disgrace with the Tsar. His wife asked Father Nazarius [Abbot of Valaam Monastery] to pray that her husband’s case would turn out well. “Very well,” the Elder replied, “but first we must ask those close to the Tsar for their help.”

“We have done that already,” she answered, “but there is little hope.”

“But you have not asked those who needed to be asked,” said Father Nazarius. “Give me some money, and I will ask those whom I know.”

The woman gave him five pieces of gold. “No,” he said, “these are no good. Don’t you have small change made of copper or silver?” Father Nazarius took the money and during the day he gave it away to the poor and the unfortunate. He returned to the woman’s home toward evening.

“Glory to God,” he said, “those close to the Tsar have promised to help you. After this came word of the successful outcome of the dignitary’s case. The man and his wife rejoiced, and wanted to know exactly who had helped him with the Tsar. They were astonished when the Elder told them that it was the poor, those who are close to the Heavenly King. Deeply touched by the Elder’s piety, they maintained their great respect and love for him until the end.

Through Christ let us continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name. Do not forget to do good and to share; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16

My thanks to Archpriest Joseph Frawley for sharing this small story.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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65 responses to “How to Strengthen Your Lenten Prayer Life”

  1. Byron Avatar

    How wonderful! Glory to God.

    Father, I am entering this fast at what seems the lowest ebb. Please pray for me.

  2. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen Freeman for these very good words in good time for Lent!

  3. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Thank you Father. As always, there is much to ponder.

  4. Lexa Avatar

    Wonderful enlightening for Lent and our purpose in life is to serve according to God’s will for us.
    Pray for me during this lent for strength to follow God’s will in my life. 😊🙏

  5. Paula Avatar

    Oh God…the dog in the picture!! That is a sure way to receive alms! How precious…both with their face to the ground!
    Too, thank you for the post. I remember after reading one of your articles about this very subject. You said something like “the poor are the means to our salvation”. There was mention of asking the poor for their prayer. I did that once. It was right after reading that article. Anyway, after he accepted my gift, the young man looked at me intently (I was in the midst of a struggle…just troubled) and asked me my name. I trust he put my name in remembrance before God as I did his. I was on my way to Church, and returned home in peace. Now, if only I could give habitually,
    intentionally, joyfully. What better time to begin than now, as we enter the Lenten season.

  6. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen and Paula thank you so much for sharing these stories and experiences. They help us prepare for Lent.

    Also Byron again thank you for your link to Fr Damick’s homily on repentance , that you provided in the previous post. God grant you peace. You are in my prayers. And your contributions here do inspire and help us.

  7. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home” (Lk. 16:9).

    Fr. Stephen,

    In the above words, Christ uses the adjective “unrighteous” before mammon, which would seem to imply that all money is unrighteous. It has been my understanding that it is he love of money that is unrighteous, but not money itself. Can you please comment on this further?

    Thank you.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My advice is to take it easy.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Excess money is “unrighteous” if we understand the term correctly. What is “unrighteous” is the imbalance in the world. Lazarus the poor man, in his life received difficult things, while the rich man received good things. What was unrighteous about that was the fact that the rich man refused to share. St. John Chrysostom taught that the rich are, at best, holding the money of the poor. To be “righteous” is to have things set right.

    You have two kids. They collect Halloween candy (just making this up). One of them gathered and incredible amount (way more than they could eat). The other, for no wrong reason, gathered very, very little, (way less than they could eat). A parent might well step in and ask one to share with the other – that is “setting things right.” An “unrighteous” situation is being made righteous.

    That money we receive in excess of our need – is “unrighteous” in this sense. It’s not dirty, or illegal, etc. It is simply “imbalanced.” The a fraction of 1 percent have over half of all the wealth in the world – I think it’s more like 80 percent – is seriously “unrighteous” in the Biblical sense. All arguments that we hear to justify it, are just arguments of justification. We’ve had this stuff drilled into us and have been told that to think anything different is Socialism, Communism, or worse. Nope, it’s just Biblical justice.

    But the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus illustrates that there will come a righteous judgment. God will set things right.

  10. learningtobestill2016 Avatar

    Amen, Father.

  11. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Thank you for that clarification Fr. Stephen.

    So I guess, as individuals, we need to ask for discernment on what our true needs versus wants are in this world. What we think we actually need is very subjective I think and saving or using our financial resources accordingly to our own will and desires can be easily justified as a need.

  12. Ben Avatar

    Do you have any advice on *how* to give to the poor in our culture? My former protestantism has basically paralyzed me with thoughts of practicality and effectiveness. This is a discipline I just don’t participate in, partly because I’m kind of poor myself and partly because I’ve heard so many scam stories I see every begger and charity with suspicion.

    Pray for my hard heart.

  13. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Esmee thank you for your question and Fr Stephen for your response. I have found the phrase ‘setting things right’ has been helpful to understand the biblical meaning of righteousness regarding the settling of injustice and imbalance. It seems to be strikingly different from a Protestant view, at least the ‘religious’ view, I’ve been exposed to. And I’m grateful for your insistence that it has an ancient history, rather than let it be appropriated by current politics and rancorous speech.

  14. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Ben – at my Church, we are offered opportunities to give to causes and organizations that have already been “vetted” by the clergy and parish council. Examples include making dinner for 30 homeless families that stay overnight at the Church once a month (organized by Redwood Gospel Mission, I believe); donating to buy a Thanksgiving dinner for a poor family (organized by Catholic Charities, I believe); a fire relief fund started after the disastrous fires that occured here in Santa Rosa last October and left many bereft of their homes and all belongings in an instant; giving to the alms fund at Church which is redistributed at the discretion of the clergy and parish council to poor parishioners. I hope this helps.

  15. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Ben – I also look for legitimate fundraisers for people that I personally know, like this one for Fr. Ian and Mat. Priscilla Shipley of Chico which is currently on going…

  16. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    In an article perhaps near Lent last year, similar questions to yours were raised in this blog. Going on memory, I believe Fr Stephen, mentioned that we can give without worrying, so to speak, what becomes of our offering. I suppose the intent on our part is what matters. And what happens next is between God and the recipient. Perhaps Fr Stephen can provide more on this thought.

    Also Ben, sometimes my comment takes awhile to write and after I submit, I realize someone else has submitted before me, and my comment might look like a response to the one directly before mine. My comment was submitted above without having read yours. Please forgive me for anything I might have said that might look like I was responding to your comment. What you ask is an important question and I believe in this culture we all have been so exposed to the notion that our money is to be used for own perceived purposes.

  17. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Another thought – As prayer is also part of the foursome delineated by Fr. Stephen in this post, it would probably behoove us to pray before giving and ask God to direct our offerings to whoever needs it most.

    Abbot Tryphon of the All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, WA says that when he receives his small SSI retirement benefits each month, he puts a $20 $10 $5 and 1$ dollar bills in his pocket and when he encounters a person who asks for money, he mixes up the bills in his pocket without looking at them and pulls one out at random, thus allowing God to decide which amount to give that person.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Perhaps it would be of help if people realize that giving alms is not about trying to fix people. It is about sharing your largesse with those who have less.

    Many of the poor make lousy decisions with money. Some have social, psychological, medical or addictive issues. We certainly hope for their betterment and should assist in such efforts.

    But sharing what we have (when asked) is a commandment of Christ:

    “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. (Lk. 6:30-31 NKJ)

    What someone might do with the money that is asked is not ours to control. Those with problems will likely use it in a problematic manner.

    No ill-use of money by the poor begins to compare with the ill-use of money by the rich who do not share out of their abundance but store it up for themselves and their friends.

    This is basic gospel stuff, but has been shrouded by economic theories and other nonsense such that Christians fail to do the very simple things we are asked (commanded).

    Share your stuff.

  19. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Fr Stephen. You got right to the point. Forgive me for reiterating- it’s for turning my own heart around: It’s not about trying to fix people. And it is a commandment.

  20. Paula Avatar

    In other words, Father…just give! Right? Just give.
    And if they have a dog with them, give more 🙂 !

  21. NSP Avatar


    In an article perhaps near Lent last year, similar questions to yours were raised in this blog. Going on memory, I believe Fr Stephen, mentioned that we can give without worrying, so to speak, what becomes of our offering.

    Dee of St Hermanson February 9, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Your comment reminds me of the famous story about an incident in the life of C.S. Lewis (Other sources here.)

    C.S. Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham tells the story of Lewis and a friend walking along the street one day when a beggar approached them asking for money. Lewis’s friend kept walking, but Lewis stopped and emptied his wallet, giving the beggar its contents. After rejoining his friend, he was chastised. “You shouldn’t have done that, Jack. He’ll only spend it all on drink.” Lewis replied, “Well, that’s what I was going to do.”


  22. Jamie Avatar

    I get so frustrated whenever the topic of giving comes up. My husband disagrees with the idea of tithing, giving to people who approach him on the street, etc. He gives to organizations to which he belongs, to community improvement projects and helps our children and their families buy their first home. He gives about 1% of his income to our church and feels that is plenty. There have been some years that his gross income is a million dollars, but it hasn’t been below half a million for a long time. What am I supposed to do? I feel as if I have to choose between God and my husband. Sometimes I sneak and give cash so there is no “paper trail.” I have an incarcerated loved one and buy him books and make deposits to his prison commissary account through a convoluted process so my husband won’t find out. It’s essentially lying.

  23. Dean Avatar

    When giving to the poor don’t forget monastics! Very few, if any I know, are self-supporting. But their prayers do support all of ours.

  24. Byron Avatar

    Perhaps it would be of help if people realize that giving alms is not about trying to fix people. It is about sharing your largesse with those who have less.

    My priest has often said this and added that the giving we do is not necessarily a blessing to the poor. They remain poor regardless of our small gifts. Rather, they bless us by reminding us that what we have is not ours, it is only given to us by God to share. They also remove our dependence on our own riches and allow us to thank God for His provision, which is our true support.

  25. Agata Avatar

    I would like to share a story about how the early Christians viewed giving to the poor…. It’s a bit of a long read, but I hope you will enjoy it… (it comes from a book about a recent Fool-for-Christ John, who lived in Athens not that long ago…).

    “There are so many things to remember about John’s instructive stories!
    ‘”Anastasy,’ he used to say, ‘once people realize the magnificence of giving something from
    your heart, of offering, then our society will change. During the first Christian years, the struggle
    and the agony of the Christians were concentrated on how they could offer to their neighbor,
    the weak and the poor. Back then, a Christian girl got married to an idolater. The only thing
    she asked before her wedding was to be allowed to go to the Christian church to pray. One day,
    after one year of marriage, her husband asked her advice on how he could invest ten gold coins
    from his work savings. Without giving it a second thought, she told him that the bank with the
    highest interest is that of the Christians. It pays back ten times over in interest and sometimes
    much more.
    ‘”Then, the idolater husband asked where he should go to make the investment and deposit the
    ten gold coins in the Christian bank. She advised him to go to the church and to share them with
    the poor who were outside asking for help. “These are the employees of the bank of Christ,” she said.
    Although he thought it was odd at first, he entirely trusted his wife and decided to do what
    she told him. So, he went to the church, gave his savings to the poor, and returned home feeling content.

    ‘”One year passed, and he told his wife that he was in need of the money. She encouraged
    him to go to the church once more. When he went there, he looked in vain for the people to
    whom he had given the money. He didn’t find anyone, and so, he decided to return home. I’ll
    come back tomorrow, he thought to himself. As he was leaving, he saw a golden coin on the
    ground. He stooped and picked it up. On his way back, he used the coin to buy some food,
    among which was a large fish.
    ‘”When he got home, his wife asked him if he got his money back. He answered that, instead
    of the ten coins with interest, he only found one coin outside the church. “You shouldn’t worry;
    God will take care of us.” Her faith was so pure, Anastasy! People today, and first of all, me
    the fool, don’t have one bit of it.
    ‘”When the good Christian girl tried to clean the fish, she found inside it a big stone. She
    was very impressed and asked her husband what type of fish eats stones. He took the stone and
    ran to show it to his friend to find out the name of the fish. When his friend saw it, he went crazy.
    “Where did you find this huge pearl?”
    “‘”Is this black stone really a pearl?” asked the Christian girl’s husband, stunned.
    ‘””You should take it to the jeweler to find out how much it’s worth.”
    ‘”Following his friend’s advice, he went to the jeweler. As soon as he saw the pearl, he offered
    him 40 gold coins. The idolater husband thought that he was making fun of him and said impulsively,
    “Is this stone worth 40 gold coins?”
    ‘”The jeweler thought that the man was haggling, so he doubled the price to 80 coins. The
    idolater again thought that the man was mocking him, and he looked at him speechlessly. The
    jeweler then said, “Since that’s the biggest pearl I have ever seen, I will give you 100 gold coins,
    but don’t ask for more.” He took the money and went back to his wife, overjoyed.

    ‘”He kissed her, and he told her what happened. She crossed herself and told him, “I told you that
    the Lord will give you ten times your money.” At that time, he really understood her words, and
    he asked to learn more about Christ. After a while, he was baptized a Christian.

    ‘”Do you understand now, Anastasy, how our Lord acts? Do you see what great faith the Christians
    had back then? T h e y had realized what’s self-evident-that the whole earth belongs to Lord.
    He is the one who sets and directs everything, aiming at the salvation o f man. He sent His only
    begotten Son to Earth to show us the way to salvation. But the people He had chosen crucified
    Him. We also crucify Him today with our behavior.’

  26. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I like very much what your priest said regarding whatever largess we have is not ours but only given to us by God for us to share.

    There is blessing in not being attached to riches and sharing what we have. It frees us and encourages us not to be swayed by fears of loss or lack in the future. Such fears dampen our capacity to live fully.

  27. Santosh Samuel Avatar
    Santosh Samuel

    Fr. Stephen’s story lead to Agata’s story and then to Thank you to both.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Just love your husband and pray for him.

  29. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Agata – Thank you for that wonderful story from Crazy John. I was looking atvthat book a few days ago and couldn’t decide whether to buy it or not. Now I know I definitely am!

    Santosh Samuel – Thank you for the link to more about Crazy John.

  30. Agata Avatar

    Great investigative work! 🙂
    These excerpts are wonderful. A friend shared a full pdf of the English version of this book, I only posted a small piece relevant to our conversation. The stories in this book are amazing and so inspiring !
    I’m can share with those interested, if Father approves and gives you my email…

  31. Anna Avatar

    Bless, Father,
    I am a stay-at-home mom to a lovely, large brood, and we live in the country, far from church and my husband’s work (where he runs to catch the bus for the long ride to/from work). We used to live downtown, where we would meet many people everyday and we had many chances to give all the time. It’s now so rare now for us to happen upon people who are asking for alms, how can we give generously with so little obvious opportunity?
    Kissing your right hand,

  32. Stamatis Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for a concise and powerful punch of an article.
    Your clarification about not been in control of what anybody does with the money that is given, was a relief.

    I wonder though, in practical terms, what are other ways of almsgiving? The homeless are the most obvious – firstly if they ask, and then taking the initiative if they don’t ask.

    Beyond this what else is there, what can you suggest? Is it enough to just deliberately seek out going to places where the homeless are and giving?

    Thank you.

  33. Aust_Orthodox Avatar

    My attachment to my money is truly appalling , yet despite admitting this I fail to give much away .
    I fear approaching the homeless , I want to and it breaks my heart to see them but I honestly get anxiety at the thought in the moment . I think it’s my middle class sensibilities , it’s truly appalling .
    Once I saw a young lady , maybe in her twenties , sitting alone on a city street , looking so sad . I looked at all the people passing her by . The street was very busy with pedestrian traffic , maybe thousands would walk past her that night I thought. She was not asking for anything but her situation was obvious . My heart truly melted , thanks be to God he gave me the courage to approach her .
    As I approached her she had her head lowered as if fixated at her hands .
    I asked her if she’s needed something to eat .
    In the quietest most gentle voice she answered ” oh yes please “. As I looked down at her in that moment I noticed she was holding a small cross in her hands . I suspect she was praying . I got her something to eat and then gave her the few dollars I had left in wallet . I didn’t know what else to do after that . It seemed so pitiful on my part, to do so little . I was out to dinner for a nice evening and here she was .
    That was about a year ago and she is in my thoughts most days . Why didn’t I do more , I ask myself , but I didn’t and that is that . I include her in my prayers and I can’t explain what that did to me , that one moment . I wanted to ask her to pray for me .I didn’t .
    She sat there exposed to thousands in shame and rejection .She is more Christ like than me , not a doubt in my mind .
    Yet here I am a living paradox , finding comfort in what my ” hard work ” brings me yet wanting to be more like the girl that night , stripped of all the false trappings of my bank account , humbled with nothing left but Christ to turn to for comfort , yet fearing that outcome at the same time .
    Fr Stephen you once wrote simply ” we cannot escape ourselves so we must look to something bigger than ourselves for help ”
    So true .

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We can give to various ministries that aid the homeless. I rarely see any such ministries that are flush with cash. Our small town has an “agency” of sorts, Aid to Dependent Families in Appalachian Counties. It not only directs money to those in need, but has a few social workers to help them solve very practical problems. If you look around, you’ll find such things – and they are worth supporting.

    At least as important is direct involvement – almsgiving that is not at a distance. I was struck this past year by a news story that told of a teen in a California school who was organizing others to look out and befriend students who were eating alone at lunch. It was very perceptive – and, no doubt – a bit risky at first. But it was an almsgiving (“alms” is the English word that translates the Greek word for “mercy”).

    Pray, be willing for God to show you something. He will.

  35. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Do you see tithing as something apart from alms or a part of it?

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I tithe to the Church and give alms to the poor. It was how I was taught.

  37. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    More food for thought on this subject

    How to Give Alms to the Poor

    Alms, Not Tithes

    Like Fr. Stephen, I try to tithe as well as give alms, but they are not the same thing.

  38. Karen Avatar

    Dean, our parish takes a second offering once a month for parish charities. I have always seen it as over and above our “tithe”.

    Agata and Santosh,
    Thank you so much for the deeply moving story of “Crazy John”. All I can say is, “Lord, please make me ‘crazy’ like him!”

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, can you comment on the dynamics of the connection between giving alms and fasting. The actual doing them in tandem always seems to elude me.

  40. Adam N Avatar
    Adam N

    Fr. Stephen, and all the commenters, thank you for this meditation. It could not be more timely for me, as I was recently stolen from. It was not any amount that would even affect my comfortable standard of living, and I know whoever took it is probably not as “well off” as I am, but it has nonetheless bothered me immensely these past several days.

    Lord, help me to remember that nothing I have is ever truly mine in the first place.

  41. Dean Avatar

    Father and Karen,
    Thank you.
    I once read that if all Christians in the USA were on welfare, but tithed, giving in the churches would double! Someone mentioned what Abbot Triphon does with alms. Think I’ll start doing that…especially after today’s reading on the final judgment.
    Aust. Orthodox,
    Your story of the young girl touched me. I need to ask those I give to, to also pray for me.

  42. Karen Avatar


    Early on in our marriage, my husband’s prized new awd pick-up truck was stolen from the parking lot of the apartments where we lived (in a low-crime suburban area). It was a real blow and shook him up (he’s a car guy and was really attached to that truck). This began a slow and painful reordering of his priorities. He replaced it with an older used pick-up that was purely practical, and our reduced expenses ultimately allowed us to buy a modest home in which to raise our kids….We are still working on letting go of all but Christ!

  43. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    My parish priest quoted some lines from this post during his homily on almsgiving today, Fr. Stephen. You words are benefiting far more people that you know.

    Michael Bauman – One connection between fasting and almsgiving,l – as I understand it – is that when we fast it is automatically assumed we will be spending less money on our food (though I doubt this is actually the case for most of us) and that the money saved from this is to be given as alms to the poor. Great question! I look forward to Fr. Stephen’s explanation.

  44. Stamatis Avatar

    Thank you Father!

  45. Barbara Avatar

    Anna –if you are looking for charitable work, and can’t find any near you, you might consider a “virtual opportunity” –United Way and Volunteer Match list organizations that need online help. Also, if you knit, crochet, or sew, there is an endless list of agencies that can use your handiwork to bring warmth and comfort to someone needy—hats for the homeless, afghans for senior centers and VA hospitals, baby clothes and blankets for inner-city hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers.

  46. Chris Stacy Avatar

    Kyrie Iisou Christie Eleison

    It is amazing how God can multiply the little we give and the little faith we exercise. Years ago while living in Colorado I was blessed to be able to go to various thrift stores around town and buy all the available Bibles and then deliver them to a food mission in Denver. I was very blessed to be able to do this for a year and a half or so and as many Bible as I brought they would go out to the people. One day I had a whole trunk load of Bibles and on my way Downtown I decided I should stop by the Church and have the Priest bless the Bibles.
    When I got to the food mission it was around one in the afternoon, which was normally a good time because they fed in the mornings and evenings and I could get out without being noticed. On this afternoon when I got out of my car a women came out of seemingly no were saying “Hey it’s the Bible guy, it’s the Bible guy.” The next thing I know people are coming and taking all the Bibles. I don’t think I had to take a single one inside, a whole trunk full gone.

    All Glory to the Lord
    Kyrie Iisou Kristie Eleison

  47. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Fasting, vigils, and prayer are heavenly gifts. However, works are also necessary – the protection and help of the poor… if you pray without giving alms, your prayer is dead. Your hand should always be open. Give alms to orphans and widows. Alms and prayer go together… Take care to always love the poor, the elderly, the orphans, the sick. Spend time with poor people… Don’t forget to give alms… The Panaghia (Virgin Mary) doesn’t want big candles; she wants charity given to the poor.

    +Elder George, Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, p. 190-191.

  48. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    I have made an agreement with God: I will empty my pockets in almsgiving and He will fill them. He has never violated our agreement. Will I violate it? May it never happen!

    +Elder Epiphanios, Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit, p. 78.

  49. Jay Avatar

    Great article…great comments.

  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Esmee, thank you. In out world the food for the fast is sometimes more expensive. But the real problem I have is that I eat too much and give too little because I am a glutenous lazy man.

    Fasting as anything more than simple obedience always escapes me and I fail even at that. But I persist. I persist and pray for God’s mercy.

    One Nativity Fast I willfully did not fast at all. I got so messed up inside I ran to confession. My priest said, “You still have a week, do your best.”

  51. Paula Avatar

    For some reason, your words touch me this morning. A part of us look at ourselves in amazement at seemingly simple things we are asked to do but simply fail, time after time. It’s like the story I told of addiction…we tell ourselves, ‘just stop, put it down, what’s so hard that you can’t do it’. Everyone else “looks” normal, and you are the worm, the oddball, the one that can’t fit in anywhere…yet in our everyday lives we put on the mask of “all is well”.
    So now as we enter the Lenten season, everyone is talking about the Great Fast. You know this Michael, that the devil is going to hammer you in your particular weakness especially now in this season. God bless your priest, that he exemplified Christ and told you to try your best. Your intent, your heart, is in the right place.
    Michael, your weakness is one thing, mine is another, the other persons’s is another…and it all serves an attempt to kill us. An endless spiritual battle. Here on this blog we say things that come from our inner being, things we mask out in public (and yet even here, some need to remain anonymous). So, I get what you’re saying. I appreciate your honesty. My mask many times is insisting on a positive attitude…balancing out our suffering with victory in Christ. But the truth is most of us will die like the thief on the cross…destitute of any goodness in and of ourselves, realizing that our only hope in any goodness whatsoever is in Christ alone. So if anything, we will suffer these failings…and continue to decrease so He may increase.
    There is also something about growing older that reality seems to hit you in the face. Father alluded to this not long ago, reminding us that ‘elders’ are the ones we go to for good counsel.
    Anyway, Michael…hang in there. You are not alone.

  52. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Michael – There is so much more to fasting than just food. I have major food intolerances that prevent me from being able to fast from meat, as it’s one of the only foods I can eat. My priest has blessed me to eat whatever I need and he encourages me to seek out other types of fasting such as those delineated in the excerpt by Saint John Chrysostom.

    For the value of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works! Is it said by what kind of works? If you see a poor man, take pity on him! If you see in enemy, be reconciled to him! If you see a friend gaining honour, envy him not! If you see a handsome woman, pass her by! For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

    Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden.

    Do you not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. ‘You shall not receive a false report,’ it says. Let the mouth too fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother, and bites the body of his neighbour. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, ‘If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another.’ [Galatians 5:15]

    +Saint John Chrysostom, On the Statutes, Homily 3.

  53. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    And for ideas for fasting during Great Lent from Abbot Tryphon of All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Isle, WA.

    Fasting suggestions

    FAST from self-concern and FEAST on compassion for others.

    FAST from discouragement and FEAST on hope.

    FAST from lethargy and FEAST on enthusiasm.

    FAST from suspicion and FEAST on truth.

    FAST from thoughts that weaken and FEAST on promises that inspire.

    FAST from shadows of sorrow and FEAST on the sunlight of serenity.

    FAST from idle gossip and FEAST on purposeful silence.

    FAST from problems that overwhelm you and FEAST on prayer that sustains.

    FAST from criticism and FEAST on praise.

    FAST from self-pity and FEAST on joy.

    FAST from ill-temper and FEAST on peace.

    FAST from resentment and FEAST on contentment.

    FAST from jealousy and FEAST on love.

    FAST from pride and FEAST on humility.

    FAST from selfishness and FEAST on service.

    *Published on his Facebook page March 9, 2017.

  54. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Esmee thank you for these comments on fasting. Very edifying!

  55. jacksson Avatar

    Father, you posted:

    “You have two kids. They collect Halloween candy (just making this up). One of them gathered and incredible amount (way more than they could eat). The other, for no wrong reason, gathered very, very little, (way less than they could eat). A parent might well step in and ask one to share with the other – that is “setting things right.” An “unrighteous” situation is being made righteous.”

    Seems to me that it would even more righteous if the “wealthier” child shared on his/her own.

    A few years back, my wife and I were in Fresno on a well-traveled street and as we approached a light (no traffic around) we pulled up to the corner to do a right turn. A very street-worn lady was standing there with her sign asking for help. For some reason, I told my wife to give her $20. She did so and the lady looked at it, jumped up and down hollering, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia and turned to leave still shouting; that is what you call, instant feedback.

    About a year later, we approached the same corner and there she was again. We repeated the giving and were treated to a similar reaction. Haven’t seen her since, but when I think about it, I pray for her.

    Someone above mentioned the parable of Lazarus and and the rich man. I read somewhere that the rich man passed by the open door to Paradise every day; Lazarus was that door.

    Almsgiving is an open door for all of us. We should pray without ceasing, fasting is a constant event in our Orthodox life, as with repentance. Almsgiving is more opertunistic, we can give alms whenever we have a chance; almsgiving can be constant as some have pointed out and can be sporadic for instance, with the lady, with her sign, on the corner.

    prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and repentance

  56. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    I have given alms to homeless people before, but I had never asked them to pray for me as suggested by Fr. Stephen. I had my first opportunity to do this yesterday. I crossed paths with a man who was asking for money. I gave him a $5 bill and he was surprised and delighted and thanked me profusely. Then I asked him if he would please pray for me. His eyes got really big and he said, “Oh yes! I will! And please pray for me too! My name is Bruce. Please pray for me too! My name is Bruce! Bruce! My name is Bruce!” Then he recollected himself and asked me what my name was and we parted ways. He was more enthusiastic about praying and being prayed for than he was about the money I gave him. It was a very enlightening moment for me. If any of you feel moved to do so, I am sure Bruce would love to be added to your prayer lists as well.

  57. learningtobestill2016 Avatar

    Following Fr. Stephen’s suggestion, I started carrying extra money for the homeless. Whenever they beg – and sometime when they don’t – I touch them and ask them their name as I give them some money. I then call them by name, looking directly into their eyes, and ask them to pray for me. The contact and the prayer request seems to have a more powerful impact than the money. In fact, I know that this is true.

    A few weeks ago, I was sharing some money with someone when, quite suddenly, someone hugged me from behind and called out my name. I turned around to see a young woman who said, “Remember me? I’m Martha! I have been praying for you!”

    I am eternally grateful to God – and Fr. Stephen – for that experience.

  58. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    LearningToBeStill – thank you for sharing that experience; it gave me “thrill” bumps.

  59. Alan Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    You and your readers have helped to correct my view on giving to those on the street corner. Similar to Ben’s comment earlier, I came from an upper middle class Evangelical church, and I was “trained” not to give due to the fact that “they’ll just waste it.”
    I like your comment Father: “What someone might do with the money that is asked is not ours to control. Those with problems will likely use it in a problematic manner.”
    So many of us fail to give because “they’ll use it in a problematic manner.” Yet how often do I use “my” money in an equally problematic manner? As you said Father, better to be faithful and leave the results to God.

  60. Alan Avatar

    So many great comments here. Thank you all.

    Aust_Orthodox, your comment especially resonated with me. Thank you!

  61. Byron Avatar

    So many of us fail to give because “they’ll use it in a problematic manner.” Yet how often do I use “my” money in an equally problematic manner? As you said Father, better to be faithful and leave the results to God.

    Here is another issue (or perhaps “weakness”). Recently, there have been reports in our city that “professional beggars” from other cities are driving in and working the streets. The director of the John 3:16 mission here said the actual homeless typically won’t beg on the corner so no one should give to the people there. To top it off, I have seen several different people holding up the same sign (literally) on a specific corner over the course of several days! I really don’t know what to make of this and how I should approach almsgiving in this context….

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Give alms. We can’t control such stuff. God honors it. Oddly, those who are begging for the money (even wrongly) are more likely to share what they get than those who are giving. This is not at all likely to be a middle-class outfit. It’s likely just some poor people working on being smart.

  63. Agata Avatar

    This is very interesting, and a dilemma for sure.
    I know of some freeway exits where something like that must be happening, you see a line of people sitting under a bridge out of site (if you know where too look), and they take turns to stand near the cars, with their shared sign….

    Well, I am going to take a big risk (of Father Stephen taking down this comment), but I would like to ask you all (my friends on this blog especially) to consider giving a little bit to this crowdfunding campaign. It is stuck at 7 donors, and my heart dreams about where this could go if all those thousands of blog readers would just give $1….

    It is for a large Orthodox family (very close to a very special monastery in England), and this request came from a very trusted friend. Whatever you give, I will pay you back next time we meet… 🙂
    This would be one of those times when we give a total stranger who is in need… Thank you in advance and please forgive me for my boldness!

  64. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Anonymous!

  65. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    This is such a joy to read! It brings back so many wonderful moments when the urge to help someone just comes to me, and it is a prayed for blessing for that person. Just knowing God cares and is listening, thru my giving them some money or whatever it is I am led to give, means so much to them. Once, it was even dog food. I was driving by an alley, and saw a homeless man with a dog – looking in a dumpster. I had an extra bag of dog food in the back seat, because of a sale I had found, and felt strongly I needed to give one to him. I stopped and told him God sent me with a bag of dog food for his dog. He was shocked but was happy to take it.
    Thank you for the comments to Michael. I really appreciated it.

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