There is a common fervor within American Christianity to “vote” the right people into secular political office, to help the poor, heal the sick, educate the young, etc. But as we have been discussing, the gospel itself, even in its judgment on the Last Day, revolves around how we, as the Church, take responsibility of the philanthropic calling.
NonChristians (Secularists, Cults, Sects, etc) are powerless to conduct true philanthropy. Not only are they powerless, but they are more often than not, heretical and downright insane regarding ethical standards and worldview. Secularists want the authority of the philanthropic call but they do not want truly care for the people. It’s legalism at its core for the secularist to seek out a moral duty, excluding the spirituality of what philanthropy is all about. The secularists also do not want the Church to outmode her with philanthropic community. Throughout history, anti-churchmen have made serious efforts to first thwart the philanthropic ministry of the Church in order to control the greater community. The Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution were one of the most radical and obvious examples.
One of the greatest American bishops, Archbishop Averky, of ROCOR, said this in regards to secular philanthropy:
“Social charity is a fashion of our times. We must say that in this social charity the heart is not connected (although…the name of Christ is sometimes mentioned). An enormous abyss lies between our ancient Russian acts of mercy “for Christ’s sake,: and contemporary, cold, soulless social charity. We do not desire to go into great detail about how some people make money organizing these charities…Such society organized charities are far from being unmercenary, even in the elementary sense of the word. While taking advantage of the fruits of such social assistance, people not only experience no personal warmth, but often excepting social benefits is accompanied by a kind of moral degradation. How eternal distance this all is from the love of the Gospel! One needs only think about this a not more deeply to realize what an abyss lies between the doing of “good for goodness’ sake” and the authentic Gospel love for one’s neighbor.”
We do not help the needy for the sake of the flesh, but for the sake of the spirit. The Holy Scripture and history of the saints show us that the human soul longs for more than just material gain. People want to be a part of something real, something living! This is one reason why America has become the cult bastion of the world. Her proprietary model of community is consumeristic in nature, and not spiritual in nature like that of Christian countries. Offering more consumerism from countries like China and handing out welfare checks, simply does not work and is not redemptive.
True Philanthropy is Evangelistic
Early Church evangelism did not create a rhetoric/dichotomy of law verses mercy in order to get some sort of psychological conversion from the pagans; rather, she built community to attract them. Dr. Susan Holman states in her book Wealth and Poverty in the Early Church and Society:
“The Church, especially after the reign of Constantine, placed more emphasis than its pre-Christian Greek culture on philanthropy toward the poor, widows, orphans, strangers, and sick. The Christianization of the empire led the Church to set new standards and new methods in its philanthropic ministries…Several early Church fathers emphasized that philanthropy became a distinction for Christians and the means by which Christianity was able to attract people to its fold.”
An emphasis that these social misfits would finally become a part of an actual community was stressed:
“[The poor yearned for more in life], the need to belong, for one. The poor and rootless were attracted to an ideology that stressed, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus: (Galatians 3:28; see also Colossians 3:11). In the Byzantine era – especially in the thought and ethical teachings of Church fathers such as Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, and others – Church fathers emphasized the practice of philanthropia in imitation of God’s philanthropia.”
In this same chapter of the book, she describes how the Church, as a precursor to the Christian empire, was overtaking the pagan empire through philanthropic efforts, and that even the pagan leaders such as Lucian, Galen, and Emperor Julian, where influenced.
“philanthropic diakonia was no longer just almsgiving from person to person; it was also services through philanthropic organizations. Patristic sources indicate that Christians were not concerned with what non-Christians thought of them. They did not try to persuade in order to attract pagans and other nonbelievers but to emphasize the superiority of Christianity, which preached equality, justice, and love to all. They believed that Christianity wins more adherents by the philanthropic life of the faithful than by a discussion of its merits.”
Not only did the Church canons address the poor, the family structure, widows and orphans, etc, but there remains evidences of other documents that support an entire economy of philanthropy. The Book of the Perfect is an early tenth-century text that regulates the entire market of the Christian Constantinople. At this point, philanthropy had so much momentum within the community that gifted people were admonished to “work hard” and “turn profit.” Some saints referred to the later Byzantine economy as a “gift economy.” People gave voluntarily to support the poor, the widows, orphans, etc.
The patriarchate was involved with the actual economy, and if there was abuse such as usury and other “vain profits” the person would actual be anathematized. The Christian leadership, including the monks, helped regulate what the proper profit should be lest the economy become unbalanced and monopolies and oligarchies form, which can, of course, begin to usurp the philanthropic motives and duties of the Church.
This Chapter would not be complete without at least mentioning that St Basil was on the forefront of philanthropic community. The article, Building the New City: St. Basil’s Social Vision, by Paul Schroeder is a fine start in the understanding of how St Basil created community through philanthropy. His creation of what we now call “rehabilitation centers” were engrafted in to the Byzantine community, giving spiritual, physical, and economical rehabilitation to the poor, all the while supporting the imperial Christian community with honest labor.
As St Athanasios, Patriarch of the empire in the late 13th and early 14th century began to run out of recourses to help the poor and the economy in general, the standard of philanthropy was still ecclesial as well as voluntary! St Athanasios is quoted on asking everyone in the empire to contribute whatever “each one has in abundance” for the people who are “in a bad way.” Evidence is also available showing that the empire was supported at that time by the metropolitan of Kiev, Russia (later moved to Moscow). The philanthropic model of community was already underway within Kiev, Russia, and as Constantinople was completely overtaken by Islam, Russia had taken on the new role of “The Third Rome.”
For further insight on Holy Russia and how community has and in still many ways, works there, the book The Third Rome, by Matthew Rafael Johnson, is a thorough and exciting read. You will find that the monastic and communal aspect of community has always been at the heart of Holy Russia. The entire nation thrived off of providing the peasant a place within the community…working the agricultural industry for the most part. This is all in stark contrast with the what we learn in western schools: that “serfdom” was just another form of slavery. If western academia only knew the truth of how so-called serfdom was rooted in Orthodox Christianity, allowing the poor to work while providing them Christian community. In the late 19th century, Tsar Alexander II saw the need to begin bringing Russia into the modern times of industry, emancipating the peasants to help Russia leave what they called the “moral economy” of serfdom to what they were referring to as the “free labor” economy. Land was set up for the peasants and entire Christian communities were organized by the help of the monarchy.
In the next chapter we will see how within eastern nations such as Russia, Holy Monarchy is not some inherited form of community from nonbelievers, rather it was and still is chosen as way of expressing the Orthodox faith as a holistic faith that forms entire societies and nations.
Fr John J. Boojamra, The Church and Social Reform, The Policies of the Patriarch Athanasios of Constantinople
Susan Homan, Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society
Matthew Raphael Johnson, The Third Rome
Archbishop Averky, The Struggle for Virtue: Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society