Salvation is indeed a matter of the heart, but the heart is not a mere feeling or attitude, even toward God himself. The heart (the nous) is a matter of spirit and the noetic faculty, which is directly connected to the natural world. One simply cannot develop the nous within himself, excluding the natural world from their development. Other people need us and we need other people! Books and many prayer services cannot be an end to themselves. They must remain the catalyst for kingdom!
Even when a hermit, for instance, isolates himself for prayer, the energies from God still express themselves within nature. Saint Seraphim of Sarov might be a good example of this with his interactions with the wild animals near his hermitage, as the iconography depicts.
Nature and Spirit! This is why saints such as John Chrysostom and James the Brother of our Lord state that salvation is tied to our philanthropy…Because this is the way Christ’s Law (his energy) operates. A peaceful spirit is one that is active, one that actually creates peace within the bounds of nature, forming godly culture.
Prayer is Good but Not without Action
St Paul and many of the fathers teach us that growth and repentance in Christ is not simply about more prayer and more worship. St Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians that one must physically turn from their sin. He uses an example of a thief who turns by laboring with his hands. He also states that what he labors for he should give to the needy.
Most of us in the modern age are guilty of partaking in some sort of corrupt business. Nearly everything today is tied to the sin of usury and other forms of ungodly economy. To repent of this and to grow in the energies of God we must do what we can to choose proper vocation, but we can only do so much, especially within a secular nation such as America.
Since we are judged based on our service to our fellow man, and since our souls actually need this service, we must consider how we are to go about actually partaking in this action. How then must we live?
Ideas for Starter Philanthropy:
The first thing to remember when beginning an Orthodox action-plan is to make certain it is done in the name of Christ and not secularism or some heretical outlet. Certainly we can work with other groups, but for hunting and sourcing, not joining. We need to be able to freely exercise public prayer with the people, as well as clergy involvement for the possibility of conversion. Also, if we are already in a situation that is secular, etc, there is no need to abandon them, as St Paul implies when speaking of not to “seek to be freed as a slave,” etc. In due time things will happen in our lives. That is why the first step (as mentioned above) is belief! Nothing can even begin to happen until our belief in God’s Church and our calling within is right.
1. Contact your Local Big Brother/Sister Non-profit – Ask to take on a child (usually a one to three time a week commitment of an hour to a day a time). You may already feel overwhelmed by your biological children, but many times bringing in a neglected child will bring love and energy to your family. Your kids will see the efforts and go out of their way to help this new adjacent member. We could very well overwhelm the Big Brother organization in a good way, as Orthodox, becoming their primary source of help. We use them merely as a source and then do the rest. There are no religious restrictions.
2. Contact your Local Jail/Prison Chaplain – This takes a special type of person, often people without children or single people, since bringing recovering inmates to homes with children may not pan out well. But with that said, many are eager to follow Christ, but simply need the communal support.
3. Contact an Elderly Care Home – There are many available and they are often open to Christian support. Become a mentor for an elderly person…a friend, etc. Many of them are dumped in to homes by their wealthy family so as to not have to deal with them. Yes, this is a cold world these days.
4. The “least of these” will always include the physically disabled. These people are often out of site since they are not able to move around in our modern infrastructure. Life for the disabled has gotten easier with technology (advanced equipment, etc) but travel for them is still difficult. In the name of the Church, commit to a route of sort (once a week or more) of people to help. Let them know you are doing this through your parish, always affording the opportunity for spiritual interaction, even if it is not intellectual. A peaceful servant can mean a lot more to a person than a smarty-pants theologian.
5. Mental Health – There is a serious need today for the Church to help stabilize those who have lost touch with reality, including those who have fallen in to drug use. An organization with a combination of physical health and spiritual counseling can work wonders…alongside prayer services and a type of ‘pre-confession’ where people who are ridden with guilt begin to share how they are in trouble and what they feel guilty about. At one point a person who is entangled within the psychiatric system might be able to fully give themselves over to the Church and a regular life of the Holy Mysteries.
6. Specific and Frequent Prayer and Finance for any of the above, in case you are physically unable.
Whatever the occupation we choose to advocate, volunteer in, give financially to, etc, it is important to know that it is for work of the Church and the very creation of Orthodox community.
In a future article we will talk more directly about community itself and how within a secular country such as America we can work toward a Christian community through family and economy.