Patristic Admonition: Christmas Charity Means Sharing Blessings

“St. John Chrysostom put it thus:

‘The ascetic see his asceticism but saves no one else, while the one who gives out of charity is a blessing to all. Charity is greater than miracles and covers over all our sins, for to feed the hungry is to feed Christ and is greater than raising the dead to life. God himself becomes indebted to such a person. The wings of charity take us beyond the angels to the throne of God.’

St. John goes to the very limit in comparing charity to the Eucharist:

‘The Eucharist only is celebrated on the altar in the church while charity is found everywhere in the streets, in every public place.’

In his epistle St. James shows the true nature of charity in its hidden depth: ‘Visit the poor in their affliction.’ This is an act of being totally present, for Christ identifies himself with the suffering. For St. Cyprian, ‘to share one’s possessions is to feed Christ in the poor.’ The Didachē had long before stressed this: ‘May your charity warm your hands.’ This is an astonishing saying reminiscent of the words of the disciples at Emmaus: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he taught us!’ For St. Gregory Nazianzus our attitude towards the poor is rooted in the human ascent to God and becomes our response to the essential mystery. It is by charity that we acquire our heavenly ‘solidity’ and our truth, our participation in eternal, divine love.

For St. Gregory of Nyssa, to spurn the poor is to destroy the hidden unity of the world. It is to refuse the one God. The community of Jerusalem did its charity through the hands of the deacons and bestowed on them the apostolic seal of sharing the community’s possessions. Thus we can understand why St. Jerome put charity before the construction and adornment of churches. Chrysostom echoed this:

‘God has never condemned anyone for not having embellished the churches with superb ornaments but he threatens with hell those who will not give charitably.’

Charity, in the Fathers’ meaning, is radically opposed to ‘paternalism,’ the work of those ‘obliged.’ Because we are not the masters of our wealth, charity has nothing to do with what is superfluous, but real sharing.”   (In the Worlds, of the Church, A Paul Evdokimov Reader, pp 85-86)