Almsgiving Doesn’t Come With A Disclaimer

homeless man


At times, while driving to the mall, I see homeless people sitting or standing by the side of the on ramp. I’m betting all of us have seen a homeless person at least once in our lives. Sometimes, we’ll wonder what brought them to their present condition, and some people will suspect these people aren’t truly homeless. Years ago, I used to think this way. You know that view… the one that thinks if someone is standing by the roadside disheveled and holding a self-made cardboard sign, that he/she is most assuredly a drug addict or alcoholic. So, what does one do with this mindset when he/she encounters this “pseudo-poverty-stricken” individual? Why, nothing, of course. Nothing but walk on by or drive on after the light turns green.

Today at church, my priest spoke about this very subject—this belief that the person asking for anything you can give, or perhaps, money, is a wasted, deceitful human being.   As a Christian, I don’t believe questioning the motives of a homeless person is a prerequisite to giving what you can to these people. Christ never said feed the poor (sometimes money is all you have to give), clothe the naked, but only if you’ve investigated whether they truly are poor. No, you just do it. Why or how the person got to that unfortunate and tragic circumstance in his/her life is not our business. Our business is to give to the person because they are made in His Image.

Today, my priest shared a story about one of our Orthodox Saints—St. John the Almsgiver of Alexandria. He was the Patriarch of Alexandria in the seventh century. I’m sharing his encounter with a beggar from

The saint never refused suppliants. One day, when the saint was visiting the sick, he met a beggar and commanded that he be given six silver coins. The beggar changed his clothes, ran on ahead of the Patriarch, and again asked for alms. Saint John gave him six more silver coins. When, however, the beggar sought charity a third time, and the servants began to chase the fellow away, the Patriarch ordered that he be given twelve pieces of silver, saying, “Perhaps he is Christ putting me to the test.”

st. john the almsgiver of alexandria

(St. John the Almsgiver of Alexandria)

This is an amazing and extraordinary example of how we Christians should try to be. We must see Christ in all people, including the homeless and those in prison. The Orthodox Christian Nativity Fast starts this Wednesday, November 15. I pray I have the opportunity to give to those less fortunate than I, and hopefully, bring a bit of comfort to their lives.