Fr. David Wooten
It’s well known that the early church document The Shepherd of Hermas exhorts those who are fasting to take the money they normally would spend on food and give it to the poor. Our faithful embodied this virtue by organizing a lay-led “Friendsgiving” ministry meal on Thanksgiving Day for those in our centrally-located, urban neighborhood in San Antonio. We welcomed people who were shut-ins, or without family, or who found themselves in homeless shelters. This was not done during the Lenten fast, of course, but the Nativity fast — yet it was a way to take money that normally would have gone to serve our own bellies and redirect it towards those whose hunger went far beyond our own.
We saw men and women who were down on their luck, who were in rehab shelters, who were living with their only known relative in Section 8 housing, and who were simply too sick to travel to family (and whom we brought to church). Many of these people had never seen the inside of an Orthodox church before; their eyes widened not only at the considerable spread of food that had been provided by generous parishioners, but also at the iconography and beautiful chanting in the molieben that preceded the feast. We offered them tours of the temple after they had eaten their fill, and many of them spoke of the “feast for the eyes and the soul” that the Church had given them that day.
We purposefully sat down and conversed with our visitors. Many commented on how this was the first time they had felt welcome in a church setting in quite a long time. We knew that many of them could not return due to transportation (the shelters were willing to donate their vans to bring people to us for one day), but we were grateful for the opportunity to redirect our time and resources towards those who were in need of sustenance and contact with the human and the divine during the fast.
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