For Orthodox Christians, Advent Lent began on Nov. 15. Christmas Lent is an expression of our anxious expectation of the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. Even though Christmas Lent is not as strict as the Great Lent, it contains the three disciplines of any lent: prayer, abstinence from food and almsgiving.
The way we celebrate Christmas nowadays, with all the buying, giving and receiving of presents, it is clear that Advent Lent is mostly kin to almsgiving. This is the time of year when many charitable organizations ask for our support. Everywhere we go, we can hear the bells of the Salvation Army reminding us that it is the giving season. We should give in the name of Christ, whose birthday we celebrate, as a thanksgiving that God has sent His Son, the Gift of Gifts, to save us.
It is obvious that giving to people from whom we expect to receive as much or even more back does not count as almsgiving. Then what does count? In understanding the true meaning of almsgiving, I was helped by the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
The parable says that, “clothed in purple and fine linen,” the Rich Man “fared sumptuously every day,” while Lazarus, “beggar full of sores,” sick and hungry, “was laid at his gate.” Gladly he would have eaten crumbs from the Rich Man’s table. The dogs licking his wounds showed him mercy better than the Rich Man who was too busy partying.
After their deaths, the parable says that the Rich Man went to the place of “torments in Hades” and poor Lazarus “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” The parable is not specific, but leaves no doubt that the decision taken in heaven with the Rich Man and Lazarus was