How do we wish to be remembered?

Jesus feeding the 5,000
The title of this post is a question that I have been asking myself as of late. When we no longer walk this earth how do we wish to be remembered? A few years back I taught a class about death at a local college. I had my students write their own obituary. Some of them were a little creped out by it but I asked them if they wanted to leave something this important to someone else. What would happen if the person who writes your obituary leaves out some things but includes other things? The bottom line is we will not care because we will be gone, but what is our legacy?
The local church needs to ask the same question of her. I am willing to bet if you ask most people in the town where an Orthodox Church exists what the church is known for the answer would be the food and the festivals. Most people know us by the food we make and the festivals we have. But that is changing and changing for the good.
In my last few posts I wrote about the talk we had this past weekend featuring Fr. Justin Matthews of FOCUS North America. The talk was part of a larger series of talks as part of the Institute of Orthodox Life and Spirituality and initiative of St. Columba of Iona Orthodox Monastery.
FOCUS North America is the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve and is the Social Action organization of the Orthodox Church in the USA. FOCUS works with and supports the working poor. This is not simply a hand out, that is too easy, what FOCUS is doing is hand up, people trying to break the cycle of poverty in the United States.
According to the latest statistics available for the Bureau of Labor Statistics 39.8 million or 13.2% of the population of the Unites States lives at or below the poverty level. These numbers are from 2008 so I can only imagine that the number is higher today and climbing. In 2008 8.9 million adults were among the “working poor” that is 1.4 million more than 2007. The working poor are defined as people who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force but whose incomes still fell below the official poverty level. (In 2009 the Federal Poverty Limit for a single person was $10,800 and for a family of 4 $22,050) These are not street homeless but people who live in our neighborhoods that we do not see.
Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us, and that is very true. This does not mean that we can do nothing about poverty but just the opposite for in Matthew he tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. Actually He commanded us to do these things so for a Christian this is not an option.
To bring it a little closer to home. My church is located in Southbridge, Massachusetts. A small city, although it is called a town, located in Central Massachusetts. As with most towns here this was a mill town, and when the mill closed there went half of the available jobs. The population has shifted as people moved out and new people moved in. Just over 12,000 people live here in this town and of that 15% live at or below the Federal Poverty Limit, these are the working poor, these are our friends and neighbors, the person next door or the person in front of you at the grocery store or perhaps it is you reading this.
So what do we want to be remembered for? Our festivals and food sales or how we loved the Gospel of Jesus Christ and helped serve the most vulnerable among us? The need around the world is great but the need is great right here in our hometowns, and it costs so little to help.
About a year ago we started serving a community meal here at the church once a month. This is not a soup kitchen but a community meal bringing people from the community together to break bread. People from all walks of life and economic situations are welcome to come and enjoy a hot nutritious meal with us as our guests. The cost is about $125 per month and over the last year we have served more than 1,000 meals. For a little more than a dollar a meal we have helped to ease the burden of a mother who is unsure of where the next meal will come from. For little more than a dollar a meal we provided company to a shut in who may eat all of their meals alone. And for a little more than a dollar a meal we did what Jesus told us to do and what He did Himself.
This is a large undertaking and maybe you cannot do that, but when is the last time your church tithed a portion of its income to the poor and needy in the community where the church is? How many of us pass a second try for the food pantry or take up a food collection for the food pantry. This time of year the need is greater than any other time during the year, and this year the need is great!
Many of our temples are adorned with the finest money can buy. We have little gold plaques on everything showing how generous we are to God’s house. I am not saying that we should not adorn our churches but how many chalices and vestments do we need? The buying power of the local food bank makes is possible for $5 to feed a family of 4 for a week! Five dollars! We spend more than that on Coffee Hour after Church on Sunday!
Mother Maria of Paris, a wonderful Orthodox Saint who gave her life in place of another in the gas chamber during World War II had this to say, “At the Last Judgment I will not be asked whether I satisfactorily practiced asceticism, nor how many bows I have made before the Divine Altar. I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and the prisoner in his jail. That is all I will be asked.”
How will you answer that question? What would say right now if you found yourself facing your Creator? That is the question we need to ask. Festivals and food sales are important, adorning our temples is important, but it is not what we should be known for. We Orthodox have a wonderful tradition of service to those in need and that is what we should be known for.
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