I have been away a while. Now that the autumn is upon us I hope to revive my writing here regularly.  This post and the next will be about work I have begun to do here in Finland related to international aid and ecumenical dialogue.

I don’t recall if I’ve mentioned it before but last fall I was elected to the board of directors of the international aid and missions organization of the Orthodox Church of Finland. This organization is called Filantropia. It carries on the work of an earlier organization called OrtAid; the name was changed effective January 1 of this year.

Filantropia is a good name for the development, assistance, and missions agency of the church. It emphasizes something that the earlier name did not: namely, that what we do in reaching out to help another person is an expression of love for our fellow human being. In the Divine Liturgy we proclaim God, who loves the human race. The work of Filantropia is one expression of that love God has for us. Mission is part of that work, but it too must be seen in the light of the love of God for all human beings, as part of the larger missio Dei embodied in the Incarnation of the Word of God.

One of the difficulties with giving money or time to the relief of people elsewhere in the world (or right next-door, for that matter) is that the action can often be curiously one-sided. We give, and we feel that we have done our duty. But there is far more to the matter than that. There must be reciprocity.  Pope Francis recently said something to this effect, that we must look the person who needs our help in the eye, we must touch their hand as we give: otherwise we do not make contact with the flesh of Christ. (I will find the quote for my next post.) This reciprocity is true for every instance of giving, no matter what the religious tradition of the person who receives our help. In the case of when we help other local churches, the necessity of reciprocity is especially urgent.

If, for example, we contribute to a development project run by the Orthodox Church of Tanzania, we should not be content simply to have funded important work providing clean water or preventing human trafficking or helping women to start small businesses.  Our giving needs to make possible an opening towards the other. We are one in Christ’s body, we are joined by bonds of love in the Holy Spirit. Our giving ought to invite our sister or brother to come to us, so that we might learn from their life in Christ where they are, so that we might more fully live out and express the unity, catholicity, and holiness of Christ’s body.  It is so easy to live in isolation! Our giving can be a means of overcoming some of the fragmentation of our age.

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