Sts. Barsanupios and John

The practical wisdom of the Desert Fathers always amazes me. You would think that these hermits, hardened by their ascetical practices in the merciless desert would have lost all connection to humanity. The common image of the “holy man” would also make us think that they were “other worldly”, not concerned at all with the affairs of this world, completely intent on God.

But when we read their words, they are full of such insight into the human condition, so full of compassion and even of humor, that they totally undermine all our preconceived notions of holiness. The closer they come to God, the closer they are to their fellow pilgrims.

I am particularly fond of two particular Desert Fathers, Sts. Barsanuphios and John. They lived in the Palestinian desert in the 6th century. Their remoteness attracted people to come to seek their wisdom and direction. Their responses are direct and amazingly sensitive to the weaknesses of humanity.

I would like to cite one particular question and answer that has always struck me by its compassion and directness. The questioner wants to know about the appropriateness of keeping church financial records.

Question: Is it a good thing to keep the accounts of a church?

Response by Barsanuphios

If you keep the accounts of the churhc, you are actually keeping the accounts of God. for you are God’s steward. Therefore, you are obliged to keep the accounts in such a way as to feed the poor and the orphans, if there is any surplus. After all, God is their Father and nurturer, and you are administering their goods. If there is no surplus, you should do what you can to make one. Otherwise, you are not keeping the accoutns of the church but only taking care of yourself. If that is what you are doing, then you are not keeping the accounts for God, but for the devil. Do everything, then, acording to God and you shall find your reward with him.

This is the time of year when churches are putting together their budgets. We do not hesitate to include line items for church repair, for salaries, for all sorts of “necessities”. But when it comes to putting in line items for the poor, for missions, for religious education, suddenly “there’s not enough money left”. Barsanuphios responds to that with a simple: “Then get some.” There is no excuse for not having money available from the church for the poor and needy; just as God has made us stewards of his creation and out of that we give an amount that serves as the token or symbol of our love for God, so also the Church itself needs to put aside a token or symbol of its love for God to take care of God’s children.

St. James, in his Universal Epistle, already expressed this thought:

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

No excuses! We have the clear command of Scripture and the Fathers. We need to witness to the nature of the Church in the world. Our beautiful buildings and social halls are meaningless if we do not provide for the fundamental needs of those who are suffering want. And if we do not have the money to do so, we need to make sure we raise it!