Charity in Ancient Russia, Post Soviet Period, and Today


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God is more interested in where we’re headed

than where we’ve been.

Over the course of centuries in ancient Russia, society, guided by the Church, diligently strove to understand and fulfill the second of the principal commandments in which were summarized the Law and the Prophets: the commandment to love one’s neighbor. In times of social disorder, in times of insufficient security for the wronged, the application of this commandment was understood in one principal way: love for one’s neighbor was to be expressed first of all in the podvig, the spiritual struggle of compassion. Its basic requirement was acknowledged to be personal almsgiving. Such a concept had its foundation in practical ethics. Stressing of the need for such a podvig infused every method of spiritual teaching. According to Kliuchevsky, to love one’s neighbor was to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to visit the prisoner. In practice, love of man meant love for the needy. In ancient Russia, charity was not so much a method of supporting good social order, as it was an essential condition for personal moral health. It was more greatly needed by the lover of the needy than by the needy. The healing power of almsgiving rested not so much in wiping away the tears of the sufferer by allotting to him part of one’s estate, but in seeing those tears and sharing in that suffering, and thereby experiencing that feeling which is called brotherly love. When two hands met – one asking and the other offering alms for the sake of Christ, it was difficult to say which conferred the greater charity on the other. The need of the one and the help of the other merged in mutual brotherly love.

This is why ancient Rus’ understood and valued only personal, direct, almsgiving – charity .given from the hand of one to the hand of the other. Such charity was hidden from the eyes of bystanders. Moreover, the left hand was not to know what the right was doing. The poor man was his benefactor’s best petitioner before God, his intercessor, his spiritual benefactor. In ancient times it was said: “[Men) enter into Heaven through sacred charity…. The poor man receives nourishment from the rich, and the rich man finds salvation through the prayers of the poor.” The benefactor had to see with his own eyes the suffering which he eased in order to receive spiritual help. The indigent had to see his benefactor in order to know for whom to pray. In ancient Russia it was the practice of the czars on the eves of great feast days, to go early in the morning to the prisons and almshouses and, with their own hands, distribute alms to those under care or under arrest. They also visited the poor who lived alone. Just as it was difficult to study and heal a disease if using not a diseased body itself but a drawing or a model of it, so did impersonal almsgiving seem ineffectual.

Because of this understanding of the meaning of acts of charity, in ancient Rus’ poverty was not considered an economic burden on the people, or an ulcer upon the social order. Rather, it was considered to be one of the primary resources for the moral education of the people, with the Church standing as a practical institute of good social behavior. Charity was a necessary complement to the act of Church services a practical consequence of the rule that faith without deeds is dead. See more here.

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Charity was Revived in Russia in the Late 1980s,

For decades, charity had been a forgotten and forbidden word in Russia, a concept that had lost its original meaning – people’s help and support for other people, a manifestation of societal solidarity. It was in this meaning that the tradition of charity was revived in this country in the late 1980s, in the years of Perestroika. Raisa Gorbachev played a key role in this revival. It was under her patronage and with her personal involvement that museums and cultural heritage sites were being restored across Russia and efforts were taken to return Russia’s cultural property. She put her heart and effort into launching first charitable funds providing money for treatment of children with serious health problems. The Raisa Maximovna Club she established in the late 1990s initiated a public debate on the problems of the charity sector, seeing charity as an open, public activity. It is only logical that charitable programmes have always been high on the Gorbachev Foundation’s priority list since its very inception in 1992. Today, the Foundation provides an independent forum for discussion and analysis of the more important social issues, including by all means charity. See more here.

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Revival of Russian charity traditions

Scientists, clerics and activists from various parts of Russia as well as from Belarus, Ukraine and Israel have gathered in Crimea to talk charity, spiritual and moral values as part of a crowded forum taking place near the city of Yalta.

The third annual forum “Elizabethan legacy today: Crimea” kicked off on Friday, greeted by Crimean authorities.

“The fact that this forum is taking place in Crimea is a landmark event for us, for our peninsula and for the whole of Russia,” Crimea head Sergey Aksyonov said.

“Compassion and charity are values that are at the base of our movement. They must be supported by every official and philanthropist, we all have to help people show respect and understanding to those that cannot help themselves. This unites and concentrates our nation,” he added.

Taking part in the forum are scientists, as well as members of the church and social activists who study the life of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, who lived at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and left behind a legacy of charity, philanthropy and Christian enlightenment.

The head of the charity fund which organizes the forum, Anna Gromova, said:“For us the reunification with Crimea is very important, not only the territorial one, but first and foremost, the historic one. Starting from the Baptism of Russia, and throughout our history… numerous threads connect our histories.”

Gromova slammed those who would deny those links exist: “These pages of history must not be rewritten. All around we are seeing the falsification of history, selective reading, which we especially felt in connection with the anniversary of the great victory [in World War II]. Our society is working on strengthening and preserving history and learning lessons from it.”

The forum is taking place in the Livadia palace. Built in 1911, the palace served as a summer retreat for the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family. This was also the spot where the Yalta conference was held by the heads of the US, the UK and the USSR to discuss Europe’s post-WWII course of action. See more here.

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