Is Charity Part of the Leitourgia?

Peter J. Leithart at the First Things Blog discusses a book in which Susan R. Holman presents a study on the theme of poverty and poverty relief in the fourth century (The Hungry Are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Fourth Century Cappadocia). In his review, Leithart cites Holman making a strong connection between liturgy and social public works in the ancient church:

The “link between religious liturgy and the social leitourgia that cares for the poor body is part of the Christian liturgy from the very earliest texts, even New Testament texts where the ‘liturgy’ of Jesus’s disciples actually occurs in the Temple precincts (e.g., Acts 3:1-5). According to Justin Martyr, a collection for the poor was taken as part of the weekly worship service and the funds enabled the leader of the congregation to care for orphans, widows, the sick, the prisoners, strangers, and ‘all those in need.’ The Didache also advocated a regular collection of food as part of worship and, ‘if you have no prophet give them to the poor’” (50).

This commitment extended even to the point that some would sell themselves into slavery in order to use the purchase price to give relief to the poor. Such very radical Christian commitment to the poor and to voluntary poverty is linked to liturgy. Some food for thought!

You can find the essay here.

The book on which it is based can be found here.



  1. Thank you! I am currently working on a project on the presence (or not — mostly not) of kenotic elements in the current Roman liturgy. I was both startled and inspired by the homily of St John Chrysostom in which he makes a direct connection between honoring Christ in theEucharist and honoring him in the poor:

    “Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” (Mat 25:34ff) What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

    “Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.”

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