St John Chrysostom once called the poor “another altar,” and members of St Vladimir’s Seminary community have taken his striking phrase to heart. During the season of Great Lent, our students, their families, and our chapel members joined with “Emmaus House,” an Orthodox Christian ministry in Harlem, to aid the poor and homeless in New York City.
Members of the seminary community donated their time, money, and material goods, and participated in a soup run that aided over 120 people living on the city streets. Seminarian Aaron Oliver and seminary alumnus Fr Martin Kraus, rector of Holy Trinity Church in East Meadow, NY, arranged for the cooperative effort.
Each Thursday night friends of Emmaus House travel the streets of Manhattan, and provide food and drink to the hungry. In the cold months, blankets, coats, and other winter clothing are distributed to those in need. Different groups have volunteered in addition to our seminary: area churches, and even a sorority from Hofstra University.
“This is what our mission as Christians should be,” says seminarian Oliver, “precisely, following the lesson in Scripture outlined in Matthew 25. We are supposed to approach strangers as if they were Christ himself. I was baptized at age nineteen, and still, this is the most important thing for me to remember.”
Seminarian Oliver’s spiritual journey has taken him from his Jewish roots through Methodist and Baptist congregations, and on to Orthodoxy. His charitable work has included participation in the Catholic Worker’s movement and the Salvation Army. He also has served both in New Jersey and Nevada National Guard units and was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Currently, he is a 2nd-year seminarian, and a Chaplain Candidate in the Army National Guard. He joined the Orthodox Church in 2007, as parishioner at St Paul the Apostle Church in Las Vegas, and finds the writings of the church fathers encouraging in his missionary work to the poor. “St. John Chrysostom has had a huge influence on me,” he says. “When he said ‘the poor are another altar,’ he stressed the imperative of helping the needy.”