How to Pray in Faith (From St. Basil the Great)

A story that Nermien Riad recently told at the Newark’Feast or Famine’ event features a widow who slept on a piece of cardboard over her concrete floor. When her Coptic Orphans Rep came one day excited to tell her that we had gotten a mattress for her, she responded: “no, no. I have no need, thank God. Give this to someone who needs it more.” Basil has many words on how relative “surplus” is, and how God honors giving in faith when we’re at the end of our means.

Of course, this isn’t a formula for Divine cash withdrawals. Basil wants us to pray with childlike trust in God, open to however He wants to act. But one thing is certain: we can trust Our Father to take care of us–and His Divine Honor– very well.

Selection below from Basil’s sermon “In Time of Famine and Drought,” in the book On Social Justice, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.


Are you poor? You know someone who is even poorer. You have provisions for only ten days, but someone else has only enough for one day. As a good and generous person, redistribute your surplus to the needy… and if you have only one remaining loaf of bread, and someone comes knocking at your door, bring forth the one loaf from your store, hold it heavenward, and say this prayer, which is not only generous on your part, but also calls for the Lord’s pity:

Lord, you see this one loaf, and you know the threat of starvation is imminent, but I place your commandment before my own well-being, and from the little I have I give to this famished brother. Give then, in return to me your servant, since I am also in danger of starvation. I know your goodness, and am emboldened by your power. You do not delay your grace indefinitely, but distribute your gifts when you will.

And when you have thus spoken and acted, the bread you have given from your straitened circumstances will become seed for sowing the bears a rich harvest, a promise of food, an envoy of mercy.

Say the word that was spoken by the widow of Zarephath when she was in similar circumstances; indeed, this is a good time to recall her story. ‘As the Lord lives, I have only enough in my house to feed myself and my children.’ (1 Kg 17.12) If you also give from your lack, you will have the vessel of oil ever flowing by the gift of mercy, and the inexhaustible jar of flour. For the faithful, the grace of God zealously imitates these vessels, ever poured out yet never exhausted, returning double for what is given. Lend, you who lack, to the rich God. (§6, pp. 83)

…Have faith in the one who always personally undertakes the cause of the oppressed, and makes recompense from His own resources. He is a trustworthy guarantor, since He has the treasures of land and sea at His disposal… With God it is a matter of honor to give a generous return. (§6, pp. 84)

About Nathan Hollenbeck

Nathan joined Coptic Orphans in 2006. It was his response to a call to help return Egypt’s hospitality to the Holy Family on behalf of Christ Emmanuel and the Theotokos, after they changed his own life as a youth. He has a passion to fulfill God’s command to “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV)