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St. Basil's House

An Eastern Christian House of Hospitality in Trenton, New Jersey

    “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” (Mt. 25:34-40)


A group of Orthodox Christians is planning to open a house of hospitality in Trenton, New Jersey, to follow the command of Jesus in Chapter 25 of Matthew to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend the sick.

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“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” (Mt. 25:34-40)

 

A group of Orthodox Christians is planning to open a house of hospitality in Trenton,

New Jersey, to follow the command of Jesus in Chapter 25 of Matthew to feed the hungry, clothe

the naked, and tend the sick. The house will have a chapel, a kitchen, space for the distribution

of food and clothing, space for classes, and space for neighbors and volunteers to meet, talk, and

share meals. The goal is to serve the materially poor in respectful, personal, and attentive ways,

while providing opportunities for Eastern Christians to see and serve Jesus Christ in the

materially poor, in the people with whom we build relationships.

 

Early action to live out the gospel message of care for the poor dates from the ancient

Church. The Council of Nicaea in its 70th canon declared that a house of hospitality should be

founded for the poor in every city and every diocese. In the late Roman Empire the duties of the

bishop included being “lover of the poor.” Continuing this practice into our day, we have chosen

to name the house for St. Basil of Caesarea, inspired by his outstanding preaching on behalf of

the poor and his actions for them. Around the time of a severe drought in 369, Basil preached

several sermons on wealth and possessions, stressing the theme of property as something

entrusted to us rather than something we permanently own. In his sermon “On Greed” he

warned that “the one who does not clothe the naked is a robber, the cloak you keep locked in

your closet belongs to the naked, the shoe that molders in your possession belongs to the person

with no shoes, the silver that you have buried belongs to the person in need. You do an injury to

as many people as you might have helped with all these things.”

 

Basil did not simply preach about social justice and economic equality. As bishop, he

developed a large complex of apartments for guests, needy travelers, and the poor, called the

Basiliad, where the sick received medical and hospice care and the poor who could work were

employed or trained in various trades. Following in this tradition , we seek to recognize the face

of Christ in the distressing guise of the poor.

The work of the house will develop in steps as we learn the needs of the people in the

neighborhood, as we discover how many volunteers are willing to serve, and whether this

outreach will attract sufficient financial support.

 

Step 1. At first, St. Basil’s House plans to offer prayer services, coffee, soup, meals

(shared with volunteers, potential volunteers, and neighbors), clothing, food, and up-to-date local

referrals for social services and health care.

Step 2. Next, we plan to offer classes, including a Bible study, and we hope to create

opportunities for our neighbors to share their own gifts with us. If an experienced Eastern

Christian member of AA or NA is available to lead, the house will offer a regularly-scheduled

11th Step Group (prayer and meditation). In addition, we plan to offer a lending library, focusing

on children’s books (the neighborhood’s public library branch has been closed) and Orthodox

books. If a yard is available, we hope to grow vegetables to offer to our neighbors.

Step 3. St. Basil’s House hopes, at some point, to be able to offer furnished bedrooms to

those in need of housing, in exchange for their help with the running of the house. However, we

cannot know to whom housing will be made available until we know who will volunteer to serve

with us.

Step 4. Finally, it is our hope to work with neighbors to identify an opportunity for a

small business in the neighborhood for which St. Basil’s House will provide business advice and

start-up funding. The goal is to meet a need in the neighborhood while also teaching skills to

people who have no significant employment histories, and to provide employment locally. As

each business grows, income will be used to fund new businesses.

Our work towards making the proposed outreach a reality is progressing. St. Basil’s

House is incorporated as a NJ nonprofit corporation, it is registered as a business with the NJ

Division of Revenue, it has received its Letter of Determination approving it as an IRC

§501(c)(3) organization, and it is registered with the NJ Division of Charities. We are reaching

out to other Orthodox jurisdictions and to Eastern Christian churches, as well as social service

organizations in Trenton.

 

At the time of this writing, we are focusing on properties in a Business Zone of one

neighborhood of Trenton that materially poor, underserved by social services, racially mixed,

and relatively free of gang violence. It also has inexpensive buildings, lots of street parking, and

a grass-roots group of people working there, cleaning up the park, praying for their children, and

trying to build community, who have been helpful to us.

Your prayers are requested. Please feel free to ask questions and to come to Board

meetings. We hope that, when a building is ready for use, many individuals will volunteer their

time, and churches will work with us to collect clothing and food. We pray that this will be a

blessing to both volunteers and neighbors.

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