“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
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.