He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.”[Luke 21:1-4]
Usually the story of the widow’s mite is told as an illustration for sacrificial giving (monetarily), but the last few days I’ve started to see an additional meaning. Now that the great fast (Lent) has started, we are supposed to not only abstain from certain foods (as we are able), but decrease the amount we eat, attend the more frequent church services, step up our prayer life, etc. The Church, in her wisdom, gives us a rather high bar to aim for. Just because not everyone can reach that bar doesn’t mean the bar should be lowered. The principle of oikonomia comes into play here. Orthodox Christians who are unable to keep the entire fast due to illness, etc., work out a lesser discipline with their spiritual fathers. This does not mean any of us has a free pass to ignore the fast. There is usually something we can do.
Coming back to the widow’s mite, I was thinking that what we are each able to contribute toward our own spiritual growth during the fast is somewhat relative. Whether we are there every time the church doors open or whether we are only able to attend Sunday Liturgies may depend on such things as driving time. (For instance, do you live next door or two hours from church?) The point is that we are supposed to make a sacrifice of our time and effort. There is extra effort in getting children to and through church services, and sometimes it is not possible to stay for the entire service (as I can attest to personally). People who struggle with chronic illnesses may be able to attend only one service a week because they need two days to recover from the effort expended on that one service. Regarding fasting, there are people who are unfortunate enough to be unable to tolerate or digest so many foods that if they were to also abstain from all meat, fish and dairy, they would almost have to subsist on water only. Even there, it is possible to make some sacrifices. I give you these examples, not as “way out there” impossibilities, but because I know people for whom these illustrations apply.
Wherever you are, geographically, in physical health, or in any other way, it is possible to make some strides toward spiritual growth. Talk to your spiritual father. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. We don’t fast or attend church as a show for others. God knows your struggles and He alone will judge your efforts and your heart. So you can’t give a king’s ransom… so what? Christ valued the widow’s mite because she gave out of her poverty.