Pre-Christian Greek civilization already had significantly developed notions of philanthropy expressed in numerous ways. For example, they established philanthropic institutions such as public guest-chambers, brotherhoods of hospitality, and, hospices. However, according to Demetrios Constantelos in his work Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare, “their philanthropy was practiced in a limited field and was directed mostly toward the civilized Hellenes” (11).
archetype of God, the Universal King
Many of the other Emperors in Constantinople gave good examples of Christian philanthropy. A common theme behind their philanthropic thought was that, as divinely appointed representatives of God on earth, they should exemplify this preeminent divine attribute. Counseling the Emperor Arcadios, Bishop Synesios of Cyrene gives an example of this type of thinking, emphasizing “that the king is the projection of the archetype, God the Universal King” and that the king must therefore make policies to benefit the people (45).
Many Byzantine clergy were also great examples of Christian philanthropy by their charitable work seeking social justice and equality. Certain of these, John Chrysostom, for example, gave generously to the poor out of their personal wealth. Chrysostom also built institutions of charity, such as hospitals and homes for the aged and infirm. Furthermore, in continuity with its early origins, the Church maintained the diaconate, which was created to serve widows and continued this work by seeing to the distribution of all kinds of welfare (Acts 6:1-4).
These few of the innumerable historical examples available partially demonstrate the Church’s consistent devotion to the service of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the aged, the orphans, the widows, and all the needy. Since the apostolic age, the Church has emphasized social welfare as an important aspect of its work. Since the fourth century, the Church has sought ways to cooperate with the state in providing this welfare. Seeing Christ in the least of His brethren (Mt 25:40), the Byzantine Church throughout its history served Him and should never neglect to serve Him, the only Philanthropos.