Wealth and Possessions
We live in an age where many things are assigned a dollar value. “Everything costs”. “Time is money”. The value of a business is determined by its dollar turnover. Natural disasters are rated according to the cost of the damage caused. Even people are rated on their net worth.
The Church puts forward Saints Kosmas and Damian (celebrated on 1st November) as examples of the correct attitude towards money and wealth. These brothers were well educated and became doctors. They travelled widely and healed all types of illnesses in people and animals. So why are they regarded as Saints? Because they did not accept any payment for their healing. They are known as unmercenary (Greek ἀνάργυροι – without silver coins).
St John Chrysostom categorically states that those who live luxuriously, indulging their desires, cannot be saved. The rich man had two main faults: his life of luxury and his unwillingness to give to the poor. St John states that “the rich man’s prosperity drowned his reasoning, and blinded the eye of his mind; and as if deprived of sight thereafter, he went on walking without knowing where he was going”.
The problem of wealth is that we lose perspective, placing more value on created things rather than the Creator. The second great fault of the rich man is he did not give to the poor. St John says “the rich man had his ship full of merchandise, and it sailed before the wind. He was hastening to shipwreck, since he refused to unload his cargo with discretion”. The rich man is headed for spiritual disaster, unless he gives his wealth away. Wealth is a burden, a problem to be dealt with and actively managed. St John added that the solution is to give without judging the other person. “The almsgiver is a harbour for those in necessity, a harbour receives all who have encountered shipwreck, and frees them from danger, whether they are bad or good”.
St John Climacus in his book “Ladder of Divine Ascent”, further explains how money and possessions are a spiritual trap. A person, stirred by charity, may justify wealth creation in order to provide money for the poor. St John warns that “when the money is in, the grip tightens”. Once wealth is generated, people find it hard to give it away. We all enjoy some degree of wealth. The lives of Saints Kosmas and Damian show that struggling against avarice is important spiritually. They actively avoided wealth. They knew that money had no real value. They showed that serving others in imitation of Christ and out of love for Christ, was of the greatest value. They knew that their good deeds would earn them eternal life with Christ.
Let us end with St John Chrysostom’s insightful definition of wealth and poverty; “The rich man is not the one who has collected many possessions, but the one who needs few possessions. The poor man is not the one who has no possessions, but the one who has many desires”.
Source: Lychnos October/November 2017