Wealth and Discipleship

Wealth and poverty are nebulous categories and we commonly use the terms not with any exact metric in mind but as it suits our needs.  We can at times see the poor as in need of help or as lazy, stupid and dependent on entitlements.  Likewise we can see the rich as successful or as greedy and always controlling the system to their own advantage.  We alleviate our consciences by seeing ourselves as poor when we want to but then distance ourselves from the poor as we don’t want them around.  Americans in general aspire towards wealth, but politicians (even very wealthy ones) often find it beneficial at election time to show how they grew up in poor and humble circumstances.   At election time, they run to identify themselves with the poor (but not the lazy and dependent on the public dole kind but with the dirt poor who through hard work and never by circumstances arise to become filthy rich).   After they are elected, to appease their wealthy supporters, they run away from the poor and their needs and want to show they value success (aka, wealth) not poverty.

St John Chrysostom would have held to an idea that a person is rich if they have more than they need to live on.  Rich is not having more than you want, but more than you need.  One is rich if they can afford all that they have beyond their needs.   He did wish that everyone would have all they need in this world, just not all they want.  His view of the world saw most people as struggling to survive – meaning they had a hard time having enough to meet their needs (forget their wants which were beyond what most people could ever hope for).  So those who have more than they need are blessed.  In the following quote from St. John, don’t imagine he is talking to the filthy rich, the 1% of the population – anybody but you.  He is addressing himself to all those who have more than they need and thus are capable of being rich towards God.  He certainly would have thought that the middle class of America have all they need and more.

The skill which the rich need to use their wealth well is the highest of all arts.  Its workshop is built not on earth but in heaven, because those who are rich must communicate directly with God to acquire and practice this art. Its tools are not made of iron or brass, but of good will, because the rich will only use their wealth well if they want to do so.  Indeed good will is itself the skill. When a rich person sincerely wants to help the poor, God will quickly show the best way. Thus while a person training to be a carpenter must learn how to control a hammer and saw and chisel, the rich person training to serve the poor must learn how to control the mind and heart and soul.  He must learn always to think good thoughts, expunging all selfish thoughts. He must learn how to feel compassion, expunging all malice and contempt. He must learn how to desire only to obey the will of God. That is why I say the skill of being a rich disciple of Christ is the highest of all arts; and the one who possesses it is truly a saint.”

(St. John Chrysostom, On Living Simply, p. 19)

The Eucharist: Food for the Spiritual Battle

Holy Communion is the fulfillment of all our efforts, the goal toward which we strive, the ultimate joy of our Christian life, it is also and of necessity the source and beginning of our spiritual effort itself, the divine gift which makes it possible for us to know, to desire, and to strive for a “more perfect communion in the day without evening” of God’s Kingdom. For the Kingdom, although it has come, although it comes in the Church, is yet to be fulfilled and consummated at the end of time when God will fill all things with Himself. We know it, and we partake of it in anticipation; we partake now of the Kingdom which is still to come. We foresee and foretaste its glory and its blessedness but we are still on earth, and our entire earthly existence is thus a long and often painful journey toward the ultimate Lord’s Day.

On this journey we need help and support, strength and comfort, for the “Prince of this world” has not yet surrendered; on the contrary, knowing his defeat by Christ, he stages a last and violent battle against God to tear away from Him as many as possible. So difficult is this fight, so powerful the “gates of Hades,” that Christ Himself tells us about the “narrow way” and the few that are capable of following it. And in this fight, our main help is precisely the Body and Blood of Christ, that “essential food” which keeps us spiritually alive and, in spite of all temptations and dangers, makes us Christ’s followers.

(Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, p. 47-48)

In Praise of St John the Forerunner

Blessed are you, the greatest of prophets

all of whom desired him from a distance. 

They longed for but did not see the Messiah, the Son,

but you placed your hand on His head.

Clothed in the Law, you exhibited zeal;

arrayed in the Messiah, you showed mercy.

In you descended and came Elijah, who has not come [otherwise], 

whom you, in fact, represented. 

(St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns, p. 326)

On August 29 we commemorate the Beheading of St John the Forerunner, known as the Friend of the Bridegroom, who Jesus described as the greatest man born of women.  The hymn for the day:

The memory of the righteous is celebrated with hymns of praise, / but the Lord’s testimony is sufficient for you, O Forerunner. / You were shown in truth to be the most honorable of the prophets, / for you were deemed worthy to baptize in the streams of the Jordan Him whom they foretold. / Therefore, having suffered for the truth with joy, / you proclaimed to those in hell God who appeared in the flesh, / who takes away the sin of the world, / and grants us great mercy.

There Is No Other Way to Learn the Things of God

“For in no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man. For no other being had the power of revealing to us the things of the Father, except His own proper Word. For what other person knew the mind of the Lord, or who else has become His counselor? (Rom 11:34). Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher, and hearing His voice with our own ears, that, having become imitators of His works as well as doers of His words, we may have communion with Him…”

(St Irenaeus, from The Christian Life in the Early Church, p. 12)

Take Up Your Cross = Take Up Love

“It is impossible to represent and to think of the Cross without love.  Where the cross is, there is love; in the church you see crosses everywhere and upon everything, in order to that everything should remind you that you are in the temple of the God of love, in the temple of love itself, crucified for us.”

(St John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST, p 229)

The Eucharist – The Whole Truth About God

We are in a position now to see the duality in the Christian idea of sacrament, corresponding to the duality – discussed earlier – in the Christian idea of the world. On the one hand, sacrament is rooted in the nature of the world as created by God: it is always a restoration of the original pattern of things. On the other hand, it is rooted in Christ personally. Only through the perfect man can the broken priesthood of humanity be restored. Only through Him can the dark, primordial ocean become the living waters of baptism.

Only by way of His cross can the dead world come to new life. Our task remains, but He has gone before, doing the hard work for us. If we kneel to pray, to adore, to offer our lives, we are only attaching ourselves and assenting to His own similar but all-embracing act.

(Alexander Schmemann, Church, World, Mission, p. 225)

God’s Miracles Overcome Even a Lack of Faith

And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.


Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful.    (Matthew 17:14-23)

We can imagine the anguish of this father  of the epileptic boy – epilepsy was viewed as an incurable, debilitating disease with harshly negative social and religious overtones.   The father would despair because his son would never have a normal life and would never be accepted by pious and good citizens.   The father’s anguish was no doubt something like the Prophet Job who wondered, why was I born if life is nothing more than pain and sorrow?


“Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes as my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.”   (Job 3:20-24)

The father obviously loves his son, yet is plagued by that gnawing question:  Why is anyone born if they are doomed never to know God or joy but only rejection, humiliation and being an outcast?

The father hears about these miracle workers, the disciples, and brings his son to Christ’s disciples to see if they will heal his son, but they can’t.  Imagine the crushing resignation of the father as he realizes the despair that no one can help his son.

Part of the miracle is Jesus heals the boy despite the lack of faith of the disciples or the father.  Jesus overcomes not the illness but even the lack of faith of the people and His own disciples.  God can overcome insurmountable obstacles – even our lack of faith.

In Numbers 11:13-23, we see even the great Moses is dubious about God’s ability to help in every situation.  Israel is in the inhospitable desert and the people are crying from hunger for food.  Moses seeks God’s intervention but God tells Moses not to worry but to feed the people.  Moses replies:

4587917216_dd3821f5cd_nWhere am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me.” …  And the LORD said to Moses, “…  say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month… But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot; and thou hast said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to suffice them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?” And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.

Faith is trusting in God.  We can overcome fear, frustration, despair, hopelessness by trusting in God and abiding in Christ.  No matter what the problems we face, or the obstacles to solving the problems, we can trust that God is still the Lord of the situation and that what will happen occurs according to His will.


Saints are not those who have no problems but those who seek solutions to their problems in God and who abide in God no matter what problems they are confronted with.   We learn in the Scriptures of the many problems which God’s chosen people faced and how they trusted in God that whatever happened would be according to His merciful will.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the LORD delivers him out of them all.   (Psalms 34:19)

Let God Arise

“However, even when I see such things, I do not give up an even firmer hope, as I consider the Pilot [God] governing everything, who prevails over storms, who calms the raging gale, not through skill and artfulness, but with a single nod. It is not at their beginning – not immediately, when they first arise – that he customarily obliterates evils, but when they increase, when they come to their furthest point [telos], when most men fall into despair, then he does wondrous things beyond all expectation, demonstrating his own power, and training the patience of those who have fallen. “

(St. John Chrysostom, Letters to Saint Olympia, p. 46)

The Inexhaustible Depth of Scripture

Sometimes people find in reading the Scriptures that the meaning of a passage is not plain or obvious.  Some find that discouraging as they want the text to be simple and easy to understand and they assume they shouldn’t have to work at all to find the meaning of the text.  Others are puzzled by how deep and complex a text can be with several layers of meaning, and they might find it frustrating that they cannot plumb the depths of all the meaning in the text.  St. Ephrem the Syrian, writing in the 4th Century (Commentary on the Diateressaron, 1.18-19), takes a different tact.  He sees the Scriptures as a fountain  from which the living word flows.  He thinks we should rejoice if we realize that there is meaning in the text which is beyond our current ability to discover.  It is after all God’s Word and not merely human words about God.  We should expect there is far more than meets the eye when we encounter the invisible God hidden in a text.  St Ephrem writes:

The thirsty man rejoices when he drinks and he is not downcast because he cannot empty the fountain. Rather let the fountain quench your thirst than have your thirst quench the fountain. Because if your thirst is quenched and the fountain is not exhausted you can drink from it again whenever you are thirsty. Be grateful for what you have received and do not grumble about the abundance left behind. What you have received and what you have reached is your share, what remains is your heritage.

(Renu Silvano, Seeking Jesus in the Old Testament, pp. 13-14)