Holy Week and Envy

As noted in my earlier post, envy plays a large role in the events of Holy Week. Strangely, it is a passion which is rarely mentioned in our culture, even though the Fathers (at least some) thought of it as the root of all sin. We frequently think of pride as the root of all sin, but some of the Father’s note that pride, unlike envy, can be completely private, whereas envy always seeks harm for another.

Many times the sins we think of as pride, are, in fact, envy, insomuch as they are directed at other human beings. We envy their success, their “good fortune,” and many other such things. If we examine our heart carefully we will discover envy to frequently be at the root of anger, our sense of injustice and unfairness. The first murder, Abel’s death at the hand of his brother, is clearly the result of envy.

Even Judas is described as envious in the hymns of the Church, as well as the rulers of Israel by the Scriptures themselves. Sometimes in our “free-market” society, our failure and the envy it engenders gets turned against us and we condemn ourselves because we are not as clever as others. The basic inequalities of life become the source of either anger towards others of self-loathing depending on our own personality (and sometime a mixture of both).

The great difficulty with having a God is the fundamental requirement that we renounce envy. As one friend told me, “The most important thing to know about God is that you are not Him.” And this is something that I must learn to be content with. God is the Lord of the universe and not me. Things work together for good according to His own redemptive plan and not according to my secret machinations.

Envy is perhaps the most subtle of sins. Even in the desert where no one possesses anything, there is always something about another that we can find to envy. Our adversary, himself dominated by his envy of God, will always have envious suggestions to make to us.

To combat envy several things are necessary:

We must believe that God is good.

We must believe that God’s will for us in particular is good.

We must believe that God’s goodness is without limit.

We must believe that God’s goodness, shed upon someone else, does not come at our expense.

Thus we can “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We can see that it is possible to turn our lives over completely to God and trust Him in all things. We can bless who we are and where we are (even if our own sins and limitations have made of our lives a difficulty). God is good. We need not envy.

A friend sent me a short video this morning. It’s from the evangelical world, and is well worth watching, particularly if you feel that you’ve come out on the short end of life and envy has power in your soul.

Just in case you thought your situation was as bad as it gets. Take a look at this video testimony and give thanks to God.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





9 responses to “Holy Week and Envy”

  1. FrGregACCA Avatar

    Yes, indeed.

    There is a reason why “Thou shalt not covet” is a commandment, and why St. Paul focuses on same in Romans 7.

  2. Mary Avatar


    Blessed Holy Week!

    On this eve of Holy Thursday, we acknowledge that all Christians of True Faith do indeed drink from the cup of Christ’s sufferings. As Our Lord said to His disciples before His Passion,

    “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.”

    Many of you will recognize here our Dear Father Roman Braga and the setting at Holy Dormition Monastery in Michigan where we have heard him talk of his 11 and a half years in Pitesi Prison. Yet always full of great joy.

    Courage, courage, as we complete these last few hours before the Feast of Feast, the Great Pascha.


    Mary Lowell

  3. Margaret Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, What a blessing! Thank you for this post and thank you for the video link!

  4. Meg Avatar

    Dang, you mean I can’t be envious of that wonderful onion-dome structure at the top of this post?! 😉

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    It is doubtless the case that the destruction of these domes (in Russia during the Communist era) was an act of envy. They have a particular visceral impact on me (Church ruins always do). I’ll have to wait a while before I can find the words.

  6. jw Avatar

    Thank you for this Father.

  7. neil Avatar

    I thought of you last Sunday when the priest who gave the homily spoke of thanksgiving as one of two ways to live the spiritual life effectively (he offered thanksgiving as an alternative, sort of, to the other way, that being asceticism). I thought of your father-in-law you’ve mentioned who always gave thanks, always. This is undoubtedly a good antidote to the temptation of envy, no?

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Interestingly, according to the Elder Zacharias of St. John’s in Essex, Fr. Sophrony told him that St. Silouan said that “giving thanks in all things” would accomplish the same thing as his own mystical understanding of “keep your mind in hell and despair not,” which was a great ascetical feat.

    I will add that as my wife watched the “video testimony” last night with me, we were in full, tearful agreement, that her father would have loved that story. The very sound of someone giving thanks to God simply because God is good and giving thanks above all things and through all things was a clarion call of joy to him. I can hear him now, “Well, Amen!”

  9. Phil Avatar

    Father Stephen and Neil, your comments can’t help but remind me of one of the readings from Job for Holy Week: (after Job’s belongings had been destroyed and his children had been killed) “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

    That’s easier to read than do, but it’s a remarkable passage.

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