Strange That Our Money Says: In God We Trust


There are two great money problems in the Scriptures: too little and too much. The theme of the poor is a constant throughout both the Old and the New Testament. They tend to be cast as victims – easy prey for the rich, often exploited, and particularly beloved of God. He is the protector of the “widow and the fatherless” and clearly favors the poor. The rich come in for scathing treatment and dire warnings. Christ’s own words regarding the rich and the difficulty of their salvation almost drove the disciples to despair. And yet, most people in modern culture imagine wealth to be the solution to problems. Half of all lottery tickets in America are bought by the poorest third of the population.1

Perhaps more shameful is the fact that, today, the rich judge the poor to be foolish for such behaviors.

The most powerful creation of modernity is the Middle Class. Largely unintentional, many components of the Industrial Revolution served to nurture and increase the size and importance of those whose income exceeded their necessities with an increase in the market for luxury goods and practices. In time, that same class managed to increase the voting franchise, eventually extending it to include the whole population. With this prosperity came a shift in how the culture of Christianity perceived wealth itself. From a suspect burden to be shared, it became a mark of success to be enjoyed.

At present, our culture has been so transformed by the ideal of the Middle-Class phenomenon, that it has become synonymous with what is “normal,” “moderate,” “standard,” and “expected.” While there are debates within the Middle Class about the right way to think about the Upper Class and the super-wealthy, no one seems to question the desirability or normalcy of the Middle Class itself.

Among the most striking changes in the Christian attitude towards money has been the evolution of understanding regarding charging interest: classically known as “usury.” Today “usury” is used only to describe outrageous percentages on borrowed funds. Originally, however, “usury” referred to all use of interest on borrowed funds. It was a forbidden practice in Christianity in its early centuries, a violation of the teachings of Christ. This remained the case until the early Reformation when its modest practice began to be allowed.

With the standardization of the Middle Class within Christian consciousness came a standardization of Middle-Class attitudes towards wealth and property. The notion of “private property” became enshrined in Christian thought, replacing the concept of stewardship (in which everything belongs to God, and we are each accountable for our use). Individualism, as we know it today, requires the Middle-Class world as a standard: the poor simply cannot afford such independence. Individualism also requires a strong sense of private property so that each of us may pretend that we are self-sufficient. It may well indeed be the case that the greatest delusion of the modern age is that associated with our economic consciousness.

Consider these words from the opening paragraph of St. Clement of Alexandria’s Who Is the Rich Man Who Shall be Saved?

Those who bestow laudatory addresses on the rich appear to me to be rightly judged not only flatterers and base, in vehemently pretending that things which are disagreeable give them pleasure, but also godless and treacherous; godless, because neglecting to praise and glorify God, who is alone perfect and good, “of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, and for whom are all things,” they invest with divine honours men wallowing in an execrable and abominable life, and, what is the principal thing, liable on this account to the judgment of God; and treacherous, because, although wealth is of itself sufficient to puff up and corrupt the souls of its possessors, and to turn them from the path by which salvation is to be attained, they stupefy them still more, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises, and by making them utterly despise all things except wealth, on account of which they are admired; bringing, as the saying is, fire to fire, pouring pride on pride, and adding conceit to wealth, a heavier burden to that which by nature is a weight, from which somewhat ought rather to be removed and taken away as being a dangerous and deadly disease.

For Clement, wealth is a “dangerous and deadly disease!” I recall hearing someone remark about this, “I wish I could catch it!”

St. Clement is not unusual in his attitude towards money. He is an exemplar of pretty much everything written on the topic in the first ten centuries or more of the faith. Like Christ, he gages his thought by what money (property, etc.) does to the soul.

“What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” Christ asks.

This is said regarding money and property, specifically, rather than just “sin” in general. There is something about money/property that has the power to utterly corrupt the soul. A key, I think, is found in Christ’s aphorism regarding “Mammon” (money): “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Wealth has a power within it that draws us into idolatry. We begin to place our faith and trust in what wealth can do while remaining distant from God. God may have “top-billing” in our intellectual universe, but runs a distant second when it comes to what we most desire.

This takes us back to St. Clement’s diagnosis of money as a “dangerous and deadly disease.” It should not be surprising that the dominant force within a secular culture is economics. The pretense of the world’s self-sufficiency can only be maintained by the delusions created by wealth. Agnosticism and Atheism are the religions of the rich (or the Middle Class). It is a philosophy that safeguards the inherent power of their position. I should add that secularized Christianity can be described as “Christian Atheism.” [footnote] Those who would challenge this analysis by pointing to the Communist revolutions of the last century, fail to note that the ruling class within those regimes quickly adopted both the power and wealth of the class which they overthrew. A new ruling class claimed to govern in the name of the poor, but its identification with the poor was in name only.

Historically, the most significant group to maintain some semblance of sanity (outside of the poor) were the monastics of the Church, although any number of monastic establishments actually became quite rich. Institutional battles over monastic property have almost always been won by those with money (in Russia, the Possessors triumphed over the Non-Possessors, and, in the West, the Franciscans became sufficiently reconciled with wealth to pass under a dangerous Papal radar).

Virtually all the modern arguments regarding wealth (certainly among Christians), presume that we have some say in the matter, that is, that wealth belongs to us and that it is our responsibility to arrange its disposition. We place ourselves into the realm of management and move one step closer to the practical atheism of secularity. The poor are generally lacking in economic theories.

The great tragedy, however, is the perversion of the gospel in which, as managers, we decide how best to run the world. This represents a radical shift away from both Old and New Testament. It will undoubtedly be argued that we are commanded to be good stewards and that proper management of wealth is a God-given commandment. Jesus did not offer the parables of the Kingdom in order to create a responsible Middle Class. When the stewards of the parables are transformed into the managers of this world, Christ’s teaching has been tamed and made to serve the Prince of this World.

No matter our thoughts on the subject, the general landscape of a certain portion of the world is utterly married to wealth and property. Christians who live in such societies will most likely continue to find ways to accommodate the gospel. And this, I think, is our great loss. The managers of this world will find that the Kingdom of God is not compatible with their goals.

“He has exalted the humble and meek and the rich He has sent away empty.”

My own take regarding this is that we should pursue a persistent generosity and resist our urges towards ever greater ownership. A simple means of renouncing wealth is to confess that we own nothing, but only have the use of our goods for a short time. The Christian attitude towards wealth in the early centuries threatened the very halls of empire. The gospel has not changed.






Footnotes for this article

  1. Lotteries: America’s 70 Billion Dollar Shame

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.



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231 responses to “Strange That Our Money Says: In God We Trust”

  1. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    Good afternoon! All that comes to my mind after reading the article and thinking on today’s situation – world and Church, is –
    “The Poor Will Inherit The Kingdom.” God bless you and thankyou!

  2. Leo Nugent Avatar
    Leo Nugent

    Father this reminds me of the verses in proverbs
    Proverbs 30:8-9 New International Version (NIV)

    8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
    9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

  3. E.C. Scrubb Avatar
    E.C. Scrubb

    Your opening graphic speaks to the depths of Christ’s of teaching on the subject: “Who then can be saved?”, His disciples cried, when He threw down the gauntlet of the camel and the needle. They lived in a culture not nearly as materialistic as ours. He seemed to offer comfort and hope to us with so much money who still hope to enter the kingdom when He said what is impossible with man is possible for God. He is gracious to give such hope, but the severity of His warning stands. How do we, with our pernicious attention to wealth, avoid delusion about where we are on the way to the Kingdom?

  4. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    The gap between my belief and my practice has never seemed wider. I have been spending my money as if it were my own. May God have mercy on me.

  5. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    I think as long as we remember to use our wealth properly and not forget about the poor in need, then we are on the right spiritual path. There were many kings and queens in history who were very charitable to the poor, started schools, missions etc. and became Saints! St Elizabeth of Hungary comes to mind how everyday she would come to the door and hand out loaves of bread to the poor lined up. “When you gave to one of these, you gave to me” said Christ. God bless!

  6. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I understand what you are saying, Margaret, but I understand Father to be saying that I do not have anything to give to the poor. Everything I think I have actually belongs to God. So I cannot give bread to the hungry. The bread I have is God’s, not mine. And Jesus said that when I feed the hungry, I feed Him. So when i give bread to the poor, I am only giving to God that which was His to begin with.

  7. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    Very interesting David…..I see that you are saying when we give to the poor, we are reciprocating – returning to God his gift to us! Very nice. I remember a story about a monk who always gave out food at the door of the monastery and the Abbot was getting upset with him because they would run out of food for themselves. However, the monk taught the Abbot that in giving we receive and sure enough every time they gave out to the poor, something was given to them in another way! So, there is something to be said for not hoarding – haha!! God bless…..

  8. Juliana Paine Avatar
    Juliana Paine

    Father, is it a shameful thing to be considered part of the middle class?

  9. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father for another great reminder about what is important for our salvation.

    Maybe this will be in poor taste and ‘opportunistic’ on my part (I count on you to judge and delete it accordingly), but on this occasion of discussing money, I would like to renew my request to your readers (especially those visiting only occasionally) to consider donating to a fundraiser that is trying to help both “the widow and the fatherless”… 🙂

    And to thank all from this blog who already donated most generously! May God multiply your blessings and reward you richly!!

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is in every economic theory I have studied a principle of scarcity. Whether it is the zero sum game if the mercantilist, the means of production of the communist, or supply and demmand of the capitalist, the assumption is that there is never “enough”. Therefore it is necessary to control what there is and parse it out. Power decides.

    This also goes hand in hand with theories of history that suppose our life, personally and corporately, is lived in a linear and sequential manner that can and should be controlled.

    Whether it is the Deist, the Machavellian, the Marxist, the Nihilist, the Liberal or Conservative or those who insist on making everything “better” and “changing the world” each and all deny the reality of our Providential dependence on God, His presence, His love and His mercy for everything we are and have. Indeed for everything we do not have. We do not have a right to anything especially life. We only have what God gives.

    It is a Providence that can only be received in thanksgiving and offering such thanksgiving is the core of the Euchristic Christian life—“thine own of thine own we offer unto thee…”

    Give to whomever asks of you, whatever they ask of you.

    But, but, but…….

    The radical reality of the Incarnate one lifted up on the Cross, crowned with thorns is tough to take. Certainly for me.

    Even to intentionally improvrish oneself for the sake of poverty ignores the nature of Providence to some degree.

    Be careful Father, you are sure to be labeled.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for this question! It is not shameful to be considered part of the middle class. For a large segment of our society – it’s almost unavoidable. I’m squarely in that position myself.

    It comes with temptations and pitfalls – so do wealth and poverty. My point, I think, is to describe the nature of those pitfalls and temptations. The greatest temptation is to believe we are in charge of history and the management of the world (and other people). Secondly, I think, it is to make of Middle-Class reality a new theology in which we think it is the “normal” state and the essence of moral uprightness.

  12. Ben Marston Avatar

    I am watching a Turkish made television series on the internet Netflix called Resurrection: Ertugrul. It is in Turkish with English subtitles, takes place in the 13th Century at the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire by the efforts of the Turkmen tribes associated with the Seljuks. It is a Turkish and Muslim view of their origins and behaviors. When the Turks took over a trading bazaar and instituted their Muslim ways of doing business, they kicked out those who loaned money at interest. Then, they gave as alms, gave as alms to the capital poor business men so that their business could prosper. This was amazing- the poor were those who were not capitalized to make a living. Almsgiving and not interest-bearing loans were the mechanism for enabling those who were capital-poor. And best I can tell is that the Muslims of that era got this view from the Christianity from which it emerged. Usury these days is hyperusurious by the fact of fiat banking as done by the FED and fractional reserve banking done by everybody else. Our Christian paradigm has undergone progressive depletion. The tv series itself is an amazing exposition of Muslim self-understanding ; much of their view of traditional tribal life and family life is quite winsome, but the place of spreading their gospel, their justice, by the sword in domination of the world, for our good, is quite present, and also the amazing extolling of the nursing of hatred until one’s revenge is obtained against our enemies.

  13. Justin Kolodziej Avatar
    Justin Kolodziej

    Amen Michael. The Gospel of Thomas Jefferson is far easier to follow than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I’m not even referring to the actual false Jefferson Gospels where the miracles of Christ have been removed.

  14. Keith Avatar

    Fr Bless.

    I am confused by your statement in response to Juliana when you said:

    “The greatest temptation is to believe we are in charge of…. the management of the world (and other people).

    Aren’t we supposed to do our best with (manage) what God gives us? I don’t think his intent for bestowing more on one than another is to simply “let the chips fall where they may” Don’t we have to manage something on some level? Don’t we have “dominion over the the works of Gods hands” (paraphrased part of Psalm 8?

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We certainly should do right by what we are responsible for. The problem comes in understanding what is, in fact, our responsibility and what is not. We are not in charge of “outcomes” to a great extent. We are responsible to live and act faithfully, obeying Christ’s commandments (particularly those within the gospel, and not simply “deriving” commandments from a phrase here or there in the Scriptures). It is God who is in charge of outcomes. The modern world (for the past 300 or so years) has instead conceived of the world as something to be managed apart from God – (say a prayer before the meeting, and then make decisions as though God did not exist). We have come to believe that we can “make the world a better place” (we cannot). The greatest evils of the 20th century were done in the name of making the world a better place – and we continue to do lots and lots of mischief under the same banner.

    Money is not given to us for the sake of power. To use my money and wealth to manipulate others and “manage” outcomes is a life of economic violence. If someone has a business – they should be honest and fair and pay their employees a proper wage (not blaming the market and pleading that their hands are tied).

    Psalm 8 – specifically references cattle. And we obviously have things that we need to “manage.” Our stewardship of such things is an important part of our life. What I see in our culture, however, is not management as stewardship (taking care of something that is not really mine) but the management of ownership (“this is mine and I can do whatever I deem to be successful and desirable”). There is a theme of justice (the right-ordering and balance of things) through both Old and New Testament. Modern economic theories have invoked abstract things like the “market” – as if it were the law of gravity – and treated it as the unseen force that must be obeyed or risk disaster. We have lots of explanations for the poor – none of which will pass muster as we stand before Christ.

    I’ve written a fair amount about the problems associated with “modernity” and its false consciousness regarding the management of the world. It is a better path to simply follow the commandments of Christ and give the outcome of history over to the hands of God. I do not mean by this that we act irresponsibly. But our actions are far too frequently managed by some version of Utilitarianism rather than by the Commandments of Christ.

    I hope that is helpful.

  16. Francis Spillane Avatar

    I find this so very beautiful and it gives me hope. Thank you for writing this. I am trapped in the middle class mostly by my own desires, but find solace and reprieve in prayer and stillness. The voice of Godly reason always excites my heart as it has through this post even though I continue in my struggles. I am aided by daily reminding myself that what I earn is to be given and shared with others and this is the purpose for my wealth. When I give to anyone who asks and even to those in need who haven’t asked this helps me resist the allure of money. Generosity is the gift God gives us as an antidote to affluenza.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A few more thoughts. Your question is, I think, one of fundamental importance.

    The gospel, to a great extent, is written as good news to the poor. That accurately described much of the Church in its earliest centuries and serious problems arose when those circumstances changed (hence the work by St. Clement of Alexandria). Throughout most of Christian history, though we were not “poor” in the truest sense, the general membership of the Church was only modestly above subsistence living.

    The setting changes radically after the Reformation and Industrial Revolution – effectively making a significant portion of the population “rich.” What we call “Middle Class” is certainly rich by historical standards. With that rise comes a somewhat different take on the gospel. Modern Christianity in the first world has morphed into a system of belief to support us in our management lifestyle. Our new ethics consider things like responsibility and such. The kind of actions envisioned in the gospel feel very radical to us as a result.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time among the poor (in one way or another). They are far more generous – even radically generous – than every other group with our economy. Are they “naturally” better? Obviously not. But they often think differently about money and share it with others in a manner that the Middle Class would most often judge as irresponsible.

    My intent is not to make anyone feel guilty – but to shine the light inside our hearts in order to see how our modern context has made us think differently about the gospel. I believe the gospel is utterly true and that the commandments of Christ alone are the way of peace.

    I have no political agenda – indeed, I do not think the gospel can be put into practice through political efforts. “Voting correctly” (whatever that would mean) cannot be substituted for personal adherence to the commandments of Christ. If I vote to take your money and give it to the poor – that is not any credit to me.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In addition to the other deficits of modern theories of political-economy is that they all have determinism as an assumption. As a result there is at least a tacit rejection of the freedom that Christianity provides.

    For all our modern obsession about “freedom” human beings do not seem to want it very badly. We are far more comfortable with the various tryannies and rule of law offered by the world and the flesh. We can then be safe in our sins and in our self-righteousness.

  19. Annalisa Avatar

    From a practical standpoint, how should my husband and I – living on one modest income(by American standards), raising a handful of kids, finding ourselves for the first time in our married life with enough money to pay for more than mortgage, groceries and second hand shoes – think about saving money for retirement? Is that money for us to save or to give away?

  20. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    I just read this tonight and thought it might be appropriate to this discussion…

    “Virginity and fasting and lying on the ground are more difficult than almsgiving, but nothing is so strong and powerful to extinguish the fire of our sins as is almsgiving. It is greater than all the other virtues. Almsgiving is the mother of love, of that love which is the characteristic of Christianity, which is greater than all miracles, by which the disciples of Christ are made plain. It is the medicine of our sins, the cleansing of the filth of our souls, the ladder fixed to heaven, and it binds together the body of Christ.”

    + Saint John Chrysostom

  21. ELM Avatar

    Wow, that Atlantic article about the rise of lotteries across the US and increasing state revenue from lotteries was totally new for me; I had no idea that lotteries had grown so fast or made so much money. It is a very sneaky and shameful way to fill state coffers.

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your responses to Keith. you mentioned several times about the Middle Class notion of “responsibility” and that our notion of responsibility is very mistaken in our day and age. I have been struggling with this modern notion of responsibility for several years now as a young person(20’s) who has felt shame because my personal/financial situation does not meet society’s expectations for someone in my stage of life. Sometimes it feels like someone is whispering “you are not responsible, you are a failure- if you were responsible, you would be financially secure and independent now.” Personal choices and miscalculations have played into my situation, of course, but I know that there is so much that is simply out of my control. Similarly, working in the field of education, there is a constant pressure for results, especially surrounding test scores, statistics like drop-out rates, etc. I have seen how policies and programs in a school can help improve those numbers, but school-led initiatives do not *control* those numbers. I’m sure the same could be said for many other fields, like business.

    How can we begin to see through the lies and situations of our culture surrounding the boundaries of our responsibility? It just occurred to me now that you are implying that we are both less and more responsible in the realm of finances and poverty than our culture assumes. We are more responsible (at fault) for our neighbor’s poverty than we want to admit, and our “responsible” (profit-driven) use of our money is less necessary than we imagine.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Save your money – but don’t forget to be generous.

  23. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for this article, Fr. Stephen. Through tithing, I and my family have found great blessings — as the quote from St. John Chrysostom refers to here in the comments.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My own experience, in struggling against such voices (and they can grow very loud), is to press pass them and listen to God instead. God is not judging our success or financial prudence – He judges the heart. Money is not the heart – but the heart can become enthralled to money.

    My father was not “successful” by worldly standards. He owned a small auto repair business and was, from time to time, the only mechanic. He worked hard. He certainly could have been more “successful” if he was the sort of person with a canny business sense. But his heart was a very good heart. His customers knew him and trusted him, and he could always be counted on to do a favor. He was generous with both time and money. He had good and bad years – almost losing everything when the local economy went bust in the 60’s. I can, in hindsight, that there were years in which the burden of all of this weighed heavily on him and almost crushed him.

    But his heart remained good. By God’s mercies, his heart was revealed more and more, even as the business faded. When he sold the business and retired – he had little left. They sold their house and moved to a small trailer on land belonging to my mother’s sister. At age 79, he and my mother were received into the Orthodox faith – and became very beloved members of their parish – from which they were buried in less than a decade.

    Everyone who knew him speaks well of him.

    I have been involved in the death and burial of hundreds of people in my years of ministry. I have buried a billionaire and any number of peope who were well-off. One man had secretly been a shrewd investor, something that was not discovered until his death. He died very obscurely. No one really knew him. But his wife, who had lived in extremely modest circumstances (almost poverty), spent the rest of her days giving his millions away. She is missed to this very day – but was beloved by everyone even when she had nothing.

    I could multiply these stories over and over. Money and success will mean very little as you come to the end of your days. The heart will mean more and more. Happiness and contentment belong to those who have learned to value the heart. Those who value money and success will likely have wasted their life.

    “Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses – but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God.”

  25. Fr. Bill Avatar
    Fr. Bill

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for this article. We greatly need more serious, thoughtful Orthodox social commentary on issues like this. So often Orthodox moral teaching these days focuses only on sexual matters. Yes, we are responsible primarily for obedience to Christ. Then God takes care of the outcomes.

  26. Laura Stanley Avatar
    Laura Stanley

    I was re-reading your post this morning and all of a sudden understood the title! How ironic that our money says “In God we trust” when our Lord Jesus said “One cannot serve God and mammon. ” I started laughing (but I do have a weird sense of humor.) Thank you!

  27. Matthew Avatar


    I am sorry that that no one has answered your question directly. I will take an imperfect stab at it, and hopefully someone will followup with a better one.

    Delusion seems to be best addressed by the act of confession, to a priest if you are Orthodox. If you are not Orthodox, the challenge is to find someone who both sees you as you are, but who also sees you as what you could be in Christ. Sadly, the way Christianity has evolved over the last few centuries, a family life counselor might be a better choice than an actual pastor. For myself, I’ve thought of asking for confession with an orthodox priest, not because I’m Orthodox and would benefit from any kind of absolution, but because I think I think I would benefit in my Christian walk much more than I would in following any other course of action.

    In cases such as this, a personal confession to God, as I was taught to do as a Protestant, probably wouldn’t be as effective because of the back and forth necessary to probe the depths of our materialist delusions.

    I hope someone responds to our comments.

  28. Matthew Avatar


    One other thought.

    A brother asked Abba Sisoes, “What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?” The old man said to him, “Get up again.” The brother said, “Ί have got up again, but I have fallen again.” The old man said, “Get up again and again.” So then the brother said, “How many times?” The old man said, “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in the state in which he is found.”

    From this, I understand that as long as I’m trying to wrestle with the materialism I perceive in my own life, because our god is merciful, and loves mankind, and that it is not his will that any should perish, I need not worry for my Salvation.

  29. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    Peace…..For me I would find myself being over-confident to believe I do not have to worry about my salvation and that God will take care of all of it, since He loves me and wants salvation. I believe I have to work for it – some days being more difficult than others. I believe it is in reciprocating and co-operating that I will be transformed. Just sitting back or sitting on the fence would seem as though I believe to have it all in the bag (under control) while God may have a very different picture. Better to examine conscience nightly and stay close to the Cross of Christ and the Sacraments believing I still have a lot more polishing to be done on my soul. God bless you!

  30. Eli Avatar

    “Why [the churches in the West] are dying seems very simple. It is hard to be a disciple and be rich. Surely, we may think, it cannot be that simple, but Jesus certainly seems to think that it is that simple. The lure of wealth and the cares of the world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations. As a result, the church falls prey to the deepest enemy of the gospel — sentimentality. The gospel becomes a formula for “giving our lives meaning” without judgment.”
    —Stanley Hauerwas

  31. Matthew Avatar

    Perceptions are fascinating things.

    I never share that Abba Sisoes quote with the non-Orthodox anymore, because every time I do, I get accused of preaching a doctrine of righteousness by works theology.

  32. Albert Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for your responses to Juliana, Keith, and ELM. Very very helpful.

  33. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I sometimes use a global perspective to help put my financial situation into a more “real world” context than the middle class context I live in. For example, since I have shoes and clothes, food in a refrigerator, and a secure place to sleep with a roof over my head, I am richer then 75% of the people in the world. And the next time you hear that only 10% of the world’s population controls 90% of the world’s wealth, think of me. Since I have money in a bank, I am a member of that top 10%.

    Constantly remembering this would give me a better perspective on what wealth really is, but I can assure you that I will forget all about a few hours from now.

    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.

    (In case you are wondering, my information comes from Credit Suisse Bank, a major international bank which annually publishes a highly respected Global Wealth report. Credit Suisse is as capitalist as you can get and anything but a religious or charitable organization. )

  34. Keith Avatar

    Thank you Fr for taking the time to respond so thoroughly, your explaination helps tremendously.

    I pray that God transforms all of our hearts to always approach all material gifts that have been given us from a perspective of stewardship and not ownership. Lord have mercy!

  35. Keith Avatar

    David Waite,

    Sobering facts. I don’t know how accurate this website is but if you go to, it can also be sobering. This website gives you a ranking of wealth versus the rest of the world.

    I’m glad Fr wrote on this topic.

  36. tess Avatar

    Thank you Father, and everyone in the comments. I’ve been really struggling this week about whether or not I should give up homeschooling four kids and being the homemaker of a multigenerational household, in order to go back to work as a waitress or secretary (my college degree in the sciences is worthless as I haven’t worked in the field since starting a family 13 years ago). We have some unplanned-for debt coming our way and “common sense” says that everything I’m doing is a matter of privilege (and everyone else who doesn’t get to do what I do is fine), why shouldn’t I go back to work and improve my family’s finances. My kids would love the extra cash to get into the keep-up game with the electronic-device Joneses, and I’m sure both sets of my in-laws also would wholeheartedly approve, seeing as they all consider our lack of a fleshed out 401k and vacation fund to be a rather shameful black mark on the family’s history of financial good sense.

    Anyway, I need a couple of knocks in the head like this one. Maybe they’ll help me put my head back on straight. It is so hard to fight the financial zeitgeist– he comes creeping in any chink in the armor he can find.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    E.C., Matthew,
    Sorry to have been delayed in answering or commenting. It’s been a busy, distracting week. I’m in Atlanta this weekend speaking at a conference.

    But, I’ve got a couple of hours just now. I have always found that trying not to do something is an exercise in frustration. It’s always better to take positive action. Two things are the best offensive weapons in this culture: the giving of thanks, and generosity. Neither can be overdone. When they are practiced faithfully and steadily, they yield true results in our lives. Give thanks always and for all things. Be as generous as possible, without fear and without regret. Those two things.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hauerwas has never been one to mince words. 🙂

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You cannot buy with money what you are giving to your children with your time. God give you grace – and whatever money you might need.

  40. Matthew Avatar

    Thank-You so much father for your time. May you be a blessing, and may you be blessed at the conference.

  41. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father, and all.

    Tess….amazing how timely Father’s messages can be! I pray all the best for you and your family. Thinking of what to say to you, this verse came to mind…
    “… my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
    Yes…He will!

  42. Dean Avatar

    This is not exactly on track, but shows a cultural difference in how we view things. I taught h.s. ESL. I had quite a few Punjabi students. One day a very kind, gentle 14 year old boy was explaining his life to me, as it was, in a rural village in the Punjab. He said, “Mr. Brown, the hardest thing about coming to the States was leaving my 2 oxen. I loved them so much!”
    Life was much slower for him there, focused on family and in his case his beloved animals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for these students to get caught up in the crass materialism of our culture.

  43. juliania Avatar

    On the question of how the rich man might be saved, it perhaps is answered at the last by the action of the noble Joseph of Arimathea in giving a new tomb to be the resting place of our Lord. It’s all we know in the gospel, but the very most beautiful hymn dedicated to the burial of Christ is “The Noble Joseph”. He might have wondered himself, knowing his failings, how possibly could he be saved, and then there it was.

    And also Zacchaeus, the little tax man who climbed the tree to see Jesus passing, and then bubbled over to hear he would be graced with the presence at his house for dinner! Then, how his generous feelings exploded!

    With God nothing is impossible, though it might be a rare instance indeed.

  44. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Dean…. the oxen! Oh God….how sweet!

  45. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Tess – We sacrificed a great deal, financially, so my wife could stay home with the kids. As a result, I am now unable to retire. But, if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing. I would rather continue working than give up the wonderful experience our family had when the kids were little. It may be why we all continue to be so close. My children now have children of their own. I have 10 grandchildren and another on the way. Eight of them (and the one in the way) live less than 30 minutes from us. Two of them have always lived a few blocks away from our house. We are all about family and I would not have it any other way.
    Just my experience. Everyone is different, I know.
    You are in my prayers.

  46. Ronald Sunros Sunguti Avatar
    Ronald Sunros Sunguti

    It is true human beings feel great when they have money. and those who have no money see them-selves as less human beings. we need to re-look into the issue of this money -money- money.

  47. Agata Avatar

    I agree with Father and David about putting your family first. If that is possible, may God help you and your husband figure how to do it.
    I just wanted to comment on your words “my college degree in the sciences is worthless as I haven’t worked in the field since starting a family 13 years”.

    Don’t assume that and dismiss it as worthless!

    I had to go back to my engineering work after a long break when I stayed home while the children were small. With some “creativity” in rewriting your resume (and it truly is creativity, instead of making it chronologically structured, you change it to a more functional/job-targeted type, which hides the break in employment) you can accomplish a lot! You may have to first take some “lower level” positions (at that point in time, someone told me “beggars can’t be choosers”, and I accepted it) but step by step you will build up your resume, and build your career back up, if you really want it. There are wonderful Saints to pray for help with work/job-searching, I found out 🙂

    And while I am sharing with you, I wanted to thank you so much for a comment you once made in a different discussion (this comment seems rather relevant for to the subject of this conversation): I tried your suggestion of carrying $100 in my dedicated wallet [in $5 bills], to give out to the ‘poor’ (most of the time they are people on the freeway off-ramps). I want to tell you that it’s a Grace filled experience, to have and give out money without any deeper reason, other than that there is a person if front of me who is asking… Thank you for that suggestion! It’s so great, I am on my second hundred… 😉

  48. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Interesting. My priest spoke at length about Proverbs 31 this morning.

  49. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Agata and Simon, I’m glad you both have contributed your comments.

    The responses in this thread (all of them regarding the discussion on marriage) reiterate my own concerns involving these teachings themselves and the ‘fall out’ effects from them. I will not attempt to characterize the stance, because I’m not an authority on Orthodoxy, but when I am disturbed (and in these circumstances I’m seeing a lack of charity and love in such writings among some priests ) and after expressing my concern there is in the conversation an implicit suggestion that my own response is not Orthodox, I indeed have a lot more concerns with the teachings and impacts, themselves. And from what I have learned from those who have lived their entire lives in the faith, I am not alone in my concerns.

    With regard to a monastic’s view of marriage: I have great appreciation of his humbleness, when Fr Seraphim Aldea was asked about some issue (at the moment I don’t remember the specifics) in marriage, he said, “Why would you (a married person) ask a monastic this question?”

    And Fr Stephen did make a suggested reading on marriage (which he said doesn’t need to be for those in marriage who have children) Here is the resource he recommended to Debbie at 3:58 on June 18 2018 in the article called, Marriage as a Lifetime of Suffering:

    I’ll end by saying that I’ve come upon Fr Stephen’s articles because they were recommended by my parish priest. And Fr Stephen has the endorsement of his writings by his Bishop and I emphasize many other priests as well. Fr Stephen also has detractors. And among those, I suspect one might also hear a tone of contentiousness as to foment divisiveness. Does this country need more such voices that would create lines of “us” and “them”?

    Last, there have been a few other priests whose writings also make my hair stand on end, as Paula colorfully describes. When this happens I do bring these writings to my parish priest and/or to other women in the parish church who have a guiding influence on my spiritual growth. When I have done so, rather than to say that I was somehow lacking for not accepting such writings, I was gently told that priests make errors too and to have forgiveness. It is only when they make errors and maintain their stance in hubris, that things really do go wrong. It might take time, prayers and Bishopric diplomacy to correct such errors.

    We certainly do need the prayers of the monastics in these times.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have been at a speaking engagement and other work this weekend in Atlanta (the Connect Orthodox Conference). I had a delightful time, but also was unable to tend to the blog conversation.

    I have a standing rule not to criticize other priests or bishops on the blog. That said, it is worth noting that Fr. Josiah’s work tends to draw some hard lines, creating strong reactions among some. In a culture that so distorts relationships between men and women, women and men, it’s very, very difficult to sound a correct note. Some people have even suffered what can only be described as spiritual abuse in some Christian settings in which the tradition has been badly understood and badly applied.

    Those who read my writings know that I very rarely make recommendations of contemporary work – because it’s so easy to get things wrong, even unintentionally. If I had a suggestion, it would be to listen to your heart. If something doesn’t feel quite right – pay attention to that. You could be mistaken, but God is quite able to get us the information we need without scandalizing our hearts. It is, in my experience, an extremely dangerous thing to ignore such inner warnings.

    I’ve never seen things quite as “brittle” and “reactive” than our culture over the past two weeks – and it’s likely to be exploited for ill ends for some time to come. It will make male/female conversations more difficult than they already are.

    For myself, I’m spending some quiet time pondering all that I’ve seen and heard – and prayerfully pondering it. The game is afoot.

    God willing, I’ll be back in the saddle tomorrow on the blog and elsewhere. I had a wonderful time at the conference, serving as the keynote speaker for a crowd of about 200 Orthodox “young adults” (21-39). Lots of energy there! This old man is tired…

  51. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Paula AZ,

    I am not sure what a “Proverbs 31 woman” is—I was not exposed to that before my conversion—but that section, which is a prophecy about Christ and His Church (among other things), looks to be ripe for misinterpretation. I know it is important to be able to listen to others, and movements or ideas which offer “simple” and very impersonal solutions often break down that communication and can create real terror. Sometimes that silencing and judgment can even come in the guide of “non-judgment”: “You shouldn’t ask/tell/whatever!”. Of course we have boundaries, but those are there to protect us *in* Christ, not *from* Christ and His teachings. Having said that, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the aforementioned audio series but I don’t recommend it, though there are some gems if you’re a good miner. The book, which I led an extensive study on, is more limited in scope but corrects many of the issues with his series and is, I think, the fruit of a lot more prayer and understanding. But even it is not necessarily an easy read spiritually and emotionally, and not for everyone. As Fr. Stephen said, it is difficult to find a truly great treatment of the subject today, and I think that is partly because we have a distorted, maybe idolatrous, view of marriage: we see it as something between two people, or something foundational for society, or something else along some political/cultural line, but fail to realize it is primarily about Christ and His Church. When we have more saints—those who don’t just read or talk about the words of The Church but actually live them out in fullness—then we will have more real marriages.

    David and Michael,

    Good observations. Another one that we don’t consider much, and the meaning of which may not be immediately obvious, is that Jesus asks us specifically (in all versions of the story) to sell what we have before we distribute to the poor.

  52. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks for your comment.
    You are correct. Those verses about a virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 are entirely misinterpreted by some. The Protestant church I was in took these lines of scripture apart from the whole, and presented it as a picture of the perfect Christian woman, period. I was so turned off by their rendition and the impossibility of being that perfect woman, given their theology offers no means of healing in the first place, that I never returned to it…that is until now. I see more clearly that it is, as you say, a prophesy about Christ and His Church (vs 1-9).
    As I read the remainder (vs 10-21), I recall a recent post at Fr. Stephen De Young’s blog, about the Queen of Heaven. He describes how God, in the OT, in light of the transgression of polygamy, “preserved” this special place of the Queen by having Solomon appoint his mother to sit at his right hand as queen, instead of a favored wife. It was here that “the light bulb” lit: “For this reason, rather than the office of queen belonging to a first or favored wife, it belonged to the mother of the king. Kings might have many wives, but could have only one mother.” Ahhh….enter the Theotokos!
    [ a side note…the “favored” wife. Does this have something to do with the jealousy and squabbling we see among women? If so, it seems to me this “bad” fruit of polygamy is one of the results of the division between male and female that St. Maximus says is the first division in our created nature, which led to further disintegration, division and jealousies, that needs to be healed. Really, it is sin we war with, when we fight among ourselves.]
    Which brings me back to the verses in Proverbs…so the beginning is a prophesy about Christ…and the remaining, it seems to me, a prophesy about the Theotokos, both as a person and as a picture of the Bride, the Church.

    Father Stephen, now that you’re back (I am glad!), I very much look forward to your thoughts.
    JBT, once again, thank you.

  53. Agata Avatar

    Beautiful explanation, thank you!
    I too look forward to Father’s explanation. The subject keeps returning, doesn’t it? And often in the context of money, probably for a reason…
    “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
    I cannot find this verse from the Orthodox Bible, but like this translation too:
    “For everything that is in the world—the desire for fleshly gratification, the desire for possessions, and worldly arrogance—is not from the Father but is from the world. “

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula AZ, et al
    I think the greatest danger in speaking about male/female/marriage/etc. comes when speaking in “prescriptive” terms. “This is the right way to do this.” If there is a weakness in some of the teaching that I’ve seen, it is in that sort of direction. It is better, theologically and pastorally, to ponder together the mystery that stands before all of us, and to speak together in wonder.

    Those who, quoting this father or that, profess to know how things are supposed to be tend to shut down the conversation, and, frankly, do the fathers a disservice.

    There are fundamental boundaries within the faith that govern certain things (such as sexual intercourse), but even the boundaries are best approached by assuming that there is a mystery to be pondered and seeking to understand it.

    St. Maximus is right when he describes the very fundamental struggle that exists between men and women – there’s a struggle between men and men, and between women and women – but the struggle between men and women is a very different thing. We are on primordial holy ground when we enter that place.

    I have rarely had a conversation with anyone who could intelligently (much less noetically) explain the mystery of what it truly means to be male or female. St. Maximus, as I recall, describes them as “energies” of the human being. God help us be wise and meek.

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I’m grateful for your comment, particularly in affirming the response of the heart in these matters.

    And this: “God help us be wise and meek”.

    The meek part seems to be missing in the conversations I’ve witnessed when other priests (which I will not name, are involved)

    There is a sense of heavy-handedness, and an intrusion into the bedroom and a crossing of boundaries that burdens my heart when I’m in accidental contact with certain priest’s forays into the marriage relationship. These ‘theological’ attempts to prescribe the marital relationship between a man and a woman, and appear to lean into the greater ideological camps forming in the political arena and borrow heavily from the sensationalism that has already fomented around them, and are apparently building their own ‘populist following’. And I fear this activity may in the end force a response in the Bishopric level. Such activities mirror the political movements and counter-movements I see in the Church in other places in the world. All of this is deeply worrying.

    I shall emphasize for your readers again your own recommendation regarding something to read about the marital relationship and of rearing children:

    There’s not a lot out there in the Fathers. A book I strongly recommend (and not just for people with kids) is Philip Mamalakis’ Parenting Towards the Kingdom. Healthy and balanced.

    Indeed God help us to be wise and meek.

  56. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Sometimes I wish I could edit after I’ve submitted. Strange that I don’t see the grammatical bloopers before I submit. Parentheses and commas in the wrong places. Oh well.

    I’ll just say thank you so much Fr Stephen for your ministry. Rather than attempting to foment political lines in parishes, you have offered us healing balm.

  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father Stephen,
    I too thank you for your wise counsel. You continually point us to the mysteries of life and the importance of pondering these wonders together. In light of this, I see the error of “prescriptive terminology”. It is too narrow of an approach, a quick solution to correct a fundamental part of our nature.

    Dee… as always, well said. I am glad you mentioned your concerns once again with the clergy. I better understand now, than when you expressed these concerns in the past. The desire for answers to these difficult issues can easily turn into demands that ultimately are directed toward our Bishops. I really have no idea what goes on in the meetings where the Bishops gather together. I can only hope for continued divine guidance, accepting whatever comes to pass as God’s will.
    A quick question…do you think Philip Mamalakis’ book Parenting Towards the Kingdom would be helpful for me, as one who has never married? Is there something in it that would speak to those who are single. Perhaps a help to better understand the male/female dichotomy?

    Thanks again Father, for your words. We need them!

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, forty-five years ago when I began seriously to want to be Christian it became important to me to know what Jesus wanted of me as a Christian man. I have been studying it ever since with varying degrees of concentration.

    I can say that all of the answers are in Scripture, but Scripture is a bit like an artichoke and it takes work to get to the heart.

    There is also a lot of bad information out there. I Cor. 11 is seriously misinterpreted especially by Protestants as is Ephesians. There is no subjugation by law or force in Christ.

    One thing I would say is that make and female is not truly a dichotomy. It is more akun to a dipole.

    One of the great lies out there is that male-female is somehow a dialectic and therefore subject to reformation by the “laws” of progress.

    In Christ, the Cross is the epitome of what it means to be a man.

    I fail constantly, but our Lord is merciful.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula AZ,
    A women’s book study group in my parish, in which my wife is a participant, recently read and discussed Mamalakis’ book (Parenting Towards the Kingdom). I would strongly suggest it, even for those who are unmarried and without children. It is healthy, not driven by ideology, and well within the boundaries of the faith.

    I now use it for pre-marital preparation – having discovered, through the years, that couples have very little meat to really discuss in preparation for marriage until the topic of children and family gets introduced. Oddly, that’s when so much begins to be revealed. In many ways, children are the fruit of true synergy, both husband and wife, while so much else could just be done in a divided manner.

    The real truth of male/female existence is that we are created for one another and that the truth of each is revealed in the other. And this is true in the unmarried (etc.) as well. A weakness of same-sex relationships comes in the absence of its complementarity. Very often, there are gender-like roles assumed (a fact that, ironically, points to the natural character of such roles). But, these are not the same thing.

    There is much tragedy within all of this – calling for compassion and mercy.

  60. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks Michael. You know, I had a feeling dichotomy was not the right word, because there never really was a true dichotomy. So thank you for introducing me to a new word…dipole. It expresses the male/female distinction in accordance to our teachings : “a pair of equal and oppositely charged or magnetized poles separated by a distance”… sounds like St. Maximus’ “energies”.
    OK…Scripture…of coarse there we find the truth.
    I’ll continue to seek.

    If I may, Michael…you yourself stand before God and are known as you are. Whoever that is is not for me to say. But here on this blog, in my eyes, you never fail to bless. In that, I thank you, and to God be the glory!

  61. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Just saw your response Father. Thank you. I will certainly get hold of a copy. Having your high recommendation, and your wife’s as well, I am confident it will give clarity to some of my thoughts. There are many.
    May God give me the grace to understand “that the truth of [male and female] is revealed in the other”, even though never married…and not a monastic!
    Your blessing, Father.

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula AZ,
    I am convinced that men will not be healthy unless women are healthy, and women will not be healthy unless men are healthy. That “health” cannot be defined merely in terms of “what suits my own private (or group) interests” but only in terms of our mutual interest.

    At the very time that women’s enrollment in colleges has soared, men’s have diminished to a very artificial low (just to give an example). Women doing well at the expense of men (and vice versa) is not a healthy strategy in the long-run for a culture. All of our relationships are necessarily complicated by the fact that we are biologically driven to need each other – and that need is as easily distorted as anything else in our lives. But the need cannot be abolished or managed merely at a convenient whim. It is probably the most complex aspect of our humanity, and therefore the most easily abused.

  63. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Seems we’ve moseyed down the trail a ways from the original topic. However, a question on marriage. I think I know the meaning of the martyr’s crowns in an Orthodox marriage…the laying down of one’s life for the other, the cutting off of one’s will often first the other’s sake, to mention just a couple. Yet, for me these 50+ years of marriage have not felt like martyrdom. I think had I been without a wife all this time, it truly would have seemed a life of martyrdom. In whatever state in which we find ourselves, do we not have to be in submission to someone or something as believers? If someone is “called” to the single life may they also feel this not martyric (or maybe one would)?

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In the healthiest of marriages, I think the martyrdom is so sweet that it feels like a privilege. It is a joy. I know that in my marriage, there have been some patches where my wife’s martyrdom on my behalf was not in the least pleasant or sweet – a gift that made my life possible in a way that would not have been otherwise possible. Overall, it has felt very uneven – I have been given ever so much more than I have given back – or so it seems to me.

    But, the married state is also an exemplar. It points to the nature of all human relationships. The single life also carries its own martyric character. Wherever there is love – there is the laying down of one’s life.

    In thinking about human situations – it is imperative that we remember that there is nothing within our human existence that is properly free from suffering. We cannot design such a world. So, the question is always about the nature of the suffering – when is it life-giving, etc.? That is the fatal flaw in all utopian thinking.

  65. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your blessed response. It has been a sweet joy, and yes my wife has had to lay her life down for me much more than I for her. So much to be grateful for.

  66. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Well said, Dean. I think Father’s post on marriage as martyrdom (I think that was the title) is one of the best short pieces I have read on marriage, but marriage does not “feel” like martyrdom at all.

    As Father and many hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of other writers throughout history have said, the relationship between men and women is probably the most complex – and confusing – thing in human existence. I would like to suggest, therefore, that there is no book – even Proverbs 31 – or writer who can explain it all.

    Talk about a mystery!

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, thank you. God is indeed merciful and kind.

  68. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David you are correct but He will reveal to each of us what we need if we ask in humility together.

  69. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    “Wherever there is love — there is the laying down of one’s life.”

    Indeed, this is true whether it be between husband and wife or of parents for their children. And I have seen that we can do this for each other, related or not.

    I have a memory of a man unknown to us, who extracted my family with his bare hands and a crowbar out of the wreckage of a terrible car accident. This was a horrible job that he took on for the sake of those dead (our parents) and still living (my brother and I). He seemed to be a man of very humble means. Before he came on the scene, others in their fancy cars drove past us. One could describe this man as the “Good Samaritan”. But he took on particularly gruesome and strenuous work. This is a memory of a man who had love in his heart, that I will never forget.

  70. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…Oh what a perfect example of selfless love. I can not even imagine how that day must have changed your life in so many ways, even throughout your life.
    The Good Samaritan…I think of an angel….and with his bare hands no less, removed your parents, already dead, How do you, and how did you, ever manage to get through that? I ask aloud Dee…I know your a private person…but I am amazed. I know you have shared this before, but today it is as if it was the first time I heard it.
    Really, it is as Father says. There is no love apart from suffering. Look at that man who came to your rescue…
    Thank you for this. It is helpful for me to know these concrete examples…my thinking gets narrow sometimes. Tired…

  71. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Every moment in that scene after he arrived was touched with love. He brought me to a run-down shack across the road where a share-cropping family lived. They wrapped me in one of the few sheets they owned and it became saturated with my blood. Their teenager held fast to me and would not let me go until the ambulance finally arrived. Then there was the doctor who refused to leave my side after working well past his shift to take the metal and glass out of my body. And then there was the most kindly priest who gently asked if I wanted his prayers. In every moment love was expressed to me in one form or another. My brother also received similar caring treatment. We were given rooms across the hall from each other. The nun-nurses carried our verbal messages of love to each other.

  72. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Wow Dee…that is just an amazing, amazing story. Through such a painful experience, being embraced by love, care and compassion from the very start…oh that family and the teenager! and all the others. It is as if our Great God sent out the special forces of the heavenly hosts to embrace and protect you and your brother. That’s ’cause He’s a good God and cares so much for you. But most of all, the most amazing thing is that you can express a remembrance of love in the midst of such a tragedy. That speaks volumes of a life deep with the love of God!! Thanks so much Dee…I won’t forget this story ever again.

  73. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Amen, Michael. It is the only way.

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Unless you sit in my chair and think about the blog as a whole (including what a stranger who stumbles into a conversation and reads it a year from now will think) it might be easy to misunderstand decisions I make when I’m trying to moderate things out of a problem. The conversation viz. male and female went down a direction that just got problematic, with a couple of comments that failed the kindness test – or were taken in the wrong way. It’s sometimes not so easy as to remove a single problematic comment – particularly if the remaining comments make no sense after it is removed. Hence, wholesale editing where an entire train of thought (even with lots of good things) has to be removed, just so that the comments are not left with lots of dangling pieces. I’m sorry when that happens. More than you know.

    I started moderating our conversation this morning, trying to keep my deletions to as few as possible (having been rebuked recently for removing too many). But, I see that it has not worked. So, forgive the large editing. Let’s all take a breath – and then use it to give thanks to God!

    My experience over 12 years of the blog is that without moderation from time to time, the passions would run amok and our only moderator would be the devil. He doesn’t care what we say (right or wrong) as long as saying it serves his end – which is our estrangement from God and each other.

    I deeply appreciate your patience with me and with each other – as we struggle to be faithful to God and one another. Every time we land back on our feet – the devil takes a hike. And that gives me great joy.

  75. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Well the comments I’m going to reference are gone now. : )

    What I was about to say is this: Priests who foment polarization in their and others’ parishes along the lines of sensationalism, sex and politics as if it is a form of ‘mission’ will have particular “fruits” in their endeavors. Such activity uses the traditions to manipulate a populace already fractured by such modality in the media. There is no better way to achieve what amounts to opportunist goals than to couch them in the content of tradition. What our society sees as “success”, as we all know, (or should know) isn’t a mark of Christ or of the Holy Spirit.

    This society seems deeply entrenched in creating lines. To maintain such endeavor it is necessary to gloss over nuances and make strident separations. By saying that a priest upholds the ‘content’ of the tradition does not exonerate his activities. Here is an example for comparison on a different and well known area from the past: we have learned about ‘western captivity’ regarding the icons and theology. The content of the icons were still about Christ and gospel events, but the perspective changed. As the perspective changes, so does the understanding of the content.

    Dear and beloved Simon, the reason I was ok with leaving the comment and others who are supportive of priests who are so inclined to engage others in this way, was that it would show in ‘black and white’ relief the type of interactions the priest incites. Better that these are in the open than to keep such interactions hidden. But then I do appreciate your words, and Father removed the offender’s words.

    I am grateful to God for all things. This fracturing behavior among the priest(s), God will make for good. And as you say Fr Stephen, God gave us Bishops for a reason.

  76. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    BTW Because I’m not naming ‘the’ priest or priests, I will add one more sentence. I wouldn’t be here at all if I thought Fr Stephen was so engaged. I’ve got better things to do.

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    An image that comes to my mind is that of medicine. The teaching of the Church, her sacraments, her canons, etc., are all intended as medicine for the soul – salvation is the soul’s healing. And so, the Church is called a hospital.

    Here is a canon every priest would do well to memorize. It is from the 5th-6th Council (called the Council in Trullo):

    Canon 102
    It behooves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is injudicious in each of these respects he should fail in regard to the healing of the sick man. For the disease of sin is not simple, but various and multiform, and it germinates many mischievous offshoots, from which much evil is diffused, and it proceeds further until it is checked by the power of the physician. Wherefore he who professes the science of spiritual medicine ought first of all to consider the disposition of him who has sinned, and to see whether he tends to health or (on the contrary) provokes to himself disease by his own behaviour, and to look how he can care for his manner of life during the interval. And if he does not resist the physician, and if the ulcer of the soul is increased by the application of the imposed medicaments, then let him mete out mercy to him according as he is worthy of it. For the whole account is between God and him to whom the pastoral rule has been delivered, to lead back the wandering sheep and to cure that which is wounded by the serpent; and that he may neither cast them down into the precipices of despair, nor loosen the bridle towards dissolution or contempt of life; but in some way or other, either by means of sternness and astringency, or by greater softness and mild medicines, to resist this sickness and exert himself for the healing of the ulcer, now examining the fruits of his repentance and wisely managing the man who is called to higher illumination. For we ought to know two things, to wit, the things which belong to strictness and those which belong to custom, and to follow the traditional form in the case of those who are not fitted for the highest things, as holy Basil teaches us.

    If the “medicine” of a teaching is provoking “allergic” reactions in the patient (for whatever reason), the answer isn’t to double the dose. The answer is to be wise. Our culture is deeply diseased and our souls are sick. The Church needs its priests to be wise physicians. It’s very hard and there are many temptations to get it wrong. May God have mercy on us and give us grace.

  78. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    I place full trust in your discernment, Fr. Stephen. I actually considered asking you to remove my comments because the entire conversation took a turn I was not expecting. Thank you. All is well.

  79. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Fr Stephen. Indeed I believe it is quite difficult and I’m grateful for the word and works of healing priests as well. I wouldn’t be here without their ongoing and courageous help. Please God give us all grace for discernment and care toward one another.

  80. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Frankly, the daily tenor of our conversations on the blog are a wonderful encouragement. I am grateful to all of you.

  81. Dee St Hermans Avatar
    Dee St Hermans

    I enjoy your participation and I sincerely want to encourage your participation. But it is a little interesting and confusing to me that you didn’t expect the reaction to the author of your recommended readings here when you encountered it in your own parish. Did you think the commentators here were holier than your parish? : ) (I hope not! : ) ) We are just as broken and in need of healing as everyone else.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Not answer for Esmee – but I heard her say, on reflection, that she should not have been surprised since she saw that same reaction in her parish. But, we often surprise ourselves –

    And we absolutely are no different than anyone, anywhere. I sort of thought that, had no one butted in, the conversation would have worked its way out to a mutual and helpful understanding – with amicability. However…

  83. Sue Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for writing on this topic; your posts always cut straight to the heart of things and shine with wisdom. After I read the post again this morning (it is a habit of mine to re-read good writing on spiritual matters several times over a period of days or even weeks to allow my thoughts a chance to dwell there), I came across the following passage from Pseudo-Macarius that furthered my understanding:

    “Unless a person who is swayed by passions approach God by denying the world, and believe with hope and patience that he will receive something good, yet different from his own nature (namely, what is the power of the Holy Spirit), and unless the Lord drop down from above upon him divine life, such a one will never experience true life. He will never recover from the intoxication of materialism. The illumination of the the Spirit will never shine brightly upon his soul nor will it illumine him with a “holy day”. He will never be aroused from the deepest sleep of ignorance in order in this way truly to know God through God’s power and the efficacy of grace.
    “For unless a person is deemed worthy through faith to obtain grace, he is ineffective and unsuited for the Kingdom of God. But on the other hand, whoever has received the grace of the Spirit and does not in any way change his mind, or through negligence or wrongdoing resist grace, if he for some time strives not to grieve the Spirit, he will be able to become a participator of eternal life. Just as one is aware of the operations of evil from the very passions, I mean, by anger and concupiscence, envy and heaviness, by evil thoughts and absurdities, so also ought one to perceive grace and the power of God by the virtues, I mean, by love, kindness, goodness, joy, simplicity, and divine gladness so as to become like to and mingled with the good and divine nature, with the kind and holy efficacy of grace.

    “Indeed, a person’s free choice is tested by progress and growth in time and according to opportunity to see whether a person is always united with grace and found pleasing. He gradually comes to be totally one with the Spirit and thus is rendered holy and pure by the Spirit, made fit for the kingdom. ”

    There is so much wisdom in this small passage! By it, we are encouraged to:
    ⦁ seek God always in every matter and turn our hearts in every moment to the Spirit like sails to the wind
    ⦁ pursue virtue and not give sway to passions
    ⦁ become so like Christ that our souls mingle with the holy efficacy of grace (i.e. live with our hearts opened to God and our hands opened to others)
    ⦁ use everything God gives us for love, for kindness, for goodness, joy, simplicity, and divine gladness

    This morning I was thinking about what a gift it is to fill our homes with light, joy, kindness, and peace, and to dispel heaviness, negativity, complaining, and gloom. We can ease the burdens of our neighbors with the light of our smiles, our peace, courtesy, friendship, and our material “goods”–but not by ourselves, only through and with the Spirit.

    In 2015, in the space of a few months, my husband lost his job after thrity-two years with the same company (we have five children); my oldest daugther became desperately ill with an unknown disease that required frequent hospitalizations; my mother was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer right after Thanksgiving, a man at my church began stalking me (so that I could no longer attend there), and my husband’s brother died unexectedly the week before Christmas. We live in a different state from our extended families, and all of this felt like…well, I was very afraid of what was happening, but feelings are just feelings, aren’t they? The truth is that God is with us always. I had to open my hands and my heart and let go of everything else in order to cling to God.

    My children and I prayed to St. Andrew for my mother’s healing from November thirtieth through December twenty-fourth, and when the surgeon operated early in January, she was stunned to discover that there was nothing there: the tumor was gone. Prior to the surgery there had been many scans and imaging that clearly showed the tumor, right up to the morning of the operation when an ultrasound was done to mark the tumor. The surgeon had never expereienced anything like it in her career. “It is a miracle,” is what she said.

    In a season of difficulties and losses, we were given amazing grace–Alleluia! In that miracle, all of my earthly concerns and doubts were utterly transformed. What followed has been three years of hardship and more joy and peace than I have ever known. And also more sorrow than I have ever known.

    What I have learned about worldly goods–and money –is that they are meaningless. Their worth comes only from their distribution and use. In other words, money comes and goes. At least it should.
    But, I read on OXFAM that just eight men hold the same wealth as half of all the people in the world:

  84. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Sue – Thank you for sharing. It is always rewarding to read your comments.

  85. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Father, thank you so much for sharing one the canons from one of the councils. I have read much about the councils, but I have never before read anything that was written by a council. Can you recommend a good resource for further investigation of councilar documents? I hesitate to approach the documents themselves without the assistance of some learned commentary.

  86. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Dee – please forgive me and pray for me.

  87. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You’re wise. Canons are boring when they’re not alarming. I don’t recommend them.

  88. Ted Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    Your post leaves me perplexed for at least three reasons that I would like to share for discussion and feed back

    1. The classic book “Democracy in America”,
    is widely regarded as the finest description of the American experiment (and its middle class). According to its author Alexis De Tocqueville (I am paraphrasing), “The American citizens are in a secret war with each other” Why? Tocqueville continues “In monarchist France birth determines ones position in life. If you are born an aristocrat, your family and associates are aristocratic and you stay were you are. Likewise if are born a baker, you stay a baker. When the baker and the aristocrat meet, everybody knows where they stand and the aristocrat has some responsibility for the welfare of the baker. Not so in America where money not birth is the determinant of position in society. So the baker could become richer than the aristocrat and their positions can flip. An neither has any responsibility for the financial welfare of the other.”

    Money in monarchist France (or monarchist England during the industrial revolution) had a different meaning to money in America and a different meaning to money in communist countries. To take an example from geometry, in Euclidian geometry a triangle has a sum of angles of 180 degrees whereas in Lobachevskian geometry there are also triangles but their angles do not sum up to 180. So triangles have different meaning depending on the geometry they reside in. What was the meaning of money during the Roman empire in the time of Christ and how do our Lord’s words apply to us in America today?
    St. Clement of Alexandria lived in a different socio political time (Euclidian geometry) and his words that wealth is a “dangerous and deadly disease” perhaps have a different meaning to our time ( Lobachevskian geometry). Perhaps money is still a disease but the way we catch this disease is different in our time in America.

    2. ” Historically, the most significant group to maintain some semblance of sanity (outside of the poor)”
    The exoltation of the poor perplexes me. For one thing, we are in America, the time of Lazarus is different. There are no Lazaruses in America. In America there is electricity, automobiles, telephones and food banks. If somebody is down and out an ambulance is minutes away to drive them to a hightech hospital and after they are sent to a food bank to eat and sleep and subsequently recieve welfare checks and government housing. A different reason is Hagia Sofia in Istambul (Constantinople). This awe-inspiring structure was not built by the poor. It was built by two mathematicians who came from prominent wealthy families. The poor could never build such a structure (well they can be directed where to lay the bricks). But maybe the poor are more spiritual, more sane. Maybe such structures show the excess and decadence of wealth and it is better if everybody lives in huts and (as the Taliban believes) tear down and destroy Hagia Sofia?

    3. Electricity (for use by the common man), automobiles, computers, the internet, the largest middle class in the world all came to life in America. The very existance of this blog is to some part due to the America’s middle class.

  89. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ted, good questions. I’ll take a stab at answering, or at least clarifying my thoughts and intentions.

    1. The Middle Class probably got its first large boost in England and Scotland – it was exported to the colonies. The Middle Class largely financed the enterprise through markets such as tobacco. I would suggest reading, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, for a good look at the Enlightenment in Scotland and England and their progeny, America.

    Spiritual realities do not change with time and culture – the soul of human beings is a universal phenomenon. That said, our context is certainly different. The question then would be, “What is it about wealth that St. Clement considered a dangerous disease.” I think that I have answered that to a certain extent in the article – though it could be developed ever so much further. It is, essentially, the false understanding that we, in fact, are in charge of the world and manage it. That the outcome of history is ours to command. It is difficult in the modern American Middle Class not to think this – just as it might have been for the wealthy in the time of St. Clement.

    2. Reductio ad absurdum. To invoke the Taliban is cheap rhetoric. I live (and have always lived) somewhere within the Middle Class. I look after Middle Class souls for the large part. I see the disease described by St. Clement at work within us. I observe and make suggestions. I’m not trying to reform the economy or remake America. I’m telling my brother and sister Christians about a mortal danger.

    Hagia Sophia was not built by two men. They need not have been wealthy – only trained. It’s a fine structure – though often serves as an idol in the minds of many distracted Orthodox. Many care more about the building than the spiritual content that may once have filled it.

    I have not suggested the abolition of the Middle Class or the destruction of science, technology, etc. But all of those things also come with their warnings. Our wealthy, Middle Class culture is sick to its very core. It will collapse in an ugly manner if the sickness is not attended to. But that part of history is in the hands of God. I pray for His mercy.

    The greatness of a culture and its people cannot be measured in their wealth or skill, much less their empire. It is a greatness of soul. I would measure that by the commandments of Christ. There are many, many Lazaruses in America. Mother Theresa thought we were in far, far worse danger than the poor of Calcutta.

  90. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Father Stephen, I dont know if you might even have been writing in the light of David Hart’s “New Testament Translation”, but regardless I recommend it. I have been a little disappointed with what I would call “nit-picky” and “ideologically driven” criticisms it has received, even from Orthodox. His translation has done a great service to English speakers: we can read something very near in certain respects to the feel of the Greek New Testament.
    As my priest observed (we’re studying it together as a small group), this translation renders the ‘spiritual truths’ in brighter and starker colours.
    Germane to this conversation, Hart himself was moved by the stark opposition to wealth as an “intrinsic” danger. I too am so moved. I certianly think Sue’s point about the concentration of wealth in very few needs to be known (and what this means for public systems influenced/controled by these wealthy interests). However I also think as contemporary North Americans, we really miss the impact of the gospel vis. wealth if we think of “other people” as rich (eg. the super rich, or millionairs, etc.). The truth is that I am the rich , even though my family lives technically below the poverty line. It is my own’ average’ soul that has forgotten God, not “those” rich (by N.A. standards) over there.

    One more suggestion, especially for Americans who dont realize how strongly culture can dictate as what “clearly” seems important or essential to the faith: have a listen to this podcast (from a perspective outside American assumptions) on “Secular worries”:
    I am a Canadian Orthodox who attends to no news (i.e. I’m always out of the loop). The absolute tragedy of sexual and gender confusion seems to me just a recent symptom of long established societal unrepentence. We do better as Christians, I think, to bear this as our sin and repent in hope for God’s secret plan rather than noisy complaint in the ‘culture wars’. We are members of the eternal Kingdom, not citizens of this world.

    -Mark Basil

  91. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I will confirm that there are indeed Lazarus’s in America if you know where to look.

    Dear sister in Christ, Esme,
    Please pray for me also.

  92. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Ted – I am a “Lazarus.” I have an illness which prevents me from working. I have been on government disability since 2005. I receive less that $1000/mo in assistance in Northern California where that is the cost of a 1 bedroom apartment. There is a 5-10 year waiting list for a Section 8 voucher for government housing assistance. I am only 3 years into that wait. I have lived in a vehicle twice for 2 years each time because I cannot afford housing. I was graciously given refuge at an Orthodox Monastery for a year. I have received help from my local parish as needed. The small city where I live has thousands of homeless people, many of whom are mentally ill and unable to function normally in this world. Two-thirds of all 911 calls in my city come from the homeless. The homeless fill our city parks during the daylight hours. There is no shortages of Lazarus’s here who need help and, thus, no shortage of opportunities for faithful and caring Christians to provide that help if they so desire.

  93. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Dee – I will 🙏💗 ☦️

  94. Dean Avatar

    Mark Basil and Esmee,
    Thank you both for your recent contributions via your comments. Both have given me pause to reflect deeper into what truly is poverty and what truly are riches. God bless both of you as you attempt to live out the truth of the gospel in your own particular context.

  95. Ted Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply. If I may ask/comment further,

    “It is, essentially, the false understanding that we, in fact, are in charge of the world and manage it. That the outcome of history is ours to command.”
    How does the above relate to the concept of synergy, free will, determination and tilling the soil? I do not know Christopher Columbus but I imagine he must have had determination that there will be land if the boat keeps on going through the endless ocean. I have not heard any accounts of an Angel coming to Columbus and directing his path. My understanding is that by all acounts Columbus believed that there is land and he took it upon himself to reach it. He must have know he is doing something unprecedented that could alter history and he did it. (But I suppose each of us alters history every day by our actions and interactions with others and the environment around us yet our impact is on the micro level.)
    When (God willing) I wake up in the morning and plan my day, there is no Angel that comes to me (maye for other, although I have never heard of this from people I know) and tells me what to do, where to go, to whom and how to speak. I do this with the determination that I will earn enough money to buy a car. After a year my goal is achieved. If I just sat in my appartment and waited for and Angel to come and tell me what to do, I doubt I would have bought a car. (As a matter of fact I have tried just that but after a week, there is no sign, the food is gone and I am very hungry, so I go out on my own to manage my world without any signs or instructions).
    Another aspect of Columbus is that he was sponsored by the Spanish crown and the land that he discovered did not belong to him. Whereas Joel Myers has sole possesion of a modern oracle, namely the algorithms that run accuweather Being able to forecast the weather on the earth more accurately than his fellow men would have surely made Pythia jelous. Money in America (not in China or Russia or India) allows a person to be like Joel Myers, the possesor of the fruit of ones own labour and not like Columbus (even if he had money (unlikely without Royal connection) he would most likely not be allowed to sail and posses land in America and then still have support from the Spanish government.)

    “There are many, many Lazaruses in America.”
    If I may, in my view that is not a physically accurate statement. The feces covered drugged up people in places like downtown San Francisco are no Lazarus and I (although I had a good job and wore an expensive suite) am not the rich man as I was passing by them (I was afraid of being attacked by them).
    In my view there are many, many sick, poor people in America that need help but their sickness in not the same as the poor in India or as in Lazarus and to characterize them as such is missdiagnosis and being out of touch.

    As a mathematician, I am used to using reductio ad absurdum and directness in writing. Please excuse me, my sole intention is to get a point across in a clear manner.

  96. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Your comment was directed to Fr Stephen and there is no reason, I suppose, to respond to my comment here. Out of curiosity, did you miss what Esme wrote?

    Are you attempting to critique Fr Stephen’s article from the standpoint of your personal philosophy rather than from a Christian view? I’m not ascribing anything but trying to make sense of your response.

    Also your derogatory description of the poor in the US (you mentioned your context in San Francisco) was more than facetious, it seems contemptuous. Am I misreading your comment?

    I don’t think Fr Stephen’s article is expressing some form of sentiment, but is it your intention in your description about angelic intervention suggesting this?

    I apologize if I’m misunderstood you.

  97. Ted Avatar

    Esmée La Fleur,

    I will say a prayer for you and your illness.
    If I may, in my understanding Lazarus had no telephone to call 911 and no Church to assist him. Lazarus was completely on his own, the State and the Church were not there to help him. Lazarus was not mentally ill. In my view (base on human physiology) to be on ones own in Lazaruses situation is to be in mortal danger every minute of the day.
    The fact that there are mentally ill people lying on the streets is (in my view) failure of Government. A government that has trilions of dollars in its pockets. A government that approves medications/foods which harm people.
    In my view, your situation is different.

  98. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When I say that the outcome of history is in the hands of God, I do not mean that our actions are order by angels or some such thing. Rather, it is to say that right-living (for a Christian) consists in keeping the commandments of Christ and, for the larger part, leaving the outcome of history to the hands of God’s providence. Modernity, and its Enlightenment secularism – holds that there is no providence, and that the world is only what we make of it. It embraces various versions of Utilitarianism, and believes that it is the task of human beings to make the world a better place. Its various measurements seem to do a good job of self-justification, and do a wonderful job of ignoring much else.

    I believe that modernity is inherently violent – in that the only way to make history behave the way we want it to is to force it. The US has only had 17 years in its entire history in which it was not at war, all of which we do in the name of some self-defined good.

    For a Christian, Christ is the very definition and incarnation of the Good. His commandments direct us towards that same good.

    I am not here discussing how to make a better America, how to rearrange the economy, etc. That’s a modern trap that I don’t care to enter. It is the wrong set of questions. The right questions are found in the commandments of Christ: love of enemy, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, etc., those alone address the human heart. Economies and such are not a proper tool of measurement – they are not the proper goals of life.

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