HEADLINES OF THE DAY: ANOTHER 15,000 PEOPLE DIED YESTERDAY BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO POOR TO LIVE. THE RICH INCREASED THEIR WEALTH YESTERDAY BY $0.3 BILLION. THE 21st CENTURY VERSION OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION IS ONE DAY NEARER.
“O Ye rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.”
A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis at email@example.com. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 105). This blog is a continuation of the review of ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON WEALTH AND POVERTY published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York in 1984.
The first sermon
In the first sermon, St John deals with the lives of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-21). The parable passes over the moral qualities of the two men, so St John must discuss what is wrong with the life of luxury and what is good about the life of poverty. Are all the rich condemned and all the poor saved? No, although the poor have a better chance. The rich man’s chief fault was his failure to give alms; he neglected the duty of helping his neighbor. In addition he harmed his own spiritual health by his self-indulgent way of life. Lazarus, on the other hand, by enduring patiently without complaint used his sufferings to build up spiritual strength. St John is concerned with spiritual, not material well-being. If we wish to store up treasure in heaven, we must both observe the commandment of love towards our neighbor and practice the asceticism appropriate to our circumstances for the benefit of our own souls.
The second sermon
The second sermon moves along to the deaths of the two men (Luke 16:22-24). Death reveals who was truly rich and who was truly poor. The man who lived alone receives an honor guard of angels; the other man lost all his followers and lies alone in hell. St John has more to say about the positive duties of the rich: they must hold their property as stewards for the poor, and must share their wealth without regard to the moral qualities of those who are in need. If we spend more than necessary on ourselves, we deserve the same penalty as if we had stolen the money.
The third sermon
In the third sermon, St John takes up the rich man’s first petition, that Lazarus should bring him a drop of water, and Abraham’s response (Luke 16:24-26). What is the relation between our misfortune or prosperity in this life and our condition in the life to come? Can we earn our way to heaven by our sufferings, voluntary or involuntary, in this life? Not exactly, according to St John; but earthly sufferings, if endured with patience, can help us get rid of some of our sins and the punishment due to us for them. Everyone of us has some sins, no matter how good we are; but if the general trend of our life is virtuous, we can finish our necessary suffering before we die. Besides, we need to train ourselves in virtue in order to become the kind of people God wants us to be.
What we are expected to do
If we are poor or chronically ill, the effort of patient endurance with thanksgiving is sufficient asceticism. If we are rich and healthy, we must practice voluntary austerity both to overcome our sinful inclinations and to develop a virtuous character. As a pastor and teacher of morals, St John concentrates on what we ourselves are expected to do.
Intercessory prayer for the dead
In concluding the third sermon, St John speaks of the great chasm that separates heaven from hell. This raises the issue of intercessory prayer for the dead. The Fathers of the Orthodox Church generally teach, with the support of Biblical texts like this, that we must make our choice for or against God in this life, and that once we have passed to another life we will have no opportunity to escape from hell. Thus St John here tells his congregation that, if they have not made their own efforts to acquire virtue during their lives, they must not expect to be saved by the prayers of others, whether of their spiritual father or of any saintly relative.