Our careful attention to the subject of our finances is an important element of our religious education as Orthodox Christians. Examples of the role of money in society and its proper use abound in the Holy Scriptures, in the homilies from the early Church Fathers, and in the actions of notable people who have gone before us. Were we to overlook the powerful forces of the economy upon our spiritual health and fail to understand these forces as a subject germane to religious education, we would be negligent in our duties as educators.
Consider for example that this month of August, thousands of entering college students throughout our nation will be receiving for the first time in their young lives credit card offers in their “orientation” packets. Many of them will have little or no understanding of the potentially harmful consequences that may return to haunt them years into the future as they enjoy what they may believe to be "free money." Most of them will not have the ability to pay back what can become quickly escalating balances, as one credit card can easily multiply into three or four. These students, some as young as age 17, though in their youthful exuberance may claim to be aware of many things, in fact are usually not aware of such factors as interest rates, late fees, and the importance of maintaining a good credit score. They may not be aware of the economic forces of greed that are deviously operating against them when the cumulative effects of such barrages are considered. This is an urgent matter of religious education with both economic and spiritual consequences for our youth, and we as a Church have a moral duty to articulate clearly our Christian understanding of money, the spiritual pitfalls of greed, and the proper use of our finances for the greater good of society.
Though distantly removed in time from our contemporary age, we may look at some notable homilies from St. John Chrysostom, for example, that speak quite vividly and applicably to the destructive forces of economic greed upon the soul. In his 20th Homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Chapter 10, verses 26-27) St. John Chrysostom calls the greedy "overreachers," a term which continues to be in use to this day. "They are ruining themselves, not you," he says. "You indeed they defraud of your money, but they strip themselves of the good will and help of God. And he that is stripped of that, though he may clothe himself with the whole wealth of the world, is of all men most poor…"
Very little elaboration need be given to the heaviness of these words. Suffice it to say that St. John Chrysostom was acutely aware of the pernicious forces of greed and their economic manifestations in his day; he was deeply concerned by the damage that these forces could have upon the human soul. We must likewise impress upon our faithful the need for genuine spiritual vigilance in the manner by which we interact with money and the economic forces in our contemporary society.
The point is clear; our duty as Christians created in the image and likeness of God is to be careful with our approach toward money, and to serve others through the generous offering of our financial resources in proportion to whatever earthly blessings God has bestowed upon us, for such is a form of service that is truly liberating. In contrast, the destructive forces of greed can take enormous tolls upon the souls of both victim and, even more so, the victimizer. Here, the admonitory words of the Lord to His disciples indeed continue speak to us, 'Take heed, and beware of all greed; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.' (Luke 12:15). It is my hope that this reflection may serve to inform our young adults as they embark on their college years. It also may give all of us the opportunity to consider the sources of our income, the extent to which we ourselves refrain from overreaching at the expense of the vulnerable, and the manner by which we give of our financial resources to the good of society.
Archbishop of America