This morning I was reading St. Maximus the Confessor (“Four Centuries on Love” in volume two of the Philokalia) and I came across these verses.
It is not so much because of need that gold has become an object of desire among men, as because of the power it gives most people to indulge in sensual pleasure. There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem and lack of faith. Lack of faith is more dangerous than the other two. The self-indulgent person loves wealth because it enables him to live comfortably; the person full of self-esteem loves it because through it he can gain the esteem of others; the person who lacks faith loves it because, fearful of starvation, old age, disease, or exile, he can save it and hoard it. He puts his trust in wealth rather than in God, the Creator who provides for all creation, down to the least of living things. There are four kinds of men who hoard wealth: the three already mentioned and the treasurer or bursar. Clearly, it is only the last who conserves it for a good purpose–namely, so as always to have the means of supplying each person’s basic needs.
I have noticed that those entrusted by God with wealth sometimes struggle with the fact that they are wealthy and a Christian. The clear teaching of the Church is that every Christian is to forsake all and follow Christ, but how each is to do this, in his or her unique context, varies. The Deaconess Olympia, friend of St. John Chrysostom, was a very wealthy woman who desired to give away all of her wealth immediately. St. John counselled her not to do so. Rather, he said, she should give it away judiciously so that it would be the greatest benefit to the greatest number. Consequently, Olympia throughout her lifetime founded hospitals, schools, churches and funded all sorts of worthy initiatives both within the church and in the community. Because of her wealth and holiness, she was a powerful force for good at a time when the Church was struggling with corruption (as, it seems, always) and she was able to defend St. John when he was exiled for rebuking the Empress for her inappropriate use of wealth.
Remember, it is those who desire to be rich who fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9). Perhaps God has ordained that wealth be concentrated in the hands of some so that they can excel in generosity. The principle is the same with all natural and spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit distributes gifts according to His will for the edification of all. Just as someone with great wealth experiences certain temptations more acutely than someone without great wealth, so someone with (for example) a beautiful singing voice experiences certain temptations more acutely than someone who does not. Every calling in life comes with trials and temptations that are particularly virulent within that calling. But St. Paul goes on to tell us that it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil (v. 10)–and you don’t have to have a dime to suffer from that malady.
St. Peter Damascene said, “As the poor should give thanks to God and love the rich who do them good, even more should the rich give thanks to God and love the poor; for they are saved by the providence of God … because of their alms.”