On Wealth and Poverty is my second book by Saint John Chrysostom, a Church Father who is highly venerated in the Orthodox Church. It is difficult to find a set of his complete works so the best I can do is read booklets like this that are focused on a defined topic area.
Sharing the Gospel
For when thou sowest the seed, and the hearer receives it not, and does not bring forth the fruit of obedience, thou hast the reward of thy intent, laid up with God; and thou wilt receive the same recompense whether the hearer obey or disobey; for thou hast performed all thy duty.
Even if sharing your testimony and faith—from a position of love and not pride—doesn’t immediately help others come to Christ, you will still receive your reward. You shouldn’t remain silent as to how important God is to your life just because you have a hunch that your words will not be well-received by the hearer.
Do not give up on a troubled soul
And what need is there to speak of those who, after repeated warnings, have not come to their right mind? It behooves us not to abandon or neglect even those who are diseased incurably, even if we foresee clearly that, after having had the benefit of our zeal and good counsel, they will not at all profit by it. And if this that I say seem to you unreasonable, suffer me to confirm it by things which Christ himself said and did. For we men being ignorant of the future, cannot therefore be certain, as to the hearers, whether they will be persuaded or whether they will disbelieve that which we say; but Christ, knowing both one and the other perfectly, did not cease instructing the disobedient even to the end.
Satan will not stop
The Tempter continually goes to and fro to baffle our salvation, while he himself gains nothing, but rather is to the last degree a loser by his zeal; but still so maddened is he, that he often attempts impossible things, and attacks not only those whom he expects to cause utterly to stumble and fall, but also those who in all probability will escape his snares. Therefore, when he heard Job praised by that God who knows all secrets, he thought to be able to overcome, nor did he in his guile cease trying every method and every device in order to cause the man to fall. The Spirit of all evil and wickedness did not shrink from the attempt, though God had ascribed such grace to that just man.
We shouldn’t be upset that Satan is attacking us, or suspect that those attacks come because we are being punished by God. The Book of Job shows that even the righteous will be severely tested.
Woe to those living in wealth and luxury
For do not tell me only of enjoying a sumptuous table, and of being clothed in silken garments, and of being followed by troops of slaves, and of proceeding in state through the public places of resort; but lay open to me the conscience of such a man, and there you shall see within great trouble on account of sins, perpetual dread, tempest, and confusion, and the reason, as in a court of justice, ascending the royal throne of conscience, sitting there as a judge, bringing forward the thought as minister of justice, racking the mind, torturing it on account of sin, and vehemently accusing it; and this state of things is known to no one else, save only God, who sees all that takes place.
…think those blessed, not who live in wealth, but in virtue; think those miserable, not those who live in poverty, but in wickedness: let us look not at the present, but at the future; let us examine, not the outward appearance, but the conscience of each man…
Enduring daily trials
How many troubles arise each day! How great must that soul be that is not annoyed—that is not vexed, but gives thanks and praise,—that adores Him who ordains that these trials should be endured! How many unexpected things there are,—how many difficulties! And we must restrain evil thoughts, and not suffer the tongue to speak any improper word, as did the blessed Job, who praised God while he endured a multitude of ills.
Whensoever, therefore, ills, frequent and accumulated, come upon you, be not troubled nor downcast, but abide till the end. The end will turn out in every way worthy of the beneficence of God, if only you bear thankfully the things that in the meantime befall you.
For he who cannot restrain his desires, even if he should be surrounded by every kind of possessions, how can he ever be rich? Those, indeed, who are satisfied with their own property, enjoying what they have, and not casting a covetous eye on the substance of others, even if they be, as to means, of all men the most limited, ought to be regarded as the most affluent. For he who does not desire other people’s possessions, but is willing to be satisfied with his own, is the wealthiest of all.
Apologize now to not be judged later
If thou hast defrauded any one of anything, restore it, and say with Zacchaeus “I restore him fourfold,” (Luke xix. 8). If thou hast slandered any, if thou hast been any one’s enemy, be reconciled before thou comest before the Judge. Settle every affair here, that thou mayest see that tribunal with untroubled mind. As long as we are here we have good hope, but when we come there, we no longer have it in our power to repent nor to cleanse ourselves from our sins.
Before Christ, I would apologize to someone who I believed would receive it with grace and not offend my ego. My apology was transactional and not genuine. Now, I apologize even if the old me would think that the person doesn’t “deserve” an apology or would use it as an excuse to insult me further. I do it because I made a mistake and apologizing is the right thing to do as a Christian, not as a public show of contrition or to soothe out social tension.
Material wealth is deceiving
Just as in a play, certain men enter, wearing masks of kings and generals, and physicians and orators, and sophists and soldiers, being themselves in reality none of these; thus also, with respect to the present life, both poverty and wealth are only masks. As, therefore, when sitting in the theatre, you see one of the players on the stage, having on the mask of a king, you do not think him happy, nor think him really a king; neither would you wish to become like him; but since you know that he is some common man or other—a rope-maker, perhaps, or a worker in brass, or some one else of that sort, you do not think him happy because of his mask and his dress, nor do you judge of his condition in life by these things, but you rather look down upon him because of his insignificance in other respects. Thus in truth also, here in this present life, it is as if we were sitting in a theatre, and looking at the players on the stage. Do not, when you see many abounding in wealth, think that they are in reality wealthy, but dressed up in the semblance of wealth.
For if you remove his mask and examine his conscience, and enter into his inner mind, you will find there great poverty as to virtue, and ascertain that he is the meanest of men. As also, in the theatre, as evening closes in, and the spectators depart, those who come forth divested of their theatrical ornaments, who seemed to all to be kings and generals, now are seen to be whatever they are in reality; even so with respect to this life, when death comes, and the theatre is deserted, when all, having put off their masks of wealth or of poverty, depart hence, being judged only by their works, they appear, some really rich, some poor; some in honour, some in dishonour. Thus it often happens, that one of those who are here the most wealthy, is there most poor, as it was also in the case of this rich man. For when evening, that is, death, came and he went out from the theatre of the present life, and put off his mask, he was seen there to be poorest of all, even so poor as not to possess a drop of water, but obliged to beg for this, and not gain the object of his petition.
Whenever you see a man living in wickedness, and enjoying great prosperity, and suffering no calamity, on this account lament for him the more, because, being under the power of disease and grievous corruption, he increases his own weakness, becoming worse by luxury and indolence.
If you have an obsession with money and are possessed by the sin of greed, Satan will work to give you what you want so that your soul is condemned. Material wealth is dangerous because it allows you to be in a state just comfortable enough that you are able to ignore your soul’s calling for God.
Better to suffer in this life
As therefore, of those who commit sin, they who suffer no ill here, undergo greater punishment hereafter; thus also, of those who live righteously, they who suffer many ills here, enjoy greater honour there. And if there be two sinners, the one punished here, the other not punished; the one who is punished is more fortunate than the one unpunished. Again, if there be two righteous men, of whom one endures more, and the other fewer trials; he that endures the most is the most fortunate, since to each will be rendered according to his work.
In a word, with respect to all punishment, if it be inflicted on sinners, it lessens the burden of sin; if on the just, it makes the soul more glorious;—and the greatest gain accrues to each of us from affliction, if only we bear it thankfully. For this is the design of punishment.
And the Scripture tells us that it is not possible to enjoy repose both here and hereafter; it cannot be.
When you ask yourself why the West has degraded, simply examine the main aims of the culture: comfort and pleasure. Everything is structured for you to be happy and fulfilled in this life. According to Saint John, this assures judgment. Accept your lot, let the sufferings expatiate your sins, and approach Judgement with a clear conscience that you are prepared to receive eternal glory.
Why aren’t there more obvious miracles?
…if the dead arose continually to declare to us all that takes place there [in heaven], even this phenomenon would in time also be disregarded; for the tempter could, with the great ease, adapt his wicked teaching to such a state of affairs. He would be able often to feign appearances, or by preparing his ministers to feign death and burial, and exhibiting them as having risen from the dead, by these means he would introduce into the minds of those whom he misleads everything that he wished them to believe. For even now, when nothing of that kind takes place, the forms of the departed often have appeared in dreams, and have deceived and ruined many. Much more if such a state of things, nameless, that many returned from the dead, existed, that subtle spirit would involve many in his wiles, and introduce great deception into our life. Therefore God has closed the portals, and does not permit any of those who have departed to return to tell us the things that take place there; so that the tempter cannot take advantage of such a state of things, and introduce all his deceit. For, also, when there were prophets Satan raised up false prophets, and when apostles, he raised up false apostles; even when Christ appeared, he raised up false Christs; and whenever sound doctrine has been delivered, he has introduced corrupt doctrine, sowing tares among the wheat.
God has foreseen all possible methods to increase human faith and save souls. If God doesn’t allow it, there’s a reason. Don’t think that your feeble mind could have arranged this world in a way where evil would have been less.
My main complaint about this book is that I wish it was longer. It also was not singularly focused on “Wealth and Poverty” but on a multitude of other subjects that thankfully kept me engaged. Overall, it taught me not to be so quick to escape any suffering I happen to experience. If I’m able to bear it then I should, because my reward will soon come.
Learn More: On Wealth and Poverty by St John Chrysostom