Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fr. Touma (Bitar) on the Spirit of Poverty

An old one, but a good read. Arabic original here

Faith and the Spirit of Poverty

Poverty is one thing and poverty of spirit is something else. Poverty is an economic condition. One who is poor is someone who does not possess anything. Poverty of spirit is not like this. When you refrain from things in the world around you, when the love of money does not rule over you, if you do not seek for yourself in everything, then you have the spirit of poverty. The spirit of poverty is a great virtue and it has ripe fruit on the level of perceiving the universe and perceiving oneself and on the level of one's relationship to God and to other people. In contrast, a poor person who does not enjoy the spirit of poverty desires to possess things and seeks for himself, though he suffers from an inability to grasp them. This engenders bitterness in himself, frustration and resentment, and casts him into jealousy and envy. He makes various accusations against the wealthy. Some of these may be true and some may not be. He speaks from rejection, evaluates out of hatred, and lashes out from failure because within the framework of his personal situation and the political, economic, and social order under which he lives, he finds himself impotent, shackled, and good opportunities are not available to him. He might be right about this or he might be passing blame, justifying his own failure or dullness. Whatever the case, the spirit that is active within him is the same spirit that is active within the powerful, the spirit of wealth! And so, if he gets and opportunity for something good then he would be no better than those whom he criticizes, takes vengeance upon, and for whom he has enmity, secretly or openly, within his heart or in his reaction, politically or on the streets! Within this context, neither the rich nor the poor are innocent! The struggle between them is a struggle of passions! This is what it is deep down. Externally people are quite capable of justifying themselves and blaming others, of making themselves seem poor and of taking on the role of the one who is persecuted. As long as people take this position and treat things on this level, then no one is better than anyone else. And so they oppose each other corruptly! And so faces change while society and souls remain the same! You have your choice of slogans to titilate and satisfy people's egos, even if it is just a speck of dust in the eye. All of it is hollow, false, misleading, words in the wind. People believe and rush forward, spending their effort and their blood for the same things that the people before them sacrificed, in order to arrive, not realizing it, at the same results that their forbears had arrived at-- that which is at the base of the stifling reality that they had rejected, in principle, and revolted against, spending their effort and their blood to change it! It is a cycle with no end, not because the systems are necessarily corrupt, but because souls are sick! And how can sick souls produce sound systems? People are not concerned with the beauty of truth, the beauty of human production, on any level, but rather in applying make-up! Unfortunately, the typical concern is not with improving people's misery but rather with how they should look!!! Institutionalized lying is the rule!

What we are suffering from is the result of the disappearance of the spirit of poverty in our souls!

"The love of money is the root of all evils" (1 Timothy 6:10). This the lust to accumulate, the desire to acquire, the pleasure of storing up! This is the spirit of wealth!  When this spirit governs your relationship with God and with others, when your deepest concern is what you can obtain through your relationship with others, then there is no longer any possibility of creating relationships with anyone, human or divine. In your eyes, others automatically turn into  chickens that lay golden eggs! Your disguised concern for politeness, feigned emotions, flattering speech, then, is the means for obtaining it! Acquisition, profit, personal interest, seizing opportunities, and exploitation, are what is hidden at the bottom of what you approach, what you concern yourself with, what you are enthusiastic for! As long as you are frought with this spirit, no matter how much you try to put a different face on it, other people are things for you, not beings! The spirit of wealth within you makes God and people into objects for you! You are neither able to believe in God or to love people anymore! Your heart turns into a well of corruption! This is why the chosen apostle Paul, after speaking the words quoted above, that the love of money is the root of all evils, he adds that, "some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10). This is what is called, in the Epistle to the Galatians, "the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16), on account of which some people in the First Epistle to the Corinthians are characterized as fleshly (1 Corinthians 3:1 and 3). Within this context in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the greedy are called "idol-worshipers" (Ephesians 5:5) as well as in the Epistle to the Colossians (3:5). In the Epistle of James it is considered "earthly, sensual, demonic" wisdom (James 3:15).

So if the love of money is the root of all evils, then the spirit of poverty is the root of all virtues and good things! The spirit of poverty is the root of true faith!

The spirit of poverty is, first of all, the spirit of being satisfied with what is necessary for life. In the words of the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy, "having food and clothing, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6:8). If one cannot be satisfied with what is necessary, he cannot be satisfied by anything! Then the eye of one who seeks poverty of spirit is neither focused on acquisition nor on ambition, nor on elevation, nor on lust in this world. He does not love the world or the things in the world.  Everything in this world, to his eye, is vanity. He is present here, but he is not concerned with what is here. He is passing to what is beyond and rising up. "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Naturally, as long as he is here he uses what is here, but for the sake of what is beyond. He is aware, in the depths of his soul, that storing away is ignorance and foolishness (Luke 12:20). Naturally, he does not despise money. He does not despise money, he does not glorify it, and he does not strive to accumulate it for the sake of the pleasure of accumulation. Money is a means and he uses it as a means, but within the bounds of labor, since the Word of God from the fall has been, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread" (Genesis 3:19). If he saves the surplus, beyond what is needed, he only saves it because it is not appropriate for us to squander God's blessings upon that which has no value! So he does not save in fear of dark days because the One who gave us the kingdom promised us that everything else will be added to us in its time (Matthew 6:33). "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things" (Matthew 6:34). One who seeks the spirit of poverty fears wealth, lest he be tempted by it, and he fears poverty as well, since it is a temptation also. And so he lifts up a prayer to his Lord, "Give me neither poverty nor riches— feed me with the food allotted to me, lest I be full and deny You, and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Proverbs 30:8-9).

If one who seeks the spirit of poverty uses money, within the bounds of labor, he sets in his heart to use his surplus, in all honesty and trustworthiness, within the bounds of communion, within the bounds of taking care of the disabled and needy, in order to reach the equality that the Lord God commanded, "love your neighbor as yourself," and realizing the words of the chosen Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, "that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality" (2 Corinthians 8:14). This is why someone who seeks the spirit of poverty spends what he has according to need, as long as he has money. However, when, in pressing cases, he must choose between spending on the poor, the sick, or those in need and keeping it for himself, then he should choose to get rid of what he has, in all good conscience, for those who are in urgent need of it, certain that the Lord God is testing him and wanting him to place his hope completely on Him!

One who seeks the spirit of poverty must, first and last, seek heavenly riches, as it is said, "“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Mathew 6:19-20). The riches for which one seeking the spirit of poverty strives are the keeping of the divine commandments, walking in virtue, and participating in the heavenly mysteries. In the end, faith that is active in love (Galatians 5:6) is his greatest wealth on earth!

And living faith in Jesus is tied, corporeally, to the spirit of poverty. Outside the bounds of the spirit of poverty, faith is not real. One who loves money cannot truly be a believer, even if he memorizes the Bible by heart, preaches, teaches, and builds churches and monasteries! One who loves money can only use God and exploit what belongs to God for his personal ends and his real, inner purposes! One who loves money can only love himself and he only feigns love of God for himself, whether he is one who is usually called a believer, a priest, a monk, a bishop, or a patriarch!

Not everyone who claims to be a believer is a believer, but rather the one who walks in the spirit of poverty, who struggles and toils and prays to empty himself and to take on the image of a servant following the model of his Teacher (Philippians 2:7). It is only by the spirit of poverty that a person can be filled with faith. And by true, living, active faith he is filled with the Lord's Holy Spirit! He is purified, made holy, and deified!

(Within this framework, there is what is good and what is better. It is good to give to the poor person who comes to you, but it is better to search out the poor in order to give to them. Likewise, spending everything beyond what you need on the poor is even better than these two things. However, putting the needy ahead of yourself is the best of all. Each according to what the Lord puts in his heart. Let the one who can do this, do this!)
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan- Douma
May 15, 2011

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