Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fr Touma (Bitar): Let us not Celebrate an Empty Manger!

Arabic original here.

So that we do not celebrate an empty manger!
The love of money and worship of the devil!

The discussion of the love of money in the Holy Bible is in need of a closer look. The only thing that the Lord spoke about in terms of worship, comparing it to Himself, is money: "You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). And so either God is one's god or money is his god! There is no room here for fibbing. Someone who worships God loves Him, is committed to Him, and thus hates money as a god and despises it. The case is the same with money. Someone who loves money automatically hates God. Likewise, someone who is committed to the love of money despises God, whether or not he realizes it. This is a conclusion. The discussion and expressions are from what appears in Matthew the tax-collector, cited above. Love of money, then, is enmity towards God! In two places, in the Epistle to the Romans and the Epistle of James, there is discussion of what constitutes enmity towards God: being "carnal-minded", that is being exclusively concerned with what is external instead of bring "spiritually-minded". That is, acting according to what pertains to the Spirit of God. This is in Romans 8. Then the love of money is discussed in James 4. The love of money is the middle link that connects carnal-mindedness, which is an expression for man's self-worship, to love of the world, which is the language in which self-love expresses itself in the world that God created.

Love of money from love of the self is like scientific knowledge, while love of money from love of the world is like technology. In practice, these are three aspects of one existential activity. If you mention one of them, your words imply the other two aspects. This single existential activity is not divine because it is inimical to God. Therefore, in all simplicity, it is a contrivance of demonic activity. The devil inspired it in the beginning. Then, it entered into Adam's ear and occupied his mind and then descended into his heart, his very being, and settled there, and then the whole man was affected. From there, this demonic inspiration went forth from man's being into the world. It devised an instrument whose material it extracted from the world and it shaped it with the spirit of man's self-worship. So the love of money-- that is, the love of possessions-- came into existence as an idol in which dwells the spirit of Satan as master and ruler over everything called an institution related to man. Thus the love of money became the root of all evil (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10) and greed the fundamental and only organ, which is idol-worship (cf. Colossians 3:5) and what in practice spreads idol-worship. That is, what extends the spirit of Satan into every person of sin.

We wonder what the dialectic of the relationship between money and the love of money is. Money in itself, theoretically, a means for facilitating commercial interaction and, in a general sense, for trade between people. In itself it is neither good nor evil. The important thing is the manner in which money is used as a means in a person's life. If you use it for service, there is nothing wrong with it. But if you use it to dominate people and the good things of the earth, it is clearly not only harmful but demonic, in every sense of the word! But one rarely uses it to serve one's neighbor and to meet needs. More often, a person uses it to serve his own passions. In general, even if it has uses that appear to be good, deep down what a person is seeking is for himself, even if it appears that he is doing good. I will say it again: this is in general, in most cases and for a majority of people. The reason, as expressed in the Book of Genesis (8:21), is that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth! An abundance of money in people's hands spontaneously stirs up the love of money in their souls. It is only in three cases that the burning coal of the love of money is extinguished and a person is ascetic, poor in spirit in the way he deals with money: if he has lived closely with an ascetic person who is poor in spirit, especially in his father's house, and has been profoundly influenced by it; if he has received a very strong shock that has changed his view of things; or, if his heart has been touched by God's grace for reasons that God alone knows. Apart from this, dealing with money inevitably brings forth the love of money and money's subjugation of its owner. At that point, the difference between one and another, in this context, is the difference of the degree to which the love of money has come to possess his soul. It may reach the point of obsession and identifying money with one's life. This is what the Lord Jesus warned about when He warned about greed, showing that "one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses," and then told the parable of the rich food (cf. Luke 12).

We also wonder what inspires the soul, on the basis of the love of money, to love of the self. And what role does limitless accumulation play in it? The deep desire for accumulation comes from a profound feeling of poverty and the need for fullness, from a deep feeling of emptiness without any stability. In the fall, man cut the umbilical cord of grace between him and God. The emptiness is a lack of God's presence and the poverty results from the absence of God's grace. Of course, man's continued existence is also from God's grace. God has preserved this for His own purpose. In the fall, knowledge of good and evil trickled into man's life. Before that, there was only knowledge of good because man was enveloped in God's grace. There was only the commandment "do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on that day you will surely die." I say that there was only the commandment, tied to good will in man, which preserved him. When he fell into transgression, grace departed from him and inner emptiness dominated within him until the hour came that God willed in His dispensation to pour grace upon His servants according to the words of Paul, "by grace you are saved and that is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God." However, until that hour, when it comes personally, man does not change automatically. There needs to be the presence of will in him. The will to love God by faith in Him. By his will man left God's paradise and by his will he returns to Him. As regards God in this, He has His dispensation in this situation or that, in man's departure from Him and in his repentance to Him. Before man is restored and returns, poverty set in within him and he suffered from emptiness in his being, the lack of grace. However it is not possible for him to persist in his poverty and emptiness since he would die and be annihilated. He needed a fraudulent substitute for God, in the image of his passions and the breath of Satan within him, so money and possessions became a fake god, an idol for him. Money, then, is a burden and it bears the capacity for a demonic curse, like an idol, with which every person is increasingly smeared unless he takes up the spirit of asceticism by grace, by imitation, or by suffering. In reality, cursed are all who hang by the thread of the spirit of the spider of money, just as all who were hanged upon a tree were cursed. Just as surrender to God-- into Your hands I commend My spirit-- put an end to the curse of the cross, unto unfading joy-- by the cross joy came into the whole world-- so too, and only in this way, is the curse of money removed through asceticism, the seeking of the Father's face, unto salvation, through the grace of the One for whom all is possible. Otherwise, money remains a curse, spawning wormholes that do not die, even if one has no possessions! His soul, amidst a saturation of love of self, is "tuned" to be wholly enveloped by the passion of the love of money, no matter how poor or even destitute it is. Thus, in every soul, the love of money precedes every possession, and in most cases it does not depart from it until death. Before the love of money is necessarily embodies in a bank account, a real estate portfolio, or things like that, it is a state in the soul, a spiritual ulcer that settles in the soul through the institutionalization of the tendency towards the love of money in society. The rich person, in this sense, is first of all someone who has been overwhelmed in his spirit by this tendency. And then, the more this tendency is activated by his getting his hands on money that piles up and increases, he makes himself into a captive to an experience and to effects on his spirit, mind and soul that he has no control over. The dream of happiness becomes a nightmare for him and the promises of hoped-for peace are aborted. Layers of spiritual sediment build up and prevent him from feeling it. The intellect becomes a broken compass whose needle moves randomly in every direction with nothing to control it. Passion is taken by self-pity towards complete destruction and collapse.

Why does the love of accumulation in the soul not stop at a certain point? Because nothing can fill the void left by the departure of grace from a person. To the contrary, contrary to what the person imagines in his falling, the more he accumulates, the greater the hunger that he feels. Exactly like gluttony. The more a person indulges in gluttony, the greater his feeling of hunger while, on the contrary, the more a person fasts (naturally, according to one's capability), the more full he feels. Thus the person continues to accumulate, and not just what is enough for him, for two reasons: first of all, because accumulation produces pleasure in the self-loving soul and because accumulation sends fear into it if the person does not persist in accumulating. His fear creates for him an imaginary competitor and enemy. Of course, he starts accumulating as though for a need, then little by little accumulation turns into a need. He goes forward, in his stupor, like someone searching for a greater sense of security, while you find him falling unwittingly into greater anxiety and unease. According to the Holy Bible, if you don't believe in God you are not secure, so it's no wonder that earnest striving after money leads to a greater sense of insecurity. A person starts on the basis of his remaining sense, then little by little unfeeling drowns it out. Perhaps he promises himself that when he finds success he will take care of the needy. And if he is successful, his selfishness is awakened even more and feeling for his neighbor dies out within him to the point that he hates him, telling himself that he has the right to enjoy what his own two hands have reaped and he judges his needy neighbor for being idle and insatiable. He spends millions on his own pleasure and it gives his heart no comfort, while a penny for the poor is a heavy burden for him! In practice, he pilfers from what belongs the poor for their subsistence, who are humiliated, since they are put into the position of begging for their right to live. Indeed, he considers them, if they persist in their demand, to be people who want to take from him fraudulently!

The love of money drips a demonic acid into the soul, by which a person increasingly comes to be of the devil's stuff. He becomes a demon, in a sense! This desiccates the content of every relationship with others and it only leaves-- if it leaves anything-- their outward form. He believes the lie that he has friends when, in the depth of his soul, he is isolated and savage. In the end, he shamelessly adopts Satan and crucifies Christ in God's name! The devil becomes the person's father because, through love of money, he does the devil's work at all times. Thus the person is confined between two antichrists: one flows like a stream that draws him to worship the other when the cup of man's sin is full. Then he quickly and completely falls into the third temptation into which the devil tried to cause Christ to fall, as a man, according to the Gospel of Matthew: Satan took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to Him, "I will give you all of these if You fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:8-9)! And so the choice is this: either you bow down to the Lord your God and worship Him alone or you fall down and worship Satan! There is no state between these two. The love of money is walking in the spirit of Satan every day until you come to the hour when one worships the devil face to face and Satan becomes all in all for him as a dark spirit!

What nativity are we working for, then?! This is a question that everyone must ask himself. Beware that the god that we celebrate today born in a manger is not Mammon robed in light!

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan-- Douma, Lebanon
December 24, 2017

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