First, a brief biography from OrthodoxWiki to help you get your bearings:

“Our father among the saints John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for eloquence in public speaking and his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, ‘golden-mouthed.’ The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. He is also recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, which considers him a saint and Doctor of the Church, and the Church of England, both of whom commemorate him on September 13. His relics were stolen from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 (commemorated on January 27) and brought to Rome, but were returned on November 27, 2004, by Pope John Paul II.”

On Living Simply (cover)Now, then: a slim volume titled On Living Simply: The Golden Voice of John Chrysostom yields the following passages, excerpted from St. John’s homilies, that speak very clearly to our current situation.  Do read through to the end.  You might be surprised by what you find along the way.

“The rich usually imagine that, if they do not physically rob the poor, they are committing no sin. But the sin of the rich consists in not sharing their wealth with the poor. In fact, the rich person who keeps all his wealth for himself is committing a form of robbery. The reason is that in truth all wealth comes from God, and so belongs to everyone equally. The proof of this is all around us. Look at the succulent fruits which the trees and bushes produce. Look at the fertile soil which yields each year such an abundant harvest. Look at the sweet grapes on the vines, which give us wine to drink. The rich may claim that they own many fields in which fruits and grain grow; but it is God who causes seeds to sprout and mature. The duty of the rich is to share the harvest of their fields with all who work in them and with all in need.”

“We do not need to buy air, water, fire, sunshine, and things of this kind. God has given enough of all these blessings for everyone to enjoy them freely. The sun shines equally on the rich and the poor, and they both breathe the same air. Why is it, then, that these necessary things, which sustain life, are created by God for common use, while money is not common? The reason is twofold: to safeguard life and to open the path to virtue. On the one hand if the necessities of life were not common, the rich, with their usual greediness, would take them away from the poor. In fact, since they keep all money for themselves, they would certainly do the same with these necessities. On the other hand if money were common and available to all, there would be no opportunity for generosity on the part of the rich and gratitude on the part of the poor.”

“Commerce in itself is not bad; indeed it is an intrinsic part of God’s order. What matters is how we conduct our commerce. The reason why commerce is necessary is that God created human beings with different ambitions and skills. One person is a good carpenter, another a good preacher; one person can make crops grow in the poorest soil, another can heal the most terrible diseases. Thus each person specializes in the work for which God has ordained him; and by selling his skills, or the goods he produces, he can obtain from others the goods which he needs. The problems arise because some people can obtain a far higher price for their work than others, or because some people employ others and do not pay a fair wage. The result is that some become rich and others poor. But in God’s eyes one skill is not superior to another; every form of honest labor is equal. So inequalities in what people receive for their labor undermine the divine order.”

“The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing—and to be grateful for all that is given.”

“When a family falls into poverty, it may be compelled to borrow money in order to survive. But if the lender charges interest on the loan, then that family will fall deeper into the pit: not only will they have to repay the loan but also the interest that accumulates on it. The lender may pretend, even to himself, that he is acting kindly; but in fact behind the guise of charity he is acting with extreme malice. He is trading on the calamities of others; he is drawing profit from their distress; he is demanding a material reward for an act of charity, and so turning charity into robbery. He seems to be beckoning the poor family into a safe harbor, but in truth he is taking their ship onto the rocks. The lender may ask: ‘Why should I lend to others money that is useful to me, and demand no reward for it?’ My answer is that you shall receive a reward: in return for the gold you lend on earth, you shall receive gold in heaven at a far greater rate of interest than you could ever imagine.”

“Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person’s gold and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the emperor to impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone? Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing, and do much harm. Those who combined both cruel hearts and sharp minds would soon find ways of making themselves rich again. Worse still, the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold from the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift. Far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow. The only way to achieve true justice is to change people’s hearts first—and then they will joyfully share their wealth.”

On Living Simply: The Golden Voice of John Chrysostom