On Avarice by St. John of Kronstadt

To what do you cleave? In what do you seek your life? Is it in money, which made Judas hang himself?

Excerpts from the diary of St. John of KronstadtOn Avarice

When your heart is struck by avarice, say to yourself: "My life is Christ, the Beloved of all. He is my inexhaustible wealth, my inexhaustible food, my inexhaustible drink. Our blind flesh dreams of finding life in food and in money, and bears ill-will against those who deprive it of these material means of life. But be firmly persuaded that your life is not money and food, but mutual love for the sake of love for God. Remember that God is Love, uniting all things animated by the laws of love, and bringing forth life from the union of love.

Do not be anxious about money; if you really need it, then God will send it to you, as He did the manna or quails to the Israelites. "The earth is the Lord's, and all that therein is: the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein."[1340] First seek the kingdom of God, the salvation of men, their strengthening in faith, the amendment of their lives; strengthen yourself in faith, cleanse your heart, conscientiously fulfil your calling, carefully perform your duties, and everything else, such as money, food, clothing, and so forth, shall be added to you.

God is good and all-goodness, and you, His image, must also be good. He is bountiful to all, and you too must be generous, and avoid avarice and grudging your neighbour anything material, perishable, as the greatest calamity and foolishness.

Avarice occasions a waste of love, and inspires hatred against those who deprive or rob us of our property; whilst hearty generosity arouses love for those, to whom we are liberal; forced generosity, however, also produces dislike. Avarice proceeds from — the Devil, generosity from — God. He is the Father of bounties. Every attachment to material things proceeds from — the Devil; neglect, contempt of material things and indifference to them, for the love of God — from God. Amen.

Furthermore, people worship money, this great god, the Jupiter of our age; for the sake of this idol many sacrifice their health, spending sleepless nights for its sake, swearing falsely for it, violating the laws of friendship for it, becoming cold to their relatives through it, all with the one purpose of accumulating as much money as they possibly can. There are money-lovers who, if it were possible, would turn everything into money, and would live by it, like Judas Iscariot, who wished to turn into money even the precious ointment with which the pious woman who loved her Lord with her whole soul anointed His feet, and then wiped them with her hair. Christian! it is not for your health, belly, dress, and money that you must care; you must strive after love for God and your neighbour, for these are God's two greatest commandments. "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him."[1362]

God did not spare for our sakes even His Only Begotten Son. How, then, after this can we grudge anything to our neighbour: either food, drink, clothing, or money for his various needs? The Lord gives much to some and little to others in order that we may provide for each other. The Lord has so ordered that if we willingly share the bountiful gifts of His mercy with others, then they serve to benefit our souls and bodies, by opening our hearts to the love of our neighbour, whilst our moderation in using them serves to benefit our body, which does not become satiated and overloaded by them. But if we use these gifts selfishly, avariciously, and greedily, for ourselves only, and grudge them to others, then they become injurious to our soul and body - injurious to the soul, because greediness and avarice close the heart to the love of God and our neighbour, and make us repulsive, self-lovers, increasing all our passions; and injurious to the body, because greediness produces satiety in us, and prematurely impairs our health.

The Lord does not dwell in the heart in which reign greediness and attachment to earthly blessings, to earthly pleasures, money, and so forth. This is daily proved by experience. In such a heart dwell cruelty, pride, presumption, scornfulness, malice, vengeance, envy, avarice, vanity, and boastfulness; theft, deceitfulness, hypocrisy, and dissimulation; craftiness, flattery, cringing, fornication, profane speaking, violence, treachery, and perjury.

... do we not greedily seek for more, and are not satisfied with the little, or with that which God has given us? We do not thank God for what we have as we ought to.

If you see a wrathful brother, pray thus: "Lord, make this servant of Thine good through Thy grace." If a mercenary and greedy one, pray thus: "Lord, Thou Who art our incorruptible Treasury and inexhaustible Riches, grant that this servant of Thine, created according to Thy image, may recognise the deceitfulness of riches, and that, like all earthly things, they are vain, fleeting, delusive. For the days of men are like grass, or like the spider's web, and Thou alone art our riches, peace, and joy.

Our life is incomplex: because our life is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the most incomplex eternal Being, having no beginning. "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son."[565] Why, then, do we seek life in men, in enjoyments, in money, in honours, in dress, and so forth? There is no life for the heart in these things, but only affliction, straitness, and spiritual death. Why do we forsake the Fountain of living waters — the Lord, and hew out "cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water"? [566] Why do we toss about, and trouble about trifles? Why are we so greedy after enjoyments, money, honours, dress, and various other things? All these are dead, perishable, transitory. The Devil, who has the power of death, is also incomplex, and catches us in his snares, wounding us unto death; this is why we must be on our guard, and not attach ourselves to anything, so that we may not be hurt by him.

The end of everything on earth — of my body, of enjoyments, of dress, of all treasures is — destruction, corruption and disappearance, but the spirit lives for ever. May my soul remember this, and not grieve at the loss of anything temporal, perishable, but be zealous about eternal, imperishable matters: concerning God, concerning the fulfilment of His commandments, the unity of love, a peaceful condition, patience, temperance, chastity, self-denial, the heart's indifference to all earthly beauties and enjoyments, not greedy of gain (only striving to gain the Lord Himself), seeking the one thing needful; endeavouring not to imitate the crafty, and not to envy those that work iniquity. Let others take away your dross — do not mind this and do not be exasperated at it.

The Lord does not dwell in the heart in which reign greediness and attachment to earthly blessings, to earthly pleasures, money, and so forth. This is daily proved by experience. In such a heart dwell cruelty, pride, presumption, scornfulness, malice, vengeance, envy, avarice, vanity, and boastfulness; theft, deceitfulness, hypocrisy, and dissimulation; craftiness, flattery, cringing, fornication, profane speaking, violence, treachery, and perjury.

Greedy, covetous miser! is it money, is it bread that has given you life? Is it not God? Is it not His word which gave being and life to you and all other creatures? Does not the Son of God uphold "all things by the word of His power?"[824] Do money and bread, water and wine alone support your life? Does not man live "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God"? [825] Are not money and bread mere dust? Is not bread the least of the things necessary for supporting our life? Everything was created and is supported by the word. The word is the source and preservation of life.

How and when are we to care for the imperishable raiment of the soul: meekness, righteousness, chastity, patience, mercy, when all our cares, attention, and means are directed to perishable raiment and the adornment of our body? We cannot serve two masters: for the soul is simple and single. How and when are we to care for the spiritual riches of good works, when we are only greedy after perishable riches and strive to amass it with all our might and means, when our heart clings to money, to the world, and not to God? How and when are we to care for the incorruptible spiritual food and for the blessed drink — for prayer, the reading of God's word, the writings and lives of the Holy Fathers, the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord, when we hardly let food and drink out of our mouths, and this stupefying lit-up poisonous smoke which many consider so pleasant? How can our soul rejoice in the Holy Spirit, when we are continually occupied by earthly, vain pastimes and pleasures? O, ruinous service to corruption, drawing us away from the life incorruptible, true and eternal!

God is inexhaustible in his gifts to men. During already 7403 years [1291] He abundantly feeds all creatures. Everywhere we see plenty and joy; only the greedy rich lay their hands on and keep in their treasuries too many of God's gifts, which might plentifully nourish hundreds and thousands of poor. Man! believe firmly in God's inexhaustibility in His gifts, and willingly "deal thy bread to the hungry;"[1292] the more you give, the more shall God send you. Such is God's law: "with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."[1293]

We ought to lay down our lives for the Lord and our neighbour, and not spare them; but meanwhile we grudge even food, drink, clothing, dwelling, money, books, and other things — this earthly dross. Our crafty and evil flesh seeks after the smallest pretext for self-love, greediness, and even grasping.

Why, then, are we anxious about our food? Why are we so greedy? Why do we surfeit and delight ourselves with dainties? Why do we grudge to share with our neighbour? O impiety! O blindness! O filthy self-love! O want of love for God and our neighbour! For God dwells in the person of our neighbour, and therefore we grudge His own gifts to God Himself. Remember how generously the spirit-bearing Prophet Elisha rewarded the Shunamite woman who received him in her house and entertained him in the simplicity of her heart! He implored God to give her a son, and afterwards, when this son died, he raised him from the dead.

"That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us."[522] What separates us from God and each other? Money, food, and drink — this dust, this dross, this corruption. Why? Because we have not living Christian trust and faith in God. We do not know, or we forget, that man's true life is love for God and his neighbour. Setting our life upon dust and trusting in it, we do not render to the Heavenly Father the glory that is due to Him, by putting our whole trust in Him, by casting all our care upon Him, as His faithful children in Christ should do. "If then I be a Father, where is Mine honour? [523] Where is your trust in Me? Where is your love for Me? Where is your detachment from earthly, corrupt things, and your hearty desire for the heavenly, spiritual, and eternal ones?

Luxuries, money are worse than ordinary dust and dirt, because they sully the soul; ordinary dust only sullies the body, clothing, or room. O, how necessary it is to despise luxuries, money, and dress besides!

The Lord sometimes suddenly sends bountiful material gifts, such, for instance, as: money in payment for some very easy work, and thus rewards you for the expenditure you have incurred in affording help to your neighbour; in general He freely bestows upon us the bountiful gifts of His mercy, in order that we should not grudge His gifts to those whom He sends to us, or whom He allows to take our property, which He has given us in order that we should not be at enmity amongst ourselves, but should live in love and harmony; should our neighbour rob us of our property, even then we ought not to be disquieted, but should bear it meekly, trusting to God to punish for the offence. You know, that the Lord Himself meekly allowed even His garments to be taken from Him, and His body to be tortured upon the cross — for your sake, to teach you meekness and gentleness in all misfortunes and offences.

"Who or what are our idols?" They are — some persons, and after these our transitory life; our mortal body full of passions and the things relating to it: food and drink, dress, ornaments, distinctions, money, house furniture, and so forth. When the tempter attacks you through attachments to visible things by trust in visible things, bread, money and so on, then steadfastly lift up the eyes of your heart towards the invisible and eternal: first to the invisible and eternal God — the Source of our life; secondly towards the invisible life that has no ending, towards the eternal bliss of the righteous after this transitory life. When he inspires you to seek life in corruptible things, you must strive after life in the incorruptible; when he attracts your eyes to the human body, disregarding its immortal soul, you must turn your mental gaze still more steadfastly upon the soul of the man, created after God's image and likeness, redeemed by the suffering and death of the Son of God upon the cross, made to inherit eternal blessings, affiliated by God, the temple of the Holy-Ghost, and the Bride of the Holy-Ghost. Avoid duplicity, that is, do not let your heart be divided between attachment to God and attachment to earthly things, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon"; [571] cling to God alone, put your trust in Him alone; for the Devil, by inciting us to duplicity, seeks himself to gain possession of our heart, which, is single and indivisible. And remember, that to attach yourself to God is always good, blessed, whilst to attach yourself to the world and its blessings is evil, painful, sorrowful, oppressive: for " attachment" to the world is a delusion of the Devil, and is his spirit.

We only call the Lord, God, but in reality we have our own gods, because we do not do the Will of God, but the will and thoughts of our flesh, the will of our heart, of our passions; our gods are — our flesh, pleasures, money, dress, and so forth.

We are — one body of love. Food, drink, money, dress, houses, all earthly attributes are — nothing, whilst man is — everything; nothing is so precious as man. Man, by his soul, is immortal, whilst everything material is perishable and ephemeral; everything material is like dust. Everything is God's, nothing is ours. Man! esteem the dignity of man, as the image of God and in the time of his need, do not grudge him any material help.

My heart ought to cling to God alone. "It is good for me to hold me fast by God "; [669] but — what blindness and perversion! it clings to earthly delights: to food, drink, carnal pleasures; to money, to this dross, to dress, to this corruption, to perishable colours, to patterns, to fashions, that charm the eyes, to luxuriously furnished rooms, and so forth. How strange it is! I, a Christian, a heavenly man, am occupied with everything earthly, and care but little for heavenly things. I am transplanted in Christ into heaven, but meanwhile I cling with all my heart to earth, and apparently would never desire to be in heaven, but would prefer to always remain on earth, although earthly things, notwithstanding their delights, oppress and torment me; although I see that everything earthly is uncertain, corruptible, and soon passes away; although I know and feel that nothing earthly can satisfy my spirit, can appease and rejoice my heart, which is constantly disturbed and grieved by earthly vanity. How long, therefore, shall I, a heavenly man, remain earthly? How long shall I, the child of God, be flesh, notwithstanding that I was born in holy baptism, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God"[670] How long will it be before I turn wholly to God? Lord! draw my heart to Thee by Thy Holy Spirit. Lord! turn my heart away from earthly vanities. Lord! without Thee I can do nothing.

Do not put your trust in money, but in God, who unwearyingly cares for all, and above all for His reasonable creatures endued with speech, and especially for those who live piously. Believe that His hand does not fail, above all for those who are charitable, for man cannot be more bountiful than God. Your own life and the lives of all those who lived before and were charitable serve as a proof of this. Let God alone be the treasure of your heart; cleave wholly to Him as one created after His image and likeness, and flee from earthly corruption, continually contaminating our souls and bodies. Hasten towards the life that does not pass away, towards the life that never ages; draw there all others too, as far as lies in your power.

The Devil takes captive and conquers man in this world by excessively exciting his natural spiritual and bodily needs, such as: the need of food and drink (and as everything has to be bought with money, therefore of money, too), the need of clothing, the need of pleasures, the need of honours or fame, and of a good name. All these and other similar requirements of man, which God has put into the very nature of man, are continually perverted by the Devil, who carries them to extremes, sometimes quite needlessly (for instance, with eating and drinking), and thus ruins both soul and body, and diverts the soul from God through its attachment to material things, and through its falling into sensuality and into the passions of malice, pride, envy, despondency, slothfulness, gluttony, fornication, drunkenness, covetousness, ambition, and so forth. And therefore fasting, chastity, disinterestedness, kindness, meekness, humility, faith, hope and love, prayer and meditation, are necessary.

When we pray, then the holiest, highest subjects are strangely intermingled in our thoughts with earthly, worldly, trifling subjects. For instance, God and some object we love, such as money, dress, a hat, or some dainty dish, some sweet drink, or else some outward distinction, such as a cross, an order, a ribbon, and so forth. So heedless, so given over to the passions, and distracted are we! This ought to be natural only to the heathen, who do not know the true God and His Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, and not to Christians, whose treasure is not upon earth, but in heaven. Where, then, is the living water in our heart, springing forth in life-giving streams in hearts wholly devoted to God? It is not there, because it is thrust out of our hearts by worldly vanities and other passions. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon,"[1011] says the Truth.

What woman will forget to feed the children of her womb? But let us even admit that mothers who forsake their children may be found; "But I," says the Lord, "am not like such carnal mothers, and will not forget nor forsake you." What trust, what hope, the Lord Himself inspires in us by these words, in His Providence continually caring for us and never forsaking any one of us! You are sometimes anxious about what you shall eat and drink, and how you shall be clothed; you greatly afflict your heart if you part grudgingly, sorrowfully with your money, when it is necessary to give to another, although you have plenty left, and you thus show that you put your trust and hope in earthly dross. But why are you anxious? Why do you cling to dross? Cling to the heavenly Father; He will not forget you, and will not forsake you. Let the dross forsake you; you will only feel easier without it; for the more money you have, the greater the quantity of this dross that adheres to your heart, the more will your heart which is not earthly be afflicted. There is a saying amongst men that money is no hindrance, however much of it we may have. This is untrue. It greatly hinders our soul from rising upwards, or from meditating upon our heavenly country, and the more we have of it the more it drags our soul down to earth, inciting us to occupy ourselves with various earthly devices, such as buildings, rich furniture in our houses, rich clothes, luxurious viands and drinks, and thus depriving our soul of holy zeal and precious time, during which it ought to be earning future bliss for itself.


[522] St. John xvii. 21.
[523] Malachi i. 6.
[565] 1 John v. 11.
[566] Jeremiah ii. 13.
[571] St. Matthew vi. 24.
[824] Hebrews i. 3.
[669] Psalm lxxiii. 28.
[670] St. John i. 13.
[824] Hebrews i. 3.
[825] St. Matthew iv. 4.
[917] St. Matthew xiii. 9.
[1011] St. Matthew vi. 24.
[1291] Written in the year 1863.
[1292] Isaiah lviii. 7.
[1293] St. Matthew vii. 2.
[1340] Psalm xxiv. 1.
[1362] 1 John iv. 16.

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God, St. John of Kronstadt.