Black Friday has hit the UK in the worst possible way! For the past week colleague at work have been saying, “What are these Black Friday deals we keep getting in our inbox?”, “What is Black Friday?”
A helpful colleague from New York explains about Thanksgiving holidays and sales, and we all have a discussion about how unfair it all seems on retail workers and what people should do with their leisure time.
Today, we found out in practice. In some of the most socially deprived parts of London and elsewhere in the UK, including on my own backdoor, there is shopping mayhem as people toss others aside, push others over, grab for goods and police are called. All this, for what? A cheap TV or a coffee maker.
No doubt, many are thinking of the cost of Christmas, which is a great consumer splurge here in the UK. People feel obliged to get their kids the biggest presents, the latest technology, all for that one day of the year when they think the latest PS4 or Xbox will truly make their kids happy.
Last year a TV repairman came around and learning that I was a teacher started telling me about the problems he was having with his young son. He said, “Look at me now, working late evenings, just so I can get the money to get all the computer games that he wants, and he still misbehaves. I really don’t know what to do.”
He struggled with my suggestion that he work less hours, take his kid to the park and kick a ball around.
I have posted before about the Advent Conspiracy and think it truly is a worthwhile venture.
It seems that consumer culture is often in direct contrast to the spirit of the Gospel and the Orthodox ascetic ideal. One of the monastic vows relates to poverty, or more correctly, non-possessiveness. This comes from the Greek word ἀκτημοσύνη (aktemosyne), which almost literally means “not owning stuff”.
Below I set out some thoughts from the Fathers and the Saints on this:
“Everyone who enters a monastery and takes upon himself Christ’s easy yoke, must without fail remain in poverty, content with absolute necessities and guarding against all superfluity in clothing, cell appurtenances or belongings, and money. The possessions, riches, and treasure of a monk should be our Lord Jesus Christ.” St. Ignatius Brianchanninov
From the life of St. John the Merciful
How could one possible explain the frugality of his diet, the abjectness of his clothing, the simplicity of the bed of the wonderful John, the Patriarch of Alexandria? For with all the other virtues that he had he did not neglect that of frugality. So in these things he possessed nothing more than the multitude of less than ordinary people.
An acquaintance of his, who lived in the city, hearing of the state he was in, bought him a luxurious fur coat, worth 36 gold coins, and he sent it to the saint, warmly entreating him to wear it.
While the saint wanted to make the man happy, both because of his good intentions and because of the warm insistence he made he tossed and turned all night about this. “Who will not condemn me, the wretch”.
As soon as dawn came, he sent the coat to the marketplace to be sold. However, the donor saw it, bought it again and sent it back to him. The saint received this gift again, and sent it back to the market again.
Finally, after this had happened two or three times, St. John made things clear to the donor, “Let’s see who’ll give up first, me selling it or you buying it and giving it back?”
The saint said this, because the donor was one of the wealthiest men in the city, and the Patriarch of Alexandria used the money to help the poor.
A brother asked an elder, “Is it good to acquire two shirts?”
The elder replied, “Get two shirts, but don’t acquire wickedness, which dirties the body and the soul, the soul has no need of evil, but the body has need of clothing. But having what is needed and necessary, let us be satisfied with that and no more. “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8)
Do not desire anything owned by your neighbour, whether clothing, or a belt, or whatever else, and if you do, do not give in to your desire, by making yourself something similar. Adornment of the body is destruction of the soul. However, taking care of body and soul in fear of God, is good.
Regarding your clothing, love simple and plain clothes, to make the impassioned thoughts that arise within you disappear, mainly that of arrogance. The person who loves dressing up cannot acquire humble thoughts, his heart is stuck on external things.
“It is beneficial,” answered the discerning Elder, “but perfect poverty must be joined with the monk’s progress in all the other virtues. Because if he does not progress spiritually in each day that passes, he will soon plant other things.”
Evagrios says “The frugal person is special, because they live on the border between mortal and immortal nature. They have a mortal body they have bodily needs, however they never fall into the luxury of self-indulgence because their soul is leading them to immortality.
St Clement of Alexandria says “They beautify the surface but leave their innermost part ruins. They are like Egyptian temples. You can see magnificent porticos and vestibules, exterior walls covered in precious stones, with gold and with silver. Wait and see however the deity for whom all this decoration takes place. How much disappointment do they feel when they see that the inhabitant of the temple is a crocodile, or a cat, or a snake, whose dwelling place would not be a magnificent temple, but a den, or a dirty hole. The inner beauty is missing from those who only focus on external things. The person who thinks he can achieve honour and respect through gold and external adornment shows that he you are even less worthy than these things.
A proven athlete of poverty, simplicity and deprivation was Elder Kallinikos, a Cypriot who did his ascetic labours with his brother Gregorios in St. Anne’s Skete. He continued his ascetic endeavours in Stavrovounion on Cyprus. At his repose he left behind only a rotten mattress infested with bedbugs, a wooden box full of mites and stuffed with rags, suitable only for firewood, a pair of shoes mended a thousand times, and two or three forgotten paras in a wooden box.
To those gathered around, the elder’s natural brother, Hegumen Barnabas, said with tears in his eyes: “Look, Fathers, at Kallinikos’ wealth which he acquired during his life as a monk. Truly ‘A monk is the one who possesses nothing during his present life on earth, except Christ Himself.” Athonite Gerontikon
“Beneath the tattered clothing and destitute appearance of the ascetics lie a wealth of hidden virtues, as well as a spirit which is contemptuous against, and victorious over the materialistic world. Within their forced deprivation and hardship is a treasure of humility and the visible philosophy of life according to Christ.
True ascetics pursue this appearance: they do not wear new clothes, receive no money and deny themselves the pleasures of life. Their self-denial follows the teachings of the Eternal One: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). They do not pay attention to appearances, particularly to the outer shell—to beautiful clothes, shoes, face, hair and body. Attention is focused on substance and the depth of the inner man, the adornment of mind and heart with uncreated loveliness, heavenly brightness and divine beauty. ”