I had never heard of St. Moses of Optina before yesterday. During Matins when we paused to read the list of martyrs and saints commemorated one of those mentioned was St. Moses of Optina. He was a Russian Saint of the mid 19th century from the great monastery of Optina. In the Menaion, the service book that contains the Matins service, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery the reading also included a couple of verses about St. Moses of Optina. It said something like, “Manna from heaven stayed longer on the ground than money in the hands of Moses.” I chuckled to myself as I read it. I imagined the speed with which the hungry Israelites in the wilderness gathered the heavenly Manna from the ground, and the picture of Moses getting rid of his money even faster made me smile. I thought how beautiful and wise a man he must have been.
Too often we do not take the faith, and its call to give up and give away what we have, very seriously. I know I struggle with it. I should not worry and obsess over money – getting it, keeping it, having it and holding on to it – but I do. I long for the spirit of St. Moses – the spirit of understanding that what God gives us is for us to give away and not to hold onto. Moses saw the money that came in to his possession as what it was – the free gift and blessing of God. It was no different than the Manna from heaven. If you remember the story, the Manna fell like dew each night and each morning the Israelites would gather what they needed. But, if they took more than they needed it would spoil and not be fit to eat. That is because the lesson God was teaching them was to not seek security in their own resources, in what they saved or hoarded. In the same way holding on to our money rather than giving it away for the use of others, makes the money no good to anyone.
This reminds me of the scene in “Its a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey’s father asks the richest and meanest man in town, “Mr. Potter what makes you such a hard skull character? You have no family, you can’t possibly spend all the money you have.” To which Potter replies, “I suppose I should give it to miserable failures like you.” Potter expresses the spirit of the age while Bailey recognizes the truth. Money was not made to covet, to hoard and hold on to. Money was made to spend, and not to spend on our own pleasure and comfort. It is a gift from God, not for us to use for ourselves, but for us to use and spread around like Manna, sharing with all the blessings of heaven.
Only in such a spirit can we live in true faith and freedom.