Some days ago, we celebrated the memory of our holy Father St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite. I was today reading his fifth discourse on Christian Morality, and thought I would share a passage that, although difficult for most of us to hear, is particularly relevant to us today, when the sickening levels of poverty and inequality around the world are matched only by our endless greed and obsession with consumerism. Before quoting the passage in question, lest I give the false impression that the saint is unfair or unbalanced in his remarks, I want to emphasise that, although he speaks here specifically to those women who have an unhealthy obsession with clothes and jewellery, the chapter in its entirety (which deals with outward appearance and vain adornment) addresses men just as frequently, if not more frequently, than it does women, and had it been written today, when retail-therapy is by no means only a female hobby, he would surely have made mention of both sexes. Indeed, as he says elsewhere "if these are forbidden to women...are they not still more prohibited for men?" (p.129). Of course, for many, expensive clothes and cosmetics are not a luxury but a necessity – many having to abide by a specific dress code in the workplace, for example. Needless to say, this is not what is discussed here.
Where now, then, are these dubious women, who are completely drawn to adornments? Where are these irreverent Eves, who have this demon of a mania for high-priced clothes? For expensive coverings of the head? For precious stones and pearls fashioned into chokers for the neck? For gold bracelets for the hands? For luxurious sashes? For fashionable footwear and for other expensive beautifications for the parts of the body?...[W]hat is this mania that has overtaken you? Do you not know, tortured women, that this hyperbolic desire that you have for adornment is from the Devil, who wishes to destroy your very souls and those of others? Have you not thought about the fact that your passionate desiring of expensive clothes and inappropriate adornments for the body occasions many evils and great damages? (1) Since you languish in soul and in body and become wholly uncultivated, like young babies, in this infantile desire of yours for adornments. (2) Since you diminish what you possess and the governance of your household, depriving your children of what they need for the sake of your useless ornaments. (3) Since you deprive, as well, your poor brothers and sisters, for that which you otherwise have to give to them who are in need you spend on vain raiment. (4) Since you sadden and embitter your husbands and parents by imposing on them to buy such expensive dresses and adornments, and, when they lack the means, placing these wretched ones in debt by their securing borrowed money and paying interest on it…(6) Since you become a poor example to the other women who see you, becoming an inspiration for them to force their husbands to buy the same expensive apparel. (7) And finally, since this demonic madness that you have for adornments compels many miserable women to betray their honour and to fall to prostitution and to adultery, if simply to obtain beautiful clothes and not to appear inferior to other women…[L]ament the destruction that you have brought upon your own souls; feel sorrow for your husbands and parents, who are pained each day and who weep and bemoan that they cannot manage to provide you with adornment. Lament for your children and the poor, who are deprived by virtue of your adornments; be fearful for the chastisement that one who, such as yourself, scandalizes others takes upon himself.
Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Christian Morality,
Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 2012, 119-121. Belmont, MA
The bread that you store up belongs to the hungry; the coat that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold that you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor
- St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Cæsarea