Envy is a venomous beast, an unclean beast, a deliberate vice

St John Chrysostom

Aesop's fable about the avaricious and envious man


"... A venomous beast is envy, an unclean beast, a deliberate vice which admits not of pardon, a wickedness stripped of excuse, the cause and mother of all evils. Wherefore let us pluck it up by the roots, that we may be freed from evil here, and may obtain blessings hereafter; through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory now and ever and world without end. Amen."


St John Chrysostom, Homily LV. John viii. 48, 49 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.iv.lvii.html  (the quotation is at the conclusion of the sermon)


I suppose most of us would understand the evils of envy if we saw an extreme example, such as murder because of envy. The fact is, envy is common and is always evil, and leads to evils that may not even be directly associated with envy.


This is because envy chases away grace. If not repented from, it is the antithesis of the Lord's command, given several times in the Gospel, that we must forgive our brother (if we are to be forgiven)[1]. This is St John's meaning when he says that envy is "... a deliberate vice which admits not of pardon". When pardon is not given to others, in no way can it ever be received for oneself.


It is ironic in a sense that St John calls envy "a wickedness stripped of excuse", because the actions of an envious person always include making excuses for their bestial thoughts and actions. When envy possesses the soul, the person gives himself license to make every kind of excuse for his evil thoughts. There will be no excuse however, when the envious man is told by the Lord, "depart from me, because I do not know you."[2] This man, who during his life nurtured many excuses because of his envy, will suddenly have none, and the full understanding of his folly will fall upon him.


St John goes so far as to call envy "the root of all evils". The scripture says that says the "love of money is the root of all evils"[3]. Both statements are true, as both loves - that of money and the narcissistic self-love that spawns envy are basically children of the fundamental sin - that of not loving God and neighbor, by putting oneself first, whether in the acquisition of money, or of anything else that rightly belongs to our brother.


When we see absolute statements and warnings, because of our stupidity and blind self-love, we tend to excuse ourselves, thinking that even if we have a little bit of the sin, we are not "that bad".  This is not the way of life, but of death. We who are Christians must follow St John's advice to the letter, and " pluck (envy) up by the roots". There is no "safe" amount of envy that we can allow ourselves.


Let us guard ourselves from envy. If we are of the proper disposition, we will see this hydra make its appearance in many places. If we think we are immune to this passion, most likely we do not read the scriptures enough, or seek God's law with attention enough, because this is a common malady of man.

Remember the scripture that says "All men are liars"[4]. Envy is an execrable lie.


There is an important story about envy from Aesop's fables, which shows how deadly this passion is. May God help the poor man who does not see anything of himself in this story or the absolute destructiveness of even a "little bit" of envy.



Avaricious and Envious


Two neighbors came before Jupiter and prayed him to grant their hearts’ desire. Now the one was full of avarice, and the other eaten up with envy. So to punish them both, Jupiter granted that each might have whatever he wished for himself, but only on condition that his neighbor had twice as much. The Avaricious man prayed to have a room full of gold. No sooner said than done; but all his joy was turned to grief when he found that his neighbor had two rooms full of the precious metal. Then came the turn of the Envious man, who could not bear to think that his neighbor had any joy at all. So he prayed that he might have one of his own eyes put out, by which means his companion would become totally blind.       “VICES ARE THEIR OWN PUNISHMENT.” (http://www.bartleby.com/17/1/54.html)


Priest Seraphim Holland 2014     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] Matthew 6:14-15  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  (15)  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:32-35  Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:  (33)  Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?  (34)  And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  (35)  So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Matthew 11:25-26  And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.  (26)  But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

 Luke 6:37  Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

[2] Luke 13:27  But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

[3] 1Titus 6:10  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

[4] All Orthodox Christians *should* know this scripture well, as they *should* by saying it every week to prepare for communion, as it is part of the preparation prayers (Psalm 115:2 "As for me, I said in mine ecstasy: Every man is a liar." (Septuagint, "Boston" Psalter) )