The Canon speaks of the impulses or the "passions" of our souls and bodies that were created to serve us but at times get distorted and rule over us. Examples are anger and hunger. As in practically every area of life, there is a delicate balance of priorities. The same is true of material possessions. It feels like we own things, but we can suddenly realize that it's the other way around. St. Andrew says, "I have fallen beneath the painful burden of the passions and the corruption of material things; and I am hard pressed by the enemy. Instead of freedom from possessions, O Savior, I have pursued a life in love with material things; and now I wear a heavy yoke. Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me."
So how should we treat ourselves and our stuff? The Bible explains that we're created in the image of God which would seem to imply that we should honor our bodies as worthy temples and "containers" of the Holy Spirit. But we're also warned not to confuse outward adornment with a pure heart and to be careful not to make an idol of our flesh. We're hardwired with a self-preservation instinct and a desire for comfort and entertainment. It's amazing how quickly conveniences (such as cell phones) become necessities in our lives. This past week I heard St. Andrew's message from two men in quite different situations. One is a baseball coach who works for the New York Yankees and the other is a civil engineer who specializes in building bridges. The coach spends much of his time in the Dominican Republic, and the engineer works primarily in China. The coach sees young boys with athletic talent taken out of school so that they can practice long hours and hopefully pursue a career in sports. He sees them cry and beg when they're cut from the team because it was their only chance to escape poverty and help their families. The engineer sees families living in primitive housing where running water is an unimaginable luxury. Both men say their outlook has been forever changed by what they've seen.
Our possessions and pleasures are not evil in themselves, and frankly, I have no idea how to solve the problem of the widening gap in the haves and the have-nots of the world, but the words of St. Andrew ring true today. It's easy to assume that we deserve our blessings based simply on the evidence that we have them. From there it's a short step to finding ourselves with a "painful burden" and a "heavy yoke" that completely blind us to the truth. Again, the call to humility and repentance will lead us to salvation.