Give Until It Hurts: On the Example of Myron the Wonderworker, Bishop of Crete

Myron the Wonderworker in repose

Today, August 8, we commemorate St. Myron the Wonderworker, Bishop of Crete. I learned about Myron only last night at Vespers. Myron died around the year 350 at the age of 100, having spent his entire life in Crete. (John Sanidopoulos provides a good overview of Myron’s life at his website.) Myron was not a martyr; he was initially a married man and a farmer. During this time, he earned a reputation for his extreme Christian charity and compassion for everyone. Upon the death of his wife and after years of service to his community, Myron was urged to join the priesthood by his fellow Cretans. He eventually rose to the position of bishop of all Crete. The village of his birth is today called Agiou Myronos in his honor. His career was marked by many miracles, earning him the title “Wonderworker.”

But Myron is perhaps best known for an incident that occurred before his career as a priest: one day, he encountered twelve thieves who were stealing grain from his threshing floor. Myron did not reveal who he was. Instead, he helped the thieves gather the grain into sacks and carry it from the threshing floor. Only when they were about to leave did he reveal his identity, but he did not insist that they return the grain; his witness to Christ’s love for the thieves so impressed them that they gave up stealing and lived honorable lives from then on. He truly took literally Christ’s words, “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also” (Matthew 5:40).

This anecdote from Myron’s life could not stand in greater contrast to the teachings of American Christianity, which seems to value above all else the acquisition and protection of wealth and property. I recall the example of some Evangelical friends from my youth. They were sitting around a table at Taco Bell when a homeless youth approached them and asked for some cash with which to buy food. Rather than part with their own cash on terms other than their own, my friends suggested that they buy the youth a taco. “But I wanted KFC,” said the youth, gesturing toward the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street. My friends were upset that a beggar would presume to also be a chooser, and insisted that if he wanted their money, he should settle for Taco Bell.

How different would have been the response of Myron, who would have undoubtedly accompanied the youth to KFC to buy whatever he pleased, just as our Father, who, when we ask for a fish, will not offer as a snake (Luke 11:11). American Christians are taught that their wealth and property is not only a gift from God but also a reward for their uniquely American work ethic, the outward sign of their inner purity. We are taught that Christianity and capitalism, the organization of society around the continual acquisition of wealth, are not only compatible but naturally linked. This stands in stark contrast with two thousand years of Christian teaching. As John Chrysostom said, “To not share your possessions, this is also theft” and “This is why God allows you to have more, not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, fancy food, expensive clothes, and all other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need.”

St. Myron the Wonderworker, pray for us!

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