It has been said that a recession is when someone else loses his job; a depression is when you lose your job. I am too young to remember the Great Depression, though all the adults I knew as a child had come through that period. In 1928, my paternal great-grandfather lost everything (farm, machinery, house, etc.) in the Cotton Market Crash that preceded the Great Depression. My father was four years old and traveled from South Georgia to the Upstate of South Carolina in a farm wagon (grim even for those days). His family took up share-cropping, the poorest of the poor in that farm economy. At age four he began to work, picking cotton, doing anything he could do. Those were hard times.
When I was 10, the local Air Force base closed. My father’s auto repair business was largely based on clientele who were stationed or worked at the base. We lost a lot – I remember a spate of about four or five years in which things were much “leaner” than they had been.
Recessions come and go. Depressions, too, come and go, though with greater impact. Historically, it is of interest that the Great Depression was not a time of increased Church attendance in America. I daresay it was a time of increased prayer. If you’re hungry enough, you pray. America has the strange phenomenon of increased Church attendance usually accompanying times of prosperity. Many other nations, particularly several I can think of in Europe (modern Ireland stands out) have seen Church attendance plummet when prosperity comes.
I suspect that this all has something to do with America’s strange marriage of prosperity and piety. In most cases it is not as blatant as those who preach a “prosperity gospel,” but the prosperity gospel would not even be preached in America if it did not already have a ready audience. On some level our culture equates wealth with “God shed His grace on Thee” (the words of one of our patriotic hymns).
Historically, Orthodoxy has always been resistant to prosperity gospels, they are doubtless kept at bay by the constant presence of the voluntary poverty of monastics. Monasticism is not viewed as a unique vocation within Orthodoxy, but simply the Christian vocation pushed towards a maximum. The typicon (the book which guides liturgical and ascetic practice) is the same book for both monk and non-monk. The non-monk simply does not keep the typicon as strictly. But the ideal remains the same.
This is less obvious in America where a monastic presence has been slow to take hold. But the ascetic ideal abides, nonetheless.
Economies will do all sorts of things – and we ought always to pray for the needs of the world. We ought also to remember that prosperity as a sign of God’s favor is a peculiar “heresy” of sorts in our modern world. By the same token, a collapsing economy may not be a sign of God’s disfavor, either. Judging others is not a work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. Prayer is.
St. Paul teaches us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We appear to be in a time when you, me, and the other guy will be doing one or the other – with perhaps more weeping than usual. Thus our prayers for the world before God should not be shy in weeping for the pain of others and should be totally devoid of rejoicing at the pain of any.