Thou shalt not steal

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Thou shalt not steal.

The Lord enjoins us to turn aside from stealing, which means conscious actions that aim to take the property of our neighbor or of our community for ourselves. Christ called stealing a serious crime, directly dependent on a malicious intent, of the same order as blasphemy, murder, and other sins proceeding from the heart (Mark 7:22).

The Bible repeatedly warns us against breaking the Eighth Commandment. For example, in the Book of Proverbs: Sweet to a man is bread obtained by unrighteousness, but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel (Proverbs 20:17). In the Wisdom of Sirach, another Old Testament book, we read: He that buildeth his house with other men's money is like one that gathereth himself stones for the tomb of his burial (Ecclesiasticus 21:8). We hear a New Testament warning against stealing not only from the mouth of the Savior, but also from the Apostle Paul, who writes: Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

Sin against the Eighth Commandment takes various forms. The simplest form of this sin is the secret theft of another's goods. The inclination toward this sin requires two elements: Lack of Love for one's neighbor and Falsehood. The thief perforce brings harm to another and usually makes it appear that someone else did the heft; i.e., he lies in order to divert attention away from himself.

Taking someone's property by fraud is a second form of stealing. This occurs when payment is made with counterfeit currency, or when an inferior item is sold for the cost of something better, when someone evades an agreement, and so forth. The structure of contemporary society, industry, and economy allow ample ground for organizing harmful fraud to our neighbor. In the capitalist world, for example, dealers may buy securities and suddenly sell them, which can make some rich while ruining others. In communist countries, the ruling nomenklatura class deception use lies to exploit the workers, something which they had promised to free them from. One may recall such early communist slogans as "Steal what was stolen." And this type of theft can be called robbery or even banditry inasmuch as it takes another's goods openly by force. In this connection, one must also to call the introduction of slavery a form of stealing. This occurs when fear is used to introduce a new system of rule so that people are forced to labor for oppressive masters. This organized evil may cover itself with such inventive slogans as "social justice," reforging; and so on. Other forms of stealing also occur, of breaking the Eighth Commandment:

Swindling. Gaining dishonestly by taking advantage of the straightened circumstances of an indigent or defenseless person when buying or selling or in concluding some kind of deal.

Unjust Judgment. Abusing general trust by misuse of the office power of a judge for personal gain.

Bribery and Corruption. Taking gifts from subordinates and advancing the unworthy.

Sacrilege. Taking to oneself valuables consecrated to God or to the Church.

Extortion. Stealing during a crisis, which may sometimes be legal, but which denies evangelical love for fellow man, to be enriched by another's labor or through a neighbor's misfortune; as when the price of bread is raised during a famine; when loans are made at an excessively high interest rate.

Plagiarism. Taking another person's ideas, creation, or invention for personal gain.

The commandment Thou shalt not steal warns against a sin that can easily kill any love between people. Property is a necessary condition of human life; it is security for a man's future and his family and his descendants, and sometimes it is a connection with the past. Frequently it is a condition for creativity and, at times, is its fruit. Like a name, property is a symbol of the person himself. Therefore, the man who steals can wound very profound aspects of the robbed man's personality, inflicting real moral mutilation.

Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote:

"Like fire, the stealing of another's goods consumes all other possessions when it enters a home, for where unrighteousness is, there can be nothing good, but every misfortune follows. Thieves and robbers are like a man who draws water with a sieve: all that they have stolen and collected flows through their hands as water drawn by a sieve. Steal and grab, O man; steal as thou wilt and what thou wilt; however, know that all will flow through thy hands, and thine own unrighteousness, as fire, shall consume it all" (Works, IV, 70).

©Archpriest Victor Potapov

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