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MESSAGE OF THE MONTH
I Have Found the Drachma I Had Lost
By the Rev. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St. Vlassios
The start of 2002 was accompanied by a very important event which was the monetary union of Europe. It is believed that this was the preamble of its political union, with the hope that it will not also imply the cultural union of Europe, because Europe is and must remain a multicultural society.
For the Greeks, Europe’s monetary union signaled the loss of the drachma, a currency with a history of many centuries, and its replacement with the euro which is currently used in transactions. Certainly, the euro’s circulation has many advantages. It is not our purpose in this article to proceed to economic and monetary analyses. We would mostly like to emphasize some other truths.
The word drachma derives from the Greek verb “dratto -- δράττω,” meaning something that one can grab with his hands, and was the currency circulating in ancient Greece. It has been written that it has a history of 2,700 years. It was established as a currency in ancient Greece in the 7th century BC by Phaedon, who ascended to the temple of Hera and deposited a “pack of obolos” and thus replaced obolos with the drachma. From the mid-6th century on, the drachma became the prevailing currency in most Greek cities. In fact it was used by Alexander the Great who issued the four-drachma coins with which he paid his soldiers and gave a “dowry” to the newlyweds and used it in his campaigns along with the gold stater.
Because of this, the drachma was circulating in Palestine during Christ’s times. It was a money Christ used, together with Jewish and Roman money. In the New Testament there survive two incidents involving the drachma.
The first one took place in Capernaum, when “they that received the two-drachmas [“tribute money” in the English translation] came to Peter and said: Doth not your master pay the two-drachmas?” (Matt.17, 24). This was a tax paid by Jews everywhere for the Temple. The two-drachma coin was the attic money, equivalent to two attic drachmas or one Alexandrian drachma. Christ then said to Peter that taxation is not proper for free citizens, but in order not to create a scandal ordered him to cast a hook into the sea and in the first fish he would catch he would find a stater equivalent to four drachmas. This he should give to the person asking him, in order to avoid creating a scandal for those who ask (Matt. 17, 25-27).
The second incident from the New Testament and the life of Christ related to the drachma is a parable narrated by Christ in which He presents the work He accomplished with His incarnation. After referring to the example of the shepherd who found his lost sheep, leaving aside the other ninety-nine sheep, and celebrated by calling his friends, he then used the example of the lost drachma.
“Either what woman having ten drachmas [“pieces of silver” in the English translation], if she lose one drachma, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she had found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the drachma which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Lk 15, 8-10)
According to holy Theophylaktos, this parable is associated with the work of God’s love and philanthropy which was richly manifested with His incarnation. The woman depicts the Father’s wisdom and power, who is the Son and Word of God, who lost a drachma by the logical beings -- the angels -- and this drachma is man, created in the image of God. To find this lost drachma, that is, man, “He lights His own flesh as a candle.” As the candle illumines all darkness, by the light it has received, so Christ’s flesh illumined the whole world by the light of His deity. After the illumination, “the house was swept, that is the whole world was purified from sin,” because Christ Himself bore the sin and liberated man from it. This way, “the drachma, the royal image, was found.”
Man, who is implied by the drachma, is the image of Christ the King, because he has the noetic and self-rule qualities, namely nous and freedom, which are found in no other creatures. So Christ celebrates this event, just like the woman did with her friends and neighbors. In other words, Christ celebrated with the angels in heaven for finding the lost man. The angels are called friendly powers because they obey His will, and neighbors because they are closer to God. Man is the lost drachma found by Christ, he is the royal image found by the incarnated Christ.
Here we see the question of what man is and how great his value is. The ancient Greeks dealt with the problem of man. Alkmaion of Kroton said, as preserved by Theophrastos: “It is said that man differs from other animals because he has intelligence, while the others have senses but not intelligence.” Menander’s saying is also well known: “How graceful man is when he is a man.”
The holy Fathers study extensively man and his worth as created in the image of God. St. Gregory the Theologian, to confine myself to him, is very expressive. In one of his sermons he says: “What is this new mystery about me? I am small and great, humble and noble, mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly”. The first are of this world, while the second are of God, the first are attributes of the flesh, the other attributes of the Spirit. And he concludes by describing the purpose of man’s existence, which shows his ontology and inner objective: “I must be buried together with Christ, be risen with Christ, inherit with Christ, become a son of God, this God”.
In another sermon, St. Gregory the Theologian, after discussing man’s creation, which followed the creation of angels and of the perceptible world, so as to be a kind of second world, a great one in his smallness, he then talks about man, as created by God: “Another angel, pilgrim, combination, overseer of the visible creation, partaker of the invisible, king over earth, under the king of heaven, earthly and heavenly, temporal and eternal, visible and invisible, a measure of humbleness, spirit and flesh together.” He then gives another definition which is the summary of the entire Orthodox anthropology and Christology and soteriology. Man is “an animal residing here but transferring elsewhere, and the end of this mystery is to move towards God.” That is, man resides on earth but moves elsewhere and the end of this mystery is for him to become God by grace. And, as he says subsequently, the dim gleam of truth he finds here on earth leads to the vision of God’s brightness.
The problem for us Orthodox is neither the drachma, which is a currency for commercial transactions, nor the euro, but the person, the royal image, man, who has a high destination and a high mission and can be neither identified nor replaced by the drachma or the euro. The person can not become a slave and pawn to objects. Objects must be subjugated to the person. Man is the found drachma, or the new euro, that has the royal image on him and is worthy this royal honour.
These days, among discussions on the value of the euro, there was one sentence written in a newspaper which demonstrates the tragedy of this issue: “How many euros does it cost to find fellowship?” (Eleftherotypia newspaper). Someone who experiences loneliness, the absence of love, does not benefit from the circulation of the euro.
The point is that each one of us should neither cry for the lost drachma nor rejoice too much with the found euro, but rather repeat the woman’s words in the parable: “I have found the drachma which I had lost,” that is, I found the meaning of life and proved worthy of my royal value with which Christ created and recreated me, and of course, he who “finds” the Royal image “will receive his due.”