Prada Bags, Saint Anastasia and Christian Strategies to Minimize Consumerism
Prada: a brand name that is known for its elegant designs and, at times, hefty price tags. I find their designs rather beautiful. I have a weakness for beauty, in all its forms.
I am drawn to beauty in nature, art, music and yes, in style and design.
There is often a conflict between admiring beautiful objects and acquiring beauty. Christians are called to reject materialism in all its forms. Our objective is to reach Heaven, and the journey requires zero baggage.
There is a constant conflict between North American traditions of instant material gratification (hello Amazon Prime), keeping up appearances (hello discounted brand names) and achieving fleeting happiness by purchasing unnecessary goods (hello shopping therapy) and efforts to minimize consumerism. Thousands of words have been written about rejecting materialism. Tips have been shared about choosing quality over quantity, beauty over clutter and multifunctional tools over one purpose kinds, etc.
While I have benefitted from all of those strategies and inspirational articles, I have yet to win the battle against consumerism. Let’s just say, some advertisement campaigns are very effective!
God sends us daily messages. I believe that our Lord created the perfect scenario for me to reflect on the challenge of materialism.
On a Sunday morning, some weeks ago, I admired the advertisement for a beautiful Prada bag before attending Church. My eyes sparkled as I examined this beautifully designed purse. I was still thinking about it when the liturgy started and felt guilty pangs for my lack of concentration during liturgy and for the reason of my lack of attention: a Prada bag! But, the heart wants what the heart wants, and at that moment, my heart would not have refused to own a Prada bag!
My divine message came in the form of the Synexarium reading that day. The Synexarium contains the summaries of the lives of Saints and Martyrs that are celebrated and commemorated through the Coptic liturgical year. As if by design (I believe it was), the Church was commemorating the departure of Saint Anastasia. If you have not had the blessing of hearing of her before, she was a Byzantine lady of legendary beauty, to the point that Emperor Justinian desired her and sought to marry her. Saint Anastasia rejected the chance to become the Empress, with all the glory and riches that would ensue and rushed to inform the Emperor’s wife of her predicament.
Here is her story:
The Departure of St. Anastasia.
She was from a noble family in the city of Constantinople. She was very beautiful and had a great moral character.
Emperor Justin, who was married, wanted to marry her. She refused and went and told his wife. The Empress sent her to Alexandria on a private ship. She built her a convent outside the city of Alexandria and named it after her.
When the Emperor knew where she was, he sent for her, but Anastasia escaped and hid herself in the wilderness of Sheheat (Scetis), disguised as a prince. She met with Anba Daniel, the archpriest of the wilderness, and revealed her story to him. He brought her to a cave, and asked one of the elders to fill a water pot for her once every week, and to place the pot at the door of the cave and leave. She remained in this place for 28 years, without anyone knowing that she was a woman. She used to write her thoughts on pieces of pottery, and leave them at the door of her cave. The elder who brought her the water used to take the pieces of pottery without knowing what was written on them and give them to St. Daniel.
One day he brought a piece of pottery to St. Daniel who wept when he read it, and said to his disciple, “Come with me now to bury the body of the saint in that cave.” When they entered her cave, they received blessings from each other. St. Anastasia said to Anba Daniel, “For the sake of God, bury me with what I have on my body.” Then she prayed and bade them farewell and departed in peace. They wept and buried her. When the disciple was caring for her burial, he found out that she was a woman, and he marveled in silence.
After they buried her, and they returned to their place, the disciple knelt before St. Daniel and said, “For the sake of God, tell me her story, for I have seen that she was a woman.” The elder told him her story, that she was from one of the noble families of Constantinople, and how she surrendered herself to Christ, forsaking the vain glory of this world.
May her blessings be with us all, Amen.
Let me summarize her life in the following word associations exercise:
Saint Anastasia rejected every luxury, comfort, delicacy, material goods in exchange for a dwelling in the desert, under challenging temperatures, in solitude because she had her eyes on Heaven; and she reached her goal.
While I am not a Saint, wait, scratch that: I am the FARTHEST thing from a Saint. However, Saint Anastasia is a phenomenal example of rejecting materialism in all its forms, whether in the form of a purse or an Empire and of keeping our eyes on the ultimate treasure: Heaven.
Practical application: How to Minimize Consumerism:
- I can decide to appreciate material beauty without acquiring it.
- I can think twice (at least) before making an impulse purchase.
- I can dedicate a more significant percentage of my budget to donations instead of shopping (for nonessentials).
- I can reflect on the lives of the ascetic Saints whenever flashy, and bright advertisement tries to convince me that my life is not complete without (fill in the blanks).
- I can teach my child to reject materialism and consumerism from his youth.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
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