This thread has been inactive since May, but the ever changing economic climate of the USA and the world seems to make it even more relevant than in the past.
I cannot accept a definition that "interest and usury" are equal, they are not, which is to say the earnings called interest are not the same thing as the earnings from usury. The earnings from interest are "earned", while the earnings from usury are "stolen." That said, my answer to the subject line's question is the same as those who have posted dogmatically that "usury" is sinful, but earning interest is not sinful, indeed it is righteous, holy and commanded.
Anyone reading the above paragraph can see the paradox which exists when we talk about the difference between "interest" and "usury." The paradox arises in our choosing to call the profit from practicing usury "earnings." True 'interest is "earned" while the so-called interest of usury is always "stolen."
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and characteristics which we as Orthodox Christians are called to possess is the gift of discernment. We are called to know the difference between good and evil, wise and foolish, righteousness and wickedness. This is important because "one man's interest may be another man's usury." This means while we can make broad generalities, we must also make wise distinctions since things are always black and white even when they are also in full color (that is to say there exists different shades and hues in color).
First, interest is always earned, i.e., it requires work which in truth is always an investment. We may invest time, material, labor either directly or indirectly. As Orthodox Christians we often say that the first commandment given to man was to fast even before the FALL. But the first commandment given to man after the FALL was to WORK i.e., to invest himself into his own salvation. This same commandment continues for us even under the Gospel's dispensation as stated by St. Paul to the Philippians: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."God expects and demands interest from His investments
Perhaps most of us haven't given this much thought, but the Parable of the Talents which has already been posted under this subject line is a most relevant passage establishing the dogmatic tone of the statement. This is also the underlying reason for St. Paul's exhortation to the Philippians and to us all (whether Greek or Jew, male or female, wealthy or poor) to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
Therefore, if God requires interest in his investments, it is not unlawful or ungodly for mankind to do the same, since we have been created in His Image. It is fundamentally wrong to believe and act as if we by our own labors alone can gain anything. God is the reward-er of every man's deeds, words and even their thoughts and subsequently, but not least of all, their prayers. Furthermore, he takes from those who have failed to make lawful investments even that which He had given them to be guardians thereof until his return and distributes them to others who have proved themselves to be wise and thoughtful investors.
Secondly, but not least importantly, the whole of Creation (both heaven and earth and things visible and invisible) are God's investment(s) so as to enlarge, enhance and expand His gift of inheritance to His Only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ the one true THEANTHROPOS. To withold God's earnings ("My Father worketh hitherto, and I work," our Lord answered the Jews) is theft, and if Crucifying our Lord be Deicide, what is stealing from God who said, "...bring the full tithe into the store house" (Malachi 3.10"). What is the tithe but God's earned interest on His investments. Was it not He who made the Sun to shine and the Rain to fall and the Earth to nourish and the Seed to grow and the Plant to bear Fruit and the Fruit to give an increase?
The truth of the matter is that tithing is despised because it is simply to darn expensive, which is to say, we want to consume and deposit into the pit all that God has given us. We want to fatten ourselves, even though "...all the fat belongs to the Lord." All the fat, i.e., the interest which is gained from investing ourselves into our labor, even the Ox which threshes can grow fat from its earnings, if he is not muzzled, not bad fat, but good fat (hasn't modern nutritional science taught us there is a difference?). But I am not intending to expound loquaciously upon tithing, that would get my post posted elsewhere.
If in fact, our Lord is the true Prodigal Son who takes His inheritance and spends it among those who only want to use his doctrines and teachings to enrich themselves or to avoid labor (salvation by faith alone?) and subsequently returns to His Father's household with a train of seekers searching after Him (Follow me he told the two disciples who wanted to learn of the place where he dwelt) who would be washed and subsequently invited into a great feast, the the whole of His Incarnatational experience (which is without end, i.e., being enlarged, enhanced and expanding (like the expanding universe?)) can be correctly (i.e., Orthodox-ically) called an INVESTMENT TO AQUIRE INTEREST ON HIS INHERITANCE.
As I said, INTEREST IS NOT USURY.
What is Usuary? Who really cares to read my pithy thoughts which are full of illogical presumptions and bad grammer.