St. John Chrysostom on Anger

St. John Chrysostom

On Anger

“But the Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” (Acts 14:19-21)

Believe me, there are things worse than what Paul suffered that one may endure now. Those enemies wounded him with stones; but there is a wounding with words that is even worse than stones. What then must we do? The same thing that he did. He did not hate those that cast stones at him, but after they dragged him out of the city, he entered it again, that he might become a benefactor to those who had done him such wrongs. If you also bear with one who harshly insults you and has done you wrongs, then you too have been stoned. Make no excuse for vengeance saying, “I have done him no harm yet he has wronged me.” For what harm did Paul do that he should be stoned? He was announcing a kingdom, he was bringing men away from error, and bringing them to God; these benefits are worthy of crowns, of a proclamation by the voice of heralds, worthy of a thousand good things, not of stones. And yet, far from resenting, he did just the contrary. This is a splendid victory. “And they dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead”, it says in the Acts. Those who wrong us, they also drag us. But do not be angry, on the contrary, preach the word with gentleness.

Has someone insulted you? Be silent, and bless if you can and in so doing you also have preached the word, because you have given a lesson of gentleness, a lesson of meekness. I know that many do not ache as much under wounds, as they do under the blow that is inflicted by words, as indeed the one wound the body receives but the other is received by the soul. Yet let us not grieve, rather let us endure the pain. Don’t you see the prize fighters, how with heads sorely battered, they bite their teeth into their lips, and so bear their pain kindly? There is no need for us to grind the teeth or to bite the lips. Remember your master, and by this remembrance you have at once applied the remedy. Remember Paul: reflect that you the beaten have conquered the beater; and he, the beater, is defeated; and by this you have a complete cured. By such reflections you have turned the scale in a moment and you have achieved all. Do not be carried away by passion; do not even move and you have extinguished the whole fire. What great eloquence of persuasion there is in suffering anything for Christ! You do not preach the word of faith but you preach the word of patience.

But, you may say of your adversary, “The more he sees my gentleness, the more he sets upon me.” Are you grieved because he increases your rewards? Will you say, “It is bad for him that he should go unpunished for this makes him unbearable“? This is a mere pretext of your own littleness of mind. “On the contrary: avenging yourself against him is certain to make him unbearable. If God had known that withholding revenge {i.e., patience, forbearance} makes the unjust man unbearable, then He would not have withheld revenge from him Himself – rather He would have said to us, ‘Avenge yourselves.’ But He knows that more good is accomplished through forbearance.”

Do not make for yourself a law contrary to God; but do as He bids you. You are not more kind than He Who made us. He has said, “Bear to be wronged”; and yet you say, “I requite wrong for wrong, so that my adversary may not become unbearable.” Do you have more care for him than God? Such talk is mere passion and ill temper, arrogance and setting up laws against God’s laws. For even if the man was hurt by our forbearance, wouldn’t it still be our duty to obey God? When God orders anything let us not make up a rule that is contrary. “A submissive answer,” we read, “turns away wrath” (Prov. 16:1), not one of opposition. If it profits you, it profits him also. If it hurts you who are expecting to set him aright, then how much more will it hurt him? “Physician heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23) Has one spoken ill of you? Commend him. Has he reviled you? Praise him. Has he plotted against you? Do him a favor. Requite him with contrary things, if you care in the least for your own salvation; and do not even wish to avenge your sufferings.

Perhaps you will say, “Although he has often met with long-suffering from me, he has become worse.” This is not your problem but his. Do you care to learn what wrongs God suffered? They cast down His altars, and slew His prophets (I Kings 19:10), yet He endured it all. Couldn’t He have launched a thunderbolt from above? But He would never do so! And when He had sent them His prophets and they killed them, He then sent His Son.(Matt. 21:37) Thus the greater the impieties they wrought, the greater were the benefits God bestowed upon them. And you too, if you see one who is exasperated, then yield the more to him, since this madness has greater need of soothing. The more grievous his abuse of you, the more meekness he needs from you—just as a gale when it blows strong requires yielding to, so also he who is in a passion. When the wild beast is most savage then we all flee; in the same way should we flee from him that is angry. Do not think that this is an honor shown to him; is it an honor we show to the wild beast or to the mentally ill, when we turn aside out of their way? By no means! It is a dishonor and scorn; or rather, it is not dishonor and scorn, but compassion and humanity. Wrath is a fire—a quick fire needing fuel. Do not supply fuel to the fire, and you have quickly extinguished the evil. Anger has no power in itself, it needs another to feed it; and so for you there is no excuse. Your adversary is possessed with passion, and doesn’t know what he is doing; but when you, seeing what he is, fall into the same evils, and are not brought to your right senses by the sight of his madness, what excuse can there be for you? Do you consider it an excuse to say, “I was not the first to begin?” This condemns us, that even at the sight of the other in that condition we were not brought to our right senses. Thus for this very thing you deserve punishment, that even after the warning of such a spectacle you did not restrain yourself.

He that is in a passion of anger is like a drunken man who is vomiting. But even more than a drunken man who is vomiting, the angry man’s veins are distended, his eyes inflamed, and his bowels racked. He vomits forth words far more filthy than that food; everything he utters is crude, nothing is duly digested, since his passion won’t allow it. But as with the drunk an excess of fumes make an uproar in the stomach and often it rejects all its contents; so too here, an excess of heat making a tumult in the soul does not allow him to conceal that which should be left unsaid, but things proper and improper to be spoken, he says all alike, not putting the hearers but himself to shame. Just as we get out of the way of those who vomit, so too let us depart from those who are angry. Such a man is as a swine that eats dung, for nothing is more stinking than the words they utter.


What then is more abominable than an abusive man? What filthier than the mouth that chews such food (that is, abusive language)? I had rather sit at table with a man who eats dirt, than one who speaks such words. Abusive men think they are disgracing others, while in fact they are disgracing themselves.
It is plain that they themselves undergo the disgrace, since more often than not they speak lies in their railings. And even if they speak the truth they disgrace themselves. How? Let me show you: Let us suppose, there is for instance, some notorious harlot and she has a fight with an abusive person. Then the latter casts up to her what she is, and she retorts upon him the same reproach: which of them is the most damaged by the words? Not the harlot—for being what the other calls her, she is just where she was before. The disgrace is to him; and that not from the harlot’s words, for they do not fit: but rather the disgrace comes from his own indecent railing. Therefore in thinking to disgrace her he has much more disgraced himself. He is more disgraced by calling her what she is, than he is by her calling him the thing that he is not.

And again let there be some hidden actions, and let them be known only by the person who is abusing. Then keeping it secret until now, let him openly parade the reproach; even so, he himself is more disgraced than the other. How? Because he makes himself the herald of wickedness and he acquires for himself the reputation of one not to be trusted, being unable to conceal anything confidential. And all men will at once accuse him saying, “You can’t tell him anything because with his quick temper he is sure to blab it all.” And they will avoid him as being not even human; they will hate him, and say that he is a wild beast, fierce and cruel. Yet the other one they will pardon rather than him.

We do not hate those that have wounds as much as we do those that compel them to uncover and show them. Therefore that man has not only disgraced the other, but himself as well and his hearers, and the common nature of all men. He has wounded the hearer, having done no good whatsoever. For this reason Paul says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29)

Therefore I beseech you, considering how the wickedness of mocking others has come to such a great height, so that many even boast of it and consider it an art, let us return to our senses. Let us revive those who are sick of this madness; let us make our tongue gracious, and rid it of all evil speaking. Then being clean from sins, we may be able to draw down upon us the good will from above, and to have mercy vouchsafed unto us from God; through the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ to Whom be glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council and the Great Martyr Euphemia

This month the Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Therefore I thought I would go off on a tangent from the homilies of St. John Chrysostom and post a sermon on this event.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council and the Great Martyr Euphemia

On this Sunday our Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council and a miracle of the Great Martyr Euphemia. The Martyrdom of St. Euphemia is also remembered by our Church in September. So let us talk a little bit about her life, and the miracle which occurred through her at the Fourth Ecumenical Council. St. Euphemia lived in Chalcedon, she was a daughter of rich parents who brought her up in the love of Christ. During persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian (late third/early fourth centuries) the Christians of Chalcedon took to hiding in groups outside of the city. She went into hiding with a group of 49 others. When they were found and arrested they were tortured for 20 days and remained firm in the faith. As St. Euphemia was the leader and spokesman of the group she was singled out for more brutal tortures. The proconsul ordered her limbs to be crushed with iron wheels but she remained unharmed, she was thrown into a furnace with flames 40 feet high, again she was unharmed. Finally she was thrown to wild beasts and gave up her soul with one bite of a bear, which is somewhat small compared to the other torments from which God delivered her.

But what about the Fourth Ecumenical Council which is commemorated today. What was it about and what happened there that was miraculous? This was the first of the Ecumenical Councils dealing with Christological controversies. The Orthodox proclaimed that Christ God is one Divine Person Who has two natures: the divine and human natures. The heretics erroneously stated that Christ God, although He was from two natures, He has one nature, the Divine nature, because the human nature was somehow swallowed up or absorbed into the Divine. But if that were true, what would it mean for us? The Orthodox see in such teaching an obliteration of our human person which is totally unacceptable. Since through argument the Orthodox could not convince the heretics of their error, the holy Patriarch Anatolius suggested that each of the two parties write a document containing the respective professions of faith and that the two scripts be place in the reliquary containing the relics of the Great Martyr Euphemia. So the two scrolls were placed on the saints chest, the casket was sealed and the fathers gave themselves over to prayer. Eight days later when it was opened they found the saint holding the Orthodox confession of faith as though she wanted to press it into her heart and the heretics scroll lay at her feet. Thus the saint confirmed our Orthodox faith.

But what does the Christology of our Orthodox Church means for us? What relation does it have with our life. Christ is fully God and fully man. As Apostle Paul writes: “for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell”. (Col. 1.19) So Christ God has a divine and human nature in one Divine Person. He is the Son of God or we can say God the Son. The Son of God became the son of man so that we might—as the Apostle Peter states—“become partakers of the divine nature”. (IIPet. 1:4) So we can participate in the Divine life, in the uncreated divine energy and still remain who we are, the particular person that we are remains intact. This is one reason why the Holy Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council rejected the Christology of the heretics; for them it destroyed the Orthodox concept of grace and life in Christ for us.

One thing then that should be pointed out is that Orthodox Theology is not merely academic, studying Orthodox theology should not not just be learning the letter of the law. A contemporary author Harry Boosalis writes profoundly about this as follows:

The study of theology is primarily a spiritual process. The believer must first be exposed to, edified by and ultimately identify with the time-honored Tradition of the Church Fathers.

The Fathers offer a rich inheritance of spiritual tradition established by Christ Himself and passed on from the earliest days of the apostolic Church. Tradition is not confined to the annals of archaeology. Ultimately Holy Tradition is spiritual experience; it is personal participation in the life of divine grace. It is this two-thousand-year spiritual tradition that the believer participates in, and comes to call his own. (Taught by God, p. 15)

Elsewhere he writes:

The aim of Orthodox dogma is not to subject man to the confines of particular religious philosophy. Rather, dogma leads to therapy. It leads to the cure of fallen man.

However, it must be emphasized that dogmas in themselves do not heal man; they simply show the way. An intellectual acceptance of the letter of dogma is not an automatic guarantee of being healed. It is not a matter of simply agreeing with the wording; one must experience the spirit of Orthodox dogma by means of a living faith within the therapeutic life of the Church. Ibid. p. 52)

But what is our struggle? How does one experience the spirit of Orthodox dogma by means of a living faith within the therapeutic life of the Church.

Again I want to refer to Harry Boosalis who writes of this very nicely in another place when he tells us of man being created in the image and after the likeness of God.

For Orthodox anthropology, the term ‘image’ has a different meaning from the term ‘likeness’. ‘Image’ may be see as the potential inherent in man for sanctification, while ‘likeness’ refers to its perfection. Or, in other words, one could say ‘image’ implies ‘potentiality’, whereas ‘likeness’ implies ‘actuality’.

Man was not originally created in a state of completed perfection. He was, however, endowed with the unique freedom to choose either to live in pursuit of achieving his full potential, or else to digress toward the desecration and defacement of his true dignity as man. Only through the proper use of God-given freedom can man cooperate with divine grace in restoring the image of God within him and attain to the likeness with God for which he was created. (Orthodox Spiritual Life According to St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 29-30)

So let us choose every day, in everything, and in every way to follow Christ our God, the Son of God Who became the Son of man; so that we might participate in His divine life. Amen.

Chrysostom on enmity

Chrysostom on Enmity

Here are presented excerpts from two homilies of St. John Chrysostom dealing with the passion of enmity. The first homily is on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, and the second concerns Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon.

Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and

give no place to the devil.” (Eph. 4:26-7)

So then, to be at war with one another is “to give place to the devil”. While we all have need to be in close array, and to make our stand against him we have relaxed our enmity against him, and are giving a signal to turn against each other; for never has the devil such place as in our enmities. Numberless are the evils thereby. Stones in a dam, as long as they are closely fitted together and leave no opening, stand firm. However, if there is but a single needle’s passage through them, or a crevice no broader than a hair, this destroys and ruins all: so is it with the devil. As long as we are closely set and compacted together, he cannot introduce one of his wiles, but when he causes us to relax a little he rushes in like a torrent. In every case he needs only a beginning, and this is the thing which it is difficult to accomplish; but once it is accomplished, he makes room for himself on all sides. For now he opens the ear to slanders, and they who speak lies are the more trusted since they have enmity which acts as an advocate, rather than truth which judges justly. And just as where friendship is, even those evils which are true appear false; so where there is enmity, even the false appear true. There is a different mind, a different manner of judgment which does not hear fairly, but hears instead with great bias and partiality.

As in a balance, if lead is cast into the scale, it will drag down the whole, so is it also here; but the weight of enmity is far heavier than that of lead. Therefore let us, I beseech you, do all that we can to extinguish our enmities before the going down of the sun. For if you fail to master it on the very first day, both on the following, and oftentimes even for a year, you will be protracting it; and the enmity will thenceforward augment itself, and will no longer require anything to aid it. For by causing us to suspect that words spoken in one sense were meant in another, and the same with gestures, and indeed in everything, it infuriates and exasperates us. It makes us more distempered than madmen, not enduring either to utter a name, or even to hear it, but saying everything in revilement and abuse.

How then are we to allay this passion? How shall we extinguish this flame? By reflecting on our own sins and on how much we have to answer for to God. By considering that we are wreaking vengeance, not on an enemy, but on ourselves. By reflecting that we are delighting the devil, and that we are strengthening our enemy – our real enemy – and that for him we are doing wrong to our own members.

Do you desire to be revengeful and be at enmity? Be at enmity; but be at enmity with the devil, and not with your own member. It is for this purpose that God has armed us with anger: not that we should thrust the sword against our own bodies, but that we should baptize the whole blade in the devil’s breast. There bury the sword up to the hilt, yes, if you so desire, hilt and all, and never draw out again, but add yet another sword and another. And this actually comes to pass when we are merciful to those of our own spiritual family and peaceably disposed one towards another. Thus let us say to ourselves: let money perish, let glory and reputation perish; mine own member is dearer to me than they all….

In regard to his fellow men Paul never considered this—that it was the individual who had sinned and needed advocacy; but rather that it was a human being the living thing most precious to God, and for whose sake the Father had not spared even His Only-Begotten Son. Don’t tell me that this or that man is a runaway slave, or a robber or thief, or laden with countless faults. Nor that he is a beggar and abject, or of low value and worthy of no account, but consider that for his sake the Christ died and this suffices for you as a ground for all solicitude.

Consider what sort of person he must be, whom Christ valued at so high a price so as not to have spared even His own blood. If a king had chosen to sacrifice himself on anyone’s behalf, would we seek out another demonstration of that person being someone great and of deep interest to the king? I think not, for the King’s death would be sufficient to show his love for the one for whom he had died. But as it is not man, nor angel, not archangel, but the very Lord of the heavens Himself, the Only-Begotten Son of God Himself, Who –having clothed Himself with flesh freely gave Himself on our behalf. Shall we not do everything and take every trouble, so that the men that have been thus valued may enjoy every solicitude at our hands? Therefore let us not despise our brethren or look down upon them for any cause. But let us cast off such a shameful disposition and bring ourselves to compassion in order to persuade ourselves to care for our neighbors; and even more than this,let us ever look to the Master’s death, which He voluntarily suffered for our sake.

Amen!

Chrysostom on Envy (continued)

Shortly after speaking of the virtue of love St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15), for even this is a part of love. And yet this seems to be a small thing to rejoice with those that rejoice: nevertheless it is exceedingly great, and requires for it the spirit of wisdom. We may find many that perform the more irksome parts and yet lack vigor for this. For many weep with those who weep, but still do not rejoice with those who rejoice, but are in tears when others rejoice; now this comes from grudging and envy. The good deed then of rejoicing when our brother rejoices is not a small one, but even greater than the other. And perhaps not only greater than weeping with those who weep, but even greater than standing by those in danger. There are many at some time or another that have shared danger with those in danger; but were cut to the heart when they came to honor. So great is the tyranny of a grudging spirit. And yet one is a thing of toils and troubles and this of choice and temper only. Yet at the same time many who have endured the harder task have not accomplished the easier one, but mourn and consume away when they see others in honor, when a whole Church is benefited, by doctrine or in any other fashion.

And what can be worse than this? For such a one does not fight anymore with his brother but with the will of God. Now consider this and be rid of the disease. Why do you carry war into your own thoughts? Why fill your soul with trouble? Why work up a storm? Why turn things upside down? How will you be able in this state of mind, to ask forgiveness of sins? For if those that do not allow the things done against them to pass, the Lord does not forgive, what forgiveness shall He grant to those that go about to injure those who have done them no wrong? This is a proof of the utmost wickedness. Men of this kind are fighting side by side with the devil, against the Church, and perhaps even worse than he. For one can be on his guard against the devil. But envious men cloaking themselves under the mask of friendliness, secretly work destruction and labor under a disease not only unfit for pity, but even such as to merit much ridicule.

For why is it, tell me, O envious man, that you are pale and trembling and standing in fear? What evil has happened? Is it that your brother is in honor, and looked up to and in esteem? Why you ought to crown him with wreathes and to rejoice and to glorify God, because your very own member is looked up to and in honor! But are you dejected in that God is glorified? What madness does this not exceed? Do you see to what issue the war tends? But some will say, it is not because God is glorified, but because my brother is. Yet through him the glory ascends up to God: and so will the war from you. But it is not this, he will say, that grieves me, but I wish that God would be glorified in me. Well then! Rejoice at your brother’s being in honor, and then God is glorified again through you also, for when you are so disposed towards your brother, all will say, “Blessed be God that he has His household so minded, wholly freed from envy, and rejoicing together at one another’s goods! And why do I speak of your brother? For if he was your enemy and God glorified through him; you should make him a friend for this reason. But you make your friend an enemy because God is glorified by his being in honor.

And if anyone was to heal your body while in an evil plight, although he may have been an enemy; you would consider him from then on one of your best friends: and do you consider one that gladdens the countenances of Christ’s body, that is, the Church, and is your friend, to be an enemy? How else could you show war against Christ? For this cause, even if a man does miracles, has celibacy to show and fasting, and lying on bare ground, and does by these virtues advance even to the angels, yet he shall be most accursed of all, while he has this defect and shall be a greater breaker of the Law than the adulterer, the fornicator and thieves.

And that no one may condemn this language of hyperbole, I would like to put this question to you. If anyone was to come with fire and axe and were to destroy and burn this Temple and dig down this Altar, would not each one of you stone him as accursed and a lawbreaker? What then, if one was to bring in a flame more consuming than that fire, I mean envy, that does not ruin the buildings of stone or tear down an Altar of gold, but subverts and scornfully mars what is far more precious than walls or Altar; but those sheep for whom Christ shed His Blood, and for whom He commanded us both to do and suffer all things. What suffering would he deserve? Remind yourself that your Master sought your glory and not his own, but you are seeking not that of your Master’s but your own. And yet if you would seek His when your brother is honored then you would have yours also. But by seeking your glory before His, you will never gain even your own. And what ground do you have to covet glory in such solitude?

What then is the remedy? Let us all join in prayer and let us lift up our voice with one accord on their behalf as for those possessed, for indeed the envious are more wretched than the possessed since their madness is of choice. For this affliction needs prayer and much entreaty. For if he that does not love his brother, even though he “bestow all his goods to feed the poor and deliver up his body to be burned” (I Cor. 13:3) is in no way advantaged, consider what punishment the man deserves who wars with him who had not wronged him in anything. He is even worse than the pagans; for if to love them that love us does not give us any advantage over them, in what grade shall he be placed that envies them that love him? For envying is even worse than warring, since when the cause of the war is at end, he that wars puts an end to his hatred also; but the grudger wishes never to become a friend. And the one shows an open battle, the other in secret, and the one often has a reasonable cause to assign for the war, the other, nothing else but madness and a satanic spirit. To what then is one to compare a soul of this kind? to what viper? to what asp? to what canker-worm? to what scorpion? since there is nothing so accursed or so pernicious as a soul of this sort. For it is this, that has subverted the Churches, this that has conceived heresies. And it leads one to such a pitch of frenzy that even if his brother forgives him the fault and subjects himself to him, still his complaint is so incurable that even if thousands of medicines are applied it keeps sowing its own corruption.

Let us then escape from the disease for it is not at all possible, indeed it is not, to escape from the fire prepared for the devil unless we get free from this sickness. And free we shall become if we keep in mind how Christ loved us, and how He commanded us to love one another. Now what love did He show for us? He shed His precious Blood for us when we were enemies, and had done the greatest wrong to Him. Do this also in your brother’s case–for this is the end of His saying, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34); yet the measure could never come to stand. For it was in behalf of his enemies that He did this. And are you unwilling to shed your blood for your brother? Yet what Christ did was not as a debt! But you, if you do it are but fulfilling a debt. For He did it before us and we not even after His example. He did it for our salvation, we will not even do it for our own advantage. For He does not gain any advantage from our love to man, but the whole gain is accrued to us. Let us now therefore sow and till the seed of love in our hearts, that we may reap with great abundance and obtain everlasting goods through the grace and love toward mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ with Whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, honor and power now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Chrysostom on Envy

Chrysostom on Envy

Here are presented excerpts from two of St. John’s homilies which focus upon the Apostle Paul’s words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15), and concentrate on the subject of the passion of envy. This will be split into two posts.

Paul instructs us saying, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; and weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) He puts these two together since if those who weep with those who weep seem to share in the grief of those in sorrow, and do greatly gratify them, and remove the excess of their woe, much more do they also that rejoice with those who rejoice, make their pleasure greater. So if you see your brother in good esteem, do not say, “the esteem is his, why should I rejoice.” These are not the words of a brother, but of an enemy, repel such devilish thoughts. If you are right minded, the joy will not be his only but yours also. You even have the power of increasing it, if you are not downcast, but pleased, if you are cheerful, joyous. And that it is so, is evident from this: the envious envy not only those who are in good esteem, but also those who rejoice at their good esteem, so conscious are they that these are sharers of that good esteem. And also that they even try to rob them of their cause of rejoicing by belittling the achievements of the man held in honor. And these are those who rejoice the most in it. For the trophy bearer himself even blushes when praised exceedingly; but these with great pleasure pride themselves upon it. Do you not see how in the case of the athlete, that the one is crowned and the other not; but the grief and joy is among their fans, these are they that rejoice exceedingly, leaping in the aisles, all but tearing down the stadium.

See how beneficial a thing is not envying. The toil is another’s, the pleasure is yours. Another wears the crown and you leap. You are joyous. For tell me, in the case of the athlete, seeing it is another that has been victorious, why does the spectator leap? Because he knows well that what has been done is common. If there is a unity of spirit of spectators in the stadium where the athletes contest; if this simple unity in worldly games destroys all their existing difference – then what excuse shall we have at that last day, who have been united in the victory over death by Christ and have truly become members of one another, if we envy a brother or sister when we see them gain a victory over the devil or edify the Church, and the unbelievers are revealed to be more virtuous than us? For their common love of an athlete dissolves envy and is proved stronger than our love for Christ. But if in things without to make another’s good one’s own, is so great a good, then much more is it in the case of a victory over the devil; over us he breathes more furiously, evidently because we are more pleased. Wicked as he is and bitter, he still knows well that this pleasure is great. Would you like to tread him underfoot? Be glad and rejoice. Would you like to gladden him? Be downcast. The pain he has from your brother’s victory, you soothe by your sadness; you stand with him severed from your brother, you work greater mischief than he does. For it is not the same for one that is an enemy to do the deeds of an enemy, as for a friend to stand with an enemy; such a man is more detestable than an enemy. If your brother has gained a good reputation either by speaking or by brilliant or successful achievements then become a sharer in his reputation, show that you are members of one another.

“And how?” one may say, “for the reputation is not mine.” Never speak so. Compress your lips. Do not say or think so; but the very opposite, say, “He is one of my members, the glory passes on to the body.” “How is it,” one may say, “that those without are not so disposed concerning us?” It is your fault; when they see you do not consider his pleasure yours also, then neither do they. But if they saw you appropriating it, they would not dare to do so, but do you wish to become equally illustrious with him? You have not gained reputation by speaking; but by sharing in his joy you have gained greater renown than he. For love is a great thing, and the sum of all, you have received the crown this gives; he, that for oratory, you, that for exceeding love; he displayed force of words, but you by deeds have cast down envy, and have trodden underfoot the evil eye. So actually you should rather be the one crowned, your contest is more brilliant; you have not only trodden underfoot envy, but have done something greater yet. He has one crown only, but you two, and those both brighter than his one. What are these? One, that you have won against envy, another that you are encircled by love. For the sharing in his joy is the proof not only of our being free from envy, but also of being rooted in love.

He is often grievously troubled by some human passion, vainglory for instance; but you are free from every passion, for it is not through vainglory that you rejoice at another’s good. Tell me, has he edified the Church? Has he attracted more into the congregation? Praise him, again you have a twofold crown; you have struck down envy and have en-wreathed yourself with love. Yes, I implore and beseech you. Do you care to hear of a third crown also? Men here below applaud him, but you the angels above. For it is not the same thing to make a display of eloquence and to rule the passions. His praise is for a season, yours forever, his from men, yours from God; this man is crowned openly; but you are crowned in secret where your Father sees. If it was possible to peel off the body and to gaze upon the soul of each, I would have shown you that this is more dignified than the other, more resplendent.

Let us tread underfoot every impulse of envy, we shall benefit ourselves, beloved we shall en-wreathe ourselves with a crown. He that envies another fights against God, not with the one he envies. For when on seeing his brother given grace, his is grieved, and wishes the Church pulled down, he fights not against his brother but God. For tell me, if a fashion designer was to adorn a beauty queen and by this adorning and gracing her, gain for himself renown; and another person should wish her to be ill attired, and him to be unable to adorn her; against whom would he be plotting mischief? Against the designer or against the beauty queen? Likewise you who envy fight against the Church, you war with God. For, since with the good repute of your brother is interwoven also the Church’s profit, it follows that if the one is undone, the other shall be undone also. Moreover you judge God for having considered your brother worthy of His grace and to receive

honor. So therefore, you are doing a deed of Satan since you plot mischief against the body of Christ. Are you grieved with this man…wrongly when he has in no way wronged you; yes, but rather you are grieved with Christ. How has He wronged you that you will not allow His body to be decked with beauty? That you cannot stand to see His bride adorned?

Consider, I beseech you, the punishment, how grievously. You gladden your enemies and also the man in good esteem, who through your envy you desire to grieve, you rather gladden; by your envy you show that he is in good esteem, for otherwise you would not have envied him. And you show that you are in torment.  I am ashamed indeed to exhort you from such motives, but since our weakness is so great, let us be instructed even from these, and free ourselves from this destructive passion. Do you lament because he is in good esteem? Then why increase that esteem by envying? Do you desire to punish him? Why then do you show that you are grieved? Why punish yourself before him, whom you wish not to have well-esteemed? And in this again we punish ourselves, if we have discovered that he knows it. Although perhaps he is not pleased, but we thinking him to be so are grieved on that account. And any others also who see your grief will mock and laugh at you and only augment your dejection. Cease then your envying. Why inflict such wounds upon yourself?….to be continued

Chrysostom on Vain Glory

Now that we are in Great Lent and increasing our labors in the ascetic life of the Church, it seems good to go on to a passion which is like a destructive mold that grows upon our good works. Let us now listen to some words of St. John Chrysostom concerning the passion of vain glory. (The following is compiled from several of his sermons).

Terrible is the passion of vainglory, and many headed; for some set their heart on power for the sake of this, some on wealth, and some on strength. But, proceeding in order, it also goes on to almsgiving, fasting, prayers and teaching and – as I said – many are the heads of this monster. Yet for unbelievers to be vainglorious about worldly things is not surprising; however for us to be so about fasting, prayer and almsgiving is both strange and lamentable. But that we may not only blame, come let us tell the means, by which we shall avoid this. So how do we contend against this many-headed passion? For some are vainglorious of money, others of
dress, others of place of power, others of humanity and almsgiving, others
of wickedness, others of death, and others of life after death. For indeed, as I have said, this passion has many links and even goes beyond our life; for men in order that they may be held in admiration, have charged extravagant monuments to be built in their memory and have desired most elaborate funerals with the greatest number of those who lament. And what is even greater to marvel at is this: that even of opposite things is it made up (one man being poor for vainglory and another seeking to be rich, both for the same reason).

But do you desire to be held in honor among men? What is the gain? The gain is nothing but infinite loss. For these very people whom you call to be witnesses become robbers of your treasures that are in the heavens; or rather not these, but we ourselves spoil our own possessions and scatter what we have laid up above. O new calamity! This strange passion! Where neither moth corrupts nor thief breaks through and steals, vainglory scatters. This is the moth of those treasures above; this is the thief of our wealth in heaven. This steals away the riches that can’t be spoiled, this mars and corrupts all. Since the devil saw that the treasures above are impregnable to thieves, and to the worm, and to the other plots against them, by vainglory he steals away the wealth.

But do you desire glory? Does not that which is promised by the Receiver Himself satisfy you, that which comes from our gracious God? Have you no faith in His word and still set your heart on that which comes from men? Take heed lest you undergo the contrary, lest someone condemns you not as being virtuous but rather as making a display and seeking honor for yourself. Consider that the very person whose praise you seek will condemn you. If he is a friend he will at least inwardly accuse you; but if he is an enemy he will ridicule you before others also, and you will undergo the opposite of what you desire. For you indeed desire that he should call you a good man; but he will not call you this, but vainglorious, a man-pleaser, and other names far more grievous than these. On the other hand, if you hide it he will call you all that is the opposite of these. For God does not allow good to remain hidden; if you conceal it will be made known, in one way or another. Thus you will be held in even greater admiration and the gain will be more abundant.

Thus we see that the very purpose itself of making a display of ourselves in order to be glorified turns against us. For far from obtaining the credit of being virtuous, we receive even the contrary; and therefore the loss we undergo is great. For every motive then, let us abstain from this and set our love on God’s praise alone….

If you love glory and are plotting in every way to obtain it, then you will enjoy it the more abundantly if you turn your efforts from the seeking of glory to the uprooting of the love of glory from your heart. For just as becoming rich is contrary to covetousness, so is the loving of glory to the obtaining of glory. For the Heavenly Physician – seeing you sick with a terrible fever of passion – does not feed the flame by catering to your fatal desire but quenches it instead by giving poverty to the covetous, dishonor to the vainglorious, and in like manner ordering all things for the good of those who love Him. Now let us inquire into each, and since we have no fear of hell, nor much regard for the Kingdom, come, and even from the things present let us lead you on. For who are they that are ridiculous? Tell me isn’t it those who are doing anything for the sake of glory from the multitude? And who are the objects of praise? Isn’t it those who spurn the praise of the multitude? Therefore if the love of vainglory is a matter of reproach, and it cannot be concealed that a vainglorious man loves it, he will surely become an object of reproach, and the love of glory has become to him a cause of dishonor. Not in this respect only does he disgrace himself, but also in that he is compelled to do many shameful things, abounding with the utmost disgrace in the hope of acquiring the praise of the multitude. So then, there is no one more base and dishonored than he that is arrogant and mad about glory and considers himself to be high. The race of man is fond of contention and against nothing else does it set itself so much as against a boaster and a contemptuous man and a slave of glory. He also – in order to maintain the fashion of his pride – exhibits the conduct of a slave to the common people, flattering and courting everyone, serving a servitude more grievous than that of a slave bought for money.

If you are to pursue virtue, not for its own sake, but with an eye to receive praise from the common workman and people of the baser sort, seeking that the bad and those far removed from virtue may admire you – this is to act as one insulting virtue itself. You are calling the enemies of virtue to the display and sight of it; as if one was to choose to live continently, not for the sake of continence, but rather to make a show before prostitutes. Neither would you, it seems, choose virtue except for the sake of virtue’s enemies when in fact you ought to admire her on this very ground, namely that she has even her enemies to praise her.

Yet let us admire virtue as is fitting not for others but for her own sake. Since we too, when we are loved not for our own sake but for another’s, consider the thing an insult. In the same way reckon the case of virtue as well; and do not follow after her for the sake of others – no – do not for men’s sake obey God, but follow instead as men for God’s sake. Since, if you do the contrary – even though you may seem to follow virtue – you have provoked God equally with him who does not follow her. For just as he disobeyed by not doing, you have disobeyed by doing in an unlawful manner.

But let us not be so affected. Rather let us lay down this passion that we may not both pay a penalty here, and hereafter be punished without end. Let us become lovers of virtue so that before reaching the Kingdom we might reap the greatest benefits here, and when we having departed hence, we might partake of the eternal blessings there. Amen

Chrysostom on Forgiveness

The homily of St. John Chrysostom that follows is on the parable of the wicked servant (Matt. 18: 23-35). As a novice I always read this before Forgiveness Sunday Vespers, so now, since we are approaching this day, I offer some excerpts from this homily.

 

“For there was brought unto Him, one which owed ten thousand talents, and when he had nothing to pay, He commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and his children.” Why, I ask? Not of cruelty, nor of inhumanity (for the loss came back again upon himself, for she too was a slave), but of unspeakable tenderness. For it is His purpose to alarm him by this threat, that He might bring him to supplication, not that he should be sold. For if He had done it for this intent, He would not have consented to his request, neither would He have granted the favor. Why then did He not do this, nor forgive the debt before the account? Desiring to teach him, from how many obligations He is delivering him, that in this way at least he might become more mild towards his fellow-servant. For even if when he had learnt the weight of his debt, and the greatness of the forgiveness, he continued taking his fellow-servant by the throat; if He had not disciplined him beforehand with such medicines, to what length of cruelty might he not have gone?

 

What then does this man say? “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And his Lord was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” Can you again see the surpassing benevolence? The servant asked only for delay and putting off the time, but He gave more than he asked, remission and forgiveness of the entire debt. For it had been his will to give it even from the first, but he did not desire the gift to be his only, but also to come of this man’s entreaty, that he might not go away uncrowned. For that the whole was of Him, although this other fell down to him and prayed, the motive of the forgiveness was shown, for “moved with compassion” he forgave him. But still even so he willed that other also to seem to contribute something, that he might not be exceedingly covered with shame, and that he being schooled in his own calamities, might be indulgent to his fellow-servant.

 

Up to this point then this man was good and acceptable; for he confessed, and promised to pay the debt, and fell down before him, and entreated, and condemned his own sins, and knew the greatness of the debt. But the sequel is unworthy of his former deeds. For going out immediately, not after a long time but immediately, having the benefit fresh upon him, by wickedness he abused the gift, even the freedom bestowed on him by his master. For, “he found one of his fellow-servants, which owed him a hundred pence, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what thou owest.” Do you see the master’s benevolence? Do you see the servant’s cruelty? Hear, you who do these things for money. For if for sins we must not do so, much more not for money. What does this other one say? “Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.” But he did not regard even the words by which he had been saved (for he himself on saying this was delivered from the ten thousand talents), and did not recognize so much as the harbor by which he escaped shipwreck; the gesture of supplication did not remind him of his master’s kindness, but he put away from him all these things, from covetousness and cruelty and revenge, and was more fierce than any wild beast, seizing his fellow-servant by the throat and he cast him into prison.”

 

“But when his fellow-servants saw it, they accused him to their lord.” Not even to men is this well-pleasing, much less to God, they therefore who did not owe, partook of the grief. What then does their lord say? “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion, even as I had pity on thee?” See again the lord’s gentleness. He pleads with him, and excuses himself; being on the point of revoking his gift; or rather, it was not he that revoked it, but the one who had received it. Therefore He says, “I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant?” For even if the thing seems hard to you; yet you should have looked to the gain. Even if the injunction be galling, you ought to consider the reward; and not that he has grieved you, but that you have provoked God, whom by mere prayer you had reconciled. But if even so it be a galling thing for you to become friends with him who has grieved you, to fall into hell is far more grievous; and if you had set this against that, then you would have known that to forgive is a much lighter thing. And whereas, when he owed ten thousand talents, he called him not wicked, neither reproached him, but showed mercy on him; when he had become harsh to his fellow servant, then he said, “O thou wicked servant.”

Let us hearken, the covetous, for even to us is the word spoken. Let us hearken also, the merciless, and the cruel, for not to others are we cruel, but to ourselves. When then you are minded to be revengeful, consider that it is against yourself that you are revengeful, not against another; that you are binding up your own sins, not your neighbors. But as for you, whatsoever you may do to this man, you do as a man and in the present life, but God not so, but more mightily will He take vengeance on you, and with the vengeance hereafter. And yet, “The graces and the gifts are without repentance,” but wickedness has had such power as to set aside even this law. What then can be a more grievous thing than to be revengeful, when it appears to overthrow such and so great a gift of God. And he did not merely “deliver” him, but “was wroth.” For when he commanded him to be sold, his were not the words of wrath (therefore neither did he do it), but a very great occasion for benevolence; but now the sentence is of much indignation, and vengeance, and punishment.

 

What then means the parable? “So likewise shall my Father do also unto you,” He says, “if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.” He says not “your Father,” but “my Father.” For it is not proper for God to be called the Father of such a one, who is so wicked and malicious. Two things therefore doth He here require, both to condemn ourselves for our sins, and to forgive others; and the former for the sake of the latter, that this may become more easy (for he who considers his own sins is more indulgent to his fellow-servant); and not merely to forgive with the lips, but from the heart. Let us not then thrust the sword into ourselves by being revengeful. For what grief hath he who hath grieved you inflicted upon you, like you will work for yourself by keeping your anger in mind, and drawing upon yourself the sentence from God to condemn you? For if indeed you are watchful, and keep yourself under control, the evil will come round upon his head, and it will be he that will suffer harm; but if you should continue indignant, and displeased, then you will undergo the harm not from him, but from yourself.

 

Do not say that so-and-so insulted you, and slandered you, and did you ills beyond number; for the more you say such, so much the more do you declare him a benefactor. For he has given you an opportunity to wash away your sins; so that the greater the injuries he has done to you, so much more is he become to you a cause of greater remission of sins.

 

See then how much you gain, bearing meekly the spiteful acts of your enemies. First and greatest, deliverance from sins; secondly, fortitude and patience; thirdly, mildness and benevolence; for he that does not know how to be angry with those that grieve him, much more will he be ready to serve those that love him. Fourthly, to be free from anger continually, to which nothing can be equal. For it is quite clear that he who is free from anger, is also delivered from the despondency arising from it, and will not spend his life on vain labors and sorrows. For he that knows not how to hate, will neither know how to grieve, but will enjoy pleasure, and ten thousand blessings.

 

Let us accomplish therefore the hating of no one, that God also may love us, so that, although we may be in debt for ten thousand talents, He will have compassion and pity onus. And as examples let us look to Joseph, who suffered countless things from his brethren, and did good to them; to Moses, who after their countless plots against him, prayed for his fellow Jews; to the blessed Paul, who cannot so much as number what he suffered from them, and is willing to be accursed for them; to Stephen, who is stoned, and entreats this sin may be forgiven them. And having considered all these things, cast away all anger, that God may forgive us also all our trespasses by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, might, honor, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

 

Chrysostom on Humility

The following is on the subject of humility and from the third homily of the epistle of St. Paul to Philemon.

What therefore shall we do in order to accomplish true humility?  We shall never in any way do it; but to whatever degree of humility we have come, the greater part of it is still left to be accomplished.  For consider, whatever humble act you do, you do it to a fellow-servant ; but your Master hath done it to  His servants. Hear and shudder!  Never be elated at your humility!

Perhaps you laugh at this expression, as if humility could puff up.  But do not be surprised at this, for humility puffs up when it is not genuine. How, and in what manner?  When it is practiced to gain the favor of men, and not of God so that we may be praised;  and in this way it causes us to become high-minded.  For this also is diabolical. For as many are vainglorious on account of their not being vainglorious, so are they elated on account of their humbling themselves by reason of their being high-minded.  For instance, a brother has come, or even a servant, and you have received him, and washed his feet.   Immediately you think highly of yourself and say, “I have done what no other has done.  I have achieved humility.”  How then, may one continue in humility?  If he remembers the command of Christ that says, “When ye shall have done all things, that are commanded you say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.'” (Luke xvii. 10.)  And again the Teacher of the world, saying, “I count not myself to have apprehended.”  (Phil. iii. 13.)  He who has persuaded himself that he has done no great thing, however many things he may have done, he alone can be humble-minded. (he who thinks that he has not reached perfection.) I think if you omit the part I put in parentheses, it actually makes a better-sounding sentence. Or,you could say, “Only he who thinks (believes) he has not reached perfection is humble.”

Many are elated on account of their humility; but let not us be so affected.  Have you done any act of humility?  Do not be proud of it, otherwise all the merit of it is lost.  Such was the Pharisee. He was puffed up because he gave his tithes to the poor, and he lost all the merit of it(cf. Luke xviii. 12.); but not so the publican.  Hear Paul again saying, “I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified.” (I Cor. iv. 4.)  Do you see that he does not exalt himself, but by every means abases and humbles himself -and that too when he had arrived at the very summit of perfection.? And the Three Children, when they were in the fire, and in the midst of the furnace, and what did they say?  “We have sinned and committed iniquity with our fathers.” (Song, v. 6, in Sept.; Dan. iii. 29, Dan. iii. 30; v. 16.)  This is to have a contrite heart, and on this account they could say, “Nevertheless in a contrite heart and a humble spirit let us be accepted.”  Thus even after they had fallen into the furnace they were exceedingly humbled, even more so than they were before.  For when they saw the miracle that was wrought, thinking themselves unworthy of that deliverance, they were brought even  lower in humility.  For when we are persuaded that we have received great benefits beyond our desert, then we are particularly grieved.
Let us be humble-minded as we ought, and let us be moderate as we ought.  Let it not be to us an occasion of being puffed up.  Are you humble, and more humble than all men?  Do not be high-minded on that account, neither reproach others, lest you lose your boast. For this is very cause you are humble: that you may be delivered from the madness of pride. If therefore through thy humility you fall into that madness, it would have been better for you not to be humble.  For hear Paul saying, “Sin worketh death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” (Rom. vii. 13.)  When it enters into your mind to admire yourself because of your humility, consider your Master, to what depth He descended, and you will no longer admire yourself, nor praise yourself, but will deride yourself as having done nothing.  Whatever you do, remember that parable, “Which of you having a servant …will say unto him, when he is come in, Sit down to meat? …I say unto you, Nay …but stay and serve me.” (From Luke xvii. 7- 8.)  Do we return thanks to our servants, for waiting upon us?  By no means.  Yet God is thankful even to us, who serve not Him (as we should), but  rather do that which is expedient for ourselves.

But let us not act as if God owed us thanks. Let us act instead as if we were paying a debt.  For the matter truly is a debt, and all that we do is of a debt.  For if when we purchase slaves with our money, we wish them to live altogether for us; and for whatever they have, to have it for us, how much more must it be so with Him, Who brought us out of nothing into being; and Who, after this, bought us with His precious Blood, having paid such a price for us as no one would endure to pay even for his own son, and Who shed His own Blood for us?  If therefore we had ten thousand souls – even if we should lay them all down for Him – would this make an equal return?  By no means.  And why?  Because He did this owing us nothing; instead, the whole was a matter of grace.  But we, on the other hand, are debtors.  Being God Himself, He became a servant; and not being subject to death, He subjected Himself to death in the flesh.  We – if we do not voluntarily lay down our lives for Him now –  must by the law of nature must certainly lay them down later. The same is also true in the case of riches; if we do not bestow them on our fellow men now for His sake, we shall render them up from necessity at our end.  So it is also with humility. Although we are not willingly  humble for His sake, we shall be made humble by tribulations, by calamities, by over-ruling powers.  Do you see, therefore, how great is the grace!  Our Lord does all the work, making us humble by these things, and then He rewards us for the humility He has implanted in us.  Even though for our part, most of His work is rejected and does not bear fruit in us as it should. He hath not said, “What great things do the Martyrs do?  If they die not for Me, they certainly will die as other men do.”  Instead  He shows Himself much indebted to them because they voluntarily resign that which in the course of nature they were about to resign shortly against their will.  He hath not said, “What great thing do they, who give away their riches? Even against their will they will have to surrender them.” But He shows Himself much indebted to them, too, and is not ashamed to confess before all that He, the Master, is nourished by His slaves.   Therefore let us not be high-minded, but let us associate with the lowly, the despised, the rejected, that we may deal a great blow to that devilish pride and draw that much closer to the kingdom both in this life and that which is to come.  Amen.

Continuing St. John Chrysostom

Continuing St. John Chrysostom

Here the sermon of St John Chrysostom dealing with the subject of humility is continued from the last post:

Let us beware therefore of saying anything good about ourselves, for this renders us both odious with men and abominable to God. For this reason, the greater the good works we do, the less let us say of ourselves; this being the way to reap the greatest glory both with men and with God. Or rather, not only glory from God, but a reward, yes, a great recompense. Therefore, do not demand a reward that you may receive a reward. Confess yourself to be saved by grace, that He may profess Himself a debtor to you; and not for your good works only, but also for such rightness of mind. For when we do good works, we have Him debtor for our good works only; but when we do not so much as think we have done any good work, then also for this disposition itself. It is even more for this disposition, than for the other things, so that this is equivalent to our good works. For should the humble disposition be absent, then the works shall appear to be great. For in the same way, we too, if we have servants, most approve them when, after having performed all their service with good will, they do not think they have done anything great. Therefore, if you would make your good deeds great, do not think them to be great, and then they will be great.

It was in this way that the centurion also said, “I am not fit that thou shouldest enter under my roof;” (Matt. 8:8) because of this, he became worthy, and was “marveled at” above all Jews. In this manner also Paul said, “I am not meet to be called an apostle;” (ICor. 15:9) because of this he became even first of all. So likewise John: “I am not meet to loose the latchet of His shoe;” (Matt. 3:11) because of this he was the “friend of the Bridegroom,” (John 3:29) and the hand which he affirmed to be unworthy to touch His shoes, this did Christ draw unto His own head. So Peter too said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man;” (Luke 5:8) because of this he became a foundation of the Church.

For nothing is so acceptable to God as to number one’s self with the last. This is a first principle of all practical wisdom. For he that is humbled, and bruised in heart, will not be vainglorious, will not be wrathful, will not envy his neighbor, will not harbor any other passion. For neither shall we be able to lift a bruised hand high up, though we strive ten thousand times. If therefore we were thus to bruise our heart likewise, though it were stirred by ten thousand swelling passions, it could not be lifted up, no, not ever so little. For if a worldly man, by mourning over the loss things pertaining to this life, drives out all the diseases of his soul, much more will he, who mourns for sins, enjoy the blessing of self-restraint.

“But who,” one may say, “will be able thus to bruise his own heart?” Listen to David, who became illustrious primarily because of this, and behold the contrition of his soul. How after ten thousand good works, and when he was on the point of being deprived of country, and home, and life itself, at the very season of his calamity, seeing a vile and outcast common soldier trample on the turn of his fortunes and revile him; so far from reviling him again, he utterly forbid one of his captains, who was desirous to have slain him, saying, “Let him alone, for the Lord hath bidden him.” (IISam. 16:11) And again, when the priests desired to carry about the ark of God with him, he did not permit it; but what did he say? “Let me set it down in the temple, and if God deliver me from the dangers that are before me, I shall see the beauty thereof; but if He says to me, I have no delight in you, behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” (IISam. 15:25-6) And that which was done with regard to Saul, again and again, what excellence of self-restraint does it not show? Yes, for he even surpassed the old law, and came near to the apostolic injunctions. For this cause he bore with contentedness all that came from the Lord’s hands; not contending against what befell him, but aiming at one object alone, namely, in everything to obey, and follow the laws set by Him. And when after so many noble deeds on his part, he saw the tyrant, the parricide, the murderer of his own brother, that injurious, that frenzied one, possessing in his stead his own kingdom, not even so was he offended. But “if this please God,” he said, “that I should be chased, and wander, and flee, and that he should be in honor, I acquiesce, and accept it, and do thank God for His many afflictions.” Not like many of the shameless and impudent ones, who when they have not done, no not the least part of his good works, yet if they see any in prosperity, and themselves enduring a little discouragement, ruin their own souls by ten thousand blasphemies. But David was not such an one; rather he showed forth all modesty. Therefore God also said, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart.” (IISam. 16:10)

Such a spirit as this let us also acquire, and whatever we may suffer we shall bear it easily, and before the Kingdom, we shall reap here the gain accruing from lowliness of mind. Thus the Lord said, “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt.  11:29) Therefore in order that we may enjoy rest both here and hereafter, let us with great diligence implant in our souls the mother of all things that are good, I mean humility. For thus we shall be enabled both to pass over the sea of this life without waves, and to end our voyage in that calm harbor hereafter; by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.”

Chrysostom as an ascetic preacher

I would like to begin this new year with a series of excerpts from homilies of St. John Chrysostom. I do not want to look at his Scriptural interpretations but his ascetic preaching, his preaching of repentance. These excerpts will have some paraphrasing and editing from the original archaic translation. So we will begin with an excerpt from St. John’s third homily on the Gospel of St. Matthew. This is on the genealogy of our Lord and, if one observes the Old Calendar, it is the reading for the first Sunday of the secular New Year. In his homily Chrysostom points out some of the less illustrious ancestors of our Lord. For example, Tamar who in an unlawful union with her father-in-law Judah gave birth to Pharez. Also Ruth who was a Gentile slave whom Boaz took to wife and she was the grandmother of David the king.  Then Solomon who was born of David’s adultery with Bathsheba.  Chrysostom says that it was to shame the Jews that St. Matthew brought these forth, and to prevail on them not to be high-minded since they prided themselves on their ancestry.  And he insists that it cannot be that a man should be good or bad, obscure or glorious, either by the virtue or by the vice of his forefathers. So let us continue with St. John’s words:
 
Let no one therefore be high-minded on account of these matters, but let him consider the forefathers of the Lord, and put away all his haughtiness, and let good actions be his pride; or rather, not even these. For thus it was that the Pharisee came to be inferior to the Publican. So, if you would show the good work to be great, have no high thought, and you have proved it so much the greater. Consider yourself to have done nothing, and then you hast done all. For if, being sinners, when we account ourselves to be what we are, we become righteous, as indeed the Publican did; how much more, when being righteous we account ourselves to be sinners. Since if out of sinners men are made righteous by a lowly mind (although this is not to be lowly-minded but to be right-minded); if then to be right-minded avails so much in the case of sinners, consider what will lowliness of mind do with respect to righteous men. So then, do not mar your labors, nor cast away the fruits of your toils, neither run in vain, making void all your labor after the many courses you have run. No! For your Lord knows your good works better than you do. Though you give but a cup of cold water, not even this does He overlook; though you contribute but a penny, though you should only utter a sigh of compassion, He receives it all with great favor and is mindful thereof, and assigns for it great rewards.

But why do you search out your own doings, and bring them out before others? Do you not know, that if you praise yourself, God will cease to praise you? Likewise if you belittle yourself, He will not cease proclaiming you before all. For it is not at all His will that your labors should be disparaged. Why do I say, disparaged? No! He is doing and contriving all things, so that even for little things He may crown you; and He goes about seeking excuses, whereby you may be delivered from hell. He quickly catches hold of any little thing as an occasion for saving you. Let us not therefore lift up ourselves, but let us declare ourselves unprofitable, that we may become profitable. For if you call yourself approved, you have become unprofitable, although you may have been approved; but if you consider yourself useless, you have become profitable, even though you were reprobate.

Therefore it is necessary to forget our good actions. “Yet how is it possible,” one may say, “not to know these things with which we are well acquainted?” How can you say this? Offending your Lord perpetually, you live delicately and carelessly and laugh, and you do not so much as believe that you have sinned, but you consigned all to oblivion. But you cannot put your good actions away from your memory? How ironical, on the one hand, while each day we are offending, we do not so much as put it before our mind; on the other, if we give a little money to a poor person, this we are ever revolving in our minds. This kind of conduct comes of utter madness, and it is a very great loss to him who thus reasons. For the secure storehouse of good works is to forget our good works. And as with regard to gold and valuables: when we expose them in a market-place, we attract many ill-meaning persons; but if we leave them at home and hide them, we shall deposit them all in security. Even so is it with respect to our good deeds; if we are continually keeping them in memory, we provoke the Lord, we arm the enemy, and we invite him to steal them away. But if no one knows of them, besides Him who alone ought to know, they will lie in safety.

Be not therefore forever parading them, lest someone should take them away. As was the case with the Pharisee, for bearing them about upon his lips, became the cause of the devil catching them away. And yet it was with thanksgiving he made mention of them, and referred the whole to God. But not even this was sufficient for him. For it is not thanksgiving to revile others, to be vainglorious before others, to exalt one’s self against them that have offended. Rather, if you are giving thanks to God, be content with Him only, and do not publish it to men, neither condemn your neighbor; for this is not thanksgiving. Would you learn what are words of thanksgiving? Hearken unto the Three Children in the furnace, saying, “We have sinned, we have transgressed. Thou art righteous, O Lord, in all that thou hast done unto us, because thou hast brought all things upon us by a true judgment.” (Prayer of the Three Holy Youths—Dan. 3:29, Sept.) For to confess one’s sins and glorify God for whatever He sends; this is to give thanks to God: a kind of thing which implies one to be guilty of numberless offenses, yet not to have the due penalty exacted. This man most of all is the giver of thanks….to be continued…