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…

Sermon on the Nativity

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom!  For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!–Tropar of the Nativity, trans. from Liturgy Volume I, St. TIkhon’s Seminary Press

Sermon on the Nativity

Soon we shall be celebrating the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh. What follows here in this post is an excerpt (with slight paraphrasing) of a sermon of St. Gregory the Theologian on the Nativity.

This feast is the coming of God to Man, so that we might go forth to God; or rather – to express ourselves more properly– that we might go back to God; that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that we who died in Adam might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and, as with the painful fall there was the expulsion from paradise and loss of bliss that came afterwards, so now the more blissful has come out of the painful—the saving dispensation of the Word. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him -Christ God – Who is ours, or rather as being our Master’s; not as of slaves in infirmity, but as of healing; not as of this creation, but of the new, re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, nor prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch–those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin. Let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness; nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of color, belying the beauty of nature, such are invented in opposition to the image of God; not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil – or rather, from worthless seeds come worthless harvests. Let us not set up tabernacles for the belly of what belongs to debauchery. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the superb and uncommon dishes of cooks, the great expense of ointments. Let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance (for to my mind every superfluity is intemperance, as is all which is beyond absolute need); and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner as all of us.

Let us leave all these to the heathen and to the heathen pomps and festivals. But we, the Object of whose adoration is God the Word, if we must in some way have luxury let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories – especially such as are the origin of this Feast – that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Whom hath called us together. Let us begin from this very moment and let us delight in such matters that would cleanse our minds and our ears and our thoughts, since our thoughts and conversation should be of God and things Divine; and so, when we depart from this holy Liturgy, may we have and ever cling to the enjoyment of delights that have true reality and fade not away.

If we thus honor and look to God then we, in turn, shall be looked at by our great God, Who in Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set forth as clearly before us as the bonds of our fleshly human nature allow, in Jesus Christ our Lord, to Who be glory forever and ever. Amen.

She Who is Quick to Hear

She Who is Quick to Hear

We have recently commemorated the Icon of our Lady Theotokos called “Quick to hear”; its feast is November 9th        or 22nd  depending which calendar one follows.  It is this icon to which this blog site is dedicated.  This icon is at Dochiariou Monastery on the Holy Mountain.  The icon received this name  the 16th century.  At that time the steward of the monastery, Nilus, in his daily work would pass by the icon while carrying a torch.  The icon was outside the dining hall. The smoke from the torch was dirtying the icon and so one evening the Theotokos said to him as he passed the icon: “Stop dirtying my icon”.  He thought this was some of the other monks playing a joke so he continued to do this.  He was then struck blind by the Theotokos.  He repented before the icon, and was healed by her.  She again spoke and called herself “Quick to hear”.  Thus the icon received its name.

The refrain in the akathist hymn for this icon reads: “Rejoice thou who art quick to hear, fulfilling our petitions for our good”. But let us consider: What is it we should be asking for? Well, above all we should be asking for salvation, we should be hoping for life in Christ in this world which will continue in the life to come. So let us talk about one aspect of getting our souls in proper order and acceptable to God.

The Holy Fathers of our Church say that there are three powers of the soul. They are the desiring power, the incensive power or that of anger, and the intellectual power. The desiring power should be turned towards God, in love for Him. The incensive power should function as zeal for God and be turned against our invisible enemies in anger. The intellectual power should rule over the other two and be set on God, as the holy Apostle Paul teaches: “Set your minds on the things that are above” (Col. 3:2), and “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”. (Eph. 4:23)

But since the fall of our first parents these powers of the soul are distorted and turned upside down so-to-speak. The desiring power can be effected with love for money, possessions or physical pleasures. The incensive power can be turned towards things or our fellow men or even God and there can be a passion of anger or hatred. Our ability to reason becomes affected by all this.

And even if these two powers of the soul were directed properly, if we were to feed our intellect with the things of this world rather than the things of God we would be false to the dignity of being created in God’s image and the salvation He has wrought for us. As St. John the Theologian testifies: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever”.(1John2:15-17) And the Holy Apostle Paul instructs us: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) He also, as St. John, strictly warns us of the opposite: “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart”. (Eph. 4:17-18)

So let us conclude by praying to the Theotokos; and to do this let us make use of the hymnology of the feast of the Icon, “She Who is Quick to Hear”. The following are the verses of Ode 7 of the second Canon for this feast:

O Lady, thou guide of thy servants to salvation, set aright the three parts of our soul, that, deemed worthy of the grace of dispassion, we may chant:  O most-hymned Lord and God of our fathers, blessed art Thou!

Direct the desiring power of our soul to divine zeal, that it may thereby love God wholly and ever strive towards Him as the all-blessed End of desire.

O Virgin, help us to turn the incensive power of our soul against the invisible enemies of our salvation, and fill our hearts with saving love towards our neighbors and God.

To our souls reasoning give wings towards God-pleasing reflection, delivering us from thoughts contrary to God, O Mistress, and strengthen us all to think, speak and do that which is good.

Through the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us!

The Profit of Pain and Suffering

The Profit of Pain and Suffering

A hymn to the Theotokos

Standing by the Cross, O Jesus, she who gave birth to Thee, wept lamenting and cried out: “I cannot bear this, to see Thee nailed on the wood to Whom I gave birth and escaped pain for it was without a man. How I am now gripped with pain, and wounded in heart; now is fulfilled the saying which Symeon uttered, ‘A sword shall pierce thy heart O undefiled One.’”

Having recently heard much of pain and suffering from others I thought that it should be the topic of this post. I will join together two quotes. One quote will be from the book, Russian Letters of Direction , Macarius, Starets of Optino; and the other from Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Struggles-Experiences-Teachings. I hope these quotes could be made applicable to the various pains and sorrows we meet in life, and will help to inspire hope and patience in the hearts of the readers.

In section under the heading of sorrow the Elder Macarius writes:

I thank you for having unveiled to me the sadness of your grief-stricken heart; a great radiance comes over me when I share with others their sorrow. Complete, perfect, detailed compassion if the only answer I can give to your tender love of me that has led you, at such a time, to seek me out in my distant, silent humble, hermitage…

Christ says as it were: I accepted the Cross for the salvation of mankind; and whomsoever I specially long to draw unto myself, on him do I first shower sorrows; his heart do I first piece with arrows dipped in the wormwood of grief. This I do so that he may die to the extreme fascination, to the sweetness, of transitory joys and powers. The scourge of sorrows is the banner of my love. Thus did I wound the heart of my servant David; but when the stream of tribulations had separated him from the world, then did a dread meditation, an unwonted, blessed trend of thought well up in his mind and take full possession of his being…

In the ground of the Christian’s heart, sorrow for the dead soon melts, illumined by the light of true wisdom. Then, in place of the vanished grief, there shoots up a new knowledge made up of hope and faith. This knowledge does not only wash the soul of all sadness; it makes it glad. (p. 41)

The Elder, Joseph the Younger, in expounding the teachings of his Elder, Joseph the Hesychast on “The Nature and Forms of Trials” writes the following:

Trials or temptatioins (peirasmoi) have been so named because they produce experience (peira) in those who are tried. As to their nature, they comprise all the distressing events in life, from the smallest pain to the greatest of all, which is death. In a word, we may call them a cross, because just as a cross tortures a man and puts him to death, so distressing things in general lay him low and destroy him. Tribulations do not have their origin in the creation that was from the beginning, but are parasitic, consequences accompanying our fallen state.

They are born of transgression and sin, and this is hwy they are disgusting and repellent to life and nature. They cause and embody corruption and death, and so they always provoke aversion and repugnance. Thus in a certain was our life has been changed into boundless bitterness and tribulation, into endless pain and labour, unending agony and unhappiness, with lamentation as its inseparable companion!

But blessed be our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who transformed this terrible threat and conspiracy against our nature. And not only that, He turned it to our profit and benefit as well. When death was abolished and its place taken by life…the comprehensive cross, the whole profusion of sadness and the totality of trials—all these were transformed from then on into means and methods of salvation for us. Since then and in perpetuity, all the throngs of the righteous, all the clouds of the martyrs, all the choirs of the saved and all those who will press on towards life until the end of the ages will look upon their trials with gratitude as the most practical method of attaining Life. (pp.66-7)

Through the prayers of these venerable Elders may our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us.

“What Seek Ye?” (John 3:18)

From the Magnificat of the Theotokos

“For He hath looked upon the lowliness of His handmaiden”

“What seek ye?” (John 1:38)

There is much talk today about deification as the aim and end of our journey. But I would say that it is best not to have our heart set on this idea. Of course it is true that deification is the result of the salvation Christ has wrought for us, it also is a motivation for us to love God; and certainly many scholars and even monastics have written about this. Those monastics who speak of this, however, are usually speaking of the Holy Fathers who came before them and they never dared to think that they themselves were at that state, or that they would even reach it. On the contrary, they had a great admiration for their predecessors, but were humbled exceedingly as they contemplated how far they were from the accomplishments of their spiritual forefathers. Those who may have attained this state of deification would say, just as did the Apostle Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (Phil. 3:12). They felt that what they had, in its entirety, was a gift of God and not of their own doing: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (IlCor, 4.7). In order to keep them humble, God often gave them their own “thorn in the flesh” (IlCor.12.7). And despite what they had attained, they still considered themselves weak and sinful. Illustrating this point, St. Isaac the Syrian writes:

Therefore the Lord looses upon the saints the causes of humility, of a contrite heart, and of ardent [undistracted] prayer, so that those who love Him might draw nigh unto Him through humility. Often He jolts them with the passions of their nature, and the intrusions of shameful and polluted thoughts; and often too by rebukes, insults, and the buffetings of men; but sometimes with diseases and bodily ailments; and at other times with poverty, and the utter lack of necessities. And sometimes with the torment of excessive fear which He permits to fall upon them in the open warfare of the demons so as to trouble them strongly; but at times with dire variations, one more oppressive, grievous and difficult than the next….All these things occur so that they may have causes to be humbled, and that they do not become immersed in the sleep of negligence. (The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian translated by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery Boston, Mass. 1984 pp. 69-70)

If we were to look at the early desert fathers rather than the idea of deification, we wou1d see something quite different. The Prologue to a history of early Egyptian monasticism written in the late fourth or early fifth century, speaks at length about these monks being “true servants of God…while dwelling on earth…they live as true citizens of heaven, [for] there is no town or village in Egypt and the Thebaid which is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls. And the people depend on the prayers of these monks as if on God Himself…it is clear to all who dwell here that through them the world is kept in being, and that through them human life is preserved and honored by God…” (The Lives of the Desert Fathers, translated by Norman Russell introduction by Benedicta Ward, Mowbray pp. 12-13)

Note, however, that this was the opinion of outsiders about monks; and most certainly this was not the opinion monks had of themselves. These holy men usually defined themselves as sinners–weak men, and not strong. They would have shrunk back from thought that through them, “the world was kept in being” (ibid.)

An example of their disposition can be seen in the life of Abba Pimen. Once, a monk, who lived near Abba Pimen, visited a foreign land where he met a famous hermit and told him about the elder. In time, this hermit returned the visit, coming to see the monk in his own land. Having arrived, he asked to see Abba Pimen, and the elder received him with joy. As the hermit began to speak of spiritual and heavenly things, however, the great Abba remained silent, and thus the hermit departed deeply grieved. The monk who had presented the visitor to the elder came to him later, protesting his actions. Abba Pimen replied: “He is great and speaks of heavenly things, and I am lowly and speak of earthly things. If he had spoken of the passions of the soul, I should have replied; but he speaks to me of spiritual things and I know nothing about that.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers The Alphabetical Collection, translated by Benedicta Ward Mowbray p. 140) The monk then told the visiting hermit of Abba Pimen’s way of thought. Filled with compunction, the hermit returned to Abba Pimen, and they discoursed concerning the struggle against the passions. Being greatly edified, the visiting hermit said, “Truly, this is right way!” and he returned to his home grateful to God. (ibid.)

In an attempt to keep a spiritual child humble and to show this attitude of the desert fathers, the Elder John of Valaamo once wrote:

Your state is a blessed one if you feel small and like a child among spiritually mature people. Do not envy such people and do not strive for spiritual raptures. Mystics strive for such feelings of grace, and instead of reaching true contemplation they fall into diabolical self-deception. The Lord grants to a man a sense of grace if his heart is purified of passions. The Holy Fathers were in such a state, but we sinners ought to pray with penitence and ask for God’s help in our struggle with the passions. The Paterikon tells how a disciple said to a staretz that such—and-such a man ‘sees angels.’ The staretz answered; ‘This is not surprising, that he sees angels, but I would marvel at a person who saw his own sins’. Brief as this saying of the staretz is, its spiritual meaning is very deep, because nothing is so difficult as to know oneself. (Christ Is in Our Midst, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, pp. 4-5)

In speaking of the proper frame of mind of a humble soul, St. Silouan the Athonite tells us that though:

The Lord take her to heaven each day and show her all the heavenly glory in which He dwells, and the love of the Seraphim and Cherubim and all the Saints-—even then with the knowledge of experience the humble soul will say: ‘Thou, O Lord, showest me Thy glory because Thou lovest Thy creature; but do Thou give me tears and the power to thank Thee. To Thee belongeth glory in heaven and on earth, but as for me–I must weep for my sins. (St. Silouan the Athonite, The Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex England, p. 299)

I would like to conclude by relating a few brief accounts concerning Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple and biographer of St. Silouan. Once, after a midday meal, he commented to his monastics: “I know some very simple monks who are living according to the commandments of the Gospel. If you were to speak to them about deification they would look this way and that with an expression of bewilderment on their faces.”

And now, to give an answer to our original question, “What do ye seek?” I will again turn to Archimandrite Sophrony. In a conversation that I was blessed to have with him, he once said, “Seek humility, the Holy Spirit loves the humble soul.” Although I had previously been told many times to seek humility, this admonition never had such an effect as his words did then. That is because he obviously knew from experience what he was talking about. In the course of our conversation, he was relaxed as he sat back behind a desk. But when he came to these words, he sat up, stretched out his hands on the desk, fixed his gaze slightly above me and his eyes were barely opened. He appeared to be momentarily lost in contemplation and his words made a deep impression on my soul.

Exultation of the Cross–A Sermon

Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy resurrection we glorify! (A hymn sung in place of “Holy God” in the Orthodox Liturgy on the feast of the Exultation of the Cross)

Exaltation of the Cross—A sermon

Beloved of God, as we celebrate this feast of the Exaltation of the Cross; let us consider what the Cross means for us. Today in the Gospel we read of the event of our Lord’s crucifixion. But what does this mean for us. Well, one thing that should be evident is that the Cross is a manifestation of the love of God for man. Our Lord Jesus Christ voluntarily gave Himself up to death, to a painful and shameful death of being nailed naked to the Cross. He is God, He could have avoided this, but this was God’s plan for our salvation.

When anyone does us a favor, or some good thing for us, or gives us a gift, don’t we feel indebted to that person? Don’t we feel love for that person in return for the favor done to us? Then how much more should it be so with God. When one of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, willingly suffers for us to the point of death, the death of the Cross, how can we do otherwise than return love, for love?

The Holy Apostle John the Theologian writes of this: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). “Hereby we have known love: because He laid down His life for us” (I John 3:16). “In this was manifested the love of God in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10).

So the Cross is a motivation for us to love God, and indeed we cannot help but do so. This, then, is one spiritual exercise for us: to ponder the sufferings of our Lord on the Cross. This can be done by reading the Gospel narrations on this, or the services of the Church on the Cross, like Holy Friday, the Sunday of the Cross during Great Lent and today’s feast. But there is something more to the Cross; to love God for the saving work of the Cross is one thing, but to be on a cross is something more. This is when our faith is tested. Will we endure in the time of temptation? The Elder Joseph the Younger of Vatopedi Monastery on the Holy Mountain writes very nicely about bearing a Cross in his teaching on trials. So he says:

Trials or temptations (peirasmoi) have been so named because they produce experience (peira) in those who are tried. As to their nature, they comprise all the distressing events in life, from the smallest pain to the greatest of all which is death. In a word, we call them a cross, because just as a cross tortures a man and puts him to death, so distressing things in general lay him low and destroy him. Tribulations do not have their origin in the creation that was from the beginning, but are parasitic, consequences accompanying our fallen state.…

But blessed be our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who transformed the terrible threat and conspiracy against our nature….[Through] the martyrdom of His Cross, the comprehensive cross, the whole profusion of sadness and the totality of trials—all these were transformed from then on into means and methods of salvation for us. Since then and in perpetuity, all the throngs of the righteous, all the clouds of martyrs, all the choirs of the saved and all those who will press on towards life until the end of the age will look upon their trials with gratitude as the most practical method of attaining Life. (Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Joseph, pp. 66-7)

So bearing the crosses that come upon us greatly help in the process of salvation. But crosses are not only exterior, there are also interior crosses which are perhaps even more profitable for salvation. St. Innocent of Alaska writes of this:

Whoever wants to be a true disciple and follower of Jesus Christ must, without fail, bear internal crosses as well.

Internal crosses can be found at all times, and more easily than external ones. You have only to direct your attention to yourself and to examine your soul with a sense of penitence, and a thousand internal crosses will at once present themselves. For instance, consider: How did you come to be in this world? Why are you in this world at all? Do you live as you ought to live? And so on. Pay due attention to this, and you will see at first glance that, being the creation and work of the hands of the Almighty God, you exist in this world solely, with all your actions, with all your life and with your whole being, to glorify His holy and great Name. But you not only fail to glorify Him, but on the contrary you offend and dishonor Him by your sinful life. Then recollect and consider: What awaits you on the other side of the grave? On which side will you be at the time of Christ’s dread judgment, on the left or the right? (Indication to the Way of the Kingdom of Heaven, St. Innocent of Alaska, pp. 28-9)

In such a manner does St. Innocent continue to speak of internal crosses. Such reflections help in a process of purification and lulling of the passions, it is a personal repentance. But where does all this lead us? Our response of loving Christ because of His sacrifice for us on the Cross is one good thing. Then bearing the crosses that come our way is something more. Then the voluntary taking up of an interior cross of penitential prayer is again something more. But where does this lead us. Does this yet lead us to something more?

It should, it should lead us to a universal repentance, since by the acute perception of our own fallen state we also have a perception of the fallen state of mankind. So the natural response would be to pray for the salvation of others. And so if we really develop this perception and this prayer for our fellow men, then the content of our heart would be the desire for the salvation of all. Thus we would mount a cross together with Christ, we would be in Christ, and co-crucified with Christ, for the world. A spiritual child of Archimandrite Sophrony—Fr. Zachariah—expressed the opinion that the content of the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was in Gethsemane was the salvation of all. And when He was crucified the content of His heart was the salvation of all. When He was buried and when He rose, the content of His heart was the salvation of all. Finally, when He ascended and sat at the right hand of the Father, the content of His heart was the salvation of all. If we also have this same content of heart, then we would be in Christ, we would be co-crucified with Him through painful prayer for the salvation of the world. Then the words of the Apostle John the Theologian would apply to us: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (IJohn 3:14).