The Sinless Hesychast: Mary, the Mother of God

The sinless Hesychast: Mary the Mother of God

After posting an article on the day of the Synaxis of the Theotokos my original intent was to next speak about her ever-virginity. I have decided to skip that as it has been dealt with in the two posts in January 2014. In this post I am presenting an Orthodox belief concerning the Theotokos which may not be easy for all to accept. I am speaking of the sinlessness of the Theotokos and my hope is to sufficiently explain how she accomplished this. Since I am referring to the saints of the Church and glorifying His most Pure Mother I can only hope by the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to produce something acceptable. So now, let us go on to speak about the sinless Hesychast, Mary the Mother of God.

In the writings of St. Silouan the Athonite we read: “In church I was listening to a reading from the prophet Isaiah, and at the words, ‘Wash you, make you clean,’ I reflected, ‘Maybe the Mother of God sinned at one time or another, if only in thought.’ And, marvelous to relate, in unison with my prayer a voice sounded in my heart, saying clearly, ‘The Mother of God never sinned even in thought.’ Thus did the Holy Spirit bear witness in my heart to her purity.” (1)

But how is it possible for any human being not to sin, even in thought? (2) To answer this, let us review some of the information we have about the life of the Mother of God. At the tender age of three, the Theotokos was dedicated to God, having been brought into the temple by her parents. And what was her life like there? In the Apocryphal Gospel of St. Matthew we read:

Mary was held in admiration by all the people of Israel; and when she was three years old, she walked with a step so mature, she spoke so perfectly, and spent her time so assiduously in the praises of God that all were astonished at her and wondered…She was so constant in prayer, and her appearance was so beautiful and glorious, that scarcely anyone could look into her face…And this was the order that she had set for herself: From the morning to the third hour she remained in prayer; from the third to the ninth she was occupied with weaving; and from the ninth she again applied herself to prayer. She did not retire from praying until there appeared to her an angel of the Lord from whose hand she used to receive food; and thus she became more and more perfect in the work of God. Then, when the older virgins rested from the praises of God, she did not rest at all; so that in the praises and vigils of God none were found before her, no one more learned in the wisdom of the law of God, more lowly in humility, more elegant in singing, more perfect in all virtue. She was indeed steadfast, immovable, unchangeable, and daily advancing to perfection…She was always engaged in prayer and in searching the law…. (3)

According to St. Gregory Palamas it was at this time that she acquired a state of ceaseless interior prayer. (4) In a homily on the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple, St. Gregory, while describing her sojourn there, makes Mary the model for the life of the one who treads upon the path of interior prayer. Praising the Most Pure One, he tells us that she

chose to live in solitude out of the sight of all, inside the sanctuary. There, having loosed every bond with material things, shaken off every tie and even risen above sympathy towards her own body, she united her mind with its inclination to turn within itself, with attention and unceasing holy prayer. Having become her own mistress by this means, and being established above the jumble of thoughts in all their different guises, and above absolutely every form of being, she constructed a new, indescribable way to heaven, which could be called silence of mind. Intent upon this silence, she flew high above all created things, saw God’s glory more clearly than Moses (cf. Exod. 33:18-23), and beheld divine grace. Such experiences are completely beyond the scope of men’s senses, but they are a gracious and holy sight for spotless souls and minds. (5)

So then, according to St. Gregory Palamas, our Most Pure Lady while dwelling in the Temple, through “unceasing holy prayer” ascended to a great spiritual height formerly unknown. In speaking of the experience of struggling in such prayer and the fruit it conveys he writes:

It is through contemplation that a person is made divine, not by speculative analogies on the basis of skillful reasoning and observations – perish the thought (this is something base and human) – but under the guidance of stillness. Continuing in our life’s upper room (cf. Acts 1:13-14), as it were in prayers and supplications night and day, in some way we touch that blessed nature that cannot be touched.

Thus the light beyond our perception and understanding is diffused ineffably within those whose hearts have been purified by holy stillness, and they see God within themselves as in a mirror (cf. 2Cor. 3:18). (6)

So Mary acquired a unique intimacy with God that prepared her to become His dwelling place. It is no wonder that, having attained to such a state, when she was obliged to leave the Temple and marry, she vowed a life of virginity. For how could one who was thus united with God unite herself with a man! Such a prayerful state of soul is thus described by St. Silouan the Athonite:

The young man seeks a bride for himself, and the maiden looks for a bridegroom. This is the earthly order of life, blessed by God. But the soul chosen of the Lord for Himself, the soul He suffers to taste of the sweetness of the love of God, does not set earthly life on a par with the love of God – she is absorbed in God alone, and attaches herself to no earthly thing. And if earthly thoughts come she takes no delight in them, for she cannot love the things of this earth – all her longing is for the things of heaven. (7)

And such is the power of the interior prayer which the Mother of God attained to, that it was this divine action that kept her free from sin throughout her entire life.

Although this may seem hard to believe, yet through “unceasing holy prayer” — to use the terminology of St. Gregory — Mary, the Mother of God, accomplished this. But why is this prayer designated “holy” and why does St. Gregory say “it is through contemplation that a person is made divine”? In order to answer this and conclude our discussion let us define both prayer and its stages. This will properly illustrate the power of grace-filled prayer, the same power that kept the Theotokos free from sin.
Archimandrite Sophrony gives us an outline of the stages in prayer when, in reference to the Jesus Prayer, he writes:

It is possible to establish a certain sequence in the development of this prayer. First, it is a verbal matter: we say the prayer with our lips while trying to concentrate our attention on the Name and the words. Next, we no longer move our lips but pronounce the Name of Jesus Christ, and what follows after, in our minds, mentally. In the third stage mind and heart combine to act together: the attention of the mind is centered in the heart and the prayer said there. Fourthly, the prayer becomes self-propelling. This happens when the prayer is confirmed in the heart and, with no especial effort on our part, continues there, where the mind is concentrated. Finally, the prayer, so full of blessing, starts to act like a gentle flame within us, as an inspiration from on High, rejoicing the heart with a sensation of divine love and delighting the mind in spiritual contemplation. This last state is sometimes accompanied by a vision of Light.(8)

Bishop Kallistos Ware gives us a number of definitions of prayer which have some relation to the stages explained above. He first refers to a definition in an English dictionary that describes prayer as “a solemn request to God.”(9) This can correspond to the first two stages spoken of by Archimandrite Sophrony. Prayer being described as an act of petition of man to God can be either verbalized or pronounced in one’s mind. In a second definition he quotes St. Theophan the Recluse, who says concerning prayer that “the principle thing is to stand before God with the mind in the heart, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night until the end of life.”(10) Bishop Kallistos points out that to pray “is no longer to ask for things,” but it is “to stand before God, to enter into an immediate and personal relationship with Him.”(11) This can correspond with the third stage mentioned above, yet this is still predominantly an action initiated by man. As Bishop Kallistos continues, “stress is laid primarily on what is done by man rather than God.”(12) The third definition given by Bishop Kallistos relates to the fourth and fifth states spoken of by Archimandrite Sophrony. He quotes St. Gregory of Sinai who says, “‘Prayer is God, who works all things in all men'(13) — it is not something which I initiate but in which I share; it is not primarily something which I do but which God is doing in me — it is to cease doing things on our own and to enter into the action of God.”(14) It is this stage of prayer that is a participation in the action or energy or life of God that many of our Holy Fathers reached and brought to a degree of perfection through their asceticism. The end of this state is a “manifestation of baptism”, (15) it is a birth from God; therefore it is a new beginning, a new mode of life in which the grace of the Holy Spirit is perceptible and operative. This is the birth and stage of grace that John the Theologian writes of when he says: “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.”(I John 3:9) So this is why unceasing prayer can be called “holy” and contemplation can be said to make a person “divine”.

What then can we say about the spiritual stature of the Theotokos? What spiritual height did Mary, the Theotokos, acquire while living in the Temple? She was brought there at the young age of three, providentially guarded from the temptations of this world, lived in strict asceticism and was nourished with the Scriptures and with prayer to God. And at the time of the Annunciation, when the “Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the most High overshadowed her”(Luke 1:35), to what state of purity and grace was she raised? It is beyond our comprehension. We can only marvel at the state of the grace of the Holy Spirit which she acquired and with which she was endowed. It was the power of this grace of the Holy Spirit that prepared her to be the all-pure and all-holy dwelling place of God and that kept her free from sin all her days.

As I said at the outset the belief of the sinlessness of the Theotokos may be difficult for some to accept, but I hope this has now become clear. So we, as Orthodox Christians, should be careful of entertaining speculations of those outside the Church. We must live within the Holy Tradition of our Church. This living within tradition has been superbly described by Vladimir Lossky when he said that “to be within the Tradition, is to keep the living truth in the Light of the Holy Spirit.”(16) The Mother of God is our “Victorious Leader”(17), who shared in our fallen human nature but did not succumb to sin through human weakness. She struggled against sin and overcame it; she was “never subject to the taint of sin.”(18) She is the prototype of the life of a monastic, being the mother and foundress of the path of interior prayer and stillness. In cultivating these ascetic practices, she reached such a state of purity that God chose her to be His mother according to the flesh. She thus became the Mediatress between heaven and earth, and again our Victorious Leader.” O Theotokos, “as Thou dost possess invincible might, set us free from every calamity, that we may cry to Thee: Rejoice, O Bride unwedded.”(19)

(1) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, Tolleshunt Knights by Essex, England, Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, p. 392.
(2) Something interesting on this topic: A monk of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England has said that it is possible to perceive the energy of a thought before it is formed in the mind.
(3) The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, The Writings of the Fathers down to 325 A. D., ed. The Very Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL. D., Vol. VIII, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1956, p.371.
(4) Saint Gregory’s view of the prayer life of the Theotokos while she lived at the temple is not unique among the Fathers of the Church. He has indeed gone into greater detail on this subject than others yet before him Saints Jerome, George of Nicomedia, and Theophylact of Ochrid have written of her contemplative life and frequent visitation of angels at that time (cf. Saint Demetrius of Rostov, The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Vol. III: November, pp. 479-491). This standpoint has the apocryphal accounts as its basis.
(5) Saint Gregory Palamas, Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas, ed. Christopher Veniamin, South Canaan, Pennsylvania 18459, Mount Thabor Publishing 2005, p. 47 (see also, Paisius Velichkovsky, LittleRussian Philokalia, Vol. IV: St. Paisius Velichkovsky, St. Herman Press * St. Paisius Abbey Press, Forestville, California 95436, 1994, pp. 33-34)).
(6) Ibid. pp. 43-44, and p. 33.
(7) Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Saint Silouan the Athonite, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, Tolleshunt Knights by Essex, England, Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, p. 502.
(8) Archmandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) His Life Is Mine, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977, p. 113
(9) Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, The Power of the Name, New Edition, Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres Oxford, SLG Press, 1986, p. 1
(10) Ibid. p. 1
(11) Ibid. p. 1
(12) Ibid. p. 1
(13) Ibid. p. 2
(14) Ibid. p. 2
(15) Ibid. p. 2
(16) Leonid Ouspensky & Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, trans. G. E. H. Palmer& E. Kadloubovsky, Revised Edition, Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982, p. 19
(17) Kontakion of the Annunciation, trans., Book of Canons, Very Rev. Theodore Heckman, South Canaan, Pennsylvania, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1984 p. 89
(18) The Festal Menaion, Trans. Mother Mary and Kallistos Ware, 24 Russel Square, London, England, Faber and Faber Limited, 1969, p. 190
(19) Kontakion of the Annunciation, trans., Book of Canons, pp.89-90

Synaxis of the Theotokos

Beginning with this day of the Synaxis of the Theotokos I would like to dedicate a good portion of the coming year to her, that is, Mary, the Birth-giver of God. I will primarily be apologetic and shall probably repeat some things I have mentioned in some earlier posts. I shall also make references to a book on the Theotokos called, O Full of Grace, Glory to Thee, which is available from St. Tikhon’s Monastery. It is unfortunate that there is a need to be apologetic but in our day we have had in our Church speculative teachers, we have had teachers who believe they have bright ideas and follow their own thoughts, and we have had teachers who have been influenced by education outside of the Orthodox Church. So let us begin with the “Foreword” to the above mentioned book:

We, as Orthodox Christians in the Americas, find ourselves in an atmosphere in which we are challenged. We are a Church which is in dispersion. We are a minority among those who call themselves Christians, and engulfed by a multitude of philosophies and religious systems as odds with our Faith. Our Faith is challenged. It is unfortunate, yet not undeniable, that challenges to the Orthodox Faith are occurring not only from without but also from within the Church. Therefore in this small book, we have both a pastoral view in mind, and an apologetic aim of expressing certain truths we confess. It is reference to God’s human instrument of the incarnation of Christ that we shall speak. We want to speak about the most significant woman in the history of the human race: Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anna, who gave birth to the eternal, uncreated God.

There are truths we as Orthodox Christians acknowledge about Mary, the Birth-giver of God, which may appear problematic to the fallen rational mind. There are truths which some see as mythological and difficult to accept, such as her ever-virginity—that is, physically continuing as a virgin before, during and after giving birth, her sinlessness, or her being the highest of all creation. These may indeed be difficult to accept when they are evaluated by the mind acting according to the human reason habitually used for the function of life in this fallen world. As the Apostle Paul says, the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (ICor. 2:14). Yet the mind has the capability to be trained to act in another way, in a contemplative way, which leads to “direct apprehension of truth through grace” (1), and it is ‘by faith that we have access to this grace” (Rom. 5:2). When the mind functions in this capacity it is in its natural place prior to the fall, which is the heart. (2)

Since in our world today we are so well educated, and from youth trained to be rational and logical, we must say a few words of response to our reason. When we reflect upon Mary, the Mother of God, we must always consider her in the context of Christology and the history of salvation. This approach is summarized in the Anaphora prayer of St. Basil the Great. In his masterpiece of liturgical prayer, he addresses God the Father:

When Thou didst create man by taking dust from the earth, and didst honor him with Thine own image, O God, Thou didst set him in a paradise of delight, promising Him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessing in the observance of Thy commandments. But when man disobeyed Thee the true God Who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself…He was God before the ages, yet He appeared on earth and lived among men, becoming incarnate of a holy Virgin; He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being likened to the body of our lowliness, that He might liken us to the image of His glory. (3)

This is the “mystery which hath been hid from the ages and from generations…which is Christ in you” (Col. 1:26-7). We have indeed been chosen “in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). Our salvation through the Incarnation of Christ has been foreordained by God even before the creation. So then, what was the will and desire of God the Father for God’s human instrument of the incarnation of Christ, the most significant woman in the history of the human race? Is it not logical that He wanted her to be the highest of all creation, ever-virgin—a virgin in conceiving, in giving birth, and after birth-giving and sinless? Is it possible for the Almighty God Who brought all things out of non-existence into being to do this for the woman who would give birth to His Son? It is not only possible, but it is logical. It is the logical phenomenon that God would effect.

So then, it is with such an approach that we will consider the truths that we as Orthodox Christians confess concerning the Most Holy Theotokos. In doing so, we hope to come to this conclusion: How can we fail to believe that Mary, the Mother of God, is the highest of all creation, that she forever remained a virgin, and that she was not touched by the taint of sin? How is it possible that we could fail to believe these truths?

May our Lord Jesus Christ, “the true light Who enlightens and sanctifies every man that comes into the world”: (4), open the eyes of our minds to the comprehension of the truth He makes accessible to us in this world; so that acknowledging Him as true God and true Man, we may, in an Orthodox, magnify her who gave birth to Him.

(1) Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, p.37
(2) St. Ignatius Brianchaninov expresses this opinion as follows: “The separation of mind from the heart, and their opposition to one another, have resulted from our fall into sin.” The Arena, p. 85
(3) Translation taken from Service Books of the Orthodox Church, Volume II, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, pp. 71-3
(4) This is a prayer which the priest reads at the end of the First Hour. It is a paraphrase of John 1:9

Chrysostom on Reading the Gospel


This will be the last post in the series of excerpts of homilies of St. John. Here we have sections of the first two homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. Chrysostom first tells us how the earliest Christians had such grace that a written word was not needed. Next he presents the Gospels as something interesting and exciting, surpassing all the things of this world we believe to be so.

Chrysostom on Reading the Scriptures

It would indeed be proper for us not at all to require the aid of the written Word, but to exhibit a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit should be as though books to our souls; and that as these are inscribed with ink, even so should our hearts be with the Spirit. But, since we have utterly put away from us this grace, come, let us at any rate embrace the second best course. For that the former was better, God has made manifest, both by His words, and by His doings. Since to Noah, Abraham, and to his offspring, to Job, and to Moses also, He discoursed not by writings, rather He Himself, finding their mind pure. But after the whole people of the Hebrews had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, then and thereafter was a written word, and tablets, and the admonition which is given by these.

And this one may perceive was the case, not of the saints in the Old Testament only, but also of those in the New. For God did not give anything in writing to the Apostles, but instead of written words He promised that He would give them the grace of the Spirit. For “He,” our Lord said, “shall bring all things to your remembrance.” And that you may learn that this was far better, hear what He said through the Prophet: “I will make a new covenant with them, putting My laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them,” and, “they shall be all taught of God.” And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority, said, that they had received a law “not in tablets of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” But since in process of time they made shipwreck, some with regard to doctrines, others as to life and manners, there was again need that they should be put in remembrance by the written word.

Reflect then how great an evil it is for us, who ought to live so purely as not even to need written words, but to yield up our hearts, as books, to the Spirit; now that we have lost that honor, and are come to have need of these, to fail again in duly employing even this second remedy. For if it be blameworthy to stand in need of written words, and not to have brought down on ourselves the grace of the Spirit; consider how heavy the charge of not choosing to profit even after this assistance. On the contrary if we treat what is written with neglect, as though it was cast forth without purpose, and at random, we shall bring down upon ourselves an increased punishment. So that no such effect may occur, let us give strict heed unto the things that are written.

Now we are on the point of entering into a city (if God permit) of gold, and more precious than any gold. Let us then mark her foundations, her gates consisting of sapphires and pearls; for indeed we have in Matthew an excellent guide. For through his gate we shall now enter in, and much diligence is required on our part. For should the Lord see any one not attentive, He casts him out of the city. Yes, for the city is most kingly and glorious; not as the cities with us, divided into a market-place, and the royal courts; for there all is the court of the King. Let us open therefore the gates of our mind, let us open our ears, and with great trembling, when on the point of setting foot on the threshold, let us worship the King that is therein.

For have one leading us with the eyes of the Spirit—Matthew the Publican, who offers to show us all; where the King sits and His host who stand by Him. He will show us where are the angels, where the archangels; and what place is set apart for the new citizens in this city, and what kind of way it is that leads there, and what is the manner of portion they have received, who first were citizens therein, and those next after them, and such as followed these. Let us not therefore with noise or tumult enter in, but with a mystical silence. For if in a city, a great silence is made, when the letter of the king is to be read, much more in this city must all be collected, and stand with soul and ear erect. For it is not the letters of any earthly master, but of the Lord of angels, which are on the point of being read.

So today we set foot within a holy vestibule. Let us consider, the Jews, when they were to approach “a mountain that burned, and fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest,”—or rather when they were not so much as to approach, but both to see and to hear these things from afar—were commanded for three days before to abstain from their wives, and to wash their garments, and were in trembling and fear, both themselves and Moses with them. Therefore, much more should we who are not to stand far from a smoking mountain, but to enter into Heaven itself, show forth a greater self-denial; not washing our garments, but wiping clean the robe of our soul, and ridding ourselves of all mixture with worldly things. For it is not blackness that we shall see, nor smoke, nor tempest, but the King Himself sitting on the throne of that unspeakable glory, and angels, and archangels standing by Him, and the tribes of the saints, with those never-ending myriads.
For such is the city of God, having “the Church of the first-born, the spirits of the just, the general assembly of the angels, the blood of sprinkling,” whereby we are all knit into one. Heaven has received the things of earth, and earth the things of Heaven, and that peace has come which was of old longed for both by angels and by saints. Herein the trophy of the cross stands glorious, and conspicuous, the spoils won by Christ, the first-fruits of our inheritance, the booty of our King; all this we shall see in the Gospels. If you follow along with befitting quietness, we shall be able to lead you about everywhere, and to show where death is set forth crucified, and where sin is suspended, and where are the many and wondrous offerings from this war, from this battle. You shall likewise see the tyrant here bound, and the multitude of his minions led captive. You will see his hiding places, and the dens of his robbers, broken up now, and laid open.
But do not be weary, beloved, for if anyone was describing a visible war, and trophies, and victories, you would feel no satiety at all; no, you would not prefer either to eat or drink to such an account. But if that kind of narrative is welcome, how much more this. For consider what a thing it is to hear, how on the one side God from Heaven, arising “out of the royal thrones, descended” (Wis. 18.15) unto the earth, and even unto hell itself, and stood in the battle array; and how the devil on the other hand set himself in array against Him; or rather not against God unveiled, but God hidden in man’s nature. And what is marvelous, is that you will see death destroyed by death, and curse extinguished by curse, and the dominion of the devil put down by those very things whereby he did prevail. Let us therefore rouse ourselves thoroughly, and let us not sleep, for lo, I see the gates opening to us; but let us enter in with all seemly order, and with trembling, step straightway within the vestibule itself. But what is this vestibule? “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.”

Chrysostom on Depression


Why then – with regard to other griefs – are you cast down, O man? Since, if for sins which is the only place where grief is beneficial excess works much mischief, much more so does it for all other things. Why do you grieve? Have you lost money? Well, think of those who are not even filled with bread, and you shall indeed speedily obtain consolation. And in each of the things that are grievous to you, do not mourn the things that have happened; instead, for the disasters that have not happened, give thanks. Have you had money and lost it? Do not weep for the loss, but give thanks for the time when you enjoyed it. Say like Job, “Have we received good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) And together with that, use this argument also: even if you did lose your money and yet your body is still sound, give thanks that in spite of your poverty at least your body is not maimed.

But has your body also endured some outrage? Even this is not the bottom of human calamities, but in the middle of the cask you are—so-to-speak—carried along. For many, along with poverty and maiming, both wrestle with a demon and wander in deserts. Again, others endure other things more grievous than these. But may it never be our lot to suffer all that it is possible for one to bear. Considering these things then, let us bear in mind them that suffer worse, and not be vexed at any of these things. However, only when thou sin, then sigh, then weep. In that case I do not forbid you, rather I enjoin you; although even then do so with moderation, remembering that there is returning and reconciliation.

But do you still grieve, why? Do you see others in luxury and yourself in poverty; and another in goodly robes, and in preeminence? Do not look, however, at these things alone, but also on the miseries that arise out of them. And in your poverty too, consider not simply the beggary, but also the pleasure arising therefrom. For wealth has indeed a cheerful mask, but its inward parts are full of gloom; and yet poverty has the reverse. And if you would unfold each man’s conscience, in the soul of the poor you will see great security and freedom; but in that of the rich, confusions, disorders, tempests. And if you grieve, seeing one who is rich, know that he too is vexed even more than you when he beholds one richer than himself. And as you fear him, even so does he another, thus he has no advantage over thee in this. Are you vexed to see him in a governing office, because you are simply a citizen and one of the governed? Recollect then the day of his ceasing to hold office; and even before that day what his office entails: the tumults, the perils, the fatigues, the flatteries, the sleepless nights, and many other miseries.

These things we say to those who have no mind for high morality: since if you understood this, there are other and greater things whereby we may comfort you. But for the present we must use the coarser topics to convince you. Therefore when you see one that is rich, think of one that is richer than he, and you will then see him in the same condition as yourself. And after him, look also on him that is poorer than thyself, and consider how many have gone to bed hungry, and have lost their patrimony, and live in a dungeon, and pray for death every day. For neither doth poverty breed sadness, nor wealth pleasure, but our own thoughts are accustomed to produce both the one and the other in us. And consider, beginning from beneath: the scavenger grieves and is vexed that he cannot be rid of his business which is so wretched and esteemed so disgraceful. But if you rid him of this, and cause him – with security – to have plenty of the necessaries of life, he will grieve again that he hath not more than he wants. And if thou grant him more, he will wish to double them again, and will therefore vex himself no less than before. And if you will give him double or triple, he will be out of heart again because he hath no part in the state. If you provide him with this also, he will count himself wretched because he is not one of the highest officers of state. And when he has obtained this honor, he will mourn that he is not a ruler; and when he shall be ruler, that it is not of a whole nation. And when of a whole nation, that it is not of many nations; and when of many nations, then that he is not king. And if such were made a king, then he will grieve that he is not so alone; and if alone, that he is not also of barbarous nations; and if of barbarous nations, that he is not even of the whole world. And if of the whole world, why not likewise of another world? And so his course of thought going on without end does not allow him ever to be pleased. Do you see how even if from being mean and poor you would make a man a king, you do not remove his dejection, without first correcting his turn of thought, enamored as it is of having more?

Come, let me also show you the contrary, that even if from a higher station you should bring down to a lower one a man who has prudence, you wilt not cast him into dejection and grief. And if you will, let us descend the same ladder, and bring down the governor from his throne and in supposition deprive him of that dignity. I say that he will not on this account vex himself, if he should choose to bear in mind the things of which I have spoken. He will not consider the things of which he hath been deprived, but rather that which he still has, and the glory arising from his office. But if thou take away this also, he will consider those who are in private stations and have never ascended to such a position, and for consolation his riches will suffice him. And if you also cast him out again from this, he will look to them that have a moderate estate. And if you would take away even moderate wealth, and allow him to partake only of necessary food, he may think upon those who do not even have this, but wrestle with incessant hunger and live in prison. And even if thou should bring him into that prison-house, when he reflects on them that lie under incurable diseases and irremediable pains, even there he will see himself to be in much better circumstances.

And just as the scavenger mentioned before will not reap any cheerfulness even on being made a king, so neither will the prudent man ever vex himself even if he becomes a prisoner. It is not then wealth that is the foundation of pleasure, nor poverty of sadness. Rather it is our own judgment, and the fact, that the eyes of our mind are not pure; nor are they fixed on any one place and abide there, but without limit they flutter abroad. And just as healthy bodies, if they are nourished with bread alone, are in good and vigorous condition, while those that are sickly, even if they enjoy a plentiful and varied diet, become so much the weaker; so also it is accustomed to happen in regard to the soul. The mean spirited, not even in a diadem and unspeakable honors can be happy; but the self-denying, even in bonds and fetters and poverty, will enjoy a pure pleasure.

Bearing these things in mind then, let us ever look to them that are beneath us. There is to be found, I grant, another consolation, one of a high strain in morality, and mounting above the grossness of the multitude. What is this? That wealth is nothing, poverty is nothing, disgrace is nothing, honor is nothing; but for a brief time and only in words do they differ from each other. And along with this there is another soothing topic even greater than it: the consideration of the things to come, both evil and good; the things which are really evil and really good, and being comforted by them. But since many, as I said, stand aloof from these doctrines; therefore were we compelled to dwell on others, so that in course we might lead them on to receive that which has been said before.

Taking all these things into account, let us by every means frame ourselves aright, and we shall never grieve at these unexpected things. For just as if we should see men rich in a picture, we would not say they were to be envied, likewise on seeing poor men so depicted we should [not?] call them wretched and pitiable. Yet those paintings are surely will outlast those whom we consider wealthy; since one abides rich in the painting longer than in the nature of the things themselves. For the one often lasts, appearing such, even to a hundred years; but the other sometimes – not having had so much as a fraction of this – has been suddenly stripped of all.

Meditating then on all these things, let us from all quarters build up cheerfulness as a defense against our irrational sorrow, so that in this way we may both pass the present life with pleasure, and obtain the good things to come, through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father, with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and honor, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Chrysostom on Sorrow

Let us not be distressed at the evils that happen to us.  This is sobriety of mind.  “In the season of temptation,” he says, “Make not haste.”(Ecclesiasticus 2:2)  Many have their several griefs at home, and we share in each other’s sorrows, though not in their sources.  For one is unhappy on account of his wife, another on account of his child, or his servant, another of his friend, another of his enemy, another of his neighbor, another from some loss.  And various are the causes of sorrow, so that we can find no one free from trouble and unhappiness of some kind or other, but some have greater sorrows and some less.  Let us not therefore be impatient, nor think ourselves only to be unhappy.
For there is no such thing in this mortal life as being exempt from sorrow.  If not today, yet tomorrow; if not tomorrow, yet some later day trouble comes.  For as one cannot sail over a long sea, and not feel disquietude, so it is not possible to pass through this life, without experience of sorrow.  Yes, even though you name a rich man; for by virtue of the fact that he is rich he has many occasions of inordinate desires.  Although he may be the king himself, since he too is ruled by many, and cannot do all that he would like to do.  Many favors he grants contrary to his wishes, and more than all men is obliged to do against his preference.  How is it so?  Because he has many about him who wish to receive his gifts.  And just think how great is his grief, when he is desirous to effect something, but is unable, either from fear or suspicion, or hindered by enemies or by friends.  Often when he has succeeded in achieving some end, he loses all the pleasure of it, from many becoming at enmity with him.
Again, do you think that they are free from grief, who live a life of ease?  It is impossible.  As a man cannot escape death, so neither can he escape sorrow.  How many troubles must they endure, which we cannot express in words, and which they only can know by experience!  How many have prayed a thousand times to die, in the midst of their wealth and luxury!  For luxury by no means puts men out of the reach of grief; it is rather the very thing to produce sorrows, diseases, and uneasiness, often when there is no real ground for it.  For when such is the habit of the soul, it is apt to grieve even without a cause.  Physicians say that from a weak state of the stomach arise sorrows without any occasion; and does not the like happen to ourselves, to feel uneasy, without knowing any cause for it?  In short, we can find no one who is exempted from sorrow.  And if he has less occasion for grief than ourselves, yet he thinks otherwise, for he feels his own sorrows, more than those of other men.  It is as those who suffer pain in any part of their bodies, think that their sufferings exceed their neighbor’s.  He that has a disease of the eye thinks there is nothing so painful, and he that has a disorder in the stomach, considers that the sorest of diseases, and each thinks that the illness with which he is afflicted is the worst of sufferings.
So it is with sorrow, each thinks his own present grief the most severe.  For of this he judges by his own experience.  He that is childless considers nothing so sad as to be without children; he that is poor, and has many children, complains of the extreme evils of a large family.  He who has but one, looks upon this as the greatest misery, because that one, being pampered, and never corrected, becomes willful, and brings grief upon his father.  He who has a beautiful wife, thinks nothing so bad as having a beautiful wife, because it is the occasion of jealousy and intrigue.  He who has an ugly one, thinks nothing worse than having a plain wife, because it is constantly disagreeable.  The private man thinks nothing more mean, more useless, than his mode of life.  The soldier declares that nothing is more toilsome, more perilous, than warfare; that it would be better to live on bread and water than endure such hardships.  He that is in power thinks there can be no greater burden than to attend to the necessities of others.  He that is subject to that power, thinks nothing more servile than living at the beck of others.  The married man considers nothing worse than a wife, and the cares of marriage.  The unmarried declares there is nothing so wretched as being unmarried, and wanting the repose of a home.  The merchant thinks the husbandman happy in his security.  The husbandman thinks the merchant so in his wealth.  In short, all mankind is somehow hard to please, and discontented and impatient.  When condemning the whole race, the Psalmist says, “Man is a thing of nought” (Ps. 144:4), implying that the whole kind is a wretched unhappy creature.  How many long for old age!  How many think youth a happy time!  Thus each different period has its unhappiness.  When we find ourselves censured on account of our youth, we say, why are we not old?  And when our heads are hoary, we ask whither has our youth flown?  Numberless, in short, are the occasions of sorrow.  There is one path only by which this unevenness can be escaped.  It is the path of virtue.  Yet that too has its sorrows, only they are sorrows not unprofitable, but productive of gain and advantage.  For if any one has sinned he washes away his sin by the compunction that comes of his sorrow.  Or, if he has grieved in sympathizing with a fallen brother, this is not without its recompense.  For sympathy with those that are in misery gives us great confidence towards God.
Hear therefore what philosophy is taught by the example of Paul:  “Weep with them that weep;” and again, “Condescend to men of low estate.”  (Rom. 12:15-16)  For, by the communication of sorrow, the extreme burden of it is lightened.   For as in the case of a heavy load, he that bears part of the weight relieves him who was bearing it alone, so it is in all other things.  Amen.

A Final Word from Chrysostom on Anger

A Final Word on Anger from Chrysostom
“He that is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”  (Matt. 5:22); so does our Lord speak.  Thus He has not altogether taken the thing away; first because it is not possible, being a man to be freed from passions.  We may indeed get dominion over them, but to be altogether without them is out of the question.  Next, because this passion is even useful, if we know how to use it at the suitable time.  See, for instance, what great good was wrought by the anger of Paul which he exercised against the Corinthians, on that well known occasion (see I Corinthians Chapter 5); and how it delivered them from a grievous pest.  In the same manner he recovered the people of Galatia, who had slipped aside, and others also besides these.
What then is the proper time for anger?  When we are not avenging ourselves, but checking others in their lawless freaks, or forcing them to attend in their negligence.  And what is the unsuitable time?  When we do so as avenging ourselves, which Paul also forbidding said, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath.”  (Rom. 12:19)  Also when we are contending for riches:  yes, for this he has also taken away when he says, “Why not rather suffer wrong?  Why not rather be defrauded?”  (I Cor. 6:7)  For just as the taking of vengeance is superfluous, so the other type is necessary and profitable.  But most men do the contrary; they become like wild beasts when they are injured.  But they are remiss and cowardly when they see despite done to another or another breaking the laws of God, both which are the opposite of the laws of the Gospel.
Being angry then is not transgression, but being so out of place.  For this cause the prophet has also said, “Be ye angry and sin not.”  (Ps. 4:5)  And this is how anger is meant to be:  however provoked, not to forsake gentleness, and however at rest and quiet, to be on the alert against evil thoughts.  To acknowledge the friend, and not for any beating to forsake him, and for all his caressing, to fly at the intruder.  Anger must be under control and not overthrow the reasoning of the mind.  Such good order may we all attain 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.

More on Anger from Chrysostom

More on Anger from Chrysostom

“Then were assembled together the chief priests and the scribes and the elders of the people, in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him. But they said, not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people.” (Matt. 26:3-5)

Yet in spite of this, boiling with anger they changed their purpose again. For although they had said, “Not at the feast time;” when they found the traitor they did not wait, but slew Him on the feast. But O loving kindness! Those that were so depraved, so refractory, and full of countless evils, He again saves, and sends the apostles to be slain on their behalf, and the apostles, in spite of this continue to entreat them to repent and turn to Him, “For we are ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20) .

Having such patterns as these, I do not say let us die for our enemies, although we should even do this. Since we are too feeble for this, I say for the present, at least let us not look with an evil eye upon our friends and let’s not envy our benefactors. For the present I don’t say let us do good to those that treat us evil, though I desire even this; but since you are too gross for this, at least do not avenge yourselves. For what is our condition? We actually set ourselves in opposition to the commandments enjoined. It is not without purpose that these things have been recorded; but in order that we might imitate His loving-kindness. For indeed in the garden He cast them to the ground and restored the servant’s ear, and discoursed with forbearance. He also has shown forth great miracles: when uplifted on the Cross He turned aside the rays of the sun, burst the rocks, raised the dead, frightened by dreams the wife of Pilate who judged Him. At the very judgment He showed forth all meekness (which had no less power than the miracles to win them over). He forewarned them of countless things in the judgment hall; on the very Cross He cried aloud, “Father forgive them their sin” (Luke 23:34 freely cited).

And when buried, how many things did our Lord do for their salvation? And having endured all this from them, didn’t He immediately call the Jews? Didn’t He give them remission of sins? Didn’t He set before them countless blessings? What can be equal to this tenderness?

On hearing these things let us with shame hide our faces, to think that we are so far removed from Him Whom we are commanded to imitate. Let us at least see how great is the distance between He and us (if it is possible), that we may at any rate condemn ourselves, for warring with those on behalf of whom Christ gave His life, and be unwilling to be reconciled with them, whom in order that He might reconcile them to us did not refuse to be slain.

Has anyone spoken ill of you and disgraced you? Consider that you have also done so to others. How then will you obtain pardon, you, who refuse to show kindness to others and be reconciled? But are you guiltless and have spoken ill of no one? But you have heard others so speaking and have allowed it. Neither is this guiltless. Do you desire to learn what a good thing it is not to remember injuries and how this more than anything pleases God? Those who gloat over others whom He chastises, He punishes. And yet they are justly chastised; but you should not rejoice in this. So the prophet having brought many accusations against the sinful, added this also, saying, “They felt nothing for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:6), and again, “She that inhabited Enan, came not forth to lament for the place near her.” (Micah 1:2 Sept.)

And yet both Joseph and the neighbors of these others, were chastised according to the purpose of God; nevertheless it is His will that we sympathize even with these. Consider that we who are evil, when we are punishing a servant, if we should see one of his fellow slaves laughing, we are provoked the more and turn our anger against him. So then, much more will God punish those that exult over those whom He chastises. But if it is not right to trample upon those that are chastised by God, then much more with those that have sinned against us. For this is love’s sign, and God prefers love to all things; and those virtues are very precious which preserve love. But nothing maintains it so much as forgetting the wrongs of those that have sinned against us.

Behold doesn’t God drive him that has done the wrong to him that is wronged? Doesn’t He send him from the altar to the other, and after the reconciliation invite him to the table? (Matt. 5:23-26) But do not use this as a pretext to wait for him to come, for then you have lost an opportunity to please God. Especially with this intent does He appoint to you an unspeakable reward, in order that you may be anxious to precede the other, since if you are reconciled by his entreaties, the amity is no longer the result of your fulfillment of the divine command, but of the other party’s diligence. You also will go away uncrowned, while he receives the reward.

But do you have an enemy, and aren’t you ashamed? Why, isn’t the devil enough for us, that we bring upon ourselves those of our own race also? I wish that even he had not been minded to war against us; I wish that not even he were a devil! Don’t you know how great the pleasure is after reconciliation?

Does it matter that if in our enmity it doesn’t appear great? That it is sweeter to love him that does us wrong than to hate him, you shall thoroughly learn this after the enmity is vanquished. Why then do we imitate the mad warring against one another, devouring our own flesh? Listen and hear that even in the Old Testament there was a great concern for this, “The ways of the revengeful men are unto death.” (Prov. 12:28 Sept.) “One man keepeth anger against another and doth he seek healing from God.” (Eccles.28:3) And yet He allowed, “An eye for an eye” and “tooth for tooth,” how then does He find fault? Because He allowed those things not that we should do them to one another, but that through the fear of suffering we might abstain from committing crime. And besides, those acts are fruits of short-lived anger, but to remember injuries is the part of a soul that exercises itself in evil.

Let us therefore be babes in malice, and flee wickedness, and lay hold of virtue, so that we may attain also to the good things to come; 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.

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.