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…