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.