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.