The Education of Children

A Sermon by St. Sebastian Dabovi?

SAN FRANCISCO, 1899

We desire to tell you of some thing, which is of the utmost importance. We find it necessary, unfortunately, to repeat in a measure what has been told you several times. We speak plainly, without a flourish of words, because we feel our responsibility before God – if we be misunderstood. We desire to remind you of our parish or church-school. To learn to read and write you send your children to school. You know that you must do it. But how many of you think of the serious obligation of rightly and thoroughly preparing your children for the life which they must live after only a few years? Some, indeed, give their attention to what they call a decent education for their children, for which and for whom they would not fall back of any one, but be as good and as nice as other people in town.

If you send your children to school to study grammar and arithmetic, (the future mainstay of the “home” are often compelled to leave their homes to learn even cooking and dancing), why will you not be just as eager to send them to school where they will study religion? If you are truly interested in the welfare of your children, why do you not watch as strictly, but once a week, how they attend to their lessons in the study of the Law of God, as you do in some home-work, which the children seemed to be forced to have prepared within the next twelve hours for their public school? You must obey God, above the public and all other masters, or lose your souls for the responsibility which rests upon you for the present and future welfare of your children.

Where there is intellect, there always will be knowledge. Still, you must educate the child. Teach the boy and girl geography and history; but if you do not train the child’s will, in order not only to please you, its parents, but to bend before the holy will of Him, who is the only just rewarder of good and evil, then you are a failure as a Christian. Where there is no discipline, there is no constancy. Where there is no law, there is no order, no peace, no everlasting happiness. If no tender sympathies re-echo in the heart of the young, away have been cast the time and labor in teaching – be it botany or music.

What a pity! we see young children at the age of ten, whose very brains seem to be rattling with numerical problems, while they have not the good manners to step out of the way of an old person, or even the common human feeling of a desire to aid in distress. I have seen even young men and young women stand gazing on one of their company, who was fainting from exhaustion, without the offer of the most simple service – to fetch a cup of cold water.

However regular athletic exercises are attended to, no matter how carefully the lessons in physiology are prepared, little indeed, will they profit your children, if they know not the steps, up which they must climb to seek the Highest. If you, fathers and mothers, are Christians, then we ministers of the Word may rest in the quiet hope that your children have been taught dutifully and rightly to praise the All-majestic Creator at morn, likewise in midday, confessing each themselves before God, and openly before all men, confessing God, while at night they humbly implore His mercy. But if your children do not invoke their Guardian-Angel, if they do not bless the most pure Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and fall down in humble devotion, supplicating for the grace of our Heavenly Father, then you are not Christians.

It is a sad fact, which must be recorded in this earthly judgment seat of God, and the truth of this fact is as bitter for me, as it is for you. Nevertheless, we acknowledge and accept the truthful bitterness with the hope, that it will prove to be a healing remedy, which will bring peaceful and sweet results.

There are parents belonging to our congregation in San Francisco, who go to the matinee with their children, not giving a thought before hand to the character of the play; they teach the little ladies and gentlemen, i.e. the future men and women of a Christian land, to buy and select wearing apparel, which is pleasing to the eyes of the world, whether it be healthful and sensible, or not. Yes, they are “up to the times,” they visit the classes of the public schools; they receive and fix their signatures to monthly school reports. Ah! if they would but fix the character of the school itself. If their children are tardy for five minutes they may not go to school without a written excuse. Yet it is in the power of the citizens of this country to have laws enacted, which would protect their young from being crammed with “ologies” and “isms,” and insure their healthful growth and the teaching of good sense.

How is it with our church schools? All our children do not attend, and their friends and Christian neighbors do not take interest enough to invite them to go with their children. The parents do not visit our school, but once a year, and then – when we are not at work. What is our home-work for the children? Only a little of that which is the greatest. A very little, once or twice a week, of the commandments of God and the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. And no one to think about it; no one at home to see that the life-work of the family is done! During the short hour that we manage to collect a few unruly children, we must study and repeat, for even prayers are not learned in the home.

Beloved Christians! we need your co-operation. We may sow the seed, but – remember – the influence of your home is the sunshine which heats the ground. So then ask yourselves, is not the wind too chilly, and the sun too low to strike its rays direct? We may trim the plant, but it is your duty to keep watering it. Oh! if you would but water the precious plants of your gardens with prayerful tears! We invite you to visit our school, from time to time, during lesson hours. If we were asked, how many of us pray together with children, the conscientious would answer, a very, very few; only several in a congregation of three hundred souls. Generally, of an evening, the children are sent to bed; and sometimes some one calls out, say your prayers first. And from time to time there is a prayer, but more often there is only the “saying.” Must I explain that Christian children should be followed to their night’s rest; in most cases they should be “put” into bed.

It is the duty especially of parents to see that their children pray correctly, and also to pray with them in an audible voice themselves. Let this not be an act of routine. Do not for a moment think that it will become a daily routine. This reasonable discipline, when you kneel by the side of tender childhood and see the little ones pray, will lighten in your own heart – at the same time that it does in theirs – the fire of heavenly love. Moreover, your prayers must be the prayers of the Orthodox Church of Christ. Our Mother church has but one infallible model of prayer – given to her by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is an invocation, petitions, and a doxology; in other words, a call, a request, and a praise. If you will concentrate your minds upon the subject of each one of these divisions, then your prayer will not be a “saying,” but an “offering.” Again we ask you to give us your dutiful attention and assistance in the work of teaching our children. If not for the sake of your own comfort in old age and sickness, let us for the sake of their Almighty Father in Heaven, and our Judge, awaken in their hearts the love for that which is holy and truly beautiful. Amen.

— St Sebastian Dabovi? was the first North American born Orthodox priest, serving in Canada and the United States. His relics were recently translated to his home parish in California, where many faithful attended in anticipation of his glorification as the most recently revealed saint of North America. This sermon was taken from Lectures and Sermons by a Priest of the Holy Orthodox Church, by Archimandrite Sebastian Dabovich, Cubery and Company, Publishers, San Francisco CA, 1899, pages: 148-152.

On the Error of Nature Worshipers

by St. Nikolai Velimirovich

Thus then we Christians understand the earth, the sun and the stars as the symbols of spiritual reality and in no way as the reality itself.

Pagans of all ages, however, have mistaken those luminous bodies of the firmament for (spiritual) reality. As soon as they took them for (spiritual) reality they began to worship them. That is how the pagans have been ensnared by a terrible error to worship the creatures instead of the Creator.

The Greeks worshiped the earth under the name of goddess Gaia, and the sun under the name of Apollo. The sun was worshiped in Egypt under the name of Osiris, and the moon under the name Isis. The moon was worshiped in Babylon, Assyria, Arabia and in many other countries under the name Ishtar. The Persians, as fire worshipers, bowed before the stars as divinities.

The error of the nature worshipers, the ancient as well as the modern, was caused by the fact that their spirit did not guide their eyes but vice versa: their eyes guided their spirit. Similar to a blind person their spirit tottered after their physical eyes and worshiped everything that the eyes declared as reality, and consequently as divinity.

 

On the Essence and Energies of God

by St. Basil the Great

“It is by His energies that we say we know our God; we do not assert that we can come near to the essence itself, for His energeia descend to us, but His essence remains unapproachable.”

(St. Basil’s Epistle 234 (ad Amphilochium), P.G., XXXII, 869 AB. Cf. )

 

 

 

Does the Orthodox Church have a Pope?

by St. Nikolai Velimorivich

Well, oh yes! It has its own Pope, greater than all popes and patriarch in the world. It has had and will have from the beginning to the end of the ages. This is the same pope invoked by all Christ’s Apostles, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and reason, the Spirit of God’s comfort and power. He is the true pope of Christ’s Church, without ….or change without disputations or elections, with no precursor or successor.

Moreover, fortunately, there is a document, written by their own hands, where we observe that the Apostles recognized/confessed the Holy Spirit as their chosen patron and pope.
At the first Council in Jerusalem, the Apostles had written these famous words:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us. (Acts.15, 28)

It is obvious that the Apostles put the Holy Spirit before and over them. Before this and each of their meetings, they used to pray and invoke Him. Have not the leaders of the Church done the same thing until nowadays? Every time they meet, first of all, they remember of their infallible pope-the Holy Spirit. They invoke Him with fear before all their work and obey to Him without any condition. Not only the leaders of the Church but also the leaders of the Orthodox states, the ministries and the members of the Parliament first used to invoke the Holy Spirit and than began their work as civil authorities. Similarly, also did and do the school leaders.

You know that, at the beginning of their school work, they go to church with their students for invoking the Holy Spirit… All Benefactor, Almighty and All Wise handles, invigorates and inspires all of them: the Church, the State and those who work into the educational system. And He governs all people in all deeds, not brutally like the earthly dictators but like a father, with wisdom and love. He is our father through the Baptism we received.

And you know that the Greek word “papa” means father. Indeed it means, ethically and historically felt, that the Holy Spirit is our father, our pope. Then, what should it be necessary for the Orthodox Church to have another father or pope? Isn’t Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who has advertised us to avoid the earthly fathers, the stepfathers? He, nineteenth centuries ago, ordered us:

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ (being read: pope), for you have one Father and He is in Heaven. (Mt. 23:9)

I wish you health and the peace of God.

 

Source

Extracted from the Saint’s book: “Missionary Letters”

Homily on Thanksgiving

In anticipation of national Thanksgiving Day in the US, and the homilies which must be written and preached this coming Sunday, we offer wisdom from St. Basil, aptly called ‘The Great.’ 

by St. Basil the Great

1. You have heard the words of the Apostle, in which he addresses the Thessalonians, prescribing rules of conduct for every kind of person. His teaching, to be sure, was directed towards particular audiences; but the benefit to be derived therefrom is relevant to every generation of mankind. Rejoice evermore, he says;

Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Now, we shall explain a little later on, as far as we are able, what it means to rejoice, what benefit we receive from it, and how it is possible to achieve unceasing prayer and give thanks to God in all things.

However, it is necessary to anticipate the objections that we encounter from our adversaries, who criticize the Apostles injunctions as unattainable. For what is the virtue, they say, in passing ones life in gladness of soul, in joy and good cheer night and day? And how is it possible to achieve this, when we are beset by countless unexpected evils, which create unavoidable dejection in the soul, on account of which it is no more feasible for us to rejoice and be of good cheer than for one who is being roasted on a gridiron not to feel agony or for one who is being goaded not to suffer pain?

And perhaps there is someone among those who are standing among us here who is ailing with this sickness of the mind and makes excuses in sins (Psalm 140:4, Septuagint), and who, through his own negligence in observing the commandments, attempts to transfer the blame to the law-giver for laying down things that are unattainable. How is it possible for me always to rejoice, he may ask, when I have no grounds for being joyous?

For the factors that cause rejoicing are external and do not reside within us: the arrival of a friend, long-term contact with parents, finding money, honors bestowed on us by other people, restoration to health after a serious illness, and everything else that makes for a prosperous life: a house replete with goods of all kinds, an abundant table, close friends to share ones gladness, pleasant sounds and sights, the good health of our nearest and dearest, and whatever else gives them happiness in life. For it is not only the pains that befall us which cause us distress, but also those that afflict our friends and relatives. It is from all of these sources, therefore, that we must garner joy and cheerfulness of soul.

In addition to these things, when we have occasion to see the downfall of our enemies, wounds inflicted on those who plot against us, recompense for our benefactors, and, in general, if no unpleasant circumstance whatsoever that would disturb our life is either at hand or expected, only then is it possible for joy to exist in our souls. How is it, therefore, that a commandment has been given to us that cannot be accomplished by our own choice, but depends on other antecedent factors? How am I to pray without ceasing, when the needs of the body necessarily attract the attention of the soul to themselves, given that the mind cannot attend to two concerns at the same time?

2. And yet, I have been commanded to give thanks in everything. Am I to give thanks when I am strapped to a rack, tortured, stretched out on a wheel, and having my eyes gouged out? Am I to give thanks when I am beaten with humiliating blows by one who hates me? When I am stiff from the cold, perishing from hunger, tied to a tree, suddenly bereft of my children, or deprived even of my very wife? If I lose my wealth as a result of a sudden shipwreck? If I run into pirates on the sea, or brigands on the mainland? If I am wounded, slandered, wander around, or dwell in a dungeon?

Raising these objections, and more besides, our adversaries find fault with the lawgiver, thinking that, by slandering the precepts that we have been given as impossible to fulfill, they furnish themselves with a defense for their own sins. What, therefore, shall we say in response to them?

That, while the Apostle is looking elsewhere and attempting to elevate our souls from the earth to the heights and to transport us to a heavenly way of life, they, unable to attain to the loftiness of the lawgivers mind, and preoccupied with the earth and the flesh, crawl around in the passions of the body like worms in a swamp and demand that the Apostle issue precepts which are capable of being fulfilled. For his part, the Apostle summons not just anyone, but one who is as he was to rejoice always, no longer living in the flesh, but having Christ living in himself, since union with the highest good does not in any way allow sympathy for the demands of the flesh (cf. Galatians 2:20).

And even if an incision is made in the flesh, the disintegration occasioned by its continued presence remains in the part of the body that suffers it, since the pain is unable to spread to the noetic part of the soul. For, if, in accordance with the Apostles precept, we have mortified our members which are upon the earth (Colossians 3:5) and we bear in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus (II Corinthians 4:10), necessarily the injury suffered by the mortified body will not reach the soul which has been freed from contact with the body. Dishonor, losses, and deaths of our nearest and dearest will not rise up to the mind, nor will they incline the sublimity of the mind to sympathy with things below.

For, if those who fall into difficulties have the same attitude as the virtuous man, they will not cause annoyance to anyone, seeing that not even they themselves endure sorrowfully what befalls them; but if they live according to the flesh (Romans 8:13), not even in this way will they annoy anyone, but will be reckoned pitiable, not so much because of their circumstances, as because they do not choose to react properly.

In short, a soul which has once and for all been held fast by the desire for its Creator and is accustomed to delighting in the beauties of the heavenly realm will not alter its great joy and cheerfulness under the influence of carnal feelings, which are varying and unstable; but things which distress other people it will regard as increasing its own gladness. Such was the Apostle, who took pleasure in infirmities, in afflictions, in persecutions, and in necessities, counting his needs an occasion for glorying (II Corinthians 12:9-10); in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in persecutions and distresses (II Corinthians 12:10; 11:27), conditions in which others endure only with difficulty, bidding farewell to life: in these he rejoiced. Therefore, those who are ignorant of what the Apostle has in mind, and do not understand that he is calling us to the evangelical way of life, dare to accuse St. Paul of laying down things that are impossible for us. Well then, let them learn how many legitimate occasions for rejoicing are made available to us through Gods munificence.

We were brought from non-being into being; we were made in the image of the Creator (Genesis 1:27); we have the mind and reason to perfect our nature, and through them we have knowledge of God. And perceiving the beauties of nature carefully, we thereby recognize, as if through letters, Gods great providence and wisdom concerning all things. We are capable of discerning good and evil; we are taught by nature itself to choose what is beneficial and to avoid what is harmful. Having been estranged from God through sin, we have been called back to kinship with Him, being released from ignominious slavery by the blood of His Only-begotten Son. We have the hope of resurrection, the enjoyment of Angelic goods, the Kingdom of Heaven, and promised goods, which transcend the grasp of mind and reason.

3. How is it not proper to think that these things are sufficient reasons for unending joy and unceasing gladness? How is it proper to suppose that one who is a glutton, who delights in hearing flute-playing, and who lies on a soft bed and snores, is living a life worthy of joy? I would say that such people are worthy of lamentation on the part of those who are endowed with intelligence, whereas we should call blessed those who endure the present life in the hope of the age to come and who exchange present joys for eternal joys. Whether they stand amid flames, as did the three Youths in Babylon, who were united with God (Daniel 3:21), or are shut up with lions (Daniel 6:16-23), or swallowed by a whale (Jonah 2:1), we should call them blessed, and they should pass their lives in joy, not being distressed over present sufferings, but rejoicing in the hope of what is in store for us in the next life. For, in my opinion, a good athlete, once he has stripped down for the arena of piety, should valiantly endure the blows of his adversaries in hope of the glory that comes from crowns of victory. Indeed, in gymnastic contests, those who have become inured to pain in wrestling schools are not depressed at the prospect of suffering pain from blows, but advance to close quarters with their foes, disdaining momentary pains in their desire to be publicly proclaimed victors.

Thus, even if some misfortune befalls a virtuous man, it will not cast a shadow over his joy. For tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed (Romans 5:3-5). Hence, in another place, Saint Paul enjoins us to be patient in tribulation and to rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12). It is hope, therefore, that makes joy to dwell within the soul of a virtuous man. But the same Apostle bids us weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15); and, writing to the Galatians, he wept over the enemies of the Cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18). And what need have I to speak of the tears of Jeremiah (Lamentations), of Ezekiel writing lamentations over the rulers of Israel, at Gods command (Ezekiel 2:9), or of many other Saints who mourned? Alas, my mother, that thou hast borne me (Jeremiah 15:10); Woe is me, for the godly man hath perished from the earth, and there is none among men that ordereth his way aright (Micah 7:2); Woe is me, for I am become as one gathering straw in the harvest (Micah 7:1).

So, in a word, scrutinize the sayings of the righteous, and when anywhere you find one of them emitting a rather doleful expression, you will be convinced that all who are of this world bemoan the misery of the life that is led therein. Woe is me, for my sojourning is prolonged (Psalm 119:5, Septuaginta). For the Apostle has a desire to depart, and to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). He is, therefore, vexed at the prolongation of this earthly sojourn as an impediment to his joy. David, too, bequeathed to us a lamentation in song for his friend Jonathan, in which he also mourned for his enemy: I am grieved for thee, my brother Jonathan (II Kings 1:26); and: O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul (II Kings 1:24). He mourns for Saul, as one who died in sin, but for Jonathan, as one who shared his life in every respect. Why should I speak of the other examples? And yet, the Lord wept over Lazarus (St. John 11:35) and He wept over Jerusalem (St. Luke 19:41), and He calls blessed those who mourn (St. Matthew 5:4) and likewise those who weep (St. Luke 6:21).

4. But how, you say, are these things to be reconciled with the words: Rejoice always? For weeping and joy do not derive from the same source. Weeping, for example, is naturally engendered as a result of some blow, in which the involuntary impact strikes and constricts the soul, while the spirit surrounding the heart is depressed; but joy is like a leap of the soul, as it were, which rejoices at things that are under its control. Hence, the physical symptoms are different. For, in the case of those who are distressed, their bodies are sallow, livid, and cold, whereas in the case of those who feel joyous, the condition of their bodies is efflorescent and reddish, while their souls all but leap outwards, propelled by delight.

To this we will say that the Saints lamented and wept on account of their love for God. And so, ever beholding Him Whom they loved and increasing the gladness that they themselves derived from Him, they provided for the needs of their fellow-servants, mourning for those who sinned and correcting them through their tears. Just as people who stand on the shore and feel sympathy for those who are drowning in the sea do not jettison their own security in their concern for those in peril, so also, those who are distressed at the sins of their neighbors do not efface their own gladness; on the contrary, they increase it, being vouchsafed the joy of the Lord by virtue of the tears that they shed for their brothers. This is why those who weep and those who mourn are blessed, for they themselves will be comforted and they themselves will laugh. By laughter, one means not the sound which is emitted through the cheeks when the blood boils, but the cheerfulness which is pure and unmixed with any sadness. Therefore, the Apostle allows us to weep with those who weep, because tears of this kind are like the seed and pledge of eternal joy. Ascend with me in mind, please, and behold the Angelic estate and consider whether any other condition befits them than that of rejoicing and gladness; for they are vouchsafed to stand before God and enjoy the ineffable beauty of the glory of Him Who created us. And so, it is to that life that the Apostle urges us on, bidding us always to rejoice.

5. Now, as for the fact that the Lord wept over Lazarus and the city, we have this to say: He ate and drank, not because He needed these things Himself, but so as to leave you with measures and limits by which to control the unavoidable emotions of the soul. Thus, He wept in order to correct the propensity to excessive emotion and dejection among those given to mourning and lamentation. For if there is anything that needs to be moderated by reason, it is weeping: that is, over what things, to what extent, when, and how it is proper to weep. For that the Lords weeping was not emotional, but didactic, is clear from this verse: Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep (St. John 11:11). Who among us mourns for a sleeping friend, whom he expects to awake after a short while? Lazarus, come forth (St. John 11:43). And the dead man was brought back to life; he who was bound walked. This is a miracle within a miracle: that his feet were bound with grave-clothes and yet were not prevented from moving. That which strengthened him was greater than that which impeded him.

Why, therefore, did the Lord, Who was about to accomplish such things, judge the incident worthy of tears? Is it not clear that, disregarding our infirmity in every way, He contained the necessary emotions within certain measures and limits, avoiding a lack of sympathy, on the one hand, as something appropriate to wild beasts, and, on the other hand, refusing to give way to excessive grief and lamentation as something ignoble? Hence, in weeping over His friend, He both displayed that He Himself shared in our human nature, and freed us from either kind of extreme, allowing us neither to indulge our emotions nor to be unfeeling in the face of sorrows.

Therefore, just as the Lord accepted hunger, after digesting solid food, submitted to thirst, after the moisture in His body was consumed, and felt weary, when His muscles and nerves were strained from travelling–although it was not that His Divinity succumbed to weariness, but that His body accepted its natural attributes; so also, He accepted weeping, permitting a natural property of the flesh to supervene.

This occurs when the hollow parts of the brain, filled with vapors arising from grief, discharge the burden of moisture through the opening of the eyes as through some kind of duct. Hence, one experiences a certain ringing in the ears, dizziness, and darkening of the eyes when he hears about unexpected sorrows, and ones head is set in a whirl by vapors which are emitted by compressed heat deep inside him.

Then, in my opinion, just as a cloud dissolves into raindrops, so also the thickness of vapors dissolves into tears. Hence, those who grieve feel a certain pleasure when they lament, because the burden that weighs on them is secretly evacuated through weeping. Experience of events proves the truth of this account. For we know many people who, in desperate straits, forcibly restrain themselves from weeping; then, in some cases, they fall into incurable sufferings, either apoplexy or paralysis, while in other cases, they completely faint, their strength having been broken down, like a weak support, by the weight of sorrow. For, what is observable in the case of fire, that it is stifled by its own smoke if it does not escape, but rolls around it–this, it is said, occurs also in the case of the faculty that governs a living creature; that is, it wastes away and is extinguished if there is no way for it to ex-hale.

6. Therefore, let those who are given to mourning not adduce the Lords tears in support of their own weakness. For, just as the food which the Lord ate is not an occasion of pleasure for us, but, on the contrary, the highest criterion of restraint and sufficiency, so also, His weeping is not an ordinance prescribing lamentation, but is a most fitting measure and an exact standard whereby we may, with proper dignity and decorum, endure sorrows while remaining within the limits of our nature. Thus, neither women nor men are permitted to indulge in mourning and excessive weeping, but only to the extent that it is fitting to grieve over sorrows; they are permitted to shed a few tears, but this must be done calmly, without bellowing or wailing, without rending ones tunic or sprinkling oneself with dust, or committing any of the other improprieties that are typical of those who are ignorant of heavenly things. For one who has been purified by Divine doctrine must be fenced around by right reason, as by a strong wall, and must manfully and strenuously ward off the onslaughts of such emotions; he must not accept any crowd of emotions that flows in, as it were, to some low-lying place, with a submissive and compliant soul.

It is the mark of a craven soul, and one that is lacking in the vigor that comes from hope in God, that it utterly collapses and succumbs to adversities. For, just as worms are particularly inclined to breed on more tender pieces of wood, so also sorrows grow in men of lesser moral fiber. Was not Job adamantine in heart? Were his inward parts not made of stone? His ten children fell dead in one brief moment of time, overwhelmed by a calamity in the house of their gladness at a time of enjoyment, when the Devil brought down their dwelling upon them. He saw the table drenched with blood; he saw his children, who had been born at different times, but who had ended their lives together. He did not wail aloud; he did not pluck his hair out; he did not let out a degenerate cry; but he uttered that thanksgiving which is renowned and acclaimed by all: the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away; as it seemed good to the Lord, so hath it come to pass; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). Was this man not lacking in sympathy? How could this be so? For about himself, at any rate, he says: I wept over every man who was afflicted (Job 30:25). But was he not lying when he said this? But here, too, the truth bears witness to him that, in addition to his other virtues, he was also truthful: …That man was blameless, righteous, godly, and truthful (Job 1:1).

Yet many of you keep on wailing in dirges that are designed to express dejection, and you deliberately waste away your soul with mournful melodies; and, just like the make-believe and paraphernalia with which they adorn theatres to typify tragedies, so, also, you suppose that the proper outfit for a mourner consists of black clothing, squalid hair, dirt, and dust, complete with a darkened house and lugubrious chanting, which preserves the wound of grief ever fresh in the soul. Let those who have no hope do these things. You, however, have been taught, concerning those who repose in Christ, that it [the body] is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:42-44).

Why, then, do you weep for one who has gone to change his vesture? Neither mourn for yourself, as one who has been deprived of a helper in this life; for it is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 117:8-9, Septuagint). Nor lament for this helper, as one who has suffered a terrible calamity. For, a little later, the trumpet sounding from Heaven will awaken him, and you will see him standing before the judgment-seat of Christ. So, dismiss these dejected and ignorant cries: Alas, these unexpected woes! Who would have thought that this would happen? Could I have ever anticipated that I would cover this dearest friend of mine with earth? If we should hear someone else saying such things, it behooves us to blush, since we have been taught from both past memories and present experience that these natural occurrences are inevitable.

7. Therefore, neither untimely deaths nor other misfortunes that unexpectedly befall us will ever cause consternation in us who have been educated by the doctrine of piety. For example, let us say that I had a son who was a young man–the sole heir of my estate, the comfort of my old age, the adornment of his family, the flower of his peers, the support of his household, and at that time of life which is most charming–, this lad having been carried off by death, he becoming earth and dust who, a short while ago, uttered sweet sounds and was a most pleasing sight in the eyes of his father.

What, then, am I to do? Shall I rend my clothing? Shall I consent to roll around on the ground, scream in vexation, and act in front of those present like a child crying out in pain and having convulsions? Rather, paying heed to the inevitability of events, that the law of death is inexorable and affects every age-group alike, dissolving all compound things in order, surely I should not be surprised at what has happened. Surely I should not be upset in my mind, as if I had been devastated by some unexpected blow, since I have been taught beforehand that, being mortal, I had a mortal son, that there is no constancy in human affairs, and that nothing wholly abides for those who possess it.

Why, even great cities, which were renowned for the elegance of their buildings and the abilities of their inhabitants, and conspicuous for their prosperity both in the countryside and in the marketplace, now display tokens of their erstwhile dignity only in ruins. A ship which has frequently been preserved from the sea, and which has made countless speedy voyages and conveyed innumerable amounts of merchandise for traders, vanishes with a single gust of wind. Armies which have many times defeated their foes in battle have, on suffering a reversal of fortune, become a pitiful sight and one pitiful to relate. Entire nations and islands, which have attained great power, and have raised many trophies both by land and by sea, and have gathered much wealth from booty, have either been consumed by the passage of time or been taken captive and exchanged their liberty for enslavement. Indeed, in short, whatever great and unbearable evil you care to mention, life already has prior examples of it.

Therefore, just as we determine weights by a turn of the scale and assay gold by rubbing it with a touchstone, so also, if we were to remember the limits revealed to us by the Lord, we would never exceed the bounds of prudence. Whenever, therefore, any involuntary adversity befalls you, by virtue of being mentally prepared, you will avoid confusion, and you will make light of present afflictions by your hope for the future. For, just as those whose eyes are weak divert their gaze from things that are excessively bright and give them rest by looking at flowers and grass, so, also, the soul must not constantly behold that which causes grief or be fixated on present sorrows, but must direct its gaze towards what is truly good. In this way will it be feasible for you always to rejoice, if your life always looks towards God and if hope of recompense alleviates life’s sorrows.

Have you been dishonored? Then have regard for the glory which is laid up in Heaven through patient endurance.

Have you suffered a loss? Then contemplate the heavenly wealth and treasure which you have laid up for yourself through your good deeds.

Have you been expelled from your homeland? Then you have Jerusalem as your heavenly homeland.

Have you lost a child? Then you have Angels, with whom you will dance around the Throne of God, rejoicing eternally.

By thus opposing anticipated good things to present sorrows, you will keep your soul in the cheerfulness and tranquillity to which the Apostles precept summons us. Neither let the joys of human affairs create immoderate and excessive gladness in your soul, nor let sorrows diminish its exultation and sublimity by feelings of dejection and abasement. Unless you have previously trained yourself in this way regarding the eventualities of life, you will never have a calm and tranquil life.

But you will easily achieve this if you have dwelling within you the commandment which advises you always to rejoice, dismissing the vexations of the flesh and gathering that which gladdens the soul, transcending the sensation of present realities and extending your mind to the hope of eternal realities, the mere thought of which is sufficient to fill the soul with rejoicing and to make Angelic exultation reside in our hearts; in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be the glory and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen.

Source

Homily after the Earthquake

by St. John Chrysostom

Translated by Bryson Sewell

Even if feebleness hindered us[2] from celebrating with you[3] the spiritual chorus, nevertheless the labor of your journey did not make you faint. For even if that effort led you, dripping with much sweat, to this place,[4] nevertheless the lesson of the sermon changed our feebleness into health, and, through the singing of psalms, it eased your labor. For this reason, I, though unwell, did not bind my tongue in silence, nor did you, though weary, remove yourselves from hearing. However, as soon as the sermon appeared, your labor receded; as soon as the teaching appeared, your weariness fled. For, while illness and labor belong to the body, instruction is the perfection and healing of the soul. And to the degree that the soul is better than the body, by so much are its[5] achievements more valuable.

And so for this reason, not only with illness hindering me, but also in the face of countless other obstacles, I did not withdraw from being entwined in your love, I was not deprived, not today, of this good celebration. But while we[6] were, until just now, fixed to our bed, God did not permit that we should be destroyed completely by the famine. For just as it is a famine for you not to hear, so for me it is a famine not to speak. In this way, too, a mother, though she is often sick, would prefer that her breast be stretched by her child, rather than to see him wasting away because of a famine. May my body also be strained! For who would not gladly shed even his own blood for you, men so ardent in piety, so ardent in observance, who have shown such repentance in a small space of time.[7] You do not know day and night, but you make both times into day, not by dismissing the gloom, but by enlightening the nights with vigils; your nights are sleepless, and the tyranny of sleep has been destroyed.

For yearning for Christ has overcome the inferiority of nature. You were released from being human in your bodies by mimicking powers, exhibiting sleeplessness, earnest fasting, great labor because of your journey, labor with respect to nature, [but] relaxation with respect to choice. This is the fruit of fears, this is the advancement of the earthquake, an advancement that is never spent up, an advancement that makes even the poor rich, and enriches the wealthy. It does not know poverty, it does not know wealth. The earthquake came, and it did away with the unevenness of life. Where, now, are those who wear silken robes? Where is the gold? All of those things have gone away, and they were torn asunder more easily than a spider’s web, and they disappeared[8] more [quickly] than spring-time flowers.

But since I see that your mind is prepared, I wish to set before you a more plentiful table. I see your bodies worn down, but your soul renewed. The fountains of sweat are many, but they wipe the conscience clean. For if athletes drip with blood for the sake of leaves of laurel, which is given today and tomorrow withers away, how much more ought you, who enter into the trial of virtuous actions, not to surrender in the labors for virtue, nor to grow soft. You as my audience are my crown, [M. 714] and one of you as a hearer is equivalent to the city. For some, on the one hand, crowned mixing-bowls, while others convened satanic symposiums, and still others prepared a sumptuous table. But you completed so great a vigil, and you cleansed all the city by the stepping of your holy feet, having measured out the market-place with your walking, and having made the air holy. For the air becomes holy from the singing of psalms, just as today you heard God saying to Moses, “The place where you are standing is holy ground.”[9]

You sanctified the ground, the market-place, you made our city a church.[10] And just as a flowing torrent, carried by a great stream, overturns all things – in this way also the spiritual torrent, the river of God, which gladdens the city of God, was filled with water, and cleansed away the mire of impiety. No one is licentious, or rather, if someone is licentious, he is changed. He hears the voice, and his mind is reformed, the melody comes in, and his impiety is changed, he flees the passions of greediness. For even if he does not flee, but just as beasts in winter lurk in dens, so his impious mind is buried in the earth, and just as serpents, when frost stiffens their bodies, enter the lower regions, so too these passions, servile and slavish, are thus covered up as if into some abyss. And of course those who carry them[11] are ashamed.

For on the one hand they carry them, yet [the passions are] dead. For in place of winter, your melody comes to them. The voice comes into the hearing of greedy men, and even if he does not cast the passion out, yet the passion dies. [The voice] comes into the hearing of the licentious and the arrogant man, and even if he does not put to death his licentiousness and arrogance, he buries his licentiousness and arrogance. It is not a small [matter] not to speak wickedness boldly. I also said yesterday that the fruit from the earthquakes is great. Do you see the love for humanity of the Master[12] who shakes [the] city and who makes [the] mind firm? He who rocks [the] foundations, and strengthens [our] thoughts? He who makes the city cracked, and makes our judgment strong? Set your minds on His love for humanity.

He shook for a little while, He strengthened continuously. The earthquake [lasted] for two days, but let piety remain into all time. You were distressed for a little while, but you were rooted continuously. For I well know that, by the fear of God, your piety took root; and if an abatement should occur, the fruit remains. No longer are the thorn plants choking, nor an over-whelming rain washing away: the fear cultivated you well, it became an ally to my words. I am silent and the foundations send forth a sound; I remain silent and the earthquake sends forth a voice more sonorous than a trumpet, saying this: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, patient and rich in mercy.”[13] I was present, not in order to overwhelm you, but in order to strengthen you.” The earthquake says these things, and sends forth a voice: “I scared you, not in order to grieve [you], but to make you more exact. Pay exact attention to the sermon. Since the sermon was too ineffectual, help called out; since the instruction grew weary, [M. 715] fear fought as an ally. I come speaking those things to you only for a short time, and I do my part. Whenever I bind you tight, then I give you to the sermon, lest the sermon should come to no effect; finding stones and thorn bushes springing up, I make the land clean, so that the sermon may scatter its seeds with a liberal hand.”

How were you harmed by being grieved for a short time? You became angels instead of humans. You were moved toward heaven, even if not in place, at least in character. And as to the fact that I do not say these things in flattery, the facts give testimony. For in which respect did you fall short with regard to the sermon of repentance? You cast out envy, you got rid of your slavish passions. You planted virtue, you endured the whole night through with your holy vigils, great love, and eager disposition. No one remembers interest, no one speaks about greediness,[14] nor are the hands alone pure from sins, but the tongue, too, is freed from lawlessness and abuse. No one assaults his neighbor, no one goes off to satanic symposiums. The houses are pure, the marketplace has been cleansed. Evening arrives, and nowhere are there choruses of young men singing the songs of the theater.

Yet there are choruses, though not of licentiousness; choruses, but of virtues. And it is possible to hear the singing of psalms in the marketplace, and [to hear] those sitting at home, one singing psalms, another hymning. Night arrives, and all [run] to the church, the waveless harbor, the calm that has been freed of waves. I was thinking that, after the first or second day, sleeplessness had overcome your bodies. But as it is, your yearning increases to the degree that your sleeplessness is strained. Those who were singing psalms to you grew weary, and you are renewed. Those singing psalms to you grew exhausted, and you were strengthened.

Tell me: where now are the wealthy? Let them learn the philosophy of the poor. For they[15] sleep, but the poor do not sleep on the ground, but bend their knees, mimicking Paul and Silas. But [M. 716] they sung psalms and shook the prison; you sung psalms, and made the city that was shaken firm. The outcomes[16] are contrary to the circumstances, yet both are for the glory of God. For he shook the prison, in order to shake the mind of the unfaithful, in order to loosen the jailor, in order to proclaim the Word of God. You yourselves made the city firm, in order to undo God’s wrath. Both those affairs and these were administered differently.

But nevertheless I rejoice, not because the city was made firm, but because it was through your prayers that it was made firm, because your singing of psalms became [the] foundations. The wrath is from above, your voice from below. The voice, sent up from below, restrained the wrath, flowing from above. The heavens were opened, and a judgment[17] was brought down, the whetted sword. The city [is] on the earth, the wrath is inevitable. We have need of nothing but repentance, tears and lamentations, and all things were dissolved. God appeared, and we dissolved his wrath. One would not err should he call you the caretakers and saviors of the city.

Where are the rulers? Where are the great saviors? Of the city you are the truly the towers, the wall, and its security. For they,[18] on the one hand, through their own wickedness allowed the city to rot, but you, through your own virtue, made the city firm. And if someone should be asked why the city was shaken, even if he wouldn’t say [it], it has been agreed[19] that it was because of sins, because of acts of greed, because of injustices, because of acts of lawlessness, because of acts of arrogance, because of pleasures, because of deceit. Whose? The rich.

Again, if someone should be asked why the city was made firm, it is agreed that it is because of the singing of psalms, because of the prayers, because of the vigils. Whose are these? The poor’s. The reasons that shook the city belong to them,[20] while the reasons that made the city firm are yours – and so you became the saviors and the caretakers. But let us end the sermon here, remaining in our vigils, our singing of psalms, sending glory up to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and into eternity.[21]

Amen.

Source

[1] CPG 4366, De terrae motu. BHGn 1700y. This translation was commissioned by Roger Pearse and translated from the text printed in the Patrologia Graeca, vol. 50, cols. 713-716. The translation has been placed in the public domain. The work perhaps refers to the earthquake of 398 AD. The question of its authenticity is discussed by Wendy Mayer, The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom – Provenance: Reshaping the foundations, 2005, p.27, 126, and answered in the affirmative.
[2] Us = Chrysostom, a pl. used for a sg.
[3] You = the congregation.
[4] Possibly meaning to the church.
[5] i.e. the soul’s achievements.
[6] Probably a plural for a singular, i.e., “while I was…fixed to my bed….”
[7] Literally, “from a small turning of time,” 
[8] Literally, “they were tested,” The problem is that, in this context, “they were tested more than spring-time flowers” makes little sense. The point might be that gold, which has been tested (i.e. with fire), offers no lasting security, but, like flowers in spring time, it too passes away.
[9] Exodus 3:5; Acts 7:33.
[10] Or, “you made the city a church for us.”
[11] i.e. the passions.
[12] i.e. God.
[13] Psalm 103:8; Septuagint, Psalm 102:8.
[14] Or, “No one speaks greedily.”
[15] i.e. the wealthy.
[16]?
[17]?
[18] i.e. the rich and the rulers.
[19] Possibly, “confessed.”
[20] i.e. the rich.
[21] Literally, “into the ages of ages.”

On the Vanity of Dabbling In End Time Mysteries

by St. Symeon the New Theologian

Let us therefore put aside every vain and unprofitable disputation, and let us not seek ahead of time to learn what is proper to that hour, i.e., the Second Coming, but instead let us be persuaded by the Master Who says:

“Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39).

Search, that is, and not meddle! Search the Scriptures and do not busy yourselves with disputes which lie outside the sacred writings. Search the Scriptures so that you may learn about faith, and hope, and love. About faith, so that you may not be tossed about by every wind which comes from the trickery of unstable men, but are rather rooted in the true dogma of the apostolic and catholic Church and “rightly divide” the word of her truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

And not only this, but you should be taught as well to seek out the fruits of faith and the profit which derives from them through the practice of the commandments. When you have been enabled to find them, then indeed you shall be in possession of hope unashamed, and in the latter you shall possess the entirety of love for God. For it is impossible for anyone to possess perfect love for God otherwise than by grace of an unalloyed faith and a hope which is secure and unshakable. Why then do we abandon the examination of ourselves concerning these matters? And, if in fact we have that faith in God which He Himself – Who will judge us – says He will demand of us, why should we busy ourselves with matters which are beyond us, in particular when in truth we fail to see things which lie at our very feet.

Source

How Did St. John Chrysostom Understand the “Wrath of God” and “Divine Punishment”?

By John Sanidopoulos

St. John Chrysostom probably more than any other Father of the Church speaks about the “wrath of God” and “divine punishment”. Most who read these passages often do so through the lenses of western medieval or reformation theology, even many Orthodox Christians, who are unable to read the depths of the spirit behind the letter. The reason for this is because, as St. Symeon the New Theologian explains, when speaking about matters of divine judgement,

“the interpretation is difficult because it is not about things which are present and visible, but about future and invisible matters. There is therefore great need of prayer, of much ascetic effort, of much purity of the nous, both in us who speak and in those who listen, in order for the first to be able to know and speak well and for the others to listen with understanding to what is said.”

Therefore, those of a carnal, simplistic and overly literal understanding of these passages fail to understand the depth of divine judgement, inflicting upon the nature of God human-like passions, which is exactly what the ancient pagans did with their gods in order to make the impassioned state not only a natural state, but to deify it as well.

Fortunate for us, outside of the fiery sermons and exegetical works of the divine Chrysostom, we also have pastoral moments in which he personally guides his spiritual children and friends to the deeper understanding of spiritual matters. One such case is in his First Exhortation to Theodore After His Fall. This is a beautiful letter by Chrysostom to Theodore of Mopsuestia, who was fascinated by a woman and sought marriage despite his monastic vow of celibacy, and with Chrysostom’s help overcame the despair of such a conflict. In order to lead Theodore out of despair, he explains that there is no sin greater than despair, yet if it were true that God in His nature were wrathful and punishing, then despair should naturally overtake us. Yet this is not the case, as he explains:

“For if the wrath of God were a passion, one might well despair as being unable to quench the flame which he [a wicked man] had kindled by so many evil doings; but since the Divine nature is passionless, even if He punishes, even if He takes vengeance, He does this not with wrath, but with tender care, and much loving-kindness; wherefore it behooves us to be of much good courage, and to trust in the power of repentance.

For even those who have sinned against Him He is not wont to visit with punishment for His own sake; for no harm can traverse that Divine nature; but He acts with a view to our advantage, and to prevent our perverseness becoming worse by our making a practice of despising and neglecting Him. For even as one who places himself outside the light inflicts no loss on the light, but the greatest upon himself being shut up in darkness; even so he who has become accustomed to despise that almighty power, does no injury to the power, but inflicts the greatest possible injury upon himself.

And for this reason God threatens us with punishments, and often inflicts them, not as avenging Himself, but by way of attracting us to Himself. For a physician also is not distressed or vexed at the insults of those who are out of their minds, but yet does and contrives everything for the purpose of stopping those who do such unseemly acts, not looking to his own interests but to their profit; and if they manifest some small degree of self-control and sobriety he rejoices and is glad, and applies his remedies much more earnestly, not as revenging himself upon them for their former conduct, but as wishing to increase their advantage, and to bring them back to a purely sound state of health.

Even so God when we fall into the very extremity of madness, says and does everything, not by way of avenging Himself on account of our former deeds; but because He wishes to release us from our disorder; and by means of right reason it is quite possible to be convinced of this.”

So when Holy Scripture speaks of divine wrath, punishment and vengeance, this is language that does not necessarily describe the unknowable, incomprehensible and unspeakable nature of God, but rather its aim is to prevent man from remaining in his wickedness and to repent. The wrath of God is described by Chrysostom as the loving-kindness of God towards man, yet the wicked experience this love unto salvation as wrath and punishment. He uses the analogy of a physician, and how the treatment of a certain illness by a physician is not done to punish the one who causes the illness or even suffers from it, but by any means necessary to bring health and well-being to the one in need of treatment no matter how much pain it may inflict. Thus, through the use of these “riddles” God uses language like this in Scripture for us to comprehend how serious it is to repent now, since, according to the Holy Fathers, after death there is no repentance.

“For consider I pray the condition of the other life, so far as it is possible to consider it; for no words will suffice for an adequate description: but from the things which are told us, as if by means of certain riddles, let us try and get some indistinct vision of it.”

Having said these things, Chrysostom goes on to describe the future judgment for Theodore to truly visualize it, even though the language used is a “riddle”,

“for no words will suffice for an adequate description”.

 

Source

How Did St. John Chrysostom Understand the “Wrath of God” and “Divine Punishment”?