The Importance of St. John Chrysostom

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Is it not excessively ridiculous to seek the good opinion of those whom you would never wish to be like?

 – Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John, Homily III

Today is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers who ever walked the earth.

During a time when city clergy were subject to much criticism for their high lifestyle, St. John was determined to reform his clergy at Constantinople. These efforts were met with resistance and limited success.

He was particularly noted as an excellent preacher. As a theologian, he has been and continues to be very important in Eastern Christianity, but has been less important to Western Christianity. He generally rejected the contemporary trend for emphasis on allegory, instead speaking plainly and applying Bible passages and lessons to everyday life. In some ways, he represents a sort of synthesis between the hermeneutic methods of the more allegorical Alexandrian School and the more literal Antiochian School.

His banishments demonstrated that secular powers had strong influence in the eastern Church at this period in history. They also demonstrated the rivalry between Constantinople and Alexandria, both of which wanted to be recognized as the preeminent eastern see. This mutual hostility would eventually lead to much suffering for the Church and the Eastern Empire. Meanwhile in the West, Rome’s primacy had been unquestioned from the fourth century onwards. An interesting point to note in the wider development of the papacy is the fact that Innocent’s protests availed nothing, demonstrating the lack of influence the bishops of Rome held in the East at this time. His relics were stolen from Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 (commemorated on January 27) and brought to Rome, but were returned on November 27, 2004, by Pope John Paul II.

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The Political God is the Buffoon King

 

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by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The account of Esther commences with an emperor and his empire. This emperor’s original-Persian-name was Xsayarsa. The Babylonians called him Achshiyarshu, which gave rise to the Hebrew version in the Massoretic text, Akhashverosh. Jerome, in his Latin translation from Hebrew, transliterated this to Ahasuerus, the name maintained in most English translations of Holy Scripture.

In the LXX this emperor is known as Artaxerxes. From the Book of Esther it is not clear whether this is Artaxerxes I (465-424) or Artaxerxes II (404-359). The question of his identity does not matter in the slightest to our understanding of the book. For what the author of the Book of Esther has to say, it could be either man . . . or neither.

Ahasuerus is, and remains, the utterly dominant figure throughout the Book of Esther. Because he is the most predictable, he is also the least interesting. From the opening verses of the book we learn several things about him.

First, Ahasuerus assumes the place of God. While it has long been noted that God (or prayer or anything religious) is not so much as mentioned in this book, it has only more recently become clear that Ahasuerus serves as God’s “replacement.” He is a political god, providing the sort of idolatry, Tertullian observed, that is most dangerous. Ahasuerus is portrayed as all powerful; his personal will is the source of all law, and everyone in the story is dependent on his favor.

Ahasuerus rules over all the earth-at least over all the earth considered in this book;

“this was the Ahasuerus,” we are told, “who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia.”

These two regions lie directly outside the extreme southern points of the Fertile Crescent.

If it seems that the biblical author is making fun of this emperor, let me suggest that the impression is accurate. Artaxerxes is portrayed as a consummate buffoon.

When things go badly in the story, the cause can normally be traced to some royal decision; he is forever promulgating insane decrees. When things go well, the emperor is never the cause of it. Throughout the book, the all-powerful king fails to make a single wise decision. Later in this chapter, for instance, he will forbid Queen Vashti to come into court, as a punishment for her failure to come into court!

This book is both a comedy and a tragedy, both a farce and a melodrama. The author seems to have his tongue in his cheek most of the time. It is a book to be enjoyed. Only after the reader has appreciated the humor should he start to look at its themes more seriously.

The emperor begins the action by hosting two large banquets. Let us note in passing that this format of two banquets will find its parallel, near the end of the book, in two suppers hosted by Esther herself.

The first banquet is for all the

“officials and servants-the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces”

of the large realm. The purpose of this feast was for the emperor to show off

“the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty.”

As it turned out, these riches were so extensive that it required 180 days for these political officials to see them all. Evidently the workings of the empire were sufficiently stable that all the regions were able to dispense with local government for six months! The reader begins to suspect that there is something farcical about this story. As one reads this book he will observe other evidence to support the suspicion.

The second banquet is, in its further details, even more impressive. We observe, for instance, that it is held for seven days and in a garden. The parallel with the Creation account is striking. Both stories involve seven days and a garden.

Certain features of this garden deserve further comment. We observe, for instance, that it was adorned with

“white and blue linen hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars.”

These details, which put the reader in mind of the furnishings of the Lord’s Tabernacle in Exodus 26, also convey am impression of satire; the king’s garden becomes a parody of God’s Sanctuary. The goblets used in this garden party are made of gold, like those of the Temple.

 

The House Of God

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by St. John of Kronstadt

Let us faithfully praise the Virgin Mary, for she is brought into the Holy of Holies, to be raised in the Lord.

Ekos from Matins

On this day, my brethren, the holy Church celebrates the solemn Entry into the temple in Jerusalem of the three-year-old child, Mary—the blessed daughter of righteous parents, Joachim and Anna—to be in instructed in the Lord. Zacharias—the elder and high priest—meets her with priestly splendor; and as he was instructed to do by the Spirit of God, he brings her, accompanied by young maidens, into the most interior part of the temple, the Holy of Holies, where the high priest himself enters but once a year, and where the Holy of Holies, the Lord Himself dwelt—for she was to become the Mother of His flesh.

How did the most blessed Virgin spend her time in the temple? Taught the Hebrew written language and prayer by the Holy Spirit through the maidens, she spent her time in prayer, reading of the word of God (as you can see on the icon of the Annunciation), in divine contemplation, and handiwork. Her love for converse with God and for reading the word of God was so great that she forgot about food and drink, and an Archangel brought her heavenly food at God’s request, as the Church sings in the stichera for today’s feast.

What an excellent example for fathers, mothers, and their children; for Christian maidens and youths! They are obligated as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, as servants of the Heavenly Queen, the Mother of God, and Founder of Spiritual Instruction (meaning the Church to which they belong), to emulate as well as they can her fervent love for God, her zeal for reading the word of God, for prayer, for divine contemplation, self-restraint, and love of labor! If we do not want to be falsely called spiritual members of Christ’s Church—that holy House of God, the Queen and Mother of which is the Most Holy Virgin—then we should also have the same thoughts as She has. May her children by grace be of one spirit with Her! Let them learn from her how to love the Lord, our Creator, more than anything else in the world, more than father and mother, more than anyone dear to us; how to avidly study the word of God—something unfortunately not seen amongst the disciples of Jesus Christ; learn with what warmth of heart and love we must pray to the Lord; how we must dedicate ourselves to him wholeheartedly; how to entrust our fate to His wise and all-good Providence; with what purity, meekness, humility, and patience we must always clothe and adorn ourselves and not with the vain embellishments of this adulterous and sinful world which knows no bounds of luxury and elegance in bodily clothing; how to love a life with God and the saints

more than to dwell in the tents of sinners (Ps. 83:11).

Since the Most Holy Virgin was brought into the temple to be instructed in the Lord, let us talk now about the benefit and necessity of going to the church of God as the house of God and place where we are raised for the Heavenly Fatherland. We are called Christians, and we are all called by Jesus Christ to the Heavenly Fatherland, to be heavenly citizens, Divine inheritors, co-inheritors with Christ. Our calling is very high, our duties are also just as important; our spirit should be very exalted, holy, meek, and humble.

Who will show us what makes up our Christian calling and duty, of what spirit we must be, and how we should behave ourselves in various life situations? Who will give us the strength to live in the spirit of Christ—holy? The Church gives us all this. We can receive these spiritual powers in the temple of God through the Sacraments. Here a heavenly, unearthly spirit hovers; here is the school of Jesus Christ, in which future heavenly citizens are educated. Here you will receive heavenly lessons from the Divine Teacher, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Here is heavenly food and heavenly drink, spiritual, heavenly garments, and spiritual armaments against the enemies of salvation. Here you will receive the peace that is a foretaste of heaven, so necessary to our spiritual activity and education, and strength for spiritual labors and struggle with sin. Here we partake of sweet conversation with our Heavenly Father and the Most Holy Queen and Mother of God, with the angels of the Lord and saints. Here we learn how to pray, and for what to pray. Here you will find examples of all the Christian virtues in the saints who are glorified each day by the Church. Here, gathered together in the house of God, as children of one Heavenly Father, as members of the mystical body of Christ, we learn how to love one another—member loving member, as members of Christ, as Christ Himself.

See how beneficial, how necessary it is for a Christian to visit God’s church. It is a school of faith and piety founded by God, a sacred treasure

According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3),

the treasury of all the Mysteries of Christ! But the benefit and necessity for the Christian of attending God’s church is more clearly revealed by comparing the church with the vain world, to which we prefer to go instead of church. What do you find in the world, and what in church?

In the world, at every step there is vanity, delusion, and vice; in the church is truth, sanctity, and every kind of virtue. In the world is corruption, sin, and death; in the church is the incorruption of the saints and eternal life. Outside the church you see objects of worldly vanity that feed on

the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16).

You see the things that constantly entice and captivate people, and cause them to neglect the commandments of God, the Creator and Savior of all. For example, here in this building were kept fabrics of every sort and color. Those fabrics are the object of adoration of the daughters of men. They lived for them, were inspired by them, rejoiced over them, but not over God. Here the sparkle of various items of silver and gold stunned and enticed the gaze of those who worship everything glittering and beautiful. In a word—no matter where you direct your attention in the world, you will see only decay, vanity, and sin; everywhere is the earthly and worldly. Empty, vain conversations, vain activity that gives almost no reminder of heaven, God, and the other life. Only in pious homes do the icons of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Most Pure Mother, and His saints remind the thoughtful that we, Christians and members of Christ, members of His kingdom, look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come, in which we shall unite with the Lord and the saints, having cleansed ourselves of all defilement of flesh and spirit.

Thus, do you see what a difference there is between the temple–the house of God, and the world? Do you see how beneficial and necessary it is for a Christian to visit the temple of God in order to educate himself for the Heavenly Fatherland, in order to bring the spirit of Christ into himself, to engender heavenly, saintly manners? For, where else besides God’s temple will you hear the word of God; where, beside in church, will you receive the mysteries of faith; where will you obtain the strength to live in a Christian way? All of this is in church and from church.

Love going to God’s church, and prepare a temple of your own selves for God:

Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

Let parents, teachers, and relatives take or send their children to church often, every Sunday and feast day without fail, and not to the theater, where they will only learn what the young should not know. In church, they will hear the name of the Lord more frequently; they will learn the great truth of the creation of the world and mankind; they will come to know the Savior, the Mother of God, and the names of the saints. They will learn about the resurrection of the dead, the future judgment, the future life, and the eternal torments of sinners. They will learn from the Spirit of God to be good Christians; and that is more valuable than anything in the world. Amen.

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On The Feast Of Transfiguration

by St. Anastasius the Sinaite

St. Anastasius was a priest and abbot of Mt. Sinai. His zeal for true faith led him to travel through Egypt, Arabia, and Syria to combat the errors of the Acephalites and Eutychians. His writings show not only a thorough command of Holy Scripture and a wide knowledge of the writing of the Church Fathers and other Christian writers, but also classical erudition and a solid grounding in Aristotelian philosophy. Of his prolific output the most important works are Guide Against the Acephalites and Answers to Questions.

Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he said to them:“As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father. “Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus.

These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord’s chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and – I speak boldly – it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.

It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?

Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.

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The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ

by St. Anastasius of Sinai

Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.

It was as if he said to them: “As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father. Continue reading The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ