01 June 2008

St. John Chrysostom, exhortation from John 9

(Speaking of the man born blind:) Hast thou beheld the herald of the truth, how poverty was no hindrance to his true wisdom? Seest thou what reproaches, what sufferings he bare from the beginning, and how by word and by deed he testified?

[4.] Now these things are recorded, that we too may imitate them. For if the blind man, the beggar, who had not even seen Him, straightway showed such boldness even before he was encouraged by Christ, standing opposed to a whole people, murderous, possessed, and raving, who desired by means of his voice to condemn Christ, if he neither yielded nor gave back, but most boldly stopped their mouths, and chose rather to be cast out than to betray the truth; how much more ought we, who have lived so long in the faith, who have seen ten thousand marvels wrought by faith, who have received greater benefits than he, have recovered the sight of the eyes within, have beheld the ineffable Mysteries, and have been called to such honor, how ought we, I say, to exhibit all boldness of speech towards those who attempt to accuse, and who say anything against the Christians, and to stop their mouths, and not to acquiesce without an effort. And we shall be able to do this, if we are bold, i.e. through a good conscience. and give heed to the Scriptures, and hear them not carelessly. For if one should come in here regularly, even though he read not at home, if he attends to what is said here, one year even is sufficient to make him well versed in them; because we do not to-day read one kind of Scriptures, and tomorrow another, but always and continually the same. Still such is the wretched disposition of the many, that after so much reading, they do not even know the names of the Books, and are not ashamed nor tremble at entering so carelessly into a place where they may hear God’s word. Yet if a harper, or dancer, or stage-player call the city, they all run eagerly, and feel obliged to him for the call, and spend the half of an entire day in attending to him alone; but when God speaketh to us by Prophets and Apostles, we yawn, we scratch ourselves, we are drowsy. And in summer, the heat seems too great, and we betake ourselves to the market place; and again, in winter, the rain and mire are a hindrance, and we sit at home; yet at horse races, though there is no roof over them to keep off the wet, the greater number, while heavy rains are falling, and the wind is dashing the water into their faces, stand like madmen, caring not for cold, and wet, and mud, and length of way, and nothing either keeps them at home, or prevents their going thither. But here, where there are roofs over head, and where the warmth is admirable, they hold back instead of running together; and this too, when the gain is that of their own souls. How is this tolerable, tell me? Thus it happens, that while we are more skilled than any in those matters, in things necessary we are more ignorant than children. If a man call you a charioteer, or a dancer, you say that you have been insulted, and use every means to wipe off the affront; but if he draw you to be a spectator of the action, you do not start away, and the art whose name you shun, you almost in every case pursue. But where you ought to have both the action and the name, both to be and to be called a Christian, you do not even know what kind of thing the action is. What can be worse than this folly? These things I have desired continually to say to you, but I fear lest I gain hatred in vain and unprofitably. For I perceive that not only the young are mad, but the old also; about whom I am especially ashamed, when I see a man venerable from his white hairs, disgracing those white hairs, and drawing a child after him. What is worse than this mockery? What more shameful than this conduct? The child is taught by the father to act unseemly.

[5.] Do the words sting? This is what I desire, that you should suffer the pain caused by the words, in order to be delivered from the disgrace caused by the actions. For there are some too far colder than these, who are not even ashamed at the things spoken of, nay, who even put together a long argument in defense of the action. If you ask them who was Amos or Obadiah, or what is the number of the Prophets or Apostles, they cannot even open their mouth but for horses and charioteers, they compose excuses more cleverly than sophists or rhetoricians, and after all this, they say, “What is the harm? what is the loss?” This is what I groan for, that ye do not so much as know that the action is a loss, nor have a sense of its evils. God hath given to thee an appointed space of life for serving Him, and dost thou while thou spendest it vainly, and at random, and on nothing useful, still ask, “What loss is there?” If thou hast spent a little money to no purpose, thou callest it a loss: when thou spendest whole days of thine upon the devil’s pageants, thinkest thou that thou art doing nothing wrong? Thou oughtest to spend all thy life in supplications and prayers, whereas thou wastest thy life and substanceheedlessly, and to thine own hurt, on shouts, and uproar, and shameful words, and fighting, and unseasonable pleasure, and actions performed by trickery, and after all this thou askest, “What is the loss?” not knowing thou shouldest be lavish of anything rather than time. Gold, if thou shalt have spent, thou mayest get again; but if thou lose time, thou shalt hardly recover that. Little is dealt out to us in this present life; if therefore we employ it not as we ought, what shall we say when we depart “there”? For tell me, if thou hadst commanded one of thy sons to learn some art, and then he had continually stayed at home, or even passed his time somewhere else, would not the teacher reject him? Would he not say to thee, “Thou hast made an agreement with me, and appointed a time; if now thy son will not spend this time with me but in other places, how shall I produce him to thee as a scholar?” Thus also we must speak. For God will say also to us, “I gave you time to learn this art of piety, wherefore have ye foolishly and uselessly wasted that time? Why did ye neither go constantly to the teacher, nor give heed to his words?” For to show that piety is an art, hear what the Prophet saith, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” ( Ps. xxxiv. 11.) And again, “Blessed is the man whom Thou instructest, Lord, and teachest him out of Thy Law.” ( Ps. xciv. 12.) When therefore thou hast spent this time in vain, what excuse wilt thou have? “And why,” saith some one, “did He deal out to us but little time?” O senselessness and ingratitude! That for which thou wert most bounden to give thanks to Him, for that He hath cut short thy labors and abridged thy toils, and made the rest long and everlasting, for this dost thou find fault, and art discontented?

But I know not how we have brought our discourse to this point, and have made it so long; we must therefore shorten it now. For this too is a part of our wretchedness, that here if the discourse be long, we all become careless, while there they begin at noon, and retire by torch and lamp light. However, that we be not always chiding, we now entreat and beseech you, grant this favor to us and to yourselves; and getting free from all other matters, to these let us rivet ourselves. So shall we gain from you joy and gladness, and honor on your account, and a recompense for these labors; while ye will reap all the reward, because having been aforetime so madly riveted to the stage, ye tore yourselves away, through fear of God, and by our exhortations, from that malady, and brake your bonds, and hastened unto God. Nor is it “there” alone that ye shall receive your reward, but “here” also ye shall enjoy pure pleasure. Such a thing is virtue; besides giving us crowns in heaven, even here it maketh life pleasant to us. Let us then be persuaded by what has been said, that we may obtain the blessings both here and hereafter, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory, now and ever and world without end. Amen.

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