Blessed Matrimony

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St. John Chrysostom writing on marriage says that marriage when it functions as it is designed to do restores humans to a paradisaical state.  Chrysostom seems to understand that the first humans were made complete, having both a male and female nature:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)

Among the divisions and separations caused by the fall were the separating out of male and female.  In marriage, where the two become one flesh, we have the ‘recreation’ of a whole human being – a human who is created male and female.  In Genesis 2 God creates the female out of the male but shows in this their interdependency – the two were created out of one flesh (Adam’s).   Marriage thus heals one of the wounds caused by sin.  Marriage is God joining together or reuniting the male and female which had become separated through the fall.   Chrysostom writes:

This love [eros] is deeply implanted within our inmost being. Unnoticed by us, it attracts the bodies of men and women to each other, because in the beginning woman came forth from man, and from man and woman other men and women proceed. Can you see now how close this union is, and how God providentially created it from a single nature? . . . He made the one man Adam to be the origin of all mankind, both male and female, and made it impossible for men and women to be self-sufficient. (Sermon 20, on Ephesians 5:22–33)

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The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. (Sermon 20, on Ephesians 5:22–33)

Chrysostom believes marriage is based in love.  No partner in marriage should live in fear of the other for it is love that binds them together.  If either spouse tries to dominate the other and make them afraid through threats or abuse, it is sinful and not Christian marriage.

What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? (Sermon 20, on Ephesians 5:22–33)

How difficult it is to have harmony when husband and wife are not bound together by the power of love! Fear is no substitute for this. (Sermon 20, on Ephesians 5:22–33)

How foolish are those who belittle marriage! If marriage were something to be condemned, Paul would never call Christ a Bridegroom and the Church a bride. (Sermon 20, on Ephesians 5:22–33).”

(A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 4682-90)

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In the end Chrysostom argues that the very reason St Paul can use marriage as a metaphor or image  of the the relationship between Christ and the Church is because marriage is supposed to reflect perfect love.  Marriage becomes a means for us to live godlike love which is self sacrificing and works always for the good of the other.  Marriage is the right metaphor for the Christian’s relationship with Christ because we become one flesh with Christ in the Church through baptism and the eucharist, becoming one body in the Church.

Being Newly Baptized Forever

Paul was baptized and illumined by the light of truth, and in this way became a great man; as time when on, he became a much greater one. For after he had contributed his fair share – his zeal, his ardor, his noble spirit, his seething desire, his scorn for the things of this world – there flowed into him an abundance of the gifts that come from God’s grace. 

Imitate him, I beg you; and you will be able to be called newly baptized not only for two, three, ten or twenty days, but you will be able to deserve this greeting after ten, twenty, or thirty years have passed and, to tell the truth, through your whole life. If we shall be eager to make brighter by good deeds the light within us – I mean the grace of the Spirit – so that it is never quenched, we shall enjoy the title of newly baptized for all time.”

(St. John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, pp. 88-89)

Pride and Humility

“There are many disciples of Christ who can justly claim that they are indifferent to material possessions. They happily live in simple huts, wear rough woolen clothes, eat frugally, and give away the bulk of their fortunes. These same people can justly claim that they are indifferent to worldly power. They happily work in the most humble capacities, performing menial tasks, with no desire to high rank. But there may still be one earthly attribute to which they cling: reputation. They may wish to be regarded by others as virtuous. They may want to be admired for their charity, their honesty, their integrity, their self-denial.

They may not actually draw people’s attention to these qualities, but they are pleased to know that others respect them. Thus when someone falsely accuses them of some wrongdoing, they react with furious indignation. They protect their reputation with the same ferocity as the rich people protect their gold. Giving up material possessions and worldly power is easy compared with giving up reputation. To be falsely accused and yet to remain spiritually serene is the ultimate test of faith.

(St. John Chrysostom, On Living Simply, p. 33)

Wealth and Discipleship

Wealth and poverty are nebulous categories and we commonly use the terms not with any exact metric in mind but as it suits our needs.  We can at times see the poor as in need of help or as lazy, stupid and dependent on entitlements.  Likewise we can see the rich as successful or as greedy and always controlling the system to their own advantage.  We alleviate our consciences by seeing ourselves as poor when we want to but then distance ourselves from the poor as we don’t want them around.  Americans in general aspire towards wealth, but politicians (even very wealthy ones) often find it beneficial at election time to show how they grew up in poor and humble circumstances.   At election time, they run to identify themselves with the poor (but not the lazy and dependent on the public dole kind but with the dirt poor who through hard work and never by circumstances arise to become filthy rich).   After they are elected, to appease their wealthy supporters, they run away from the poor and their needs and want to show they value success (aka, wealth) not poverty.

St John Chrysostom would have held to an idea that a person is rich if they have more than they need to live on.  Rich is not having more than you want, but more than you need.  One is rich if they can afford all that they have beyond their needs.   He did wish that everyone would have all they need in this world, just not all they want.  His view of the world saw most people as struggling to survive – meaning they had a hard time having enough to meet their needs (forget their wants which were beyond what most people could ever hope for).  So those who have more than they need are blessed.  In the following quote from St. John, don’t imagine he is talking to the filthy rich, the 1% of the population – anybody but you.  He is addressing himself to all those who have more than they need and thus are capable of being rich towards God.  He certainly would have thought that the middle class of America have all they need and more.

The skill which the rich need to use their wealth well is the highest of all arts.  Its workshop is built not on earth but in heaven, because those who are rich must communicate directly with God to acquire and practice this art. Its tools are not made of iron or brass, but of good will, because the rich will only use their wealth well if they want to do so.  Indeed good will is itself the skill. When a rich person sincerely wants to help the poor, God will quickly show the best way. Thus while a person training to be a carpenter must learn how to control a hammer and saw and chisel, the rich person training to serve the poor must learn how to control the mind and heart and soul.  He must learn always to think good thoughts, expunging all selfish thoughts. He must learn how to feel compassion, expunging all malice and contempt. He must learn how to desire only to obey the will of God. That is why I say the skill of being a rich disciple of Christ is the highest of all arts; and the one who possesses it is truly a saint.”

(St. John Chrysostom, On Living Simply, p. 19)

Let God Arise

“However, even when I see such things, I do not give up an even firmer hope, as I consider the Pilot [God] governing everything, who prevails over storms, who calms the raging gale, not through skill and artfulness, but with a single nod. It is not at their beginning – not immediately, when they first arise – that he customarily obliterates evils, but when they increase, when they come to their furthest point [telos], when most men fall into despair, then he does wondrous things beyond all expectation, demonstrating his own power, and training the patience of those who have fallen. “

(St. John Chrysostom, Letters to Saint Olympia, p. 46)

The Greatest is Love

If there is no love, other blessings profit us nothing. Love is the mark of the Lord’s disciples, it stamps the servants of God, by it we recognize his apostles. Christ said: “This is how all will know you for my disciples.” By what? Tell me. Was it by raising the dead or by cleansing lepers or by driving out demons? No. Christ passed over all these signs and wonders when he said: “This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.

For the power to perform those other wonders is a gift which comes only through a grace from on high. This gift of love must also be achieved through man’s own earnestness and zeal. A man’s nobility does not usually stamp the gifts which are given from above in the same way as it marks the achievements which come from a man’s own efforts. Therefore, Christ said that his disciples are recognized not by miracles but by love. For when love is present, the one who possesses it lacks no portion of wisdom but has the fullness of complete and perfect virtue. In the same way, when love is not there, man is bereft of every blessing. This is why Paul exalts love and lifts it on high in what he writes. Still, for all he may say about love, he never fully explains its true worth.

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, pp. 52-53)

Nothing Prevents Us from Being Virtuous

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?   (Romans 7:24)

St. John Chrysostom was forever a moralist.  He believed strongly in human free will and that we had the ability to choose the good.   As he saw it, death – that last and great enemy of humanity – is really not so bad because death may end our lives but it doesn’t hinder us from being virtuous while we are alive.  If we want to be virtuous we can be and nothing on earth can stop us from choosing the good or doing the next right thing.

Where now are those who accuse death, and say that this passible and corruptible body is for them an impediment to virtue? Let them listen to Paul’s virtuous acts and cease from this wicked slander. For what harm has death caused the human race? What impediment has corruptibility caused to virtue? Consider Paul, and you will see that our being mortal brings us the greatest benefits. For if he were not mortal, then he would not have been able to say, or, rather, would not have been able to demonstrate what he said through his deeds, that, “every single day I die, by the boast about you which I have in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 15:31).

For everywhere we just need a soul and the desire to act, and there will be nothing to hinder our being placed in the front ranks. Was not this man, Paul, mortal? Was he not unskilled? Was he not poor and earning his bread from daily labor? Did he not have a body endowed with all the constraints of nature? Then what prevented him from becoming such a man as he was? Nothing. Therefore let no one be disheartened to be poor, let no one be displeased to be unskilled, nor suffer pain for being among the lowest ranks, but only those who have a weakened soul and enfeebled mind. For this alone is a hindrance to virtue – wickedness of soul and weakness of purpose – and apart from this there is no other obstacle.   (The Heavenly Trumpet, p. 468)

Thus, we don’t need to fear death for as long as we live and have the desire to be virtuous, death is no impediment to our choosing  to be holy and to do the good.  Neither are we somehow predestined to sin because we have a body.  We experience temptations and sin in and through our bodies, but that does not mean the body is naturally evil.  For God became incarnate to unite us bodily to divinity.  It is through our bodies that we become united to Christ in baptism and in the Eucharist.

Why Did the Early Church Grow So Fast?


In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty)…  (Acts 1:15)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.   (Acts 2:41)

But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand.   (Acts 4:4)

St. John Chrysostom writes:

Did you not hear that, in the time of our forebears, the number of those who believed was one hundred and twenty? Rather, before the one hundred and twenty believed, there were only twelve. And not all of the twelve persevered, but one of them, Judas, perished. And then eleven were all that were left. Still, from the eleven came the one hundred and twenty and from the one hundred and twenty came three thousand, and then five thousand. And then they filled the whole world with the knowledge of God.

The reason for this growth was that they never left their gathering, They were constantly with one another, spending the whole day in the temple, and turning their attention to prayers and sacred readings. This is why they kindled a great fire, this is why their strength never waned, this is why the drew the whole world to them. We, too, must imitate them.   (On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, p. 283)

Bright Thursday (2019)

Bright Thursday

Great Lent was traditionally used as a time to prepare catechumens for baptism.  At the end of Great Lent – for Lazarus Saturday or on Holy Saturday – the catechumens were illumined in baptism.  This is reflected in the fact that we still sing “As many as have been baptized into Christ…” during these festal Liturgies in place of singing “Holy God...”  In the week after Pascha, after the catechumens had been newly baptized, there was continued catechetical work in the early Church to help those newly initiated into Christ to understand what they had experienced.    St. John Chrysostom, addresses words to the newly baptized Christians:

You shall be called “newly-illuminated,” because your light is always new, if you wish it that way, and it is never extinguished. Whether we shall have it so or not, night follows the light of this world; but the darkness knows not the shining of this new light. The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness grasped it not. Certainly, the world is not as bright when the sun rises as is the soul which is illumined and becomes brighter from the grace it has received from the Spirit.

Consider more closely the nature of these things. When night falls and it is dark, many a time a man sees a rope and thinks it is a snake; and when a friend approaches him, he flees from him as if he were a foe; when he hears a noise, he is frightened. Nothing like this would happen in the light of day; everything is seen then just as it really is.

This same thing happens in the case of our soul. Whenever grace comes and drives out the darkness from our mind, we learn the exact nature of things; what frightened us before, now becomes contemptible in our eyes. We no longer are afraid of death after we have learned carefully from this holy initiation that death is not death but a sleep and repose which lasts for but a time. Nor are we afraid of poverty or disease or any such misfortune, because we know that we are on our way to a better life, which is impervious to death and destruction and is free from all such inequality.

Let us, then, no longer stay gaping after the good things of this life, such as luxurious foods and expensive clothing. For you have the greatest of garments, you have a spiritual banquet, you have the glory which comes from on high; Christ has become all things for you: table, clothing, house, head, and root. For all you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. See how He has become your clothing.

Your shining robe now arouses admiration in the eyes of all who behold you, and the radiance of your garments proves that your souls are free from every blemish. For the future, all of you, both you who have just deserved the gift and all who have already reaped for yourselves the benefit of His munificence, must make the excellence of your conduct visible to all and, after the fashion of a torch, you must illumine those who look upon you. For if we should be willing to guard the brightness of this spiritual robe, as time goes on it will send forth a more brilliant luster and an abundance of gleaming light, a thing which cannot happen in the case of material garments.

For even if we multiply the care we take of our bodily clothes ten thousand times, the passing years leave them threadbare, and by the time they have gotten old they are worn away to nothing. If we keep them stored away, the moths get at them or they are ruined by the many other things which destroy material garments. If, however, we are eager to do our fair share, the garment of virtue will not become soiled nor feel the onslaught of age, but as time passes, so much the more does it reveal the fresh sheen of its beauty and its radiant light.

(Baptismal Instructions, pp. 175-176, 114)

Lent is Half Over!

“I have observed many persons rejoicing, and saying one to another, ‘We have conquered; we have prevailed; the half of the fast is spent.’ But I exhort such persons not to rejoice on this account, that the half of the fast is gone, but to consider whether the half of their sins be gone; and if so, then to exult. For this is a fit subject of gratification. This is what is to be sought after, and for which all things are done, that we may correct our defects; and that we may not quit the fast the same persons as we entered upon it, but in a cleansed state; and that having laid aside all that belongs to evil habits, we may thus keep the sacred feast, since if the case be otherwise, we shall be so far from obtaining any advantage, that the completion of the fast will be the greatest injury to us. Let us, therefore, not rejoice that we have gone through the length of the fast, for this is nothing great; but let us rejoice, if we have got through it with fresh attainments, so that when this is over, the fruit of it may shine forth. For the gain of winter is more especially manifested after the season is gone by.

Then, the flourishing corn, and the trees teeming with leaves and fruit, proclaim, by their appearance, the benefit that has accrued to them from the winter! Let the same thing also take place with us. For during the winter, we have enjoyed divers and frequent showers, having been during the fast partakers of a continued course of instruction, and have received spiritual seeds, and cut away the thorns of luxury.”  (St. John Chrysostom, Rejoice in the Lord Always, p. 2)