Tag Archives: John Chrysostom

Homily: Friendship

Sunday, September 10, 2017: Sunday before Holy Cross; Menodora, Metrodora, & Nymphodora the Martyrs, Poulcheria the Empress, Afterfeast of the Nativity of the Theotokos

Ukrainian Orthodox Mission of Madison

Epistle: Galatians 6:11-18
Gospel: John 3:13-17

Glory to Jesus Christ!

From the Church’s earliest days, there were Christians who cared more about the opinions of others than the Gospel. St Paul refers to these sad and deluded people in the epistle when he calls out “those who want to make a good showing in the flesh … in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

What about me? If those who knew not only the Apostles but Jesus we’re tempted why do I think I’m immune from preferring the good opinions of others to the Cross?

The sin Paul is describing is “vainglory.” Usually we think about vanity as undue or excessive concern for our appearance. While this can be part of vainglory, concern for appearance is more the result of pride–of having an excess view of my own worth.

Vainglory doesn’t cause me to look in the mirror but at my neighbor. At it’s core vainglory is about winning your good opinion of me no matter what the cost to myself. Or, and this is important, in the gripe of vainglory your opinion of me can come to matter so much that to I become willing to degrade and destroy you to win your approval.

In its effect on my relationship with you, vainglory is the opposite of friendship.

While there are different kinds of friends, for Christians friendship includes both emotional intimacy and a willingness to self-sacrifice for the good of my friend.

In the events leading up to His crucifixion and especially on the Cross, Jesus reveals Himself to be not just our Friend but the best of friends. At the Last Supper He tells His disciples that they are no longer His servants but His friends: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

Think about this for a moment.

Jesus is telling His disciples, and telling us, that we have the same intimacy with God that He has had from all eternity. The Creator and Judge of the Universe is no longer far away from us. Not only has He drawn close to us, in Jesus Christ we are drawn close to Him. God hasn’t only become your Friend, you are invited to become His.

We call Jesus our Friend as well because of His willingness to suffer and die for us. To free us from the power of Sin and Death, He “gave Himself up” for us. Even more than intimacy, it is the willingness to sacrifice for the good of the beloved that is the basis of all friendship.

And vainglory?

It is the refusal of friendship and a parody of intimacy. And in the place of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, vainglory sees people as objects to be used and abused; to be forgotten and replaced.

Understanding the difference between vainglory and friendship helps understand importance of St Paul’s words to us this morning.

It isn’t just that there were those in the early Church who downplayed the Cross or compromised the Gospel. Yes, they did these things. But they did something far worse. In denying the Cross they  turned their back on friendship with God.

Sad as it is that there are those, even in the Church, who don’t want to be friends with God, there is something sadder still.They don’t know that friendship with God is possible. 

Aristotle says that a “friend is a second self.” More than that, though, a friend is someone whose very presence in our lives helps us to become more fully ourselves.

What is true of our friendship with each others, is even more the case in our friendship with God.

The more we are aware of God’s love and presence in our lives, the more we come to realize our own value. And, along with this, we come to understand the true, incalculable worth of the people we meet everyday.

St Seraphim of Sarov would greet everyone he met by saying “My joy! Christ is risen!” For the saint every person he meet, every conversation he had, was an experience of the joy and happiness of Pascha.

When I deny the Cross, when I seek the good opinion of others at the cost of friendship with God, I rob myself of joy. This is what St John Chrysostom means when he say “if a man does not injure himself, no one else will be able to harm him.”

To “glory … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and “crucified … to the world,” means not only that I stop harming myself. It means I set out on the path to that joy that comes from friendship with God and with you.

So many people, again, both outside and inside the Church, are weary and dejected because they are lonely. They don’t know that God is their friend and that He wants them to be His friend.

And good friend that He is, God not only wants us to be His friend, He wants us to be friends with each other. God, if I may speak in this way, delights not only in our friendship with Him but with each other.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God has created us in such a way that there “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy” (Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship).

So let us, as we say before the Creed, “Love one another, so that with one heart and mind,” so that we can bear witness to God’s friendship for all!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: The Silhouette of Virtue (revised)

Sunday, August 13, 2017: 10th Sunday of Matthew; Apodosis of the Transfiguration, Maximus the Confessor, Our Righteous Fathers Sergius, Stephanus, Castor and Palamonus, Dorotheus, Abba of Gaza, Tikhon of Zadonsk

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:9-16
Gospel: Matthew 17:14-23

Glory to Jesus!

What does it mean to be a fool for Christ’s sake?
Some Orthodox Christians think that this means that the Church doesn’t value human reason or education. Wrongly the imagine that the Church doesn’t value science or other forms of secular knowledge.

This would have surprised St Basil the Great, who compares the place of secular learning in the life of the Christian to leaves on a fruit tree.

Just as it is the chief mission of the tree to bear its fruit in its season, though at the same time it puts forth for ornament the leaves which quiver on its boughs, even so, the real fruit of the soul is truth, yet it is not without advantage for it to embrace the pagan wisdom, as also leaves offer shelter to the fruit, and an appearance not untimely.

Looking at the examples of Moses and Daniel, St Basil says these men were fools not because they were uneducated. No, their folly was that were obedient to the One God rather than to any earthly prince. As for their “severe” training in “the learning of the Egyptians” and “the sacred teachings” Chaldeans, these they placed wholly and unreservedly at the service of God (Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, III).

Though the circumstances of our lives are different from theirs, we share one vocation with Moses and Daniel. Like them, we are called to serve God in all we do.

And like the Apostle Paul we have been set aside as disciples of Jesus Christ and it is our great honor to “bless” those who revile us, to remain faithful to Christ even when we are persecuted and to forgive and reconcile to Christ even those who slander us and reject us “as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things.”

All of this is folly in the eyes of the world.

What we need to struggle against is the temptation to respond harshly to those who reject us. A harsh response serves no one and it harms our witness. When I give in to anger and resentment, I’m not being a fool for Christ’s sake. I’m simply a fool.

But I can hear the counter-argument. What about Jesus in the Gospel you ask? Doesn’t He at times response harshly to people? Doesn’t He respond harshly to His disciples in today’s Gospel?

St John Chrysostom says that Jesus speaks as He does to the disciples because they are afraid that they have “lost the grace with which they had been entrusted” to cast out demons. More importantly, Jesus speaks to the disciples as He does to prepare them for the events of Holy Week. They know, Chrysostom says, that Jesus is going to die “having heard it continually.” What they don’t know is the “kind of death” He’ll suffer. Much less do they know about who Christ’s Resurrection on Pascha will being the “innumerable blessings” (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 58.1 in ACCS vol Ib: Matthew 14-28, p. 62).

But Jesus does speak a harsh word to the boy’s father and the Jewish people. Even here, though, the point is not to alienate others but to draw them closer to the Kingdom of God. And so immediately after speaking harshly to them, He heals the boy. The harshness of His words is tempered by a tangible demonstration of God’s love and mercy.

What should we take from this?

First, we need to keep in mind that witnessing to Christ will sometimes bring us into conflict with others. Sometimes even someone we love. To paraphrase the Apostle James, friendship with God will bring us into conflict with the world (see James 4:4). While I ought not to go out of my way to find conflict, shouldn’t be afraid of it when it comes my way.

Second, when conflict does come I have to balance my hard word with a tangible demonstration of affection for the person. But, how do I do this?

When I disagree with someone, I need to actively search for what St Basil calls “the silhouette of virtue”(X). I need to look for a least faint glimmer of goodness in the person.

Yes, it’s easier to think there isn’t anything good or true or beautiful in those who hurt me or to imagine our disagreement is because of your bad will. But to say this isn’t simply to offend against the person’s dignity and moral worth, it is also to deny God.

When I refuse to see at least “the silhouette of virtue” in others I deny they’re created in the image of God. And isn’t this refusal to see other people as icons of God what it means to live a life apart from Christ?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, just as God sees what is good, true and beautiful in us, we must do the same with others. To be a true fool for Christ is to see “the silhouette of virtue,” the intimation of God, where the world sees only evil, lies, and ugliness

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

The Moral and Spiritual Blessings of Trade Among All Nations 

St John Chrysostom (c.349—407) Archbishop of C...

St John Chrysostom (c.349—407) Archbishop of Constantinople (398—404) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Sarah Skwire, Literary Editor of FEE.org and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc., writes:

Free trade doesn’t just make us better off.

It makes us better people.

Donald Trump claims that raising barriers to trade is one of the things it will take to “Make America Great Again,” but he is wrong. Greatness—both of wealth and of moral character—comes from trade. And we have known this for a very long time.

She goes on to quote St John Chrysostom’s argument “that God had arranged the geography of the world in such a way that humans would be required to trade with one another to meet their needs.”

Read the rest: here.

Purification in the Spiritual Life

Sunday, November 27, 2016: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost & 13th Sunday of Luke

Great-martyr James the Persian; Venerable Palladios of Thessalonica; Venerable Nathanael of Nitria in Egypt; James the wonderworker, bishop of Rostov

Epistle: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: Luke 18:18-27

St Paul says that what God does, He does out of his abundant mercy and love for us. But how I experience God’s mercy depends on the nature of my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let me explain.

Rightly, we look to God for strength and comfort. These, however, come to me not according to my desire but according to what is necessary for my salvation. This means that at times the mercy of God will feel severe, even harsh.

Look at the rich man in this morning’s Gospel. He comes to Jesus and asks “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus then tells him to keep the Commandments, specifically those that are concerned with how we are to treat others.

All these, the man says, he has kept from his youth. In response Jesus offers the man the opportunity not simply to inherit eternal life but to become His discipline. “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  This is more mercy than the man can bear. Life as a disciple of Christ—that is to say, as a witness to the mercy of God—makes demands of that the man isn’t willing to accept.

Just as He does with the rich man, Jesus invites each of us, you and me, to follow Him. Just as with the rich man, He invites each of us to become a witness of God’s mercy and of the “immeasurable riches of his grace” and kindness for all mankind.

Answering this call, however, requires that I surrender all that that I love more than God. In the rich man’s case, his wealth mattered more than God and so it was his wealth that he needed to surrender.

And, just as with the rich man, there are things that we all need to surrender, “to sell” if you will, if we are to follow Jesus as His disciples and His witnesses.

We get a hint of what it is that we must all give up in the first half of the exchange between Jesus and the man.

Make no mistake, the rich man was, objectively, a good man. He kept the Commandments. There’s no hint or suggestion in the Gospel that he neglected what God commanded in the Law and the Prophets.

And yet for all that he was good, his goodness was merely formal never personal. He did his duty—no small feat to be sure—but no more. He was, in other words, a man of obedience but not mercy.

To really be a disciple of Christ, it isn’t enough for me to do my duty. While essential, obedience isn’t a sufficient if I’m going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must also be merciful.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy for us, for me, to be merely obedient. I tend to think that the formal aspects of my life as an Orthodox Christian—the ascetical life, participation in the liturgical life of the Church, even my stewardship commitment to a parish and my charitable giving to the poor—are enough. But they aren’t; they are a preparation.

Just as in our daily life we discover that maturity is more than doing what is necessary, so to as we grow in the spiritual life, we discover that perfection, holiness, requires more than merely a formal adherence to Tradition.

And so, God in His great mercy, will for a time often take the Tradition from us.

This isn’t to say that we’ll be deprived of access to the sacraments, though as we see in the lives of the saints, this can happen. It does however mean that, for a season or two, we will be deprived of consolation from the sacraments or from the Church’s liturgical life. We may for a time find no wisdom in Scriptures or the Fathers, no support from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We will, in other words, find ourselves stripped of all that we have come to value more than Jesus Christ and His merciful love and kindness for mankind.

It is in these moments of desolation that we can come to a deeper, more personal, relationship with Jesus Christ.

And it is in these moments that we can come to understand what it is to be loved by God even though we are dead in ours sins. It is in these moments of spiritual dryness that we come to know what it means to be “alive together with Christ” and to “sit with him in the heavenly places.”

Why do I say this?

In the spiritual life, the greatest obstacle is my will, my own plans, my vision of what it means to follow Christ. I need to be purified of my willfulness so that my willingness to follow Jesus can flower.

Please listen careful to what I’m about to say.

I need to be purified not merely healed. My willfulness can’t be healed, there is no such thing

English: John Chrysostom, icon by Dionisius Ру...

English: John Chrysostom, icon by Dionisius Русский: Иоанн Златоуст, икона Дионисия и его мастерской (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

as a “healthy” or God-pleasing willfulness. willfulness is simply rebellion and rebellion needs to be quashed. St John Chrysostom says this: “the indolent and supine man who is his own betrayer cannot be made better, even with the aid of innumerable ministrations” (# 12).

This why God’s mercy, to return to where we began, often feel harsh. It does, because it is. My tendency toward rebellion needs to be defeated if I am to inherit eternal life and there are no gentle wars.

God enters into my life to do battle with my one great enemy, me. Why do I say I am my own enemy? Because, to quote Chrysostom again, “in no case will anyone be able to injure a man who does not choose to injure himself.”

And just as God goes to battle against me for me, He does this not only for me but for all of us. He enters into our lives and begins a campaign to break our willfulness, to break our rebellious spirits, so that we can follow Him and not our image of Him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ!

No one can hurt us if we are “vigilant and sober in the Lord” Chrysostom says. So when those moments of spiritual aridity or desolation come to us—as they will—let us take the saints advice, and “endure all painful things bravely that we may obtain those everlasting and pure blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power, now and ever throughout all ages. Amen” (17).