2000 December/Some things never change

Tepidity in the practice of the Faith is almost as old as the Church itself, as St. John Chrysostom makes clear in this sermon. The danger’s inherent in tepidity remain as great now as they were then. Take heed!

Very few have come here today. Whatever is the reason? We celebrate the Feast of the Martyrs, and nobody comes? The length of the road makes them reluctant; or rather it is not the length of the road that prevents them from coming, but their own laziness. For just as nothing stops an earnest man, one whose soul is upright and awake, so anything at all will stand in the way of the half-hearted and the lazy.

The Martyrs have their blood for the truth, and you are not able to think little of a brief stretch of road? They gave their life for Christ, and you are reluctant to make a small journey for Him? The Martyrs’ Commemoration, and you sit in sloth and indifference! It is but right that you should be present: to see the devil overcome, the Martyrs triumphant. God glorified, and the Church crowned with honour.

But, you will say to me, I am a sinner. I cannot come. Then if you are a sinner, come, that you may cease to be one! Tell me, who is there among men without sin? Do you not know that even those close to the altar are wrapped in sins? For they are clothed with flesh, enfolded in a body: as we also who are sitting and teaching upon this throne are entangled in sin…. so that from what they too suffer they may learn to have a fellow feeling for others.

How absurd and foolish is it that should a harper, or a dancer, or any one of this kind of people; invite us to his house, we would go there with all haste, and thank him for having invited us, and spend almost half the day there; paying attention only to him. But when God is speaking to us through His holy Prophets and Apostles we yawn, and we scratch, and we turn this way and that!

And at the circus, without a roof above them to keep off the rain, the crowds stand there crazy, the rain pouring down on them, and the wind blowing it in their faces, and they think nothing of the cold or the rain or the distance, and nothing will keep them from going there, and nothing will keep them at home! But to go to the church, a shower, or the mud on the road, is a serious obstacle!

And if they are asked who were Amos or Abdias, or what was the number of the Prophets or of the Apostles, they cannot open their mouths. But if it is a question of horses, or charioteers, their eloquence surpasses that of the poets and orators. And how, may I ask you, are we to put up with this?

I have warned you time and again that you should not go to the theatre. You have heard me, but you have not obeyed me …..

….And I am saying these things to you, not to make you still more lazy, but to make you more alert.

You have entered the Church, O Man; you have been held worthy of the company of Christ. Go not out from it; unless you be sent. For If you go out from it without being sent you will be asked the reason; as if you were a runaway. You spend the whole day on things which relate to the body, and you cannot give a couple of hours to the needs of the soul? You often go the theatre. And you will not leave there till they send you away. But when you cones to the Church you rush out before the divine mysteries are ended. Be fearful of Him Who has said: “He that despiseth anything, shall by it be despised.” (Prow. 13:13)

Were you to stand in the presence of the king you would not even dare to smile. But when you stand in the presence of the Lord of all, you do not stand there in fear and trembling, you laugh, provoking him to anger? Do you not see that by this conduct you provoke Him more than by your very sins?

Think, O Man, of Who it is Who is close to thee in this tremendous sacrifice, and of who it is with whom you are to call upon God; This will suffice to make you recollected in spirit, when you reflect that while enfolded in a body, and clothed in flesh you have been made worthy, together with the incorporeal powers, to praise the common Lord of all.

Do not then take part in this holy praise, in these sacred mysteries, with a dissipated soul.

Let each one consider within himself what faults he must remedy in himself, what good work he may yet do, what sin he may wipe out from his soul, so that by this he may become better …..

And what shall we do if the Lord requires of us an account of this neglectfulness of conduct in our assemblies? For well you know that oftentimes, while the Lord Himself is speaking to us through the mouth of His prophet, we turn away to hold prolonged and frequent conversations with our neighbour, and on things that have nothing to do with us …..

I would like to know then, what they are doing who so neglect the assemblies of the faithful, and keep away from this sacred table? I know but too well. They are either talking about vain and idle things, or immersed in wordly things …..Nor can they be excused who put forward the excuse of family affairs, and of the needs that arise from them; for it is plain that they do not esteem spiritual and heavenly things above those of this world. For what servant, I ask you attends to the things of his own house before fulfilling those of his master?

For just as soil that is not touched by the hand of the farmer goes wild and becomes unlovely, so likewise the soul that goes without spiritual cultivation brings forth weeds and thistles. For if we who each day hear the teaching of the prophets and apostles, singing from our hearts the songs of Holy Scripture, can scarce contain our own fiery hearts, scarce hold in check our own anger, scarce free ourselves from the poison of envy, scarce master out own concupiscence, scarce restrain these wild beasts, what hope of salvation have they who never use these saving medicines, never listen to the divine teaching?

I believe that many of those who long ago forsook us, and deserted to the gatherings of iniquity today are present among us. And I wish that I might know them with certainty, that I might cast them forth from this sacred abode, not that they might remain shut out, but that having mended their ways they might return again, Just as fathers, should their sons provoke them, are wont to drive them from the house, and forbid them the table; not indeed that they may for ever he deprived of these things, but that being so reproved they may become better, because of this, and may be restored with due honour to the paternal inheritance .

…..And though we cannot tell them with our eyes, these words of ours mark them: and where it touches their conscience, it will readily persuade them to withdraw themselves in secret, teaching them that he alone is of the household who reveals a disposition worthy of the Christian way of living: just as he who while living unworthily becomes a partaker of this sacred Supper, though he approaches hither in the body, yet is he cast out, and more truly sent forth than those who have been shut out, and who may not partake of the sacred table.

Will you partake of this spiritual table, the table of the King, and then soil your body again with filth? Do you anoint it with ointments, and then fill it up with foulness? Do you consider that it suffices for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole year if you at each returning year partake of communion, and then at the end of the week give yourself again to your former conduct?

Tell me this. If you after forty days were restored to health again from a serious illness, should you return again to those things that earlier had brought on your sickness, would you not squander uselessly all your former efforts? And if the things of the body are spoiled in this way, how much more the things that depend on our own free will and decision?….What forgiveness is there for this? For the Apostle says: “Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord” (I Co. 11:29); that is, he shall have the same guilt, and the same punishment, as those who crucified Christ…..

I do not turn away, but seek to unite; nor do I repel or exclude, but seek rather by trials to help you. For the fear of chastisement falling the consciences of those who do wrong destroys and consumes sin as fire touching wax, and while it remains there preserves the soul clean and undefiled, and thus brings its to a greater degree of confidence …..

Rightly then has the blessed Paul told us: “Obey your prelates and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls” (Heb. 13:17). You no doubt carefully look after your own affairs, and if they are well ordered you have no account to render for those of others. But a priest, thought his own life should be well ordered, yet, if he has not an earnest care for yours, will also go down to Gehenna with the reprobate. And often, though not betrayed by sins of his own, he perishes because of those of others

…..Far better to be deprived of one’s own life, for God’s sake, than to save that life, and be deprived of God: to Whom be honour, praise and glory now and forever.