Friday, February 27, 2009

The History of the Blessed Nathaniel

Palladius tells of a monk Nathaniel, who had died fifteen years prior to Palladius' own arrival in Nitria. Nathaniel left his first cell because a devil was tempting him, and when the devil came to his second cell he repented and returned to the first cell where he remained for thirty-seven years without leaving once.

Towards the end of Nathaniel's life, this devil tempted him to leave the cell by appearing as a young man who needed help delivering bread to the monastery for the Eucharist. Nathaniel doubted and prayed and finally refused to leave his cell, calling out that if there was true need then God would help the young man, but if it was a temptation then it was fruitless. Infuriated, this devil "took the form of a whirlwind and the forms of wild asses which dance abotu and skip and break wind." (113)
Homily 13

Acts 5:17-33

Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation,

and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.

But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said,

"Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life."

And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported,

saying, "Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!"

Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be.

So one came and told them, saying, "Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!"

Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, let they should be stoned.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the councile. And the high priest asked them,

saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!"

But Peter and the other apostles answeredand said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.

"The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.

"Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him."

When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.


I'm interested in how the Sadduccees and Pharisees on the council interact with one another. And I'm interested that one of the council's worries is that they would be blamed for the death of Jesus.


Chrysostom compares the miracle of the apostles' rescue from prison to Christ's miracles-- the deed is done in secret; its results are evident to all. He notes that the Pharisees do not ask, "How did you get out of prison?" but rather, "as if nothing had happened, they ask, 'Did we not straitly charge you not to speak?' " And after having witnessed the apostles' miraculous escape, "yet the expect to overpower them: such is their childish folly!" (81)

Chrysostom notes that the council feared the multitude when they ought to have been fearing God. When pressed, the apostles reply not in high rhetoric but rather with the same story they'd been telling again and again: "the Cross, the Resurrection." (83)

Remarking on the apostles' security in their oppression and poverty, Chrysostom comments favorably on the security and blessedness of voluntary poverty. A poor man, he suggests, can refrain from oaths and swearing much more easily than a wealthy man.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Homily 12

Acts 4:36 - 5:16

And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus,

having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.

And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet.

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?

"While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.

And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much."

Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."

Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch.

Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.

And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.

Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.


I want to know so much more about Ananias here... did he explicitly state that he was giving all his proceeds, whilst secretly holding some back? Or was he punished for merely giving less than everything without duplicity?

Because Peter says that Ananias has lied, it's fair enough to assume that he did explicitly lie. Still, it would ease my mind if the passage said that outright.

I'm interested at how quickly the dead are buried-- is this Jewish custom? As soon as Ananias died he was buried. So quickly, in fact, that three hours later Peter could tell his wife of the grave.

The Church continues to grow through the healings of the apostles. There's an early hint at the beginning of relic-veneration here: even the shadow of Peter would heal the sick.


Chrysostom notes that the passage begins with a good example-- that of Barnabas performing a virtuous deed. Ananias' and Sapphira's deed, then, should be interpreted in light of Barnabas' norm.

He emphasizes that the sin was not in having personal property-- nobody compelled or forced Ananias and Sapphira to sell their land. The sin was in keeping for themselves what had been already consecrated to God:

He that has chosen to sell his goods and distribute them, and then withdraws them, is guilty of sacrilege... Ananias, having made the money sacred... afterwards secreted it. (77)

Why, Chrysostom says one might ask, didn't Peter admonish or correct Ananias? The answer is that one who had seen all that Ananias had seen-- who had witnessed the daily miracles, who knew personally the disciples of Jesus Christ himself-- and who yet tried to deceive the Holy Spirit, was already beyond hope:

As it is... the man himself is benefitted in regard that he is not left to advance further in wickendess. (77)

Chrysostom then returns to his old topic of swearing: "If those for lying suffered such things, what shall not the perjured suffer?" (79) Anyone in the habit of making oaths, he says, is bound eventually to break an oath. And perjury is a terrible sin.

We are not now generally punished as quickly as Ananias. This is all the "more reason to tremble." (79) When somebody has committed a wrong, they are in perpetual fear of eventual punishment. And punishment is indeed being stored up for the unrepentant. So what should we do?

Chrysostom gives the example of Joseph's brothers, who believed themselves guilty of his murder and eventually repented of it, believing their misfortune to be the result of their sin. And, by their repentance, they were forgiven.

In this manner then do thou also, when anything happens, say, We are verily guilty, because we have not obeyed Christ; because we have sworn; my much swearing, and my false swearing, has fallen upon my own head. Confess thou; since they also confessed, and were saved. (80)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Homily 11

Acts 4:23-36

And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.

So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said:

"Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,

"who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:

'Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.'

"For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together

"to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

"Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,

"by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus."

And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.

Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold,

and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.


I'm interested that again the emphasis is on giving "witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus."

And I'm intrigued to see how this early communitarianism will develop as the Church spreads. So far it seems to be contained largely in Jerusalem, in a single community. How will things change as Christianity expands?


Chrysostom's short homily on this passage begins by emphasizing the response of the Church to Peter's and John's encounter with Temple authorities-- they do no pray that their persecutors be crushed, but rather that they themselves will have boldness to speak in the face of opposition (71). And they do not ask to be delivered out of danger, but rather again to have "boldness to speak Thy word." (72)

Chrysostom remarks on the generous communitarianism of the early Church-- people gave all, but did not give it "as their own." (73) Were this kindness to be practiced here in Constantinople, he reckons that there would be abundance for all the poor in the city:

But, you will ask, what should we do after the money was spent? And do you think it could ever be spent? Would not the grace of God be ten thousand fold greater? Would not the grace of God be indeed richly poured out? Nay, should we not make it a heaven upon earth? (74)

He then returns to his comments about swearing, warning of banishment from the cathedral anyone who does not refrain from taking oaths. To refrain from swearing, he reminds, is a great weapon against the devil:

A mouth that cannot swear will soon both engage God in prayers, and smite the devil a deadly blow. A mouth that cannot swear will be incapable of using insulting language. (75)

Should his hearers fix this habit deep, he says, he will begin instructing them in greater things.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The History of Macarius, the Child of his Cross

Palladius speaks of a young shepherd named Macarius who had fled to the desert after accidentally committing a murder. After having lived near Macarius for a while, Palladius asked him whether he thought often of the murder. The monk replied, "I am entirely untroubled by it, for I am bound to confess that the sin of this involuntary murder was the good cause of the redemption of my life." (110) Macarius reminds Palladius that Moses had a similar episode in his own youth.

Macarius always prayed with his hands outstretched in the form of the Cross, and he eventually died standing in prayer in this fashion. Those who found him were unable to bring his hands back to his body, so they "dug his grave in the form of a cross and laid him in it." (110)

Palladius, grieved at Macarius' death, hears in a dream a voice consoling him:

"Inasmuch as during his lifetime he loved the cross, which he bore through his good works, in it also he shall have his rest; in the form of that which he desired longingly hath he been buried, and in the same form shall he stand up at the right hand on the day of Christ." (111)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homily 10

Acts 4:1-22

And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them.

Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide,

Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,

And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.

And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,

If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole;

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.

And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,

Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.

But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.

And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.

For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.

For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.


I'm struck by the extraordinary number of people converted-- does five thousand refer to the new Christians as a result of Peter's sermon in the temple, or is it the total number of Christians now in Jerusalem?

It's interesting that the major question the temple leaders ask is, by whose name do you do this? Just as later heresies centered around the use of false names, so it is the use of Christ's name, more than the actions done in that name, that are the center of attention.

I wonder what Peter specifically means when he says "salvation" in this context. It's just after reference to the man who was healed (and is still with them)-- is he speaking of the salvation of bodily healing? He's also speaking of the resurrection of the dead, and this salvation may be in the context of the Resurrection.

And I wonder why the age of forty is so significant, why it's so amazing that it was a man over the age of forty who was healed.


Chrysostom notes that the leaders of the temple have become more audacious since the Crucifixion-- "sin, while it is yet struggling to the birth, is attended with some sense of shame; but when once fully born, it makes those more shameless who practise it." (63)

Although the people see Peter and John arrested and put in bond's, Peter's sermon brought five thousand of them to Christ. "For, say they, if He that was crucified effects such great things, and makes the lame to walk, we fear not these men either." (64)

Although Peter and John are uneducated, the Holy Spirit comes upon them as Christ had promised in Luke 12:11, 14. Peter, in his response to the leaders, emphasises the Resurrection, and as for the temple leaders, "the miracles shut their mouths." (65) Before, Peter could not bear to be questioned by Annas' maidservant; now he is opposing the High Priest himself. (66)

Chrysostom again turns his sermon to the subject of oaths and swearing. He quotes the Wisdom of Sirach, and speaks of swearing as a bad habit. He compares this to other habits, such as making the sign of the cross when crossing a threshold even to the public baths, or when lighting a candle even at home. (69) Like these good habits, which are done even without thinking, oaths can become habitual as well.

...none names the Name of God with honor. Yet if you love any one, even at his name you start to your feet; but God you thus continually invoke, and make nothing of it. Call upon Him for the benefit of your enemy; call upon Him for the salvation of your own soul; then He will be present, then you will delight Him, whereas now you provoke Him to anger... For you to make mention at random of any person of consideration, is taken as an insult: and do you bandy God about in your talk, in season, out of season? I do not want to hinder you from keeping God always in your mind... if a man refuse to believe you, and that is why you swear, say to him, "Believe me:" however, if you will needs make oath, swear by yourself. (69)

It is true, when I take a Gentile in hand, I do not immediately lay this injunction upon him, but in the first place I exhort him to know Christ. (70)

How can one break the habit of swearing? Chrysostom suggests that we enjoin our servants and family to constantly notice and catch us when we slip up.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Histories of the Natural Brethren Paesius and Isaiah

Palladius tells of two brothers who, upon receiving a rich inheritance, decided to become Christians and dedicate their lives to monasticism. The one brother gave everything he had to the poor, found a handicraft to support himself, and lived a life of asceticism and prayer. The other brother kept his money, but used it to build a monastery and to provide hospitality to everyone in need.

After these two brothers died, a quarrel came up among the brethren over which of the two was greater-- the one who had followed the Biblical command to give all to the poor, or the one who had followed the Biblical command to care for strangers. They went to Rabba Pambo with this question, and he declared that "They are both perfect. One man made manifest the work of Abraham by his hospitality, and the other the self-denial of Elijah." (109)

Not content with this answer, the brethren pressed Pambo further and he insisted that each brother had lightened the load of the other, each in his unique manner. The brethren kept insisting that one or the other must be greater, and finally Pambo told them that he would ask God.

Several days later, Rabba Pambo came back to the brethren and told them, "I have seen them both standing in the Paradise of Eden, as it were in the presence of God." (109)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Homily 9

Acts 3:12 - 26

So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: "Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

"The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.

"But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,

"and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.

"And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

"Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

"But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

"and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before,

"whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.

"For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.

" 'And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.'

"Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.

"You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham,

" 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'

"To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities."


Compared with Peter's sermon on Pentecost, this one is audacious. He flat-out accuses the Jews-- in the Temple of all places!-- of killing the Christ. There's still some caution, some softness: he doesn't say right out that Jesus is God (just that he's "Prince of life") and he does acknowledge that they did this thing in ignorance. But his sermon is very bold.

And, I suppose, he has the right to be bold because the people have just witnessed a miracle and now they want to know why it happened. The lame man walking has established Peter's authority, and he immediately defers this authority from himself over to Christ.

This sermon, like the former, ends by urging the listeners to repent. In the first sermon Peter said "be baptized." In this sermon, he says outright, "believe."


Chrysostom begins by acknowledging that this sermon is more direct than the previous. This, he says, is because it is directed not to the scoffers at Pentecost but to people who are "full of fear and amazement" (54), ready to pay attention. Peter began by "rejecting the glory which was to be had from them... And, in truth, much more did they increase their glory by despising glory." (54-5)

Peter right away "thrusts himself upon the fathers of old, lest he should appear to be introducing a new doctrine" (55)-- Christ is the fulfillment of the Fathers, not a contradiction. He "establishes the doctrine of the Resurrection" by calling Christ the Prince of Life (Chrysostom equates the title "Prince" with "Author"), and brings the Apostles into the same cloud as the Fathers by reminding the crowd that he and John are witnesses to Christ.

And now Peter no longer says "Jesus of Nazareth," but rather the Servant of the God of our fathers, and reminds the crowd that they had him, the Author of Life, put to death while setting a murderer free.

Peter is so straightforward now, says Chrysostom, because his hearers are ready-- you don't chide a drunk man while he's still inebriated, but instead you wait until he is sober and in a condition to listen to you (57).

Chrysostom notes the faith of the Apostles in speaking so boldly:

had they not been truly persuaded themselves that Christ had risen again, they would not have sought to establish the honor of a dead man instead of their own, especially while the eyes of the multitude were upon them. (58)

And Peter calls the onlookers his brethren, reminding them that Christ has come first for them, as a fulfillment of their Prophets: "For if He is your Brother, and blesses you, the affair is a promise." (59)

If Christ came first to save and bless those who killed him, says Chrysostom, then we must also "do all as we would for bosom-friends, as we would for ourselves so for those who have injured us." (60) Christ in fact made the leaders of the Jews objects of reverence-- he told the people to listen to the scribes and Pharisees, and told the cleansed lepers to show themselves to the priests.

Besides, when he might have destroyed [the Jews], He saves them. Let us then imitate Him, and let no one be an enemy, no one a foe, except to the devil. (60)

The remainder of the sermon is a follow-up from the last sermon, expounding on Chrysostom's attack against swearing and oath-taking. His thesis, essentially, is that it is impious to bring God into petty matters, and profane to make God accountable as a witness for our marketplace dealings. If I will not cheat my customer, then let me say that I will not cheat my customer without dragging God into it. Oaths do not stop men from cheating or swindling:

A man having once learnt to steal, and to wrong his neighbor, will presume full oft to trample upon his oath; if on the contrary he shrinks from swearing, he will much more shrink from injustice. "But he is influenced against his will." Well then, he deserves pardon. (61)

You stand holding God in your bonds: to get a few vegetables, a pair of shoes, for a little matter of money, calling Him to witness. What is the meaning of this? Do not let us imagine, that because we are not punished, therefore we do not sin; this comes of God's mercy; not of our merit. Let your oath be an imprecation upon your own child, upon your own self: say, "Else let the hangman lash my ribs." But you dare not. Is God less valuable than thy ribs?... Is this the end of your bills, and your bonds, that you should sacrifice your own soul? What gain do you get so great as the loss?... Do not imagine that the success of your worldly plans is to be ensured by transgressions of the Divine laws. (62)

And Chrysostom argues against the notion that nobody will trust a man who does not swear:

On the contrary, were it clear to all men that you do not swear, take my word for it, you would be more readily believed upon your mere nod, than those are who swallow oaths by thousands. (63)

And he says that it is not because of his office of bishop that he is respected without having to take oaths-- were he in the habit of perpetually swearing, even his bishopric would not uphold his honor.