Sunday, December 28, 2008

The History of the Blessed Ammonius

Palladius speaks of Ammonius and his siblings, who had all been disciples of Rabba Pambo and founded both a men's and a women's monastery.

A certain city wanted Ammonius to be their bishop, and Timothy the bishop of Alexandria agreed to consecrate him to the episcopacy. To prevent them, Ammonius cut off his left ear and quoted the Levitical law that a man without an ear could not approach the altar. Timothy reminded him that Christians were not under Jewish law, and said he would consecrate Ammonius even "if his nose was split." (105) Ammonius warned that he'd slit his tongue if they tried again, and so the people gave up trying to make him their bishop.

Ammonius' ascetical practice included wounding himself whenever a carnal thought entered his mind, and refraining from any cooked foods. He had both the Old and New Testaments memorized and would also read contemporary theology.

Near the end of his life Ammonius was persuaded to travel to Constantinople to commemmorate the restoration of a martyrium built by the city's prefect Rufinus. Ammonius was received and honored, and upon dying while still in the great city was buried in the martyrium.
Homily 8

Acts 3:1-11

Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple;

who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms.

And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, "Look at us."

So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."

And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them-- walking, leaping, and praising God.

And all the people saw him walking and praising God.

Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to them.

Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon's, greatly amazed.


I'm really struck by the statement, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you." Peter didn't say, "I'm not going to give you money," or "I have something for you better than money." He didn't have money. And it was his poverty that pushed him beyond the mere and common gift of money. His poverty forced him to reach more deeply to find something that he did have to give. And all he had to give was the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Just a name, nothing more.

Again, it isn't that Peter chose to give the name of Christ instead of money. He didn't have money. His poverty compelled him into evangelism.

If we have money, why should we withhold it from those who ask? And when we have no money, why should we withhold that which we do have?


Chrysostom notes that Peter and John were again together, and throughout the sermon emphasizes that Peter is the one who does the talking.

After Peter told the lame man to look at him and John, Chrysostom notes that his thoughts were not elevated, "but he persisted in his importunity. For such is poverty; upon a refusal, it compels people still to persist. Let this put us to shame who fall back in our prayers." (50)

The healing of the lame man "made manifest the Resurrection, for it was an image of the Resurrection." (50)

Upon being healed, the lame man follows the apostles into the temple-- not because they urge him to do so, but of his own accord. "The man was grateful." (51)

When Peter declares his poverty, "He does not say, I have none here, as we are wont to speak, but absolutely, I have none... but of what I have, receive thou." (51)

Chrysostom notes that the lame man does not ask for healing; he asks only for money:

Such sort of persons were the Jews; lame, and the right thing being to ask for health, these same ask for money, grovelling on the ground. (51)

Peter and John went to the temple to pray, and accomplished another object entirely-- when we embark upon prayer, we do not know where we will be taken.

The rest of the sermon is an appeal to the congregation for reformation:

He who has effected some little reformation thereby receives encouragement to approach greater things. (52)

Chrysostom asks his congregation to start small, by laying off swearing by God. He admonishes them that their blasphemy falls on his own head, whereas "my glory is your good report." (53) He knows that those who cease swearing by God will be mocked and laughed at in the city, but "it is better to be laughed at now, than wept for hereafter." (53) And he warns the congregation, that if any man refuses

to conform to this order, that man I... do prohibit to set foot over the Church's threshold, be he prince, be he even the crowned head. Either depose me from this station, or if I am to remain, expose me not to danger [of taking the blame for the congregation's obstinacy]. (53)

Chrysostom criticizes the love of quantity over quality, saying that he prefers a few real Christians to a multitude of halfhearted people:

After the fashion of the Theatre we desire numbers, not a select number... it is the saints, not the numbers, which make the multitude... Do you not see, that it is better to possess one precious stone, than ten thousand farthing pieces?... For no one will urge it as a point in our favor that we are many; we shall be blamed for being unprofitable. (54)

And again Chrysostom warns his congregation that he "will exclude and punish the disobedient; and as long as I sit on this throne, I will give up not one of its rights. If any one depose me from it, then I am no longer responsible; as long as I am responsible, I cannot disregard them; on account not of my own punishment, but your salvation." (54)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homily 7

Acts 2:37-47

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation."

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

Now all who believed were together, and had all things is common,

and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,

praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.


I'm astounded by the rapidity of this mass conversion. It came about by several circumstances-- the mighty wind, the miracles of the apostles' speaking in every person's native tongue, and Peter's sermon. This is a great example of synerghia-- the work of the Spirit, combined with the human efforts of convincing speech. And in the middle is something accomplished by both: the apostles' words, miraculously made comprehensible and accessible to people of all languages and cultures.

Peter says that the remission of sins comes from two things-- repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. Is this the first time baptism is mentioned as something Christian? It seems to come out of the blue here.

There's also a promise that repentance and baptism result in receiving the Holy Spirit-- and that this promise extends to children.

The very first thing these new believers do is establish a new and very tightly-knit community. Their commune-- what else can we call it?-- was, starting at three thousand souls, already a megachurch.

But before anything else-- before preaching, before doing outreach or community service or anything-- they bonded together and formed a new community. This is a very, very early example of converts to Christianity moving out of their villages and into a new, Christian one.


Chrysostom begins by emphasizing how the gentleness of Peter's words had turned the angry crowds around:

Speaking to men who had crucified his Master, and breathed murder against himself and his companions, discoursed to them in the character of an affectionate father and teacher... If, therefore, you wish to place your enemy in the wrong, beware of accusing him; nay, plead for him, he will be sure to find himself guilty. (44)

Chrysostom notes that Peter "does not yet say, Believe, but 'Be baptized every one of you.' For this they received in baptism." (45) The notes to this text insist that it cannot mean that faith is a fruit of baptism, but I'm not so convinced-- that is indeed what Chrysostom seems to be saying here.

He goes on to note that the new community of the believers is a fellowship "not only in prayers, nor in doctrine alone, but also in social relations." (45)

Of the fact that the Christians continued to worship in the Temple, Chrysostom makes much. While much of the conversion is abrupt, much is also gradual. The Jewish temple cannot ultimately be a fitting place for Christians to worship because there are soon to be many Gentile believers. But for now, the new Christian community is entirely Jewish and not only does its worship remain undisturbed, it actually intensifies.

Chryosostom then speaks of the wisdom of the "artless" man:

For when you suspect no evil, neither can you fabricate any: when you have no annoyances, neither can you remember injuries. Has any one insulted you? You were not pained. Has any one reviled you? You were nothing hurt. Has he envied you? Still you had no hurt. Simplicity is a true high road to philosophy. None so beautiful in soul as the simple. (47)

He then poses the question of what will happen to a simple man who falls among wicked people, and gives many examples from the Old Testament of God preserving the holy and simple from machinations of wicked men.

The rest of the homily compares contemporary society, with its love for the riches of this life, unfavorably with the simplicity of the early Church.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Homily 6

Acts 2:22-36

"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know--

"Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;

"whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.

"For David says concening Him:

'I foresaw the Lord always before my face,
'For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.

'Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
'Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.

'For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
'Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

'You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.'

"Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.

"Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

"For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:

'The Lord said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,

"Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." '

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."


Peter speaks directly to the Jews, saying that they have put Christ to death- point-blank saying "you have done this."

He looks back to the Psalms, showing that David could not have been speaking about himself because the Psalms speak of an incorruptible one, whereas the tomb of David is well-known. Therefore, says Peter, these Psalms are a prophecy about Christ.


Chrysostom begins by pointing out the softness of Peter's speech-- he does not immediately proclaim the divinity of Christ Jesus, nor does he "say, 'Do as I bid you,' but, Hear; as being not at all exacting." (37) And Peter also claims the Jews as witnesses, saying that God wrought signs by Christ "in the midst of you." (38) Then he brings David in as another witness-- "an authority which sets aside all human reasoning." (39) "Now if he be David's Lord," says Chrysostom, "much more shall [the Jews] not disdain Him." (41)

Chrysostom moves on to a sermon about wrath and virtue:

God promises a Kingdom, and is despised: the Devil helps us to hell, and he is honored! (42)

The long-suffering and meek, he says, can quench the heat of a passionate man in a moment, faster even than "iron, made red-hot and dipped into water, so quickly parts with its heat." (43)

Nothing worse than anger, my beloved, nothing worse than unseasonable wrath... Many a time has a mere word been blurted out in anger, which needs for its curing a whole lifetime, and a deed has been done which was the ruin of the man for life. (43)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The History of the Blessed Man Pambo

Melha tells Palladius a story of her meeting with Pambo, of a time when she brought a great deal of silver as a gift for the monasteries. Pambo distributed the wealth without treating Melha with any special regard, and she inquired as to whether he knew how much silver she had just given-- three hundred pounds. Pambo replied,

"He unto whom thou hast offered thy money hath no need [to know] the weight. For He who weighed the mountains in a balance knoweth how much is the weight of thy silver. If thou hadst given the money unto me thou wouldst have done well to have informed me concerning the weight thereof; but since thou hast given it to God, Who did not despise the two mites of the widow, [what need hast thou to tell Him?] Hold thy peace." (103)

Shortly after Palladius arrives in Nitria Pambo dies, leaving him a woven palm mat that he had just finished making. Palladius treasures this mat as a sacred relic. The final story he tells is of "the blessed man Pior" coming to Pambo's cell with some bread,

and Pambo made a complaint, saying unto him, "Why hast thou done this?" Then Abba Pior made answer, saying, "Let [this thing] be not grievous unto thee"; but Pambo was silent and sent him away. And after some time Rabba Pambo went to the cell of Abba Pior, and he took with him bread which had been dipped in water; and being asked, "Why hast thou done this?" the blessed man Pambo said unto him, "Let it not be grievous unto thee that I have also dipped the bread in water." (104)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Homily Five

Acts 2:14-21

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.

"For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.

"But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh:
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.

"And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.

"I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.

"The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the reat and awesome day of the Lord.

"And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved."


Peter responsd to the accusations of drunkenness by explaining how this fulfilled a prophecy.


Chrysostom notes how gently Peter replies to his detractors, saying "We are not drunk as you suppose" rather than "as you accuse."

He also notes that Peter does not first speak directly of Christ, but rather of the prophecy which can "fight its own battle."

The remainder of the sermon is speaking to Marcionism and to those who believe there is no hell-- it's popular to dislike those who lay down the law, but in the end this law is more necessary than parties are.

And Chrysostom reminds us that all are without excuse, that as far as India and Spain is Christ known.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The History of the Blessed Man Hor

Palladius speaks of a Nitrian monk who died shortly before his arrival named Hor, who never told a lie or spoke an oath, and never spoke at all beyond what was absolutely necessary.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The History of Abba Ammon

Arsisius tells Palladius of the monk Ammon, who was orphaned at age twenty-two and compelled to marry. He and his wife lived for eighteen years as brother and sister, and then parted ways to both become monastics. Ammon at this time departed to Nitria, where there were yet no monasteries, and became a founder of monasticism in that region.

Palladius reports a story from St. Athanasius' history of Abba Anthony, of a time when Abba Ammon needed to cross a river called "the Wolf" and was carried over by an angel.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Concerning the Monks who lived in Nitria

Palladius departs from Alexandria and crosses the lake Mareotis to dwell for a year at Mount Nitria. He meets many monks there, and hears of the desert hermits. Near the church were several bakers who provided for the community, and anyone who came and wished to work was invited to join for a year or two. Three whips hung from a palm tree: the first to punish "monks who transgress in folly," the second for thieves, and the third for strangers who "transgress in any manner whatsoever" (99). Every evening the entire community gathered to sing the Psalms. In Nitria Palladius meets the monk Arsenius, who tells him of the saints of that place.
The History of Abba Macarius the Alexandrian and a Certain Virgin

Palladius tells of an Alexandrian virgin who was quite rich but gave nothing to the poor or to the Church, saying that she needed all her money to provide for her niece's wedding. A priest named Macarius, who had been a jewelsmith in his youth, decided to show the virgin the folly of her ways. He approached her saying that he was in possession of some valuable emeralds and gems which the owner would sell for only five hundred dinars. The sale of just one emerald, he assured her, would bring her more than five hundred dinars which she could use on her niece's wedding. She gave Abba Macarius the money and asked him to buy the gems on her behalf.

Abba Macarius took the money and spent it on the poor. The virgin waited a long time to ask him about the money, because he was a well-respected man nearly one hundred years of age. But she finally inquired and he invited her to come to his house and see the gems and emeralds he had purchased for her. He showed her women in his care who were diseased and deformed and said, "these are the gems," then showed her the men and said, "these are the emeralds. If these please thee [good and well]; but if not take thy money" (98). She was ashamed and became grateful to the priest Macarius. Meanwhile, the niece she had been saving up her money for ended up dying.
The History of the Maiden Alexandra

Didymus tells of an Alexandrian maiden named Alexandra who "shut herself up in a tomb until the end of her life" (95). And "the blessed woman Melha" tells of once asking through a window why Alexandra had shut herself up. When she was young, Alexandra had devoted her live to God as a nun, and was grieved when a young man fell in love with her. So she chose to shut herself up rather "than to cause a man who was made in the form of the image of God to stumble." (96)
The History of Didymus

In Alexandria Palladius met an old blind man named Didymus who, though he had little formal education, was thoroughly versed in Scripture and in "the belief of the truth." Didymus asked Palladius to pray in his cell and when Palladius refused, the old man told him of a time when Abba Anthony had come to pray in his cell. "Thou also, if thou wishest to walk in his footsteps and [to imitate him] in [his] life and deeds... remove thyself from contention." (95)
The History of the Virgin Potamiaena

Abba Isidore tells Palladius a story that he had heard from St. Anthony of a young virgin named Potamiaena who was the servant of a wealthy Alexandrian who wanted to sleep with her. Because she refused, he handed her over to the prefect Basilides revealing that she was a Christian. She survived many tortures and, when threatened with death, continued to refuse submitting to her master's desires and instead confessed Christ. She was dipped in boiling pitch which immediately grew cold and so she died a martyr's death along with many other Alexandrian Christians in the reign of Septimius Severus.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homily Four

Acts 2:1-13

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.

And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

There they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?

"And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?

"Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

"Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes

"Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."

So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?"

Others mocking said, "They are full of new wine."


I'm interested by the phrase "all with one accord" and would like to look this up in Greek. (ομοθυμαδον : homo-thema-ADV, or homothemously, or "with one theme")

It's interesting to note that when the apostles began speaking "in tongues," they were all using real human languages. The didn't know these languages, but yet they were using them. I'm wondering now about the tradition among some groups of "speaking in tongues" which usually implies something other than a human language. Are there Scriptural roots to this practice?

And it's worth noting what the apostles said in all these languages-- they proclaimed the wonderful works of God.


Chrysostom begins his homily by asking why the coming of the Holy Spirit came about with "sensible tokens." For two reasons, he says-- first that, if even with miraculous sounds there were still some who thought the apostles were drunk, then without any signs none would have believed. And secondly, that the loud sound like a rushing wind was so startling that it brought people all together out into the streets, where they could see the apostles.

Chrysostom notes that the tongues like fire were "cloven"-- that is, all distributed from one source, and that they came upon all apostles-- not just the Twelve, but the entire 120. "Observe now," says Chrysostom, "how there is no longer any occasion for that person to grieve, who was not elected as was Matthias." (25)

The circumstances of Pentecost bear note: "Observe, how when one is continuing in prayer, when one is in charity, then it is that the Spirit draws near." (26)

And Chrysostom notes that not only were people from diverse countries amazed at the apostles' speaking in their own tongue, but they were also amazed by the content of that speech: "we do hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." (26)

The apostles, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, responded better than their predecessors in hearing God's call:

they said not, they were "weak in voice, and of a slow tongue." For Moses had taught them better. They said not, they were too young. Jeremiah had made them wise. (27)

The rest of the sermon is about Peter's particular role in this event.

[The eleven] expressed themselves through one common voice, and he was the mouth of all... He who had not endured the questioning of a poor girl, now in the midst of the people, all breathing murder, discourses with such confidence, that this very thing becomes an unquestionable proof of the Resurrection... For wherever the Holy Spirit is present, He makes men of gold out of men of clay. (28-29)

The conclusion of the homily compares Peter to the Greek philosophers; comparing Plato and Pythagoras unfavorably-- despite all their learning and airs-- to the "uncouth rustic" of Bethsaida:

Where now is Greece, with her big pretentions? Where the name of Athens? Where the ravings of the philosophers? He of Galilee, he of Bethsaida, he, the uncouth rustic, has overcome them all. (29)

Why then, it is asked, did not Christ exercise His influence upon Plato, and upon Pythagoras? Because the mind of Peter was much more philosophical than their minds. They were in truth children shifted about on all sides by vain glory; but this man was a philosopher, one apt to receive grace. (29-30)

For where an action is done for glory, all is worthless. For though a man possess all, yet if he have not the mastery over this, he forfeits all claim to true philosophy, he is in bondage to the more tyrannical and shameful passion. Contempt of glory; this it is that is sufficient to teach all that is good, and to banish from the soul every pernicious passion. (31)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The History of Dorotheos of Thebes

Abba Isidore sends Palladius to live for three years with an anchorite named Dorotheos. Palladius leaves early because of an illness, but then returs to Dorotheos. Although an old man, the anchorite spends his days building cells for monks who do not yet have their own cells-- this involves collecting and carrying stones in the desert heat. Palladius asks him about this:

"Father, why workest thou thus in thine old age? for thou wilt kill thy body in all this heat." And he said unto me, "I kill it lest it should kill me." (91-92)

Palladius observed Dorotheos eat extremely little, and never saw him sleep at all. When questioned about this, the monk replied,

"If thou art able to persuade the angels to sleep, then thou wilt be able to persuade me." (92)

The account concludes with a story of the brotherhood observing a venemous snake slip into the well, and thus fear to drink from the well. Dorotheos makes the sign of the cross over the water and drinks it without fear:

"Where the seal (or sign) of the Cross is, the wickedness of Satan hath no power to do harm." (93)
The History of Abba Isidore

Palladius' first history is of the monk Isidore, whom he met in Alexandria. Abba Isidore managed an Alexandrian hospital and, now aged seventy, had spent his early spiritual formation in the desert. Palladius marvels at the monk's temperance:

On several occasions he burst into tears at the table; and when I asked him, "What is the cause of these tears?" he said unto me, "I am ashamed of myself because, being a rational being, I eat the food of an irrational creature; I desire to live in Paradise, where I should enjoy the food which is imperishable. For [although] we have received that power which is from Christ, yet am I drawn to partake of the food which perisheth. I would partake of the food which is spiritual, and I would that I were in the Paradise of delights in the dominion which God hath given unto me; and behold I am eating the food of the beasts." (90)

Palladius further notes Abba Isidore's great generosity and that, although he was acquainted with many Roman nobility, he continued to live in poverty and generosity. In fact, when he finally died he left no estate at all, having given everything away. To his heirs [his sisters, and seventy nuns with them] he said,

"He who created you will provide for your living and also whatsoever things of which ye have need, even as He hath [provided] for me." (91)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Counsels to Lausus

The third section of the Epistle to Lausus gives the correspondent some pastoral guidance. Palladius lists sixteen recommendations for life that "thou shalt sin in no particular" (80). Among are the following:

IV. Have no confidence in the belief that that which is placed outside thy soul is in thy possession.

XV. Know thou that not even much time will bring oblivion upon one act which thou wouldst hide.

Palladius commends Lausus for his desire to hear about the lives of the great saints, and advises him that knowledge of their victories will spur him on in his own path towards righteousness:

For he who remembereth death continually... will neither be negligent of nor commit sin in respect of great matters, even according to what is said, "In all thy words remember thine end, and thou wilt never commit sin." (83)

Palladius further counsels Lausus on the value of moderation in living a holy life:

It is better to drink wine in moderation than to drink water immoderately, and it appeareth to be that those who drink wine in moderation are holy men, and that those who pridefully use water in an immoderate fashion are depraved and pleasure-loving. Do not therefore ascribe blame or praise to the eating [or not eating] of food, or to the drinking [or not drinking] of wine, but ascribe praise, or woe, unto those who make use properly or improperly of meat and drink. (85)

Palladius concludes by warning Lausus to make light of nobody, not even of heretics or those who seem ridiculous,

for thou shald become lax in thy mind in respect of them, and whilst laughing at them thou wilt become unduly exalted, and that thou shouldst be driven to arrogance would be a loss for thee. (87)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Homily 3

Acts 1:12-26

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey.

And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James.

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said,

"Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus;

for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry."

(Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

'Let his dwelling place be desolate,
And let no one live in it';


'Let another take his office.'

Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection."

And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

And they prayed and said, "You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen

to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place."

And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.


What strikes me in this is the described purpose of the episcopacy: to "become a witness with us of His resurrection."

It's interesting reading about episcopal election now, so shortly after having witnessed the OCA elect its new primate.


This sermon is all about qualifications for the episcopacy. It's unusual for a Chrysostom sermon; most of his homilies have at least two parts-- the first part a verse-by-verse commentary and the second part a long meditation on some theme brought up by the passage. This homily, however, is a straight-up sermon on the episcopacy.

He starts off by describing Peter's use of authority among the apostles and disciples:

But observe how Peter does everything with common consent; nothing imperiously...

... "Men and brethren," says Peter... see the dignity of the Church, the angelic condition! No distinction there, "neither male nor female." I would that the Churches were such now! (18)

Chrysostom speaks of how Peter emulates the newly-departed Christ in comforting and guiding the Church. And then Peter brings up the matter of appointing a replacement for Judas:

He defers the decision to the whole body, thereby both making the elected objects of reverence and himself keeping clear of all invidiousness with regard to the rest. For such occasions always give rise to great evils. (19)

Chrysostom notes favorably the moderation of all the apostles present,

because prelacy then was not an affair of dignity, but of provident care for the governed. This neither made the elected to become elated, for it was to dangerous that they were called, nor those not elected to make a grievance of it, as if they were disgraced. (20)

Chrysostom notes how important it is that the new apostle be an eyewitness of the Resurrection-- this seems to be the primary task that the apostle is called to:

that they should be men having a right to be believed, because they had seen. (21)

He then mentions the apostles' prayer:

They said not, Choose, but, "show the chosen one;" knowing that all things are foreordained of God. (21)

Chrysostom exhorts "those who aim at preferment" to imitate the apostles in their attitude towards the episcopacy:

If thou believest that the election is with God, then be not displeased. (22)

He then asks why the episcopacy has become such a subject of competition and pride:

it is because we come to the Episcopate not as unto a work of governing and superintending the brethren, but as to a post of dignity and repose. Did you but know that a Bishop is bound to belong to all, to bear the burden of all; that others, if they are angry, are pardoned, but he never; that others, if they sin, have excuses made for them, he has none; you would not be eager for the dignity, would not run after it. So it is, the Bishop is exposed to the tongues of all, to the criticism of all, whether they be wise or fools. He is harassed with cares every day, nay, every night... we speak of those who watch for your souls, who consider the safety and welfare of those under them before their own. (22)

The remainder of the homily similarly discusses the enormous responsibility of being a bishop.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Plan of the Book [of Paradise, by Palladius]

Palladius admits his incompetence to write of the lives of the Holy Fathers, but out of obedience and humility agrees to do what he can. He says that he will write both of the Holy Fathers and Mothers who achieved great things for Christ, and also of those who fell.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Homily 2

Acts 1:6-11

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,

who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."


Christ's disciples are intent on the restoration of the Kingdom. Christ changes the conversation by reminding them to wait for the Holy Spirit. He also moves the discussion from them waiting for God to act. Christ tells his disciples to be witnesses on His behalf to the end of the earth.

And Christ frustrates their plans-- "it is not for you to know times or seasons." Instead, wait for the Holy Spirit.

And with this final exhortation to wait, Christ is removed from their sight. And immediately angels comfort the disciples-- He will come again in like manner.


Immediately after Christ assures his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, they ask not about this but instead: "will you now restore the kingdom?"

This, says Chrysostom, is because they wished to breathe freely again-- after the great horror of Christ's death, they wanted the relief of the Kingdom. Chrysostom emphasizes that it is greater to learn that Christ will reign than to learn the time when. Christ again tells them to wait for the Holy Spirit, and then ascends before they can ask any more questions. Chrysostom again remarks on the irrelevance of the question "When?"-- "To raise up the dead is much greater than to learn the day." (12)

Christ tells them, as Chrysostom paraphrases, "In the very place... where ye are afraid, that is, in Jerusalem, there preach ye first."

The remainder of the sermon is a meditation on Christ's bodily ascension. Chrysostom emphasizes the necessity of the Incarnation, that creation is not evil. If anything, if creation, were pure evil, he says, it would self-destruct. A city of thieves who steal from even one another will fall apart quickly. It is the good that preserves us.
The Epistle of Palladius

This is a letter of the monk Palladius, bishop of Lausus, to a prefect.

For polished words and sentences, or words strung together in admirable order, are not doctrine, for these things are for the most part found with evil-doers and sinners; but this is doctrine, which is the correction of the natural habits and disposition, and the leading of a life of spiritual excellence according to rule, by which I mean the possession of the faculty which shall make a man superior to affliction and to emotion, and to timidity, and to wrath; and which shall make him to possess freedom of speech before every man... And may God grant thee the gift of pursuing at all times the knowledge of Christ.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Paradise of the Holy Fathers: Abba Anthony

I'm reading the end of the life of St. Anthony, and here are some memorable bits.

In a discourse with philosophers about Christianity, he emphasized the miracles that they had witnessed:

Why marvel ye at this thing? It is not we who have done this, but Christ... Therefore do you also believe even as do we... and see that we possess none of the handicraft of devils, but only the faith which is made perfect by means of the love of Christ, our Lord Jesus. If ye possess this also, ye have no need of the quest of much discussion, for the deed itself will convince you that it is not by words, but by manifest works, that our doctrine increaseth and giveth the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. (65)

As his fame spread, Abba Anthony began receiving letters from kings and princes asking for spiritual advice. The other monks were very impressed with this, but he replied:

Ye marvel, perhaps, that the kings and the princes should write epistles unto us, but what [need] is there for wonder, seeing that it is only one man writing letters to another? but what ye should wonder at is how God wrote the Law for the children of men, and how He hath spoken unto us through His only Son. (66)

Here's a description of Abba Anthony's letter-writing style:

In the first place he magnified [those to whom they were addressed], and returned thanks because they were worshippers of Christ, and he gave them advice and united thereto the counsels which were suitable, and which would benefit them both in this world and in that which is to come. And he told them that the wearisome labours which were visible should not be accounted overmuch by them, and exhorted them to remember the judgment which is to come, and that it is Christ Who is the true and everlasting King. And he advised them to let lovingkindness be found in them, and to be careful for that which is right, and to have considerate regard for the poor.

When Abba Anthony prepared for his death, he emphasized that he wanted to be buried-- at the time, the Egyptians were still mummifying their dead and keeping the corpse in a place of honor; this practice was being continued even by pious Christians. St. Anthony harshly condemned the custom, reminding people that the apostles and even Christ were not mummified but buried, and insisted on being buried in a site unknown to all but those who dug his grave.

The conclusion of this Life reminds us why Abba Anthony is so well-known:

For he did not become known unto all the world by means of [his] discourse, or by the wisdom of words, or by means of crafty plans and schemes, but by radiant righteousness towards God... For although these men of God live in secret places and do not desire to be seen and known, yet our Lord [maketh them] to shine like lamps upon all men. Thus also let those who hear [me], and who are mighty men before God, and who love His commandments, be persuaded to keep [their] steps, not that they may be praised but that they may be justified. (75)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homily 1, Acts of the Apostles

Acts 1:1-5

The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,

until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,

to whom He also presented Himself alive by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me;"

for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."


This is a letter to a "lover of God;" the first few verses sum of the previous letter: all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day that he was taken up. Luke summarizes the end of his previous letter-- Christ gave commandments to the apostles, presented Himself alive, and then assembled them together in Jerusalem with a promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The first commandment in this book is to wait. To wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.


Chrysostom's sermon begins with a reflection on the importance of the Book of Acts. It is replete with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine, especially pertaining to the Holy Spirit. This book shows how Christ's predictions in the Gospel about the apostles' lives would come to pass. And it is the "crowning point of our salvation" for both Christian practice and doctrine. Finally, this book demonstrates Christian evangelistic strategy: first, to proclaim Christ's divinity, death and Resurrection; and to move to doctrine about the Godhead from there.

Of evangelistic strategy, Chrysostom says:

"Therefore it is that gently and little by little [the apostles] carry [the evangelized] on, with much consideration and forbearance letting themselves down to their low attainments, themselves the while obtaining in the more plentiful measure the grace of the Spirit, and doing greater works in Christ's name than Christ Himself did."

Acts, says Chrysostom, is a demonstration of the Resurrection: "this being once believed, the rest [of Christian faith] would come in due course."

He also makes much of the importance of eyewitness:

"Upon this [Apostolic] ground we also argue with unbelievers. For if He did not rise again, but remains dead, how did the Apostles perform miracles in His name? But they did not, say you, perform miracles? How then was our religion instituted? ... For this would be the greatest of miracles, that without any miracles, the whole world should have eagerly come to be taken in the nets of twelve poor and illiterate men."

Chrysostom also emphasizes the forty days of Christ's life before his Ascension: Christ remained so that his disciples would see "Him in His own proper Person." Christ commanded them to stay in Jerusalem because he didn't want them fighting before being armed with the Spirit. And Christ made them wait for the Spirit until after He Himself had ascended so that they would miss His presence keenly and expect the Spirit earnestly.

Whereas the Gospels, says Chrysostom, are a history of what Christ did and said, the Acts are histories of what the Comforter did and said. And so he makes much of the synergy in our lives with the work of the Holy Spirit:

"We shall be surest of obtaining God's mercy when we do our part."

"Which is best, to fear or to labor?"

The conclusion of the sermon is both a reminder of the great expectations put to Christians, and an exhortation to not let this responsibility keep one from baptism. For where the responsibility increases, so does God's mercy increase.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hebrews 4:11-16

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Seeing then that we have had a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


The "same example of disobedience" is that spoken of earlier of the Israelites who did not trust God's promises but instead, through lack of faith, were sent to spend forty more years in the wilderness. Paul admonishes us to be diligent in practicing our faith that we not fall according to this old example.

And then he gives this complex description of Christ, the Word of God, through a series of striking and terrifying metaphors. Christ is a double-edged sword that pierces even between our spirit and soul (what exactly is that division?) and discerns our true intents.

(In the Greek New Testament, the phrase "λογος του θεου" ('logos tou Theou' or 'word of God') is a name for Christ; Scripture is referred to not as "λογος" but as " Γραφή" ('Graphi' or 'Writings')

And yet Christ the piercing sword is also our High Priest who will be faithful to save us, having been tempted in all the ways that we are and having yet resisted sin in all. He knows the path we're on, and he knows how to walk it safely. So the passage ends with another admonition-- yes, we must be careful and diligent, because Christ knows our deepest thoughts. But we also must be bold, because Christ is full of mercy and grace.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Homily 6

Hebrews 3:7 - 4:10

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:

"Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
In the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
And saw My works forty years.
Therefore I was angry with that generation,
And said, 'They always go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.'
So I swore in My wrath,
'They shall not enter My rest.' "

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,

while it is said:

"Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."

For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?

Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sined, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?

And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?

So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.

For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:

"So I swore in My wrath,
'They shall not enter My rest,' "

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest."

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience,

again He designates a certain day, saying in David, "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said:

"Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts."

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.

There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.

For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.


Having established the reality of victory for the faithful, Paul exhorts the faithful to remain steadfast. Their predecessors, he cautions, fell away even after having witnessed God at work. Faithlessness leads to rebellion against God's rest, but faithfulness leads to rest.


What strikes me in Chrysostom's commentary on this passage is his insight that the Israelites did not want to enter Canaan-- and it is because they refused to enter God's rest that they did not enter his rest.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Homily 5

Hebrews 2:16 - 3:6

For indeed He does not give aid to the angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,

who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses was also faithful in all His house.

For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house.

For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.

And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward,

but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.


In this passage Paul again emphasizes Christ's humanity, comparing him even to Moses. And he provides some rationale for Christ's decision to be made human-- becaues God has suffered human temptations, "He is able to aid those who are tempted." He also uses a priestly metaphor, that just as the high preist offers sacrifices on behalf of the people, so Christ as a type of the High Priest became human that he might thoroughly know those on whose behalf he offers the heavenly sacrifice.

Paul then goes on to make an analogy of Moses, and herin again bridges Christ's humanity with his God-hood. Moses was faithful to the house of Israel. Christ God built the house of Israel, and therefore has not only the Mosaic honor of good servant within the house, but also the heavenly honor "as a Son over His own house," the house that we ourselves belong to if we hold fast to the end. This last line emphasizes not only the necessity of remaining faithful, but also that inheritance in the house is open to the Gentiles-- it is no longer an inheritance based on blood-line but on faith.


Chrysostom makes a big deal out of Paul's statement that it is the seed of Abraham, not the angels, that is given aid or "taken hold of." Chrysostom takes this to mean that Christ took on not the form of an angel but rather the body of a human.

And he claims that the one reason God became man was "for love to man, that He might have mercy upon us." And rather than appointing a high priest to purify us through sacrifice, God himself became the High Priest.

Chrysostom also notes that Paul emphasizes the Hebrews' role in this salvation, that Christ took hold "of the seed of Abraham," and that the word of salvation was sent first to the Jews. This shows that the Jews "have an advantage in this" without any harm or disparagement to the Gentiles.

By likening Christ to Moses and saying that he is made Apostle and High Priest, Chrysostom says that Paul draws on the Jews' great honor for Moses and for the priesthood. If Moses has honor, then how much greater honor is due the one whose house Moses serves!

The remainder of the homily expands on this notion that Christ God himself underwent temptation and suffering. If God himself suffered, then we must not lose courage when we suffer. It is not here on earth that all receive just and eternal rewards. Rather, we embrace earthly suffering as purification and look ahead. "Yonder," Chrysostom says, "are the crowns, yonder the punishments."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Homily 4

Hebrews 2:5-15

For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels.

But one testified in a certain place, saying:

"What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that you take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet"

For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.

For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,


"I will declare your name to My brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You."

And again:

"I will put My trust in Him."

And again:

"Here am I and the children whom God has given Me."

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,

and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.


Paul takes the Psalm to be another Incarnational prophecy: the Son of Man by taking on human flesh is made a little lower than the angels, in his Passion crowned with glory and honor, and in his Resurrection set over all things.

As Paul says Christ was "made perfect" through suffering it is important to remember the older meaning of "perfect" still in use-- that is to say, to be perfect is to have achieved one's goal. In this way perfection is different from sinlessness or blamelessness. Christ was always blameless but his Incarnation was not made perfect-- that is to say, was not accomplished-- before his suffering.

After assuring us that those who follow Christ are his brethren, Paul goes on to speak of the Eucharist. Christ shares in our flesh and blood, in our lives, inasmuch as we through Holy Communion partake of his flesh and blood. And when we partake of Christ's flesh and blood, his death destroys death's power over our own lives.

This phrase, but we see Jesus, is very important. Up until this point Paul has not named the Son. He's spoken of a Son of God, cited Scripture that prophecies the Second Person of the Trinity, but takes his time before introducing that Son in person. We do not yet see all things put under God's control, says Paul. But we see Jesus. And so we see God.


Chrysostom says that Paul's quotation of the Psalm applies generally to human nature but specifically to the Incarnate Christ.

He continues to speak of Paul's balancing act, "how he both brings us together and then separates us"-- using language sometimes to identify Christ with humanity and sometimes to identify Christ with God. And he makes certain to emphasize that Christ being "made perfect" is not "an accession of glory to Him: for that which is of nature He always had, and received nothing in addition."

A good half of the homily deals with a proper response to Christ's victory over death: no longer slaves to death we should not mourn overmuch at funerals. This is especially a poor witness to unbelievers: "For they will say at once, 'when will any of these [fellows] be able to despise death, when he is not able to see another dead?' "

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Homily 3

Hebrews 1:6 - 2:4

But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:

"Let all the angels of God worship Him."

And of the angels He says:

"Who makes His angels spirits
And His ministers a flame of fire."

But to the Son He says:

"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness, more than Your companions."


"You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
And they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail."

But to which of the angels has He ever said:

"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool"?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things have heard, lest we drift away.

For if the word spoken through the angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,

how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,

God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?


Having established his claim as to the two natures of Christ, Paul goes on to reference Trinitarian prophecies in the Jewish Scripture. He emphasizes the Son's elevation above the angels, and quotes a Psalm in which God (the Father) anoints God (the Son). This may be a reference to Christ's baptism, when he was anointed by the Holy Spirit. And in a sense it was at this moment of baptism that he was elevated above his companions. Of course as God, Christ had always been greater in honor, but for thirty years this was hidden, to be made manifest at the Baptism. The next quote emphasizes Christ's eternal nature-- he created the heavens and will someday fold them up. And the final quote is again Trinitarian: God sits God at God's right hand.

And so with this claim that Christ is God, Paul emphasizes the importance of such a doctrine-- if the word brought by the angels has had such consequence, how much more necessary to heed the salvation brought to us by the Word Himself!


Chrysostom makes much of Paul's reference to the Father bringing the firstborn into the world (whereas the Incarnation is elsewhere described as a sending Christ out to the world). By bringing His only-begotten into the world, Chrysostom says, God puts the world in the palm of his hand.

He views these quotations as a balancing of Christ's God-hood with his humanity-- Christ's being anointed above his companions is not a "gift afterwards superadded to Him" because in the beginning Christ "laid the foundation of the earth."

Chrysostom takes the phrase "so great a salvation" as a superlative over the lesser salvations of the Hebrew covenant. "For not from wars (he saith) will He now rescue us, nor bestow on us the earth and the good things that are in the earth, but it will be the dissolution of death, the destruction of the devil, the kingdom of Heaven, everlasting life."

This great salvation is evidenced in part by miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the remainder of Chrysostom's homily is dedicated to advocating the greatest gift-- greater than tongues, or teaching, or healing, or raising the dead, he says, is love. If we love our enemies we have a gift equal to that of the Apostles.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Homily 2

Hebrews 1:3-5

Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

For to which of the angels did He ever say:

"You are my Son,
Today I have begotten You"?

And again:

"I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son"?


Christ is the only-begotten of the Father, Begotten of the Father before all ages.

So in this sense, Christ receives his inheritance and in receiving his inheritance becomes more glorious than the angels. But because he is begotten before all ages, there is no time when he was not yet begotten, when he had not yet received his inheritance, when he had not yet become more glorious than the angels. There is an after but not a before.

Paul is reinforcing his claim with quotations from the Jewish Scripture, as evidence that God has spoken of a Son greater than the angels-- for even the angels are not sons begotten of the Father. He's prepping the Jews for the Incarnation by pointing out Incarnational promises in their own Scripture.


Chrysostom uses a highly detailed examination of this passage to provide evidence against both Sabellianism and Arianism. That is to say, on the one hand he argues against the idea that Christ is unoriginate and indistinct from the Father, and on the other hand against the notion that Christ is a created being, nonexistant before the Incarnation.

As the one who "upholds all things by the word of his power," Christ is clearly not a created being. And yet by himself coming among us to purge our sins by his inheritance, Christ is clearly distinct from God the Father.

And as we emulate Christ's condescension, Chrysostom exhorts us also to "take the form of a slave" and be humble. If we take pride in anything, says Chrysostom, we should be proud of our poverty.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

So, a friend is memorizing Hebrews and I'm not part of a Bible study right now. Which has made me think of experimenting (again) with the book of Hebrews. This time, the idea is to read the book in conjunction with Chrysostom's commentary. First, I type the passage in question. Then I reflect on it and write my comments. Finally, I read Chrysostom and summarize his comments. This method may well change before too long.

Hebrews 1:1-2

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets,

has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;


Christ is God's Son and through Him the worlds were made. The God who spoke to the prophets speaks through Jesus Christ.

This passage unambiguously asserts Christ's status as God (the worlds were made through Him), and proclaims to the Jews a continuity with the prophesies of old-- it emphasizes that Christ Jesus is not a new god.


In time past God spoke through prophets, then "when a long time had intervened, when we were on the edge of punishment, when the Gifts had failed, when there was no expectations of deliverance, when we were expecting to have less than all-- then we had more."

"God has spoken by Christ" emphasizes to those who don't yet trust Christ (but do trust God) that it is God who is speaking (this is why Paul doesn't simply say that Christ spoke these words, but rather that God spoke the words by Christ).

That Christ is appointed "heir of all things" means that his inheritance is not just the Jews, but has been extended to all nations.

Hebrews 1:3-4

who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.


This passage emphasizes Christ's glory and worthiness-- He purged our sins, He is the brightness and image of God, He upholds all things. He is more excellent even than the angels.

But why this word 'became'? It's tempting to interpret this as a hint that Christ was not always greater than the angels, that he became such. In which case, God the Son would not have always been God.

This cannot be Paul's meaning, as he's already said that all things were made through Christ. If Christ predated the angels, if they were made through Him, then Paul cannot mean to imply that the angels were at one time more excellent than their Creator.

But still that curious verb.

Perhaps, as this is an epistle to the Jews who acknowledge God's glory but doubt Christ's participation in that glory, this verb "became" emphasizes God's humanit in Christ.

The Word, remember, "became" flesh. Human flesh did not always have a more excellent name than the angels, but by the Incarnation human flesh inherited such a name; human flesh was incorporated into the Godhead. Perhaps Paul is emphasizing to the Jews that through Christ our flesh inherits holiness?


"Henceforward then he treats here of that which is according to the flesh, since the phrase 'being made better' doth not express His essence according to the Spirit, (for that was not 'made' but 'begotten') but according to the flesh: for this was "made."

Chrysostom speaks of what we now call the "zone of proximal development" or "scaffolding," by which in teaching you alternately take the student up to lofty levels beyond their full comprehension, and then guide them back down to what they understand firmly. By this means they begin to grasp for higher things but remain grounded. So also Paul alternates between Christ's glory and his lowliness, between his Godhood and his humanity.

He says that the Word is pre-eternally glorious, but that the flesh has been made glorious in the Incarnation.

Chrysostom then speaks of "both high and low" of man, in particular emphasizing the giving of alms, reminding us that the "least of these" will be made high. Yet even the poorest, he says, should be mindful of the needy-- because God "regards the will, not the gifts."