Wisdom from the Fathers - Printable Version
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Wisdom from the Fathers - John Charmley - 04-04-2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As part of our education support, we are going to post some homilies from the Fathers. We hope that you will want to engage with these, and welcome suggestions for any favourites of your own.
At this Holy Pascha the obvious one to post is the wonderful Catechetical Address by St. John Chrysostom which is read at the Pascha Liturgy.
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
- DanielM - 04-04-2010
Could you please post Theophilus of Alexandria's "Homily on the Crucifixion and the Good Thief" as I have been looking for this everywhere today.
Many thanks for posting the John Chrysostom adres, it is both englightening and beautiful.
The Crucifixion and the Good Thief: Part I - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
Happy to oblige. As it is a long one, I will post it in a number of parts to avoid losing parts of it or creating too long a post:
The sun of righteousness appeared in the east and gave light to those who were in the darkness and in the shadow of death. (Lk. 1:79) The king of righteousness adorned himself with the diadem of the kingdom and all his enemies bowed down at his feet. (Ps. 71:9). A fragrant odour arose on the altar of salvation; the evil smell was blotted out by the perfume of his ointment.
The powerful lion sprang up out of the wood; all the wild beasts hid in their dens. The holy physician came to us with his medicines. Joy spread through the whole of creation. All the abandoned rejoiced with him, because like a city encircled and besieged by a hostile king, the hearts of all its inhabitants are in great distress. Just when they are oppressed, abandoned and groaning, the king who rules over the city receives words of his enemy's audacity, how he was planning to massacre the inhabitants. And so he assembles all his own people and trains them how to shoot his own arrows of war. Once his own people had learned how to wage war with his enemies, they marched against them with joy, knowing that they would defeat his enemies with great slaughter.
This, if you like, is the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he saw the real enemy of the whole human race, who is the devil. For the devil invade the whole earth, and afflicted everyone with many kinds of sins, which he spreads with these great scourges, namely, idolatry, robbery, vanity, fornication, theft, murder, slander, licentiousness, envy, hatred, contempt, anger, sorcery, pollution, fraud, arrogance, perjury, falsehood, corruption, prostitution, deceit and whatever is similar in them. These are the traps which the devil set for humanity, until he brought it to perdition and dispersed it.
Well now. Let us consider in what way Christ the king made war against the devil until he released our souls from him and set them free. Let us begin, then, to penetrate the great treasure house full of the fruits of life. This is the great holy mystery of the wood of the cross, on which the True God, Jesus Christ, mounted out of love.
When he descended into this world, he came to the people of Israel and preached to them saying: 'Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' (Mt. 4:17) But they paid no heed to his holy counsels. After this he performed all the signs of his divinity in their presence, miracles without number. He made the blind see, the lame walk and the deaf hear. He healed lepers. He brought the dead back to life. He drove out demons. He made paralytics stand on their feet and forgave their sins. He made tax gatherers repent. He straightened vainglorious hands. He evangelised the poor. He remitted the sins of adulteresses and purified them with his divinity, restoring them to a virginal state. It was because an adulterous woman was made worthy of this great grace that her hands anointed the feet of him who had created her. (Lk. 7 37-8 ) From the moment she participated in the purity of his divinity, the voice of God came to her. 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.' (Lk. 7:50)
In spite of all these things accomplished by him in their presence, they did not give him credence, but seized him and delivered him to be crucified. Having brought him into the court of the High Priest, they treated him with contempt rather than honour. Then the word of scripture was fulfilled. They brought evils upon me instead of blessings, and hatred instead of my love.' (Ps. 108:5)
What then are the evils which the people he created, the people who killed him, did to him? They are terrible to describe or to hear. My tongue trembles, my eye weeps, my spirit groans, my soul is distressed to utter them. It is God that they have seized, the Lord that they have bound. They have pierced with nails the hands of them who created them. They slapped the face of their Lord. They beat his head with their fists. They placed a crown of thorns on his head. They dressed him in a purple cloak. They gave him vinegar and gall. On this day they did all these things to him. They crucified him with two thieves. One of them, who was unworthy of the division of his divinity, said to the Lord, deriding him: 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.' (Lk 23:39). The other replied rebuking him with indignation: 'Do you not fear God? We are receiving the reward of our sins which we have committed, but this man has done nothing wrong.' And he said, 'Jesus. remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And Jesus said to him with great joy: 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'
Part II - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
The gate of Paradise has been closed since the time when Adam transgressed, but I will open it today, and receive you in it. Because you have recognised the nobility of my head on the cross, you who have shared with me in the suffering of the cross will be my companion in the joy of my kingdom. You have glorified me in the presence of carnal men, in the presence of sinners. I will therefore glorify you in the presence of the angels. You were fixed with me on the cross, and you united yourself with me of your own free will. I will therefore love you, and my Father will love you, and the angels will serve you with my holy food. If you used once to be a companion of murderers, behold, I who am the life of all have now made you a companion with me. You used once to walk in the night with the sons of darkness; behold I who am the light of the whole world have now made you walk with me. You used once to take counsel with murderers; behold, I who am the Creator have made you a companion with me.
'All these things I will pardon you because you have confessed my divinity in the presence of those who have denied me. For they saw all the signs which I performed, but did not believe in me. You, then, a rapacious robber, a murderer, a brigand, a swindler, a plunderer have confessed that I am God. That is why I have pardoned your many sins, because you have loved much (Lk. 7:47). I will make you a citizen of Paradise. I will wash you body so that it will not see corruption before I resurrect it with me on the third day and take you up with me. The other who has denied me will see you enveloped in glory, but he will be enveloped in pain and same. He will see you surrounded by light, but he will be surrounded by darkness. He will see you in a state of joy and happiness, but he will be in a state of weeping and groaning. He will see you enjoying ease and benediction, but he will be suffering oppression and malediction. He will see you refreshed by the angels, but he will be troubled by the powers of darkness. And in the midst of intense cold the worm that never rests will consume him. Not only did he not confess me, but after having denied me he reviled me.
'For this reason all will receive according to their works. For as I have already said to them explicitly and in public: Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.' (Mt. 10:32-3).
Part III - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
So now, brethren, what torment the man who denied the Lord brought upon himself? We should therefore watch over ourselves that we should not be led astray, that for the sake of things of this life, we should not be made strangers to him who has created us. Perhaps there is someone today who is denying God for the sake of riches because the love of money closes the eyes of those who are given to it. Such a person takes the part of Judas, He has sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
It is therefore good for us to direct our concerns towards the Lord since it is he who takes care of us [text here has been lost]. Let us now turn to the goal proposed to us by the cross. For the ladder which Jacob contemplated that was fixed to the ground and reached up to heaven on which the angel of the Lord ascended and descended (Gen. 28:12), is Our Lord Jesus Christ raised up on the wood of the cross. The angels surrounded the cross, attending to his will.
Consider and contemplate God's mercy and great patience. He looks down from on high and sees his only-begotten Son nailed to the wood, and is longsuffering in his great bounty. For him, then, they still pierce our Lord Jesus Christ's holy hands with nails, they still slap his face, they still beat his head with fists, they still give him vinegar mixed with gall to drink, they still divide his garments by lot, and they still break a cane on his head. And in spite of all these things, he does not grow angry, nor has he any rancour in his heart against them.
Do you want to know the truth? I will not tell you; listen to him. After these things he cried out, saying, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,' (Lk. 23:34) Do you realise how great is the Father's mercy towards us, and that of his Son, who mounted on the cross for the salvation of the entire created world? For the moment he was hung on the cross, he purified the whole of creation, the things of heaven and the things below. His divine body, then, hanging on the cross made the whole air clean and pure. With the shedding of his sacred blood, the whole earth was equally purified of its contamination. Moreover, his divinity descended into Hades, despoiled it, and released the souls shut up in darkness, setting them free. For this is what he promised us with his mouth of truth, which in all eternity has never uttered any falsehood.
'If they exalt me on earth, I will draw them to me,' (Mt. 10:32) In another place it says, 'I will draw them to me with the chains of my love.' (Jn 12:32). What great love, then, is equal to this, which makes him mount of the wood of the cross and surrenders him voluntarily to imprisonment? For if it was not of his own free will, who would have been able to seize him? For who could ever have seized God, the Creator?
At the moment the impudent Jews surrounded him to arrest him, he asked them with great mercy, 'Whom do you seek with swords and clubs?' (Lk. 22:52) But they replied in their pride, hardness of heart and arrogance saying, 'We seek Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus replied, saying, 'I am he.' (Jn. 18:5). The ray of light in his divinity struck their faces and they fell to the ground (Jn. 18:6). Likewise in his great mercy he made them stand up because perhaps they would repent. But they stood up and seized his disciples with great harshness.
God does all these things, then, in his desire to save us. Otherwise in that hour he would have brought it about that the earth would have opened its mouth and they would have descended through the opening into the place of their Ninevite brothers, along with the other brothers whom the earth opened its mouth and swallowed. I refer to Dathan and Abiram and the sons of Korah, the men who rebelled against Moses. (Num. 16:1-33).
Part IV - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
Let us now turn to the grandeur of the precious cross. Let us speak of it, and let us become acquainted with the prophecies which the prophets spoke concerning it from beginning to end. Therefore expand your uncultivated minds and listen in silence. Come, let us open up the great holy treasury. Let us draw out the spiritual ornaments. Let us adorn our souls with the love of the word. Invoke with me the friend of God and man, the giver of hospitality to the angels, I mean Abraham, the companion of God.
Come, Abraham, tell me what the typological meaning is of that thicket to which the ram was tied. Its name is sabek (Gen. 22:13). The interpretation of sabek is the Saviour's place of repose, that is, the wood of the cross upon which the Lamb of God mounted with great splendour to bring about the great economy of salvation, and on which he died in the form of a man. He will go up to his field having suffered through his labour. He lies on his bed and rests from his suffering. This is the manner in which the Saviour acted. For his bed on which he lays is the cross, which neither suffers, nor causes pain, nor torments, nor debilitates, nor perturbs, nor gets angry with those who pierce his hands with nails, not gets impatient with those who place a crown of thorns on his head, nor does it rebuke those who strike his face with blows, nor does it bear rancour in its heart against those who offer vinegar and gall in his sacred mouth, nor does it contend with those who deride him, nor does it get irritated with those who divide his garments by lot.
Do you want to know the truth? Listen, I will tell you it. I will say to you again that while they do all these things to him, he turned his eyes to heaven and prayed to his Father, saying, 'Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.' (LK. 23:34 ). At the same time you should be aware that God the Father determined at what hour to send down on them his irrevocable anger, even as the voice of his Only begotten ascends to him, beseeching him to put aside the indignation of his anger.
He sent a powerful angel and rent the curtain of the temple from top to bottom, tearing it into two. The earth shook, the rocks were split, the sun, that great source of light, was obscured and darkness filled the world to cover his sacred body on the cross, for it was stripped of his clothing which they had divided. (Mt. 27:45, 51: Lk. 23 44-5).
Ponder, then, my beloved, and reflect on God's mercy towards the world. He who had clothed the whole of creation was despoiled of his own clothing. He was left naked on the wood of the cross. But the sun, that wise minister, covered its Lord with darkness, which endured until the eyes of those atheists were dimmed, so that they should not see the great mystery that lay on the wood of the cross for they are not worthy of it.
For he who was contemplating it at that hour saw the accomplishment of the mystery of his divinity. Who was ever worthy of the great glory at that hour?
Part V - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
Let us examine this. The Father contemplates t from heaven. The thief too, after ascending to the height of the cross, contemplates all the things that had taken place, and rejoices and exults to see them. Who has ever seen them? The host of angels surrounds the cross and praises him with hymns. The Father looks down from heaven, giving glory to his Only-Begotten. All the air is in motion because the body of the Creator is suspended on high. All the earth rejoices because the blood of its king is sprinkled on it.
He purified all the germinating plants because the Lord was suspended on the wood of the cross - the wood of immortality, the wood of incorruptibility, the wood of the remitter of sins, the wood of the restorer to health, the wood of the giver of life, the wood of the provider of fruit, the wood full of peace, the wood full of rejoicing, the wood full of joy, the wood full of sweetness, the wood full of health, the wood full of benediction, the wood full of all the graces through the work of Jesus Christ, of him who was suspended on the wood of the cross.
In my view, the whole of creation is established and confirmed in the shape of the cross. It is the cross that produces a new man from the old, signing him in the holy baptistry with the oil that seals. It is the cross that purifies him. It is the cross that opposes, that is, that combats obstacles and drives them away.
The cross is the completion of that sacred mystery. For when the bread and wine are sacrificed on the holy altar, they are no longer bread and wine as before, but a divine body and a sacred blood.
The cross is the consolation of those who are afflicted by their sins. The cross is the straight highway. Those who walk on it do not go astray. The cross is the lofty tower that that gives shelter to those who seek refuge in it. The cross is the sacred ladder than raises humanity to the heavens. The cross is the holy garment that Christians wear. The cross is the helper of the wretched, assisting all the oppressed. The cross is that which closed the temples of the idols and opens the churches and crowns them. The cross is that which has confounded the demons and made them flee in terror. The cross is the firm constitution of ships admired for their beauty. The cross is the joy of the priests who dwell in the house of God with decorum. The cross is the immutable judge of the apostles. The cross is the golden lampstand whose holy cover gives light. The cross is the father of orphans, watching over them. The cross is the judge of widows, drying the tears of their eyes. The cross is the consolation of pilgrims. The cross is the companion of those who are in solitude. The cross is the ornament of the sacred altar. The cross is the affliction of those who are bitter. The cross is our help in our hour of bodily need. The cross is the administration of the demented. The cross is the steward of those who entrust their cares to the Lord. The cross is the purity of virgins. The cross is the solid preparation. The cross is the physician who heals all maladies.
Part VI - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
Come, peoples of all the earth, rejoice, celebrate today because the Lord reigns from the wood. All you that move in the waters raise your spirits, because the blood was shed mingled with water. All you birds of the sky flap your wings with joy, because he extended his arms on the cross, and the perfume filled the whole air. Wild animals of the desert rejoice, because his preaching to you was bountiful.
You have seen how great is the majesty of the cross, its power and the great help it gives to all creation. For when a man extends his arms in the shape of a cross and prays with faith, the angels compete among themselves to satisfy his request. Zechariah prayed and the angel Gabriel came to him and granted his request. (LK. 1:13). Peter prayed and the angel came to him and the iron chains were loosed and the iron gate opened of its own accord (Acts 12:6-10 ). He prayed and likewise restored bathe to life (Acts 9:36-41). In the same way, too, Cornelius prayed with faith and the angel appeared to him and granted his request: Peter came to him and baptised him (Acts 10:1-48. Paul and Silas were lying in prison and also prayed in the form of the cross. The angel at once came to them and shook the prison, and the doors all opened immediately, and everyone's fetters were unfastened (Acts 16:25-6). Moses prayed, and God came to him and defeated the Amalekites (Ex 17:11-12). Tobias prayed, and the angel Raphael came to him and healed him. (Tob. 3:16-17).
Let us therefore pray without interruption in every season and in every place, and we shall all be delivered from every temptation. For the Apostle said: 'Pray without ceasing.' (I Thess. 5:17). Even with demoniacs, it is prayer that heals them. The Lord said. 'This nation cannot be saved except by prayer and fasting.' (Mk. 9:29; Mt. 17:21).
That is why, you see, we gather here together for five days and five nights
The text - John Charmley - 05-04-2010
The text is that given in Norman Russell's, Theophilus of Alexandria (2007) pp, 63-70.
I don't know any on line versions, so hope, Daniel, it will be of help to you and others.
- DanielM - 05-04-2010
Thank you ever so much for posting tha for me John.
It is ever so helpful.
With love and Prayer
- John Charmley - 05-04-2010
Glad you like it; it is a wonderful homily, and it was nice to have the excuse to engage closely with it.
It raises the whole question of repentance and redemption in a form which engages some of us very closely for obvious reasons. St. Isaac the Syrian maintains we cannot understand the extent of God' love and mercy.
Sometimes this is read as a soft-centred view of the Gospel, and some pastors have shied away from him because of the fear that people would think that they could sin all they like and, as long as they repented at the end, it would all be OK. But that isn't what St. Isaac, or Theophilus here, or St. John Chrysostom are saying. Certainly, as the Lord said, the labourer who comes for the last hour will receive the same reward as he who has laboured since the first, but that isn't a call to postpone repentance; it is a promise that we shall be received when we repent and amend our lives; and, of course, the sooner we do that the better for our relationship with God. We can't grow in that relationship if we neglect it; like all our relationships, it needs us to work on it.
But it is a balm to those of us who know we have sinned and are marred by it. He can, will and does forgive us. But, of course, our salvation is a process. We have been saved through our baptism and chrismation; we are being saved through our repentance and the sacraments; and we shall, through His mercy, be saved at the last when He judges all - or so we are bold enough to hope through Christ Jesus.
And this, when we stumble and fall, is the greatest encouragement. We know that, like Dismas the thief, we can be received into the kingdom, though we have been stained by our sins, for His blood washes us clean. How much better that than the counsel of despair which says that we are so lost and depraved that we are damned.
We can damn ourselves by rejecting Him, or so it seems, although Mar Isaac suggests that at the end who can resist His love. But this is love - that He loved us first - even though He knows us. Knowing that, we can be encouraged to grow in Him.
peace and prayers,