“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and to conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.
“For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”
-St. Anthony the Great, 251-356
We are commemorating St. Anthony today, which prompted me to read a little about him. I learned about this book that looks like basic reading:
“The Life of the famed ascetic Saint Anthony the Great was written by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of Saint Athanasius’ writings. Saint John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.”
And one sentence from the story of his life jumped out at me:
“Saint Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation
and constant struggle with the demons,
and he finally achieved perfect calm.”
Pray for us, Holy Father Anthony!
I can think of no Church Father who spoke more forcefully or critically about the moral failings of his time than St. John Chrysostom. He did not hesitate to call out the Emperor, or problems within the larger Church. Eventually, his words brought about his exile. Banished to the very edge of the empire, he died in isolation. Writing to the Deaconness Olympia, his closest friend and confidant, he expressed the very heart of Orthodoxy in troubled times:
“Therefore, do not be cast down, I beseech you. For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is sin. This is the refrain that I keep chanting to you ceaselessly. For everything else is ultimately a fable – whether you speak of plots, or enmities, or deceptions, or slanders, or abuses, or accusations, or confiscations, or banishments, or sharpened swords, or high seas, or war engulfing the entire world. Whichever of these you point to, they are transitory and perishable, and they only affect mortal bodies; they cannot in any way injure the watchful soul. This is why, wishing to express the paltriness of both the good and the bad things of this present life, the blessed Paul stated the matter in one phrase, saying, ‘For the things that are seen are transient’ (2 Cor. 4:18).”
From Letter 7, Saint John Chrysostom’s Letters to Saint Olympia.
From Fr. Stephen Freeman’s recent post: Into the Heart of the Capitol
Hell was embittered when it met Thee below face to face.
It was embittered because it was set at naught.
It was embittered for it was mocked.
It was embittered for it was slain.
It was embittered for it was cast down.
It was embittered for it was fettered.
It received a body and encountered God.
It received earth and came face to face with heaven.
It received what is seen,
and fell because of what is unseen.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen and thou art cast down.
Christ has risen and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen and life is made free.”
Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!
Text from the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom
Our Orthodox commemoration of the Three Holy Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers was instituted as a result of 11th-century debates about which of them was the greatest. They themselves had to intervene by means of a vision given to St. John Bishop of Euchaita, who chose January 30 for their feast.
These three gifts to the Church are Basil the Great (330-379), Gregory the Theologian (329-389), and John Chrysostom (347-407). Each has his own feast day, but they are held in such esteem that it isn’t too much for us to remember them again together, they who in the words of a hymn, “have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines. They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdom filling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.”
A hymn of Matins on their feast day echoes a theme that runs through hagiography generally; it is the sweetness of true theology and and God’s Word imparted to us.
Like bees hovering over the meadow of scriptures,
You embraced the wonderful pollen of their flowers.
Together you have produced for all the faithful
The honey of your teachings for their complete delight.
Therefore as we each enjoy this,
We cry out with gladness:
Blessed ones, even after death,
Be advocates for us who praise you!