Sunday, October 20, 2013

St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chap. 50

I was looking through vestments and my mind recalled this selection from St. John Chrysostom (from Orthodox Church Fathers, a discussion of beauty and the needs of the poor). I have recently visited a number of parishes with dwindling numbers and was saddened by their state while at the same time taken with how beautiful their sanctuaries were. There was a connection, I thought, between their insularity and their present state. Their buildings were in residential areas but they connected very little with the people who had moved to the neighborhood generations after the church had been built.

We think quite often about the next big benefactor to endow a project, but it seems that we hollow our parishes out when we fail to care for the poor. St. John the Almsgiver once said, "Those whom you call poor and beggars, these I proclaim my masters and helpers. For they, and they only, are really able to help us and bestow upon us the kingdom of heaven." When we cooperate with God in His saving plan for mankind we shine a bright, beckoning light on all near us. But, when we fail to take in those in need, we are a hospital that admits no new patients. Beautiful, but pointless.

Wouldest thou do honor to Christ's body Neglect Him not when naked; do not while here thou honorest Him with silken garments, neglect Him perishing without of cold and nakedness. For He that said, "This is my body," and by His word confirmed the fact, "This same said, "Ye saw me an hungered, and fed me not;" and, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." For This indeed needs not coverings, but a pure soul; but that requires much attention.

Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honor Christ as He Himself desires. For to Him who is honored that honor is most pleasing, which it is His own will to have, not that which we account best. Since Peter too thought to honor Him by forbidding Him to wash his feet, but his doing so was not an honor, but the contrary.

Even so do thou honor Him with this honor, which He ordained, spending thy wealth on poor people. Since God hath no need at all of golden vessels, but of golden souls.

And these things I say, not forbidding such offerings to be provided; but requiring you, together with them, and before them, to give alms. For He accepts indeed the former, but much more the latter. For in the one the offerer alone is profited, but in the other the receiver also. Here the act seems to be a ground even of ostentation; but there all is mercifulness, and love to man.

For what is the profit, when His table indeed is full of golden cups, but He perishes with hunger? First fill Him, being an hungered, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Dost thou make Him a cup of gold, while thou givest Him not a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Dost thou furnish His table with cloths bespangled with gold, while to Himself thou affordest not even the necessary covering? And what good comes of it? For tell me, should you see one at a loss for necessary food, and omit appeasing his hunger, while you first overlaid his table with silver; would he indeed thank thee, and not rather be indignant? What, again, if seeing one wrapped in rags, and stiff with cold, thou shouldest neglect giving him a garment, and build golden columns, saying, "thou weft doing it to his honor," would he not say that thou wert mocking, and account it an insult, and that the most extreme?

Let this then be thy thought with regard to Christ also, when He is going about a wanderer, and a stranger, needing a roof to cover Him; and thou, neglecting to receive Him, deckest out a pavement, and walls, and capitals of columns, and hangest up silver chains by means of lamps, but Himself bound in prison thou wilt not even look upon.

And these things I say, not forbidding munificence in these matters, but admonishing you to do those other works together with these, or rather even before these. Because for not having done these no one was ever blamed, but for those, hell is threatened, and unquenchable fire, and the punishment with evil spirits. Do not therefore while adorning His house overlook thy brother in distress, for he is more properly a temple than the other.

And whereas these thy stores will be subject to alienations both by unbelieving kings, and tyrants, and robbers; whatever thou mayest do for thy brother, being hungry, and a stranger, and naked, not even the devil will be able to despoil, but it will be laid up in an inviolable treasure.

Why then doth He Himself say, "The poor always ye have with you, but me ye have not always?" Why, for this reason most of all should we give alms, that we have Him not always an hungered, but in the present life only. But if thou art desirous to learn also the whole meaning of the saying, understand that this was said not with a view to His disciples, although it seem so, but to the woman's weakness. That is, her disposition being still rather imperfect, and they doubting about her; to revive her He said these things. For in proof that for her comfort He said it, He added, "Why trouble ye the woman?" And with regard to our having Him really always with us, He saith, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." From all which it is evident, that for no other object was this said, but that the rebuke of the disciples might not wither the faith of the woman, just then budding.


  1. I don't know that I necessarily agree with this assessment. Yes the poor are important, but I seem to see a hyper realization of the issue of the poor these days almost to the neglect of God. I see plenty of people that care about the poor who aren't in the Church or don't care about God, so I struggle to believe thats a primary contributor. I see two contributing factors, which will probably seem obvious, but I still see them more as a contributor than the neglect of the poor. 1) I see the lack of the clergy standing up to represent the true faith as being a primer contributor, rather I see more of "not rocking the boat" by the clergy, with them hoping this will help people to still come to Church. This lack of being genuine and authentic to the faith by the clergy is easily detected by the faithful and leads them to being lazy and disinterested in their faith. And reason number 1 partly contributes to reason 2, which is that people have been brainwashed into relativism and secular culture. The Church rails against this and because they do most people don't want to come near the Church, because either they no longer buy what the Church is teaching or it forces them to see their sin and they just aren't prepared to give it up.

    1. I don't think I've ever seen someone care for the poor to the neglect of God. It's hard to imagine how one might do that. Though one could easily do any "charitable" work and do it in a way that works against the church. 1. I would role care for the poor into that statement. One can't profess the True Faith and not care for the least of these. If what is preached is conformity to the world there is no reason in the mind of many to not be in the world instead of in church. 2. No argument there.