SERMON ON THE DAY OF ST JOHN CRYSOSTOM
Archpriest Sergiy Baranov
St John of Kronstadt Cathedral of Gai
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today the Church commemorates St John Chrysostom. The mere epithet to his name “Chrysostom” is most suggestive. This man spoke blessedly, richly and understandably. The words he said penetrated the depth of the hearts of those who listened to him. He said and wrote a lot and there are many of his pastorals available to us now. These works of St John are full of moral content. This saint taught Christians morals. He spoke a lot about morals and denounced immorality at the same time, for which he suffered a lot.
Back then, in the IV century, in the times of the Byzantine Emperor, when Constantinople was a Christian city and Byzantium was a Christian Empire, St John, being in his Patriarchal office, not only edified, but also denounced his flock. It may seem strange that in those times when Christianity flourished, a saint, a Patriarch, could suffer for his words, defending morality and denouncing immorality. His words were dangerous for him because he did not only reprove the lower strata of citizens, but also unmasked the immorality of the court, those people who were close to the Emperor. He even pointed to the immorality of the Empress, who officially was a Christian but in fact, desecrated this by her immoral behavior. Moreover, she enticed the court away with her and the citizens looked at this behavior and learned bad from her.
It is interesting that among many sermons on morality there certainly were those where St John Chrysostom spoke about non-judgment. However, what was he doing when he denounced sins? Unfortunately, he judged. We, with our narrow mind, can barely fathom this. We cannot understand how a person can preach about not judging and, as it seems to us, judge. We cannot get the point of it. Often, when we find ourselves thinking about this, we say, “Lord, how should we understand this? Not only St John Chrysostom, but also Jesus Christ Himself told us not to judge.” What relationship did He have with Pharisees throughout the Gospel? What did He do? He judged them. He was even angry with them. God Who is Love permits Himself to say, “Brood of vipers!1 How long shall I be with you?”2 Look, how tired He is by the morals of the Old Testament.
How should we observe the commandment not to judge and not to welcome sin at the same time? We should not condone sin like they do in the previously Christian Europe. They say, “Do not judge. Do not judge various perversions, filth and shame.” When they say “do not judge” they even make reference to Christ, “The Lord said in the Gospel not to judge.” No one should dissever this phrase of its context, no one should dissever its meaning from the general meaning and then build their logic based on this meaning. No one should take Christ’s words “do not judge” and separate them from the fact that He judged evil deeds. Therefore, no one should have dissevered the phrase of St John when he said not to judge and judged even the Empress himself. How should we, who are poor and miserable, understand? How should we observe this commandment?
Do you think I will explain it to you? Unfortunately, not. It cannot be explained as it is not here, (in your head), it is here (in your heart). Culture is not in your head, it is in your heart. A cultured person always knows the limits and the measure. What is the sense of delicacy? The sense of delicacy is the sense of measure. I can say something to an extent, but what goes above it is already a sin. No Elder will ever be able to explain this measure with words to any disciple, unless the disciple’s spirit grows to an extent. The Spirit speaks directly to one’s heart, not to one’s head.
I observed many uneducated illiterate old ladies who could only put a signature. I caught the time in the beginning of the 1990-s when they were still alive. They could only make a signature. They had never graduated from any university, they even had never gone to school. Nevertheless, they had a very sensible heart, very subtly did they sense measure with their heart, not with their mind. This is not good and this will be shameful. Their heart determined decency and indecency. The heart is a very sensible organ. Our mind… Poor modern people! They are so proud of their mind! We fly to space, we discover atoms deeper and deeper… Poor people, we cannot agree among ourselves, but we fly to space… Strange people, we fly to space, we invented the nuclear bomb and do not have the wit to use it. Someone will certainly throw it.
This measure of “judging and not judging,” the measure of spiritual behavior and spiritual notions is in one’s heart. But if the heart lives by passions, this passionate heart will not be sensible, it will be rude, vulgar, it will not perceive high notions, but will be oversaturated by vulgarity and passions. Therefore, the Holy Fathers worked on their hearts and their discernment and clairvoyance came from their refined heart, which perceived not only a quarter or an eighth of a tone, but a twelfth of it. These sounds do not exist for common earthly people at all. We do not hear them. However, the Holy Fathers lived in this subtle spiritual world, perceived and understood it. This is why they needed no explanations. They knew: this is the limit, I cannot go beyond it, but I can go up to this measure, here, to the right and to the left, but no further. Poor us with our rude hearts, we rush here and there, we have good intentions but the result is usually bad. No one of us consciously has bad intentions, does he? As Chernomyrdin used to say, “We wanted all the better but ended up as always.” This is our poor state.
Thus, in order to allow oneself to speak about morality and immorality, like St John Chrysostom, one should have the heart and the mind of St John Chrysostom. If we come out and begin to imitate St John now, we will unleash another war or some nonsense. This is why, looking up at St John Chrysostom, we need to be cautious about our words. Who he is and who I am. What he allowed himself to say and what I can allow myself to say. I have many mistakes in comparison to him.
One more detail of St John’s life. The Great Chrysostom, who has been venerated by the Church since the IV century, this teacher of the Church, ended his life in exile. Church clerics together with court rascals made a false accusation, framed up a case, gathered an unholy council, condemned him, removed him from the Patriarchal office and sent him into exile. He died on his way to the place of exile, in Kamani, Abkhazia. We cannot understand this. We serve the liturgy of St John Chrysostom, he is the greatest teacher of the Church and when we remember this fact we cannot understand why. The Church represented by its not best people could not destroy him. Certainly, in his times, common people loved St John, they went out to the streets and cried, “Leave our Enlightener alone!” At the same time, there were those people in the Church who destroyed his good name, who deprived him of his post, title, and his mere life, as he died in exile. Here rises a legitimate question: “How could it happen? How can this disgrace be in the Church of Christ? Didn’t the persecutors believe in God? Didn’t they believe in Jesus Christ? Didn’t they read the Gospel? Why did they persecute him?” Moreover, there is one more question: “Why did God let all this be? The Church belongs to God. Why does He let every twelfth be a Judas?”
Holiness reveals itself in contrast to dishonor. It is easy to be a pleasant and good person in a general mass of people, when this mass is calm, kind and stable. And how it is hard to remain, put up with, and forgive your enemies when there is disgrace around you. St John Chrysostom shone forth in contrast to this disgrace. This dishonor was humiliated and he was elevated in this contrast.
Glory to our God, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages!
Do not become surprised if you see any bad people, details or deeds in the Church or in society. Acidic, aggressive conditions are needed to reveal saints. Sometimes unchurched people come up to a priest and ask, “Why do you have so many bad people, priests in particular?” Sometimes I want to answer such zealots of piety, “Listen, we do lack good priests. Come and be one of them. We lack priests. Good and bad ones. The situation is catastrophic. You have a good disposition, you are all burning with eagerness. Perhaps, you should try.” He does not want this. Do you know why? Because the position of a priest imposes obligations on him. If people look calmly at common people, a priest is always as if under a microscope. People forgive and even do not pay any attention to some things, which common people do, but they scrutinize a priest in contrast and ask, “How could you do that?” This is why being a priest is very responsible; people always scrutinize you. You cannot permit yourself the things a common person can. Moreover, a priest’s family, his children, also share this responsibility. Poor them, they bear such a responsibility! “Let it be you.” “No, I don’t want to.” It is clear that you don’t. Because already tomorrow people will say that you are a bad priest. Just try to bear this highness of St John Chrysostom. If he was persecuted and died in exile, what will happen to you?
Thank you for listening.
1 Mt. 3:7
2 Mt. 17:17