Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle of the Sunday of All Saints, Part I (Hebrews 11:33-36)
“By faith,” he says, “they subdued kingdoms;” those with Gideon. “Wrought righteousness;” who? The same. Plainly he means here, kindness.
I think it is of David that he says “they obtained promises.” But of what sort were these? Those in which He said that his “seed should sit upon” his “throne.” ( Ps. cxxxii. 12.)
“Stopped the mouths of lions,” ( ver. 34 ) “quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword.” See how they were in death itself, Daniel encompassed by the lions, the three children abiding in the furnace, the Israelites, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, in divers temptations; and yet not even so did they despair. For this is Faith; when things are turning out adversely, then we ought to believe that nothing adverse is done, but all things in due order.
“Escaped the edge of the sword.” I think that he is again speaking of the three children.
“Out of weakness were made strong.” Here he alludes to what took place at their return from Babylon. For “out of weakness,” is out of captivity. When the condition of the Jews had now become desperate, when they were no better than dead bones, who could have expected that they would return from Babylon, and not return only; but also “wax valiant” and “turn to flight armies of aliens”? ‘But to us,’ some one says, ‘no such thing has happened.’ But these are figures of “the things to come.” ( Ver. 35 ) “Women received their dead raised to life again.” He here speaks of what occurred in regard to the prophets, Elisha, [and] Elijah; for they raised the dead.
[5.] ( Ver. 35 ) “And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” But we have not obtained a Resurrection. I am able however, he means, to show that they also were cut off, and did “not accept [deliverance], that they might obtain a better resurrection.” For why, tell me, when it was open to them to live, did they not choose it? Were they not evidently looking for a better life? And they who had raised up others, themselves chose to die; in order “to obtain a better resurrection,” not such as the children of those women.
Here I think he alludes both to John and to James. For beheading is called “torturing.” It was in their power still to behold the sun. It was in their power to abstain from reproving [sinners], and yet they chose to die; even they who had raised others chose to die themselves, “that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
( Ver. 36 ) “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonment.” He ends with these; with things that come nearer home. For these [ex 489amples] especially bring consolation, when the distress is from the same cause, since even if you mention something more extreme, yet unless it arise from the same cause, you have effected nothing. Therefore he concluded his discourse with this, mentioning “bonds, imprisonments, scourges, stonings,” alluding to the case of Stephen, also to that of Zacharias.
Wherefore he added, “They were slain with the sword.” What sayest thou? Some “escaped the edge of the sword,” and some “were slain by the sword.” ( Ver. 34.) What is this? Which dost thou praise? Which dost thou admire? The latter or the former? Nay, he says: the former indeed, is appropriate to you, and the latter, because Faith was strong even unto death itself, and it is a type of things to come. For the wonderful qualities of Faith are two, that it both accomplishes great things, and suffers great things, and counts itself to suffer nothing.
And thou canst not say (he says) that these were sinners and worthless. For even if you put the whole world against them, I find that they weigh down the beam and are of greater value. What then were they to receive in this life? Here he raises up their thoughts, teaching them not to be riveted to things present, but to mind things greater than all that are in this present life, since the “world is not worthy” of them. What then dost thou wish to receive here? For it were an insult to thee, shouldst thou receive thy reward here.
[6.] Let us not then mind worldly things, nor seek our recompense here, nor be so beggarly. For if “the” whole “world is not worthy of” them, why dost thou seek after a part of it? And with good reason; for they are friends of God.
Now by “the world” does he mean here the people, or the creation itself? Both: for the Scripture is wont to use the word of both. If the whole creation, he would say, with the human beings that belong to it, were put in the balance, they yet would not be of equal value with these; and with reason. For as ten thousand measures of chaff and hay would not be of equal value to ten pearls, so neither they; for “better is one that doeth the will of the Lord, than ten thousand transgressors” ( Ecclus. xvi. 3 ); meaning by “ten thousand” not [merely] many, but an infinite multitude.
Consider of how great value is the righteous man. Joshua the son of Nun said, “Let the sun stand still at Gibeon, the moon at the valley of Elom” ( Josh. x. 12 ), and it was so. Let then the whole world come, or rather two or three, or four, or ten, or twenty worlds, and let them say and do this; yet shall they not be able. But the friend of God commanded the creatures of his Friend, or rather he besought his Friend, and the servants yielded, and he below gave command to those above. Seest thou that these things are for service fulfilling their appointed course?
This was greater than the [miracles] of Moses. Why (I ask)? Because it is not a like thing to command the sea and the heavenly [bodies]. For that indeed was also a great thing, yea very great, nevertheless it was not at all equal [to the other].
Why was this? The name of Joshua [Jesus], was a type. For this reason then, and because of the very name, the creation reverenced him. What then! Was no other person called Jesus? [Yes]; but this man was on this account so called in type; for he used to be called Hoshea. Therefore the name was changed: for it was a prediction and a prophecy. He brought in the people into the promised land, as Jesus [does] into heaven; not the Law; since neither did Moses [bring them in], but remained without. The Law has not power to bring in, but grace. Seest thou the types which have been before sketched out from the beginning? He laid his commands on the creation, or rather, on the chiefpart of the creation, on the very head itself as he stood below; that so when thou seest Jesus in the form of Man saying the same, thou mayest not be disturbed, nor think it strange. He, even while Moses was living, turned back wars. Thus, even while the Law is living, He directs all things; but not openly.
[7.] But let us consider how great is the virtue of the saints. If here they work such things, if here they do such things, as the angels do, what then above? How great is the splendor they have?
Perhaps each of you might wish to be such as to be able to command the sun and moon. (At this point what would they say who assert that the heaven is a sphere? For why did he not [merely] say, “Let the sun stand still,” but added “Let the sun stand still at the valley of Elom,” that is, he will make the day longer? This was done also in the time of Hezekiah. The sun went back. This again is more wonderful than the other, to go the contrary way, not having yet gone round his course.)
We shall attain to greater things than these if we will. For what has Christ promised us? Not that we shall make the sun stand still, or the moon, nor that the sun shall retrace his steps, but what? “I and the Father will come unto him,” He says, “and We will make our abode with him.” ( John xiv. 23.) What need have I 490of the sun and the moon, and of these wonders, when the Lord of all Himself comes down and abides with me? I need these not. For what need I any of these things? He Himself shall be to me for Sun and for Light. For, tell me, if thou hadst entered into a palace, which wouldst thou choose, to be able to rearrange some of the things which have been fixed there, or so to make the king a familiar friend, as to persuade him to take up his abode with thee? Much rather the latter than the former.
[8.] But what wonder is it, says some one, that what a man commands, Christ should also? But Christ (you say) needs not the Father, but acts of His own authority, you say. Well. Therefore first confess and say, that he needs not the Father, and acts of His own authority: and then I will ask thee, whether His prayer is not in the way of condescension and arrangement (for surely Christ was not inferior to Joshua the son of Nun), and that He might teach us? For as when thou hearest a teacher lisping, and saying over the alphabet, thou dost not say that he is ignorant; and when he asks, Where is such a letter? thou knowest that he does not ask in ignorance, but because he wishes to lead on the scholar; in like manner Christ also did not make His prayer as needing prayer, but desiring to lead thee on, that thou mayest continually apply thyself to prayer, that thou mayest do it without ceasing, soberly, and with great watchfulness.
And by watching, I do not mean, merely the rising at night, but also the being soberin our prayers during the day. For such an one is called watchful. Since it is possible both in praying by night to be asleep, and in praying by day to be awake, when the soul is stretched out towards God, when it considers with whom it holds converse, to whom its words are addressed, when it has in mind that angels stand by with fear and trembling, while he approaches gaping and scratching himself.
[9.] Prayer is a mighty weapon if it be made with suitable mind. And that thou mayest learn its strength, continued entreaty has overcome shamelessness, and injustice, and savage cruelty, and overbearing rashness. For He says, “Hear what the unjust judge saith.” ( Luke xviii. 6.) Again it has overcome sloth also, and what friendship did not effect, this continued entreaty did: and “although he will not give him because he is his friend” (He says), “yet because of his importunity he will rise and give to him.” ( Luke xi. 8 ) And continued assiduity made her worthy who was unworthy. “It is not meet” (He says) “to take the children’s bread and to cast it to the dogs. Yea! Lord!” she says, “for even the dogs eat [the crumbs] from their master’s table.” ( Matt. xv. 26, 27.) Let us apply ourselves to Prayer. It is a mighty weapon if it be offered with earnestness, if without vainglory, if with a sincere mind. It has turned back wars, it has benefited an entire nation though undeserving. “I have heard their groaning” (He says) “and am come down to deliver them.” (Acts vii. 34.) It is itself a saving medicine, and has power to prevent sins, and to heal misdeeds. In this the desolate widow was assiduous. ( 1 Tim. v. 5.)
If then we pray with humility, smiting our breast as the publican, if we utter what he did, if we say, “Be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke xviii. 13 ), we shall obtain all. For though we be not publicans, yet have we other sins not less than his.
For do not tell me, that thou hast gone wrong in some small matter [only], since the thing has the same nature. For as a man is equally called a homicide whether he has killed a child or a man, so also is he called overreaching whether he be overreaching in much or in little. Yea and to remember injuries too, is no small matter, but even a great sin. For it is said, “the ways of those who remember injuries [tend] to death.” ( Prov. xii. 28 , LXX.) And “He that is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of hell,” and he that “calleth his brother a fool” ( Matt. v. 22 ), and senseless, and numberless such things.
But we partake even of the tremendous mysteries unworthily, and we envy, and we revile. And some of us have even oftentimes been drunk. But each one of these things, even itself by itself, is enough to cast us out of the kingdom, and when they even come all together, what comfort shall we have? We need much penitence, beloved, much prayer, much endurance, much perseverance, that we may be enabled to attain the good things which have been promised to us.
[10.] Let us then say, even we, “Be merciful to me a sinner,” nay rather, let us not say it only, but let us also be thus minded; and should another call us so, let us not be angry. He heard the words, “I am not as this Publican” ( Luke xviii. 11 ), and was not provoked thereby, but filled with compunction. He accepted the reproach, and he put away the reproach. The other spoke of the wound, and he sought the medicine. Let us say then, “Be merciful to me a sinner” ( Luke xviii. 13 ); but even if another should so call us, let us not be indignant.
But if we say ten thousand evil things of ourselves, and are vexed when we hear them from others, then there is no longer humility, nor confession, but ostentation and vainglory. Is it ostentation (you say) to call one’s self a sinner? Yes; for we obtain the credit of humility, 491we are admired, we are commended; whereas if we say the contrary of ourselves, we are despised. So that we do this too for the sake of credit. But what is humility? It is when another reviles us, to bear it, to acknowledge our fault, to endure evil speakings. And yet even this would not be [a mark] of humility but of candor. But now we call ourselves sinners, unworthy, and ten thousand other such names, but if another apply one of them to us, we are vexed, we become savage. Seest thou that this is not confession, nor even candor? Thou saidst of thyself that thou art such an one: be not indignant if thou hearest it also said by others, and art reproved.
In this way thy sins are made lighter for thee, when others reproach thee: for they lay a burden on themselves indeed, but thee they lead onwards into philosophy. Hear what the blessed David says, when Shimei cursed him, “Let him alone” (he says) “the Lord hath bidden him, that He might look on my humiliation” (he says): “And the Lord will requite me good for his cursing on this day.” ( 2 Sam. xvi. 11, 12.)
But thou while saying evil things of thyself, even in excess, if thou hearest not from others the commendations that are due to the most righteous, art enraged. Seest thou that thou art trifling with things that are no subjects for trifling? For we even repudiate praises in our desire for other praises, that we may obtain yet higher panegyrics, that we may be more admired. So that when we decline to accept commendations, we do it that we may augment them. And all things are done by us for credit, not for truth. Therefore all things are hollow, all impracticable. Wherefore I beseech you now at any rate to withdraw from this mother of evils, vainglory, and to live according to what is approved by God, that so you may attain to the good things to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father be glory, together with His Holy and good Spirit, now and ever and world without end. Amen.
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth...And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." John 1: 14, 16-17
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages! Amen!
"As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the Teachers express in dogma, as the inhabited world understands together with them, as grace illumines, as the truth makes clear, as error has been banished, as wisdom makes bold to declare, as Christ has assured, so we think, so we speak, so we preach, honouring Christ our true God, and his Saints, in words, in writings, in thoughts, in sacrifices, in churches, in icons, worshipping and revering the One as God and Lord, and honouring them because of their common Lord as those who are close to him and serve him, and making to them relative veneration.
This is the faith of the Apostles; this is the faith of the Fathers; this is the faith of the Orthodox; this faith makes fast the inhabited world." Excerpt from the Synodikon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy (http://www.anastasis.org.uk/synodikon.htm)
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