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Life Of John Chrysostom by Frederic M. Perthes

IT may occasion surprise, if I say, his relation to the church of the capital was and remained, on the whole, a pleasant one. He won and retained the love of the majority. Had not many of the great been unfriendly to him, and many of the clergy embittered against him, had not the Empress and especially Theophilus been there, he would have labored longer than six years in quiet and prosperity. This may occasion surprise, I say, for the church was such as it was, and Chrysostom uttered to it the truth, in love, yet plainly and sharply. And here again is the experience confirmed, that the mass of mankind, though rough and to a certain extent corrupted, feel, when not misled by the wicked and crafty, the nobleness of a pure and devout man who lives in self-sacrificing love for them, and conceive a confidence and affection for him, which are not permanently disturbed even by earnest and severe treatment on his part. The mass of mankind are in this respect like children; whoever loves them, possesses and retains their love in return, even when he is compelled to punish them. And thus, like an earnest and conscientious, yet loving father, John lived and labored among the members of his church. We must add to this the power of his spirit and of his eloquence, by which he governed the heads and hearts of his hearers, and by which, when it was desirable, I may well say, he knew how to make overpowering impressions. He had passed with his congregation through exciting scenes in the city and in the church; and while they had received much from him, they knew and could not forget what a treasure they possessed in him.

In the following extracts we may clearly see them in their by no means prosperous condition, and may also learn the way in which their preacher addressed them.

What he thought of the church of his time in general, he once clearly and distinctly said in these few words:—

“I see the church lying as a dead body; in it we discern the form of man, but only the form, not the man himself. Thus all the members of the church are believers; their thoughts have the form of belief, but the life is wanting. We have suffered the power and warmth of life to escape from our faith.”

This seems harsh, but can we say it was not so, if what we learn from the following is true?

“The rich lords and rich ladies,” he said from his pulpit, “come hither, and think not of hearing the Word of God, but of showing themselves, how they shall sit down with the greatest display, surpass each other in magnificence of dress, and attract attention by their looks and gait. The lady thinks, ‘Has this and that person seen and admired me? Is my dress becoming? Are its folds disarranged?’ Then comes the man with many slaves, who clear the way for him. When he has taken his seat, his thoughts wander to his business or his money, that which occupies him without, does not leave him here. And yet such persons verily believe they are conferring a favor upon us, the church, and even God the Lord, by their presence. Can they be helped in this place? Should one go to the house of a physician and instead of listening to his advice and receiving the medicine, allow his thoughts to be on his dress or his money, could he receive any benefit from the physician? The people seem not even to suspect that it is the house of God into which they enter, they feel no longing, no need of drawing near to God, when they are here!”

Another day he said:—

“A fearful disease prevails in our church. We should here speak with God the Lord, should be here in order to worship Him; instead of this our thoughts wander away, dissipated and vain. And more than this, we disturb those near us, take our neighbor aside, and treat with him of what has happened at home, or in the market, or at the bar of justice, or in the palace or theatre, what this and that man has done, how one has lost a lawsuit, another gained his case; and our lips do not even here cease from unjust and useless complaints against the government and its acts. Is this to be pardoned? When one comes before the king, he has reverence enough to speak of those things, of which the king wishes to speak; but thou, when thou comest into the presence of the King of kings, before whom angels bow in humility, dost consent to be led astray and speak of mire and dirt! Earthly things are this and nothing more before God. You say: ‘but evil is so rife in the world, the government of the state is so bad, therefore our heads are so full of it.’ Who then is to blame for this? Some say, the indiscretion and wickedness of those who rule. Believe it not. We ourselves, our sins, have ruined us, and brought upon us all our distress and calamity, our wars and defeats. Should we now, so far as we are able, put in their place the wisest and best, there would be no improvement, if we remained the same. O that every one, here at least, would think of himself, and accuse himself, not another!”

At another time he laments that many came only to hear a fine address, or the sermon, and not to elevate the soul in prayer and song with the congregation.

“ ‘Why should I go to the church,’ says one, ‘if I can hear no sermon?’ In this way much is lost; for is a sermon the most essential part of worship? Have you not the Bible at home? Yet this is the best sermon; all that is necessary we find in it. But you seek entertainment, therefore you ask for the sermon.”

Once before in Antioch he had bewailed the same evil, and complained that the people forsook the church immediately after the close of the sermon.

“I know well your excuse: ‘I can pray at home,’ you say, ‘but the preaching, the instruction I cannot have there.’ It is true, you may pray at home, but not as you may in the church, where one prayer from so many voices ascends to God. Besides, here is something more, namely, Christian fellowship, the harmony of all, the bond of love. Of what use is the sermon to you, if prayer is not associated with it? First the prayer, then the Word.” “Nothing has such power to arouse the soul, and raise it above the earth and loose it from the fetters of the body, as a holy song, by which the whole congregation with one spirit and one voice send up a prayer to heaven!”

“This,” he said one Sunday at Constantinople, “this has ruined the church, that you seek not to hear a discourse which produces a change of heart, but one which delights by the splendor and order of beautiful words; as if the church were established to the end that singers and harpers might here display their skill. And we who preach are such miserable men that we yield to your desires instead of opposing them, and instead of changing you and drawing you to God, we court your applause.”

Thirsting after purity of heart, and yet grieved on account of his want of it, the pious man continues:—

“Believe me, I only speak the sentiments of my heart: if I hear your applause for my words, my human feelings for the moment are gratified;—why should I not speak the truth? But afterwards at home, when I think how, for empty renown, the benefit of the sermon for you and for me has been wholly lost, then I groan and weep, and feel that all has been in vain. Often heretofore have I thought of forbidding loud manifestations of applause. Let us to-day establish it as a law among us, that such words of praise shall no more interrupt the preacher, and let it henceforth be our purpose to apply the whole mind to the reception of God’s Word in our hearts.”

While he thus spoke, the vain, frivolous multitude broke out in loud applause.

“For what,” exclaimed the bishop, “is this noise? I utter plainly the law which ought to be observed by us; and you cannot endure for a single moment to hear me quietly! If you will applaud, do it in the market, or when you hear the harpers and actors; the church is no theatre!”

If this was the state of things in the church at; Constantinople, what may it have been in their homes and hearts? The indecorum of applauding will most surprise our readers, because this custom, on account of the quiet hitherto observed in our Christian congregations, appears to us altogether strange and unsuitable. But let us not censure this too severely. I will not excuse it, yet it is explained from the habits of that age and from the public life of the Greeks and Romans. For a long period we knew it only in the theatre, but more recently it has shown itself with us also in other places. We only need to call attention to our popular assemblies, and to listen to the serious, though not religious debates, of the chambers. From these it has pressed its way into other congregations. We have heard of large meetings held in churches, and for consultation concerning the church, in which, nevertheless, the presiding officers were scarcely able to prevent applause, where the audience, instead of Bravo which was forbidden, requested permission to cry out at least Amen. To be sure, this begins with an A in place of a B; but is the difference so great?

We will now return to Chrysostom and hear him speak against two evils, which exist indeed at all times, but which had then reached a very great height. One was avarice, the love of money, under whose influence the powerful, the first men at court, and especially the Empress herself, permitted and practised the most flagrant injustice; the other was insatiable pleasure seeking.

We read with horror in the accounts of that period of the violent deeds by which the great of the kingdom enriched themselves; by which whole families were constantly losing their property, and in the strict sense of the word were reduced to beggary. We shall subsequently hear how Chrysostom labored in behalf of many of these unfortunates. We may here present a word which he uttered publicly against this evil.

It was spoken after an event which threw the city into great excitement, deeply affected many, cast down the mighty and drove them to flight.

“What I have often announced by word, the deed of these days has published in the streets. The wind blows, and the leaves fall; ‘all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: the grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away.’ Now is made known what is shadow and what is truth. I thought within myself, will not the people this time become wise, or will they all after two days be again as before? I repeat it, ‘all flesh is as grass.’ But what does it profit? and yet, if all do not hear it, perhaps ten may; and if not ten, possibly one; and if no one hears, still I have performed my part as a witness before you, ‘the grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away.’ Where are your riches now? So I might ask of those who have fled away.”

A few days after, when many had spoken of the sermon, and with murmurs, as was often the case, he returned to the subject and said:—

“I speak thus, not to upbraid you with misfortune, not to tear open afresh your wounds, but to teach you, by a sight of the shipwreck of others, to seek a safe harbor. When swords threatened us, when the city was on fire, when the Emperor’s crown and sceptre had lost their power and brilliancy, then where were riches? where silver couches? where the multitude of slaves? All were sent away.

“Am I a troublesome, obtrusive man, because I say and often repeat: Riches deceive those who trust in them? The experience of the past, and of these present times, confirms the truth of my words. Why do you hold them so fast? Can they help you in the hour of need?

“One upbraids me that I always assail the rich. It is true, for the rich assail the poor; and yet I attack not the rich, but those who wickedly use their wealth. I oppose not riches, but rapacity. Discriminate well;—art thou rich, I do not contend with thee; but dost thou appropriate to thyself the property of others, then I cannot be silent. Will you slander me, persecute me? If I could thereby prevent the evil, I should be ready to pour out my blood. Beloved, the rich are my children, and the poor are my children. If you assail the poor I must complain of you, must I not? since the poor cannot protect themselves. And yet the poor man suffers not so much as you; he is injured in property, but you in soul. I can do no otherwise;—be angry, persecute, stone me, I fear it not; I fear but one thing—sin.

“How much have I seen change and pass away, since I entered this city; and has it come to its senses? Know you not that this life is only a pilgrimage? We are not citizens,—we are only strangers and pilgrims here. When on a journey you come to an inn, do you waste your time there in adorning your room? Who would be so foolish! but we eat, refresh ourselves, and then hasten away. So should it be with life: we have come hither and taken our place,—let us see to it, that we be able to leave it again with fresh courage and high hope. We know not when we shall be called away. You lay up in store for many years, but the Lord calls—‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.’ ”

“I repeat and shall not cease to do so, though I thus cause pain,—Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world; covet not that which belongs to another, rob not the widows, grieve not the orphans. I point out no person, but only the thing; if your conscience lashes you, that is your fault, not the fault of my words.”

We might expect that the bishop would have to fight against the pursuit after pleasure, and he did contend against it. In that generation, pleasure seeking was the great business, and opportunities were not wanting to gratify it. Theatre, races, games of many kinds succeeded each other; and to these were added what we—praise God!—do not know,—the cruel and bloody contests, in which men fought with one another or with wild beasts, for the amusement of old and young, men and women. In the earlier and better times of the Christian church, her members took no part in all these. Subsequently when corruption broke in, it was otherwise, the so-called Christians rejoiced and exulted in them even as the heathen. Earnest servants of the church said much against this practice, and Christian Emperors issued many laws to prevent it, but in vain. When our ancestors, the old German tribes, came into connection with the people of the Roman Empire, they wondered at the life of constant amusement which they beheld, and one of the Goths proposed the significant question: “Have then the Greeks and Romans no wives or children at home, that they are ever on the race-course or in the theatre?” The “good” Christians knew very well how to apologize for their conduct. As people in our day, who take no delight in home and go to the theatre for a short-lived gratification of sense, strive to conceal their misery by speaking of the art and culture which one may gain in the theatre; so men at that time professed that the victories which were won by great exertion in the race-course, and the crowns with which they were decorated, were quite edifying, since they reminded them of the unfading crown in heaven, and of the truth and courage appropriate to a soldier in the church militant. A canting lie, which Chrysostom once sharply reproved as ridiculous hypocrisy.

I have quoted the saying of a Goth, and may also here mention an act of fifty Saxons. These fifty had been taken captive by the Romans in war, and were shut up in prison, to be led out on a festival to mutual combat and slaughter for the amusement of the populace. In their forests they had probably encountered many a wild beast, and in the battle field they had not trembled at death; but to shed the blood of one another here as a spectacle for the multitude, was revolting to the honorable feelings of these brave men. It was not to be. On the morning when they were to be led into the arena, they were found dead in the prison,—they had taken their own lives during the night. Thus we find the nature of a rude people and the holy feeling of genuine Christians united in their abhorrence of these wanton or cruel amusements of cultivated Greeks and Romans.

Chrysostom spake many a word against this spirit of his age. The following is a specimen.

On the sixth of April, in the year 399, during Easter week, a violent storm had wrought such fearful desolation in the city and upon the adjacent fields, that the inhabitants were terrified, and for the moment seriously disposed. They streamed in crowds to the church, and when the storm ceased, formed a procession, after the custom of the time, and sung in a chapel near the city songs of penitence and thanksgiving. Chrysostom accompanied and addressed them, rejoicing at the susceptible and earnest disposition of the multitude about him. This occurred on Thursday. On Friday, the day of Christ’s death, Chrysostom expected to see all in the church at worship; but a horserace drew a throng of persons upon the neighboring race-course, and the worship in the church was disturbed by their wild shouts and cries. On Saturday the disorderly Circensian games were celebrated, and they resorted thither again, and much wickedness was perpetrated. On the following Sunday the bishop thus poured out his heart in indignation and sorrow:—

“Is this to be endured?” he began, “can such conduct be quietly seen in a Christian church? I ask you. Ye shall be your own judges. As God in one place asks Israel (Micah 6:3), What have I done to thee, my people? How have I injured thee? tell me. So do I ask you. Is this to be endured? Can we look in silence upon such conduct? A few days since we sat together in quiet worship, and listened unitedly to the solemn Word of God,—and directly after, a whole crowd hasten to the disorderly games, act as if beside themselves, fill the city with their wild cries, so that one might have wept for grief. I sat at home in shame, and could not raise my eyes. What shall we say, how excuse ourselves, if a stranger comes among us and asks, Is this a Christian city? Is this the city which possesses a church dedicated to the apostles, and which loves Jesus Christ? Is this a church and temple of God? Nor have you spared the day on which the sign was given for the deliverance of our race! On Friday, the day of our Lord’s crucifixion, when the sacrifice was presented, the curse annulled, sin taken away, and reconciliation made,—on that day ye left the assembly of your brethren and sisters, and suffered yourselves, caught in the bands of Satan, to be dragged away to the games. Can this be suffered? Can we look quietly upon such conduct? You know that when we intrust our money to servants, we call them to render account of the penny even, and so also will God demand of us an account of the days of our life. What will you say, when called to give answer before God respecting this Friday and this Sunday? Lo, the sun has risen for thee, the moon also has given her light for thy sake by night, the night in turn has passed and the day has dawned anew, all for thy sake, but thou—hast served the lust of the world, and Satan!”

He then describes the games, and declares that no person could return from them with a soul uncontaminated. He asks the men how they can revisit their homes and appear before their wives and daughters. He alludes with burning indignation to the fact, that many fathers took along their children to these games, and thus exposed innocent youth to moral ruin, and he calls them directly murderers of their children. The sharp and unsparing way in which he described these games was certainly then and there in place; but I will spare the ears of my readers. Still I must here relate, that at the close of this address, after he has most pressingly entreated them to refrain henceforth from such things, he asserts that he will no more permit those who take part in these games to approach the altar.

In a later section (xi. 2) we shall return to this sharp declaration; but we will now pause in our sketch of this kind of addresses. It would be an error to suppose that Chrysostom found any pleasure in thus speaking, or that he could speak only thus in the capital, because he found no one there with a heart for any thing else. He spake often in a different manner, and many a true heart in his congregation understood his language. What he says for such will now, I hope, be read with pleasure.

In the twenty-second homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews, which he explained, as well as most of the Bible, before the church, he says:—

“As we seek that which is lost, so must we seek God. If one has lost his child, what will he not do in order to find it? We think not of money, or time, or strength, or house, or court; and when we have found the lost child we hold it fast and will not let it go. Seek, says the Saviour, seek God, and ye shall find. But the seeking of God requires time, labor, and exertion, for many things stand in our way.

“The sun stands fast in heaven and is there every day; but the mountaineer, who lives below, has many heights to scale before he obtains a view of it. We live below, we are buried in pleasure and worldly desires, and wallow in the mire of earth; and if we have set ourselves free from that which is grossest, our eye is still covered by the fog. If we shake off the dust and press through the vapors of earth, we shall there behold the glory of God.

“I am acquainted with men, who, when they pray, stretch forth their arms violently as if they would raise themselves above the earth. It were better if the arms were permitted to rest when we pray, and the soul were raised to heaven; for the spirit is more ethereal and capable of a higher flight than arms and wings.”

At another time, conceiving the matter differently, he said:—

“No one is chained to the earth against his will. We may now live in heaven, for it depends on the direction of the will alone. I mean this.—We say, God is in heaven; but we do not mean by this, that heaven as a place incloses Him and the earth is deprived of His presence, but we speak thus on account of the close relationship of the higher spirits, the angels above, with him. Hence if our mind and will take the direction and gain the purity which they have in the case of angels, then we are in heaven. What care I for the locality of heaven, if I have the Lord of heaven, if I become myself a heaven? ‘I and my Father,’ saith the Lord, ‘will come to you and abide with you.’ Let us then make our souls e heaven.”

But however high he rose at times, he let himself down with perfect simplicity, for he well knew that the best have need of this.

“We ought,” he says, “to be ever with God, but by all means be thou uniformly with Him when thy soul goes to rest. By day we are easily disturbed by the dissipation and intrusive cares of life. But at evening and in the night, when quiet is in the soul, we may abide with God. And in the morning, if we turn to God on awaking, we shall go self-collected to our business. If we begin the morning in union with God we shall not so easily during the day fall into disquiet and strife and bitterness. Storm and war await us daily; we are in need of defensive armor;—prayer is a mighty weapon.

“Surprising is it, that our servants, when we give them food, do not go away without expressing thanks, while we, who enjoy so much good, so often fail of giving honor to God. We surely should never sit down or rise up from table without offering a prayer of thanksgiving.”

Moreover, while in view of the great mass of the people he opposes the corruption of the times as with a two-edged sword, he also admonishes others to remember the blessing which these sad events might and did bring to those who were prepared for them.

“Scandals have not appeared in our day for the first time,” says he, “they were from the beginning of the church; I do not mean such as come from without, but such as have originated in herself. Think of the hypocrisy of Ananias, of the murmuring of the ‘Grecians,’ of Simon the Magian, and of those who accused Peter because he had baptized the Gentile Cornelius. Nothing good happens, unless evil at once creeps in. We must not be disquieted, though many fall thereby, but rather thank God for preserving us in the fire. Not merely suffering, but temptations may also serve for our glory. Whoever holds fast to the truth, while tempted by no one to error, is no very warm friend; but he is tried and genuine who adheres to it when many would draw him away. I do not now say that God is the author of offences; that be far from me! I only mean that God causes the evil to work for our good. The excellence of religion is proved by the fact that many pretend to possess it. The odorous balsam is imitated; because it is so fragrant and so necessary there are many spurious kinds; but no man takes the trouble to imitate common oil.”

In the homily on Heb. 11:39, 40, where it reads: “these all received not the promise—that they without us should not be made perfect,” he says:—

“Still they had not received it, still they waited for it, and even after they had ended their life in such tribulation. So much time had passed after their victory, and still they had not received it! And should we already sigh, that we stand yet in the conflict? Remember what is said, that Abraham and the Apostle Paul sit and wait, until thou art made perfect, that they may then also receive their reward. Until we come, has the Saviour said, He will not give the reward to them; just as a tender father would say to good sons who had finished their work: I will give you to eat when your brother also comes. And shall we complain, that we are not placed beyond the reach of calamity, that we have not attained complete blessedness? What should Abel say, who conquered before all, and has not yet been crowned! They have preceded us in the warfare, but they receive not the crown sooner than we. The Lord does no wrong to them, but yet He does honor to us. They cheerfully wait for their brethren, for we are all one body, and therefore this body enjoys a greater glory if all are crowned in common and not a part by itself. It is characteristic of the righteous to rejoice over the happiness of their brethren in like manner as over their own; and it is exactly after their mind to be crowned in connection with their members, for to be glorified together is great blessedness.”

Discoursing of Christian fellowship in the family and among friends, he said:—

“Every house consisting of husband and wife is a church. That they are but two is no objection, for where two or three are together there is He in the midst of them; and if ye have Christ with you, ye are not alone, still other invisible witnesses are present. Do not expect every thing from us your teachers, and the officers of the church. If you will, you can profit one another more than we can benefit you. You are always together, and know one another better than we can know you. You know the condition of each brother, in what he is deficient or in want, and you can speak freely and plainly one with another. You can be mutual teachers and ministers; do not overlook your gift and calling in this respect. We help one another in all other matters, and should we not in religion? We rejoice together at feasts, we accompany the dead unitedly to the grave—and in Christian labor for the living do we wish for no fellowship? Let us give attention to our own errors and deficiencies, and at the same time take it kindly of our friends if they admonish us. This is friendship—where brother supports brother.”

We will present an extract from a spirited address, which he made in a less numerous assembly than commonly surrounded him,—for there were ten thousand people in his church. He appears on that day to have been filled with joy of heart in a small circle, and he speaks not for instruction on a selected theme, but rather as his kindled feelings move him to speak.

“What joy,” he says, “what a blessing is it, thus in God’s house to exercise ourselves in the Holy Scriptures and to draw from this rich fountain. It is pleasant indeed to wander in verdant fields and lovely gardens, to pause under the green covert of trees, to behold the full bloom of roses and lilies and breathe their fragrance; but we have still more in the house of God, and from the contemplation of Divine truth we bring back with us to our homes yet another blessing. Our Bible alone gives the peace of God and the courage, springing from this, to fulfil our duty, to bear our trials, and power too for that course of life which the apostle names ‘conversation in heaven.’

“How infatuated are the hapless men, to whom the church is a strange place and the Bible a strange book, who are only at home in the market, or courts of justice, or places of pleasure. They will learn this in the day, when all semblance, all masks, all delusions shall fall away, and every one shall stand disrobed, as he is in his inmost soul.

“Let us turn from them to-day. With seriousness, with devotion, with joy you have come around me, and we have the joy which they know not. All of us, young and old, rich and poor, bond and free, men and women, what have we now enjoyed in our united psalm! With one voice, and as it were with one heart, have we sung the prayer. As the hand of the harper unites all the strings to one song, so has the psalm brought together our hearts in one prayer. And the royal poet, who wrote ages gone by, has been present with us to-day by his psalm and has joined in our worship.

“So is it in the church;—in the courts of kings it is otherwise. There he speaks whose head is adorned with a crown, and all others, however high in dignity, must stand around in silence. Here the prophet speaks and we all answer, his voice and ours become one. In the church there are no distinctions, the slave prays and sings with us all as well as his master, the poorest as well as the richest, and women as well as men, we all bring the same offering and all enjoy the same right and honor. This is like unto heaven, great and beautiful is the church of our God.

“She makes the slave a master, the poor rich, and women in her become men. Think you not so? The church, I say, makes men of women, and, I add, the world makes women of men. Are the vain young lords, who paint their cheeks, and curl their hair, and promenade our streets, are these in reality men? The apostle says in 1 Tim. 5:6 of women who live in pleasure, that they are dead; he excludes them from the number of the living, and how can I then reckon those effeminate weaklings among the race of living men? One who has power over himself, and quakes before no enemy, is a man. And such there have been and are among the women of the church of God, women as heroic as any man whatsoever, and who, clothed with the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, have defeated more and mightier foes than fall in the battle field.

“Do I say too much? Are the words I speak mere boastings? That you may see I have not said enough, a person shall be cited before you, who was by nature a woman, but who appears in history like an angel of God, like one who had never borne flesh and blood. I refer to the mother of those seven sons, of whom we read in the book of Maccabees. Place the bravest warrior beside her, and you will be compelled to say, that this woman is raised as far above him, as the vault of heaven is above the earth. What is the single stroke beneath which the warrior falls and dies, to the sevenfold anguish which poured through the heart of that mother as she saw her sons one after another broiled in the pans of Antiochus: yet there she stood and remained, she stood like an iron mountain. Ye, who are fathers and mothers, can feel the tortures which she must have felt, more terrible than if a thousand arrows had pierced her heart. The young men whom she bore in her heart died a thousand deaths while she stood there—how long!—even as a rock, which the violence of waves cannot shake,—the surges roar around and dash into foam against it! there she stands firm as adamant. Say what I will, no word can be found to express the fortitude of this woman. May I not then call this woman a man?

“Have there not been manly females? as Phoebe, of whom the bold apostle (Rom. 16:1) is not ashamed to say, she has rendered much assistance to me? and Priscilla, of whom he says, ‘She has for my life laid down her neck; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles?’ (Rom. 16:4.)

“Let no one say, I am a weak lady, and cannot therefore be so pious, do so much, or bear so heavy a burden. In this our Word of God there lies a Divine power for all, for us who are men and for you who are women, to become firm and strong, so that, if God calls, we can meet every conflict, and bear every pain. To this may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ help us;—and to Him whose power is mighty in the weak, be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

In the church of the capital there were those who sympathized with him in such remarks. Among the men and women there were many with whom he had communion of heart and spirit, and who aided him efficiently in his plans and labors for the church. Especially near to him, in this sense, were several elderly women, mostly widows, and in part from illustrious and very wealthy families, who with their strength and ability devoted themselves to the work.

In the earliest period of Christianity we find women whose circumstances allowed them to labor as servants of the church. They were called deaconesses. The church needed female assistance; for, to guard against suspicion, the clergy in many places avoided entering the abodes of females which were often separated from those of men; and communication was therefore held through pious and experienced women. At baptism their help could not be dispensed with. The deaconesses were formally set apart as officers of the church, and like the preacher, were solemnly dedicated to their work. A prayer which was offered on such an occasion, has been preserved, namely:—

“Eternal God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of men and of women, Thou who in times past didst fill with thy Spirit Mary, Deborah, Hannah and Huldah, who hast accounted woman worthy to bear thy Son in her womb, Thou who didst choose, in the tabernacle and the temple, the keepers of thy holy gates—look down also now upon this thy handmaid who has been chosen for the service of the church, and give her thy Holy Spirit, purify her from all contamination of the flesh and the spirit, in order that she may worthily perform the work imposed upon her, to thy glory and the praise of thy Christ.”

A number of such assistants were found in the church at Constantinople; moreover Chrysostom drew many to himself, who honored in him their spiritual father. One of these was particularly dear to him, and deserves to be especially noticed.








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