August 4, 2012

On Schismatics Over Calendar Issues (St. John Chrysostom)

In his third homily Against the Judaizers, Saint John Chrysostom specifically addresses a schismatic group of his day which sought to try to appropriate the feasts and practices of the Jews into Christian practice. One of these practices was the attempt of some Judaizing Christians to celebrate Pascha according to the Jewish reckoning, despite the fact that the First Ecumenical Council established a moveable date of Pascha on which all Christians could celebrate in unison. Judaizers looked upon the First Ecumenical Council as an innovation of the Church that did not coincide with the early practices of the Christians. Despite the historical context of this homily, a close reading reveals a critique of schismatics in general, especially of schismatics who have separated from the church over issues dealing with the ecclesiastical calendar. When one reads this homily today, much of it could very well have been written today against Old Calendarist schismatics. Below are some excerpts from this homily:


ONCE AGAIN A NECESSARY and pressing need has interrupted the sequence of my recent discourses. I must put aside my struggles with the heretics for today and turn my attention to this necessary business. For I was ready to address your loving assembly again on the glory of the only-begotten Son of God. But the untimely obstinacy of those who wish to keep the first paschal fast forces me to devote my entire instruction to their cure. For the good shepherd does more than drive away the wolves; he also is most diligent in caring for his sheep who are sick. What does he gain if the flocks escape the jaws of the wild beasts but are then devoured by disease?

(2) The best general is the one who not only repels the siege engines of the enemy but first puts down rebellion within his own city. He knows well that there will be no victory over an outside foe as long as there is civil war within. Do you not know that there is no more destructive force than rebellion and obstinacy? Listen to the words of Christ: "A kingdom divided against itself shall not stand." And yet, what is more powerful than a kingdom which possesses revenues of money, weapons, walls, fortresses, so large a number of soldiers, horses, and ten thousand other sources of strength?

(3) But even power as great as that is destroyed when it revolts against itself. Nothing produces weakness so effectively as contentiousness and strife; and nothing produces power and strength so effectively as love and concord. When Solomon grasped this truth he said: "A brother that is helped by his brother is like a strong city and kingdom bolted and barred." Do you see the great strength which comes from concord? And do you see the great harm caused by contentiousness? A kingdom in revolt destroys itself. When two brothers are bound together and united into one, they are more unbreakable than any wall.

(4) I know that, by God's grace, most members of my flock are free from this disease and that the sickness involves only a few. But this is no reason for me to relax my care. If only ten, or five, or two, or even one were sick, he must not be neglected. If there is only one worthless outcast. still he is a brother, and Christ died for him. And Christ made great account of the weak ones. He said: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the sea." And again: "As long as you did not do it for one of these little ones, you did not do it for me." And again: "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that a single one of these little ones should perish."

(5) Is it not absurd, when Christ shows such care for his little ones, that we should refuse to care for them? Do not say: "He is one person." Rather, you must say: "He is one, yes, but if we do not take care of him, he will spread the disease to the rest." Paul said: "A little leaven ferments the whole mass." And our neglect of the little ones is what overturns and destroys everything. Neglected wounds become serious, just as the serious wounds would easily become minor if they receive the proper care.

(6) Moreover, the first thing I have to say to the Judaizers is that nothing is worse than contentiousness and fighting, than tearing the Church asunder and rending into many parts the robe which the robbers did not dare to rip. Are not all the other heresies enough without our tearing each other apart? You must listen to Paul when he says: "But if you bite and devour one another, take heed or you will be consumed by one another."

(7) Tell me this. Do you stray outside the flock and have you no fear of the lion that prowls about outside the fold? "For your enemy, like a lion, goes about seeking whom he may seize." Here you see a shepherd's wisdom. He does not let the lion in among the sheep for fear the lion may terrify the flock. Nor does he drive the lion away from outside the fold. Why? So that he may gather all the sheep together inside the fold, because they are afraid of the wild beast outside. Do you have no reverence and respect for your father? Then fear your foe. If you separate yourself from the flock, your enemy will surely catch you.

(8) Christ, too, could have driven the enemy away from the outside of the fold. But to make you sober and watchful, to make you constantly run to your Mother for refuge, he permitted him to roar outside the fold. Why did he do this? So that when those within the fold hear his roar, they may take refuge together and be more closely bound to one another. Mothers who love their children also do this: when their children cry, they often threaten to throw them to the jaws of the wolves. Of course, they would not throw them to the wolves but they say they will to stop the children from bothering them. Everything Christ did was done to keep us bound together and living at peace with one another.


And so it was that Paul could have accused the Corinthians of many great crimes but he accused them of contentiousness before any other. He could have accused them of fornication, of pride, of taking their quarrels to the pagan courts, of banquets in the shrines of idols. He could have charged that the women did not veil their heads and that the men did. Over and above all tiffs, he could have accused them of neglecting the poor, of the pride they took in their charismatic gifts, and in the matter of the resurrection of the body. But since, along with these, he could also find fault with them because of their dissensions and quarrels with one another, he passed over all the other crimes, and corrected their contentiousness first....

(3) Although he could make so many accusations, his first charge against the Corinthians was dissension and contentiousness. At the very beginning of his letter he said: "I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all say the same thing, and that there be no dissensions among you." For he knew, he knew clearly, that this problem was more urgent than the others. If the fornicator, or the braggart. or a man in the grip of any other vice comes frequently to the church, he will quickly draw profit from the instruction, thrust aside his sin, and return to health.

(4) But when a man has broken away from this assembly, when he has withdrawn from the instruction of the fathers, when he has fled from the physician's clinic, even if he appears to be in good health, lie will soon fall sick? The best physicians first quench the fires of fever and then cure the wounds and fractures. That is what Paul did. He first removed the dissension and then cured their wounds limb by limb. And so lie spoke of dissension before the other sins, so that the Corinthians would not stand apart in strife, so that they would not choose the leaders whom they should follow, so that they would not divide up the body of Christ into many parts?

(5) But he was talking not only to the Corinthians; he was also speaking to those who would come after them and suffer from the same Corinthian disease. I would be glad to ask those of us who are sick with this illness: What is the Pasch; what is Lent? What belongs to the Jews: what belongs to us? Why does their Pasch come once each year; why do we celebrate ours each time we gather to celebrate the mysteries? What does the feast of unleavened bread mean? And I would like to ask them many more questions which contribute to understanding this subject.

(6) If I were to ask them, you would then clearly know how untimely the contentiousness of these men is. They cannot explain what they do. But they refuse to ask anybody, just as if they were wiser than anybody else. They deserve the strongest condemnation because they do not have the answers themselves, but they refuse to follow those who have been appointed to lead them. They have simply risked all they have on this silly practice and are throwing themselves head first down into the depths of danger.


When I have this to say against them, what argument of theirs will seem clever? They ask: "Did you not observe this fast before?" It is not your place to say this to me, but I would be justified in telling you that we, too, fasted at this time in earlier days, but still we put more importance on peace than on the observance of dates. And I say to you what Paul said to the Galatians: "Become like me, because I also have become like you." What does this mean? He was urging them to renounce circumcision, to scorn the Sabbath, the feast days, and all the other observances of the Law. When he saw they were frightened and afraid that they might be subjected to chastisement and punishment for their transgression, he gave them courage by the example of his own actions when he said: "Become like me, because I also have become like you."

(2) For, he said, I did not come from the Gentiles, did I? I was not without experience of the Jewish way of life under the Law and the punishment set for those who transgress it, was I? "I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as regards the Law, a Pharisee; as regards zeal, a persecutor of the Church. But the things that were gain to me, these, for the sake of Christ, l counted loss." That is, once and for all I stood aloof from them. Therefore, become like me, for I, too, was as you are....


(3) Therefore you must safeguard this exactness and vigor of spirit, not in the observance of the proper times but in your approach to the altar. Now you would elect to endure all things rather than change this practice. So, too, you must disdain it and choose to do or suffer anything so as not to approach the mysteries when you are burdened with sins.

(4) Be sure that God takes no account of such observance of special seasons. Hear him as he passes judgment on those at his right hand: "You saw me hungry and gave me to eat; you saw me thirsty and gave me to drink; you saw me naked and you covered me." But he charged with quite different conduct those on his left hand. At another time he brought forward another man in a parable and castigated him because He remembered the evil the man had done. For he said: "You wicked servant, I forgave you all the debt. Should not you then have had compassion also on your fellow servant, even as I had compassion on you?" Again, when the virgins had no oil in their lamps, he locked them out of the bride chamber. And he cast out another man who came into the feast without a wedding garment because this man was garbed in filthy clothes and was wearing the cloak of his fornication and uncleanness, But no one was ever punished or accused because he observed the Pasch in this or that month.

(5) But why speak of ourselves since we have been set free from all such necessity? We are citizens of a city above in heaven, where there are no months, no sun, no moon, no circle of seasons. If you wish to give exact attention to the matter, you will see that, even among the Jews, little account was made of the season of the Pasch, but they cared greatly about the place for it, namely, Jerusalem....

(6) And so is not the observance of the time annulled among the Jews so that the Pascha may be observed in Jerusalem? Will you not show greater concern for the harmony of the Church than for the season? So that you may seem to be observing the proper days, will you outrage the common Mother of us all and will you cut asunder the Holy Synod? How could you deserve pardon when you choose to commit sins so enormous for no good reason ?

(7) But why must I speak of the Jews? No matter how eagerly and earnestly we wish it, it is not altogether possible for us to observe that day on which He was crucified....


Let us not quarrel, let us not say: "After fasting these many years, am I to change now?" Change for that very reason. Since you have been so long severed from the Church, come back now to your Mother. No one says: "After I lived as her enemy so long a time, I am ashamed to be reconciled now." You have grounds for shame if you do not change for the better but persist in your untimely contentiousness. That is what destroyed the Jews. While they always kept looking for the old customs and life, these were stripped from them and they turned to impiety.

(2) But why do I speak of fasting and the observance of special days? Paul continued to observe the Law and to endure many a toil; he patiently put up with many journeys and hardships; he surpassed all his contemporaries in the exact observance of that way of life. But after he achieved the heights of that life and came to realize that he was doing all this for his own hurt and destruction, he immediately changed. He did not say to himself: "What is this? Am I to lose the reward for this great zeal of mine? Am I to waste all this work?" Rather he was the quicker to change for the very reason that he might continue to suffer that loss. He scorned justification by the Law so that he might receive the justification of faith. And so he loudly proclaimed: "The things that were gain to me I have counted as loss for Christ. And Christ said: "If you offer your gift at the altar, and there you remember that your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift."...

(8) Why, then, do you sit beside a lamp after the sun has appeared? Why do you wish to nourish yourself on milk when solid food is being given to you? You were nourished with milk so that you might not remain satisfied with milk: the lamp shone for you that it might guide you and lead you by the hand into the light of the sun. Now that the era of more perfect things has come, let us not run back to the former times, let us not observe the days and seasons and years: rather, let us everywhere be careful to follow the Church by paying heed to charity and peace before all things.

(9) Suppose the Church were to be tripped up and fall. The accurate computation of dates would not succeed in making her slip as much as this division and schism would deserve the blame. But I make no account of the exact date, since God makes no account of it, as I proved when I devoted many discourses to this subject. But the one thing I seek is that we do all things in peace and concord. If we do so, you will not stay home and get drunk while we are fasting with the rest of the people, and the priests are praying together for the whole world.

(10) Note well that this is of the devil's doing and that it is not a single sin, nor two, nor three, but far more than three. It cuts you off from the flock, it makes you ready to hold so many Fathers in scorn, it hurls you into contentiousness....

(12) The Church does not recognize the exact observance of dates. In the beginning the Fathers decided to come together from widely separated places and to flux the Easter date; the Church paid respect to the harmony of their thinking. loved their oneness of mind, and accepted the date they enjoined. My earlier remarks have proved adequately that it is impossible for us or you or any other man to arrive at the exact date of the Lord's day. So let us stop fighting with shadows, let us stop hurting ourselves in the big things while we are indulging our rivalry over the small....

(14) I could have said much more than this. What I have said is enough for those who heed me; those who fail to heed my words will not be helped even if I should have much more to say. So let me finish my discourse at this point. and let us all pray together that our brothers come back to us. Let us pray that they cling fondly to peace and stand apart from untimely rivalry. Let us pray that they scorn this sluggish spirit of theirs and find a great and lofty understanding. Let us pray that they be set free from this observance of days so that all of us, with one heart and with one voice, may give glory to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and power now and forever, world without end. Amen.