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Friday, June 29, 2018

The Chains of Saint Paul the Apostle

In the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, the chain that, according to the most ancient tradition, attached the Apostle Paul to the Roman soldier assigned to guard him while in prison in Rome, is the most precious among the relics and objects on display in the Chapel of Relics. On the Feast Day of Saint Paul (June 29th) each year, the chains are taken in procession around the Basilica.

This is what Saint John Chrysostom (Homily 8 on Ephesians) said of these chains in Rome:

'"I, the prisoner in the Lord" (Eph. 4:1). Great and mighty dignity! Greater than that of king or of consul, or of any other. Hence it is the very title he uses in writing to Philemon, "As Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 9). For nothing is so glorious as a bond for Christ's sake, as the chains that were bound around those holy hands; more glorious is it to be a prisoner for Christ's sake than to be an Apostle, than to be a Teacher, than to be an Evangelist. If there are any that loves Christ, they will understand what I am saying...

Were any to offer me my choice, the whole Heaven or that chain, that chain I would prefer. Were any to ask whether he should place me on high with the Angels, or with Paul in his bonds, the prison I would choose. Were any about to change me into one of those powers, that are in Heaven, that are round about the throne, or into such a prisoner as this, such a prisoner I would choose to be.

Nothing is more blessed than that chain. Would that I could be at this moment in that very spot, (for the bonds are said to be still in existence,) to behold and admire those men, for their love of Christ. Would that I could behold the chains, at which the devils fear and tremble, but which Angels reverence. Nothing is more noble than to suffer any evil for Christ's sake. I count not Paul so blessed, because he was "caught up into Paradise", as because he was cast into the dungeon; I count him not so blessed, because he heard "unspeakable words," as because he endured those bonds. I count him not so blessed, because he was "caught up into the third Heaven," as I count him blessed for those bonds' sake.

For that these are greater than those, hear how even he himself knew this; for he says not, "I who heard unspeakable words, beseech you," but what? "I, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you." Nor yet are we to wonder, though he inscribes not this in all his Epistles, for he was not always in prison, but only at certain times...

Oh! Those blessed bonds! Oh! Those blessed hands which that chain adorned! Not so worthy were Paul's hands when they lifted up and raised the lame man at Lystra, as when they were bound around with those chains. Had I been living in those times, how eagerly would I have embraced them, and put them to the very apple of my eyes. Never would I have ceased kissing those hands which were counted worthy to be bound for my Lord. Do you marvel at Paul, when the viper fastened on his hand, and did him no hurt? Marvel not. It reverenced his chain. Yea, and the whole sea reverenced it; for then too was he bound, when he was saved from shipwreck.

Were any one to grant me power to raise the dead at this moment, I would not choose that power, but this chain. Were I free from the cares of the Church, had I my body strong and vigorous, I would not shrink from undertaking so long a journey, only for the sake of beholding those chains, for the sake of seeing the prison where he was bound. The traces indeed of his miracles are numerous in all parts of the world, yet are they not so dear as those of his scars. Nor in the Scriptures does he so delight me when he is working miracles, as when he is suffering evil, being scourged, and dragged about. Insomuch that from his body were carried away handkerchiefs or aprons. Marvelous, truly marvellous, are these things, and yet not so marvelous as those. "When they had laid many stripes upon him, they cast him into prison" (Acts 16:23). And again, being in bonds, "they were singing hymns unto God" (Acts 16:25) And again: "They stoned him, and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead" (Acts 14:19).

Would that you know how mighty a thing is an iron chain for Christ's sake, bound about His servant's body? Hearken to what Christ Himself says, "Blessed are you" (Matt. 5:11). Why? When you shall raise the dead? No. But why? When you shall heal the blind? Not at all. But why then? "When men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake" (Matt. 5:11) Now, if to be evil spoken of renders men thus blessed, to be evil entreated, what may not that achieve? Hearken to what this blessed one himself says elsewhere; "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" (2 Tim. 4:8), and yet, more glorious than this crown is the chain; of this, says he, the Lord will count me worthy, and I am in no wise inquisitive about those things. Enough it is for me for every recompense, to suffer evil for Christ's sake. Let Him but grant me to say, that "I fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ" (Col. 1:24), and I ask nothing further...

In what does he glory? In bonds, in afflictions, in chains, in scars: "I bear branded on my body," says he, "the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17), as though they were some great trophy. And again, "For because of the hope of Israel," says he, "I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:20). And again, "For which I am an ambassador in chains" (Eph. 6:20). What is this? Are you not ashamed, are you not afraid going about the world as a prisoner? Do you not fear lest any one should charge your God with weakness? Lest any one should on this account refuse to come near you and to join the fold? No, says he, not such are my bonds. They can shine brightly even in kings' palaces. "So that my bonds," says he, "became manifest in Christ, throughout the whole praetorian guard, and most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear" (Phil. 1:13-14)...

Paul's chain has proved a long one, and has detained us a length of time. Yea, long indeed it is, and more beautiful than any cord of gold. A chain this, which draws them that are bound by it, as it were by a kind of invisible machinery, to Heaven, and, like a golden cord let down, draws them up to the Heaven of heavens. And the wonderful thing is this, that, bound, as it is, below, it draws its captives upwards: and indeed this is not the nature of the things themselves. But where God orders and disposes, look not for the nature of things, nor for natural sentence, but for things above nature and natural sequence.'

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