May 6, 2020

Homily on the Value of Patience (St. John Chrysostom)

Homily on the Value of Patience

By St. John Chrysostom

(Traditionally read on the Saturday of Souls before Pentecost)

If we want to speak about patience, we must speak of the righteous Job. Job was a God-fearing man with many children and enormous wealth. His name was known throughout the eastern parts of the world. Everyone held him in high esteem and admiration. Unexpectedly, he lost everything: his wealth, his children, and his health. From the height of fortune he fell into the depth of misfortune; from distinction to unimportance. Not only did he have to deal with extreme poverty, a serious illness, the anguish due to the death of his children, the ruthlessness of the bandits, and the ungratefulness of his friends, but he also had to contend with ridicule and slander. All possible misfortunes fell upon him. Worse of all, he was unprepared for them. Whoever is born and grows up in poverty is accustomed to enduring difficulties and prepared to live in deprivation. Similarly, whoever loses some of his children, no matter how much he grieves for their death, still finds consolation in the children that remain.

Job, however, who had enjoyed life-long prosperity became destitute overnight, and then witnessed the death of all his ten children simultaneously. As they were eating and drinking at the home of their eldest brother, a great gust of wind suddenly came from the desert, the house was razed to the ground, and all of them were buried under the rubble. Job’s pain was exceedingly great on account of his unexpected and utter poverty. His spiritual anguish was indescribable due to the sudden, tragic death of his children. And if that wasn’t enough, he himself became seriously ill. He was filled with painful and putrid wounds from head to toe. He then sat on a dunghill, took a piece of ceramic tile and began to scratch them in order to feel some relief. If someone brought him a little bit of food, he would not touch it. “For I see my food as filth,” he would say (Job 6:7). The repugnant stench of his wounds and the incurable pain of his soul dismissed all desire for food.

How can I find words to describe his unbelievable misfortunes? I see him sitting on a pile of dry manure. Blood and pus are oozing from his wounds. Countless worms are eating away at his flesh. He has no consolation from anywhere. No one shows him any compassion. His servants ignore him. His friends criticize him. Even the common folk mock him. “But now they laugh me to scorn, men younger than I,” he says with deep sorrow. “But now I am their lyre, and they have me as their byword. They detest me and keep their distance. They do not hesitate to spit in my face” (Job 30:1-10).

What a dreadful misfortune indeed! What an unbearable calamity! And yet, as soon as the loving and merciful Lord revealed to Job the cause of his sufferings, “There is no other reason I have allowed you to suffer other than for your righteousness to appear” (Job 40:8), immediately the righteous man felt such relief that he no longer believed anything bad had happened to him.

They who endure misfortune without complaining are rewarded even more than them who eagerly do good deeds. Job is proof of this; for he became known to the world more on account of the trials he suffered than on his virtuous accomplishments. Everyone, of course, admired him when he was living happily and carrying out good works. What exactly did he do? He himself describes his actions: “For I saved the poor from the hand of the oppressor and helped the orphan who had no helper. The perishing man and the widow’s mouth blessed me for standing by them. I put on righteousness and clothed myself with judgment like a robe. I was the eye of the blind and the foot of the lame” (Job 29:12-15). Nevertheless, if the entire world knows him today, after so many centuries, it is not because he distributed his wealth to the poor but because when he lost his wealth he did not become disheartened; it is not because he clothed the naked with garments fabricated from the wool of his sheep but because when fire fell from the sky and burnt his entire flock he glorified God.

Initially, he was compassionate as he cared for the poor; later, he became a philosopher as he glorified God for his misfortune. Initially he would help others; afterwards, he praised the Lord. He didn’t think to himself, “Why did this happen to me? Why did I lose my flocks and livestock, which provided food to thousands of poor people? If I was unworthy of enjoying such wealth, why didn’t God at least spare my sheep for the poor?” No such thought crossed Job’s mind. On the contrary, realizing that God allows everything to take place for our own benefit, He thanked the Lord. It is not so extraordinary if someone thanks God when everything is going his way; rather, it is truly wondrous, extraordinary, and praiseworthy when someone patiently and gratefully endures even the harshest trials and difficulties.

If they who have become rich by taking advantage of others and unjust means are overcome with sadness when they lose even a small portion of their wealth, how much praise is due to Job who did not lose his faith in God and did not stop thanking Him, when he witnessed all his possessions—which he had acquired justly with his own sweat—disappearing in one fell swoop? Not one person was there to encourage or support him! Even his wife, swayed by the pain of her soul, pierced him with her bitter and discouraging words: “How long will you continue being patient?” she would ask. “How long will you wait and hope for your suffering to come to an end? Look! Your memory has been wiped out from the earth! Your sons and daughters, whom I gave birth to with pangs and whom I raised with such difficulty have perished. You yourself are sitting on a dunghill full of worms, spending your nights in the open air without a roof over your head. I, on the other hand, go about as a wanderer and a beggar from place to place and from house to house, waiting for the sun to set in order to rest from the labors and pains that now beset me. Go ahead! Blaspheme God and die!” (Job 2:9-14).

The words of this woman in desperation could have shattered a rock—but not Job. If we consider how frequently men who suffer no hardship are beguiled by women, then we can understand how courageous and God-loving Job was, who remained vigilant and uninfluenced by his wife’s lamenting and reasoning, even though he had been struck by so many afflictions. “Why have you spoken as one of the foolish women?” he sternly replied. “If we accepted good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not endure evil things?” (Job. 2:15).

Through his response, this blessed man shows us that he was no less inferior than Christ’s Apostles. I dare say he was even superior than them! Because the Apostles received consolation with the thought that they were suffering on account of the Lord. Job, however, had no such assurance. Moreover, Job was not disdained, ridiculed, and despised by his enemies (as the Apostles were), but by his friends, his servants, and people whom he had previously helped—which was incomparably more painful.

The greatest testimony of the magnificence of Job’s patience comes from the devil himself. Do you remember the first dialogue he had with the Lord when Job was still living in prosperity? “Have you noticed my servant Job,” God asked Satan. “There is no one like him in the earth. He is a perfect and upright man; he fears Me, and he despises evil” (Job 1:8). What did Satan respond arrogantly? “Does Job perhaps fear You without a reason? Haven’t You protected his house, and all that he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his flocks have multiplied in the land. But stretch Your hand and take away all that he has! Then You will see that he will curse You to Your face!” (Job 1:9-11).

Do you see the shameless objection that the devil set forth when Job was carrying out so many good works? “Does he perhaps respect you without a reward?” However, when the righteous man patiently endured these unheard-of misfortunes that came upon him, the devil covered his face in shame and made a run for it, unable to come up with any further argument or counter with even the slightest excuse.

Therefore, when you see a righteous person who has done many good things being tested by innumerable misfortunes, do not be surprised. And when you see someone else who gives alms and does other God-pleasing deeds falling into temptations and dangers, do not be scandalized. He hit the devil hard, and this is why the devil retaliated by tossing him into hardships. “Why does God allow such a thing to occur?” you may ask. The answer is: in order for the righteous man to receive more crowns and for the devil to receive more punishment. Of course, it is good when someone gives alms and struggles with zeal to execute virtue when everything is going his way. It is much greater, however, when someone continues to struggle with fervent zeal and remains unshaken in the face of misfortune. For this reason, just as a sinner will suffer worse punishment in the next life if he does not experience anything bad in this life, similarly the righteous person will enjoy greater honor and bliss in the next life when he endures various sorrows in this life.

Perhaps you will tell me that you live in perpetual poverty and misfortune. Well then, bring Job to mind, this unshakable pillar of patience. Who ever ended up poorer than him? Even the poorest people find refuge and shelter somewhere; he, however, lived under the open sky. Even the poorest people have a piece of clothing to wear; he, however, was naked. Who ever experienced greater anguish? He had ten children, and he lost them all in a single moment! Who was ever plagued by a worse illness? His entire body became infested with parasites and filled with wounds. Despite the fact that each one of these hardships individually is difficult to endure, how did this man of steel shoulder all of them simultaneously—especially without even a trace of human support? You see, all of us have some person to encourage and console us in times of sorrow. Job, however, had no one. On the contrary, he drank yet another bitter cup that contained the following: the betrayal of his friends; the ungratefulness of the people whom he had helped; the indignation and desperation of his wife; the sneers and ridicule of his fellow citizens.

If you consider all the above, you can begin to appreciate the grandeur of Job’s soul; for having suffered more than any other person in the world, he said none of the things that usually come out of the mouth of faint-hearted souls. “Is this why I taught my children to be good and to fear God? So I can be deprived of them unjustly with their untimely death? Is this why I gave charity to the poor and helped them in need? So I can lose all my belongings? Is this why I clothed the homeless and supported the sick? So I can end up sitting on a dunghill, naked and tormented by illness? This is how God decided to reward me for all the good things I did?” Such statements did not slip out of Job’s mouth. Instead of these words, he only uttered the following, which is more valuable than any other sacrifice: “The Lord gave me everything, and the Lord took it away. Blessed be His name!” (Job 1:21).

Has the devil filled you with sorrow on account of some harm he has brought upon you? Make him sad as well by thanking God. The best thing, of course, is for you not to become sad at all. In this manner, you will give the devil a fatal blow. When he sees you ignoring him and his evil ways, he will depart in shame. Thus, we rightfully marvel more at the person who loses his wealth and gratefully endures this deprivation than the person who maintains his wealth and joyfully gives alms to the poor.

But let us now return to the magnificent example of Job. Have you ever wondered why the devil did not kill his wife along with his children? He didn’t kill her because he knew quite well that this woman would help him tremendously in the future to fulfill his evil plan. “If with the aid of a woman I was able to exile Adam from Paradise,” he thought to himself, “with the aid of a woman it will be much easier for me to subjugate Job and have him do as I please—for he is not in Paradise like Adam, but seated on a dunghill.”

Take note of the devil’s maliciousness. He did not use the woman as his instrument initially when Job lost his flocks, or when the house of his eldest son collapsed and buried all his children under the rubble. Rather, he used her once he struck Job’s body with an unbearable illness. When his rotted flesh was falling to the ground, when worms were eating away at his body, when he could no longer tolerate the excruciating pain and desired death, this is precisely when the evil one incited Job’s wife to advise him, “Until when will you be so patient? How long will you wait and hope for your suffering to come to an end?…Go ahead! Blaspheme God and die!” (Job 2:9-14).

At that moment, the devil was certain that he would finally witness Job’s downfall. However, he was terribly fooled! Not only did this blessed man not blaspheme God, but he glorified the Lord: “Despite all this, Job sinned not” (Job 1:22).

Who ever saw or heard of such a wondrous achievement? During a boxing match, the winner is he who knocks his opponent to the ground. In this case, however, the opposite took place: the devil was defeated and ran away shamefully after he gave Job a beating and laid him up on a dunghill. “What’s wrong, O devil? Why are you running away? Didn’t you accomplish everything you wanted? Didn’t you destroy Job’s calves and donkeys? Didn’t you burn his sheep? Didn’t you kill his children? Didn’t you fill his body with wounds? Why then are you running away?”

“I’m leaving,” the devil replies, “because I accomplished everything I wanted except for one thing! The one thing I desired more than all the others did not occur. The end result that I was hoping to achieve through all these things did not take place. Job did not blaspheme God! Therefore, I gained nothing by destroying his wealth, killing his children, and wounding his body. On the contrary, I suffered a great loss, because on account of his steadfast patience and devoutness, he was glorified even more by humanity, and he became even more loved by God.”

Do you see what Job gained from his sufferings? He won both the admiration of men and the love of God. He gained both earthly and heavenly glory. This was because his virtue became evident through his sufferings.

Therefore, let us all envy his godliness. Having witnessed all the good things that spring forth from patience, let us not lose courage when we are hit by misfortunes—no matter how difficult they may be. For there is no human in misfortune who cannot find consolation from Job’s example. If this holy man did not grumble when all the earthly adversities simultaneously beset him, how will we sinful people dare to grumble when we are faced with only one difficulty? If this innocent man was unable to evade trials, how is it possible for us who are guilty to evade them? If this person who unjustly suffered, nevertheless, blessed God for all his sorrows, how can we who suffer less (even though we deserve worse on account of unrepentant state) not also bless and thank Him?

Let us never forget that all the saints, prophets, righteous, apostles, martyrs, and confessors did not enjoy comfort and prosperity, indulgence and pleasure, human honor and glory, but on the contrary, they experienced poverty and deprivation, pain and suffering, ridicule and debasement, torture and bitter death. In every time period, all the people of God who want to keep His commandments and live according to His will taste the demonic darts of jealousy and malice.

If you also desire to follow the Lord, you must keep in mind that you will face dangers, you will suffer persecution, and you will taste bitter poison. The wise Sirach clearly warns us: “My son, if you have decided to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation” (Sirach 2:1). The Apostle Paul also makes the following unmistakable confirmation: “And all they who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). For this reason, when you do something good and you receive something bad in return, not only should you not be sad but you should also rejoice. Not only should you not be discouraged, but you should become more eager to execute good works.

In this manner you will also be crowned with the incorrupt wreath of eternal life, just as Christ’s disciples were. Now they participate in His heavenly glory; whereas, while they were still on the earth, they experienced nothing other than persecution and sorrows. “For we have become a spectacle unto the world,” writes one of these apostles. “We hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are slapped, and we wander from place to place homeless…When we are reviled, we bless. When we are persecuted, we are patient. When we are defamed, we respond with love. We have become as the filth of the world” (1 Cor. 4:9-13).

Do you know who gives us this awe-inspiring description concerning the sufferings and the patience of the apostles? It is the apostle who suffered more than all the rest, the Job of the New Testament, the divine Saint Paul. From the day that Christ appeared to him up until the martyrdom with which he concluded his life, he knew nothing other than trials and sorrows. A short while prior to being apprehended, he said the following words to the presbyters of Ephesus: “At the instruction of the Holy Spirit, I go unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. I only know this: In every city I go to, the Holy Spirit informs me that bonds and afflictions are in store for me.” (Acts 20:22-23).

“Well, since bonds and afflictions are waiting for you, then why are you going there?” we could ask the Apostle Paul. To this he would reply, “This is precisely why I am going there. So I can be apprehended and chained; in order to be imprisoned and accused—even to die for Christ.” “Hold on, Apostle! Aren’t you embarrassed to go all over the world bound as a criminal? When people see you in this state, aren’t you afraid they may attribute weakness to the God Whom you preach and thus not believe in Him?” Now the Apostle Paul will respond to us with a verse from one of the epistles he wrote to the Philippians: “The things which happened unto me have actually turned out unto the furtherance of the gospel. So that my bonds in Christ have become evident in all the palace, and in all other places. And most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Ph. 1:12-14).

Do you see how the bonds have greater power than even the resurrection of the dead? He was tied and imprisoned in Rome, and yet he made most of its citizens become his followers. When he was tied and imprisoned in Jerusalem, he made the ruler Felix tremble with fear (cf. Acts 24:25) and king Agrippa stand in amazement (Acts 26:28). When he was in chains on the ship, he exercised control over the sea and calmed even the fierce storm, and thus he saved two hundred and seventy six people from certain death (Acts 27:1-44).

Do you remember what happened when the Apostle Paul was visiting the Philippians? He was apprehended, brutally hit with rods, thrown in a dark jail, and had his feet tightened in shackles. Even in this state, around midnight, while the guards were sleeping, he was chanting and praising God (Acts 16:16-25). What courage! What patience! What long-suffering We are not impressed so much with the numerous miracles recorded in the Scriptures that he performed, as we are astounded with the patience he displayed during his sufferings: when he was whipped, when he was ridiculed, and when he was stoned. “And, having stoned Paul, they drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead,” we read in the Acts (Acts 14:19). Yet another time the following occurred: “And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely” (Acts 16:23).

How content, how satisfied, how honored must St. Paul have felt knowing that he was beaten and imprisoned on account of Christ! But pay close attention to the miracle that followed: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.” (Acts 16:26). Do you see how these amazing bonds of St. Paul were able to loosen the bonds of others? “And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.” (Acts 16:27). How did St. Paul react in this situation? He yelled loudly to the guard, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” (Acts 16:28).

Do you see the modesty and humility of the apostle? He did not say, “All these things took place because of me!” Rather, as a simple prisoner amongst the other captives he confirmed that, “We are all here.” If St. Paul would have remained silent, the guard would have committed suicide. How much compassion and tenderness did the Apostle Paul show! He preferred to remain in bondage instead of allowing another person to lose his life. At that very moment, those very same bonds revealed their awesome power once more, for they made the prison officer kneel down before the prisoner. “Fearfully,” state the Acts, “he fell to the feet of Paul” (Acts 16:29). He who was free was suddenly found before the feet of him who was in bondage. He who had tied the apostle was now begging the apostle to loosen him from the bonds of ignorance and fear. “What must I do to be saved?” he asked (Acts 16:30).

Tell us, O guard: didn’t you tie him up? Didn’t you throw him in jail? Didn’t you secure his feet tightly in shackles? Why are you now trembling? Why are you panicking? Why are you crying? Why did you take out your sword to end your life? “I didn’t know,” he would respond to us, if he was present here, “I did not know that the servants of Christ, even when they are bound, have such great power!” What are you saying, O man? Christ’s apostle received authority from the Lord to open the heavens, and you think he would be incapable of opening the doors of the prison? He frees them who have been bound by the devil, and you believe a single chain would be capable of keeping him tied up? He frees souls who are bound by sin, and you imagine that he wouldn’t be able to free his own body?

It was for this very reason that he was tied beforehand, prior to loosening the bonds of the prisoners: so you can learn that the servants of Christ have much greater power—even when they are bound—than them who are free.

Whoever loves Christ understands the meaning of these words. Whoever is ablaze with the love of the Lord knows the power of bondage. This is why such a person prefers to be bound for Jesus instead of dwelling in the heavens. He prefers to be thrown into a dark dungeon instead of sitting on a throne at the right hand of God. If I had to choose between heaven and the chains used to tie the hands of the Apostle Paul, I would prefer the chains. If I had to choose between keeping company with God’s angels or staying next to the Apostle Paul in prison, I would prefer the prison. Why? Simply because there is nothing better for someone than to suffer hardships on account of Christ.

I do not praise St. Paul because he ascended into the third heaven and paradise (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2-4) as much as I praise him for being thrown into jail. I do not envy him because he heard words that a mortal tongue is incapable of expressing as much as I envy him for being beaten and bound. I prefer to suffer for believing in Christ than to enjoy being honored by Christ. This is how I become a disciple of the great St. Paul. In this manner, I become a disciple of Christ Himself, Who abandoned the glory of heaven and came to the earth as a humble man—in order to be glorified even more through derision, mockery, and death. Christ Himself affirmed this a short while prior to His Crucifixion when He asked His Father, “And now, O Father, glorify Me” (Jn. 17:5).

What are you saying, O Lord? Momentarily you will be apprehended. You will be beaten and spat upon. You will be crucified as a criminal amongst two thieves, and you are talking about glory? “Yes!” Christ replies to us noetically. “These constitute glory for Me, since I am enduring all this suffering for you humans, whom I love.” If, therefore, our innocent and sinless Lord believes that He is glorified more so by suffering and dying on account of love for us than enjoying His heavenly bliss amongst the angels who praise Him ceaselessly, how should we sinful and wretched people view suffering on account of love for Him Who delivered us from eternal death and granted us salvation?

All of us stand in wonder and amazement before Job’s patience and longsuffering, before his virtue, before his phenomenal confrontation with the devil, and, finally, before his victory and justification. All of us stand respectfully and deeply moved before the Apostle Paul’s patience and forbearance, before his incredible struggles to transmit the Gospel, before his hardships and deprivations, his persecutions and sorrows, his bonds and anguish, and, finally, his martyrdom for Christ. All of us stand with reverence and gratitude before the patience and longsuffering of our Lord, before His compassion and love, before His immaculate Passion and voluntary Crucifixion, which He endured for our salvation. Therefore, let us mimic God and His saints, in order to live with them eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.