Patristic Voices: Hieratikon – The Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom

John_Chrysostom_and_Aelia_Eudoxia

By: Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Have you ever thought that God wasn’t all that fair?  You probably have, but if not then you probably should.  The psalms certainly do (see psalm 10).  Fair is not, however, an appropriate word to ascribe to God.  Fair means “agreeing to what is thought to be right or acceptable” (Merriam-Webster).  Since God – in his very being/essence/nature – is goodness, beauty, and truth then he does not agree to what is thought to be right, he simply is what is right.  So when we find a situation where God doesn’t seem to be fair, perhaps we should ask ourselves if this is simply because we don’t see what is really right.

This “unfairness” of God takes two obvious forms: we either think he is being too generous or too harsh; sometimes both at the same time (see Mark 4:25).  Easter is one of those moments of unfairness.   We might not think this at first, but let’s take a look at St. John Chrysostom’s Easter homily and see if we can begin to see Easter as a time of “unfairness.”

1

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.

2

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

3

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first;

He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first;

To the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.

4

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

5

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

6

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!

He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!

And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed:

“Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.”

7

It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

8

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Heaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

9

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?

10

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

11

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.

Amen.

Indeed, John portrays a very “unfair” God.  A god who is much, much, much too generous for our human palates.  John Chrysostom was not an easy going person.  He was continually at odds with the wealthy and powerful and was exiled twice mainly due to his uncompromising uprightness.  Yet here, we see him inviting to the great Easter Vigil not just those who have done well observing the practices of the Church, those who have given alms, who have fasted, and who have been steeped in constant prayer.  No, here we see John inviting – even more emphatically – begging people to come to the Easter Vigil to celebrate.  We can see this most clearly in paragraphs 3 and 4.  John alludes to the parables of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), and the Workers in the Vinyard (Matthew 20:1-16), all of which portray a God who is unfair – unfair because he is far too generous!

What does this mean for us?  First, we must ask ourselves, what kind of Christian am I?  Am I the kind that believes they are worthy of going to Church and celebrating the Great Feast?  Am I the kind that sees all of the “Easter Lilly Christians” and judges them as less worthy than myself to participate at the Lord’s Table?  If we identify with this kind of Christian, then John’s message to us is clear – “The Master is gracious and receives the last EVEN AS the first!”  Or am I the kind of Christian that does not think they should be at Church this Easter?  Am I the kind of Christian who is afraid of the judgment of other Christians?  Am I the kind of Christian that is longing to meet God, but afraid to do so at the same time?  If we identify with this kind of Christian, then John’s message is equally clear – “Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward!

To all kinds of Christians, John is telling us to joy in the glory, the goodness, the grace of God!  What matters is that you come to the feast ready to be joyful – for the only thing that can ruin the feast is if you do not participate in it joyfully!  Everything else that you are, that you have done, none of that matters on this night.  One thing alone matters, that you answer the Master’s call joyfully, honestly, lovingly.  If you come to the Easter celebration in love with God then you come to the Easter celebration doing all that God asks you to do.

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