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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

HOMILIES OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS

Excerpts from Homilies I & II

On 1 THESSALONIANS, CHAPTER 1:6-10

Ver. 6. "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit."

Strange! what an encomium is here! The disciples have suddenly become teachers! They not only heard the word, but they quickly arrived at the same height with Paul. But this is nothing; for see how he exalts them, saying, "Ye became imitators of the Lord." How? "Having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit." Not merely with affliction, but with much affliction. And this we may learn from the Acts of the Apostles, how they raised a persecution against them. And they troubled all the rulers of the city, and they instigated the city against them. And it is not enough to say, ye were afflicted indeed, and believed, and that grieving, but even rejoicing. Which also the Apostles did: "Rejoicing," it is said, "that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name." For it is this that is admirable. Although neither is that a slight matter, in any way to bear afflictions. But this now was the part of men surpassing human nature, and having, as it were, a body incapable of suffering.

But how were they imitators of the Lord? Because He also endured many sufferings, but rejoiced. For He came to this willingly. For our sakes He emptied Himself. He was about to be spit upon, to be beaten and crucified, and He so rejoiced in suffering these things, that He said to the Father, "Glorify Me."

"With joy of the Holy Spirit," he says. That no one may say, how speakest thou of "affliction"? how "of joy"? How can both meet in one? He has added, "with joy of the Holy Spirit." The affliction is in things bodily, and the joy in things spiritual. How? The things which happened to them were grievous, but not so the things which sprang out of them, for the Spirit does not allow it. So that it is possible both for him who suffers, not to rejoice, when one suffers for his sins; and being beaten to take pleasure, when one suffers for Christ's sake. For such is the joy of the Spirit. In return for the things which appear to be grievous, it brings out delight. They have afflicted you, he says, and persecuted you, but the Spirit did not forsake you, even in those circumstances. As the Three Children in the fire were refreshed with dew, so also were you refreshed in afflictions. But as there it was not of the nature of the fire to sprinkle dew, but of the "whistling wind,"so also here it was not of the nature of affliction to produce joy, but of the suffering for Christ's sake, and of the Spirit bedewing them, and in the furnace of temptation setting them at ease. Not merely with joy, he says, but "with much joy." For this is of the Holy Spirit.

Ver. 7. "So that ye became ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia."

And yet it was later that he went to them. But ye so shone, he says, that ye became teachers of those who received (the word) before you. And this is like the Apostle. For he did not say, so that ye became ensamples in regard to believing, but ye became an ensample to those who already believed; how one ought to believe in God, ye taught, who from the very beginning entered into your conflict.

"And in Achaia," he says; that is, in Greece. Do you see how great a thing is zeal? That it does not require time, nor delay, nor procrastination, but it is sufficient only to venture one's self, and all is fulfilled. Thus then though coming in later to the Preaching, they became teachers of those who were before them.


Ver. 8-10. "For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come."

As a sweet-smelling ointment keeps not its fragrance shut up in itself, but diffuses it afar, and scenting the air with its perfume, so conveys it also to the senses of the neighbors; so too illustrious and admirable men do not Shut up their virtue within themselves, but by their good report benefit many, and render them better. Which also then happened. Where fore he said, "So that ye became ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." "For from you," he says, "hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth." Ye have filled, therefore, all your neighbors with instruction, and the world with wonder. For this is meant by the expression, "in every place." And he has not said, your faith is noised abroad, but "has sounded out"; as every place near is filled with the sound of a loud trumpet, so the report of your manfulness is loud, and sounding even like that, is sufficient to fill the world, and to fall with equal sound upon all that are round about. For great actions are more loudly celebrated there, where they have taken place; afar off indeed they are celebrated, but not so much.

But in your case it was not so, but the sound of good report was spread abroad in every part of the earth. And whence know we, says one, that the words were not hyperbolical? For this nation of the Macedonians, before the coming of Christ, was renowned, and celebrated everywhere more than the Romans. And the Romans were admired on this account, that they took them captive. For the actions of the Macedonian king exceeded all report, who, setting out from a little city indeed, yet subdued the world. Wherefore also the Prophet saw him, a winged leopard, showing his swiftness, his vehemence, his fiery nature, his suddenly in a manner flying over the whole world with the trophies of his victory. And they say, that hearing from a certain philosopher, that there were infinite worlds, he groaned bitterly, that when they were numberless, he had not conquered even one. So high-minded was he, and high-souled, and celebrated everywhere. And with the fame of the king the glory of the nation also kept pace. For he was called "Alexander, the Macedonian." So that what took place there was also naturally much talked of. For nothing can be concealed that relates to the illustrious. The Macedonians then were not inferior to the Romans.

And this has also arisen from their vehemence. For as if he were speaking of something living, he introduces the word "gone forth"; so vehement and energetic was their faith. "So that we need not to speak anything," says he, "for they themselves report concerning us what entering in we had unto you." They do not wait to hear from us, but those who were not present, and have not seen, anticipate those who were present, and have seen your good deeds. So manifest were they everywhere made by report. We shall not therefore need, by relating your actions, to bring them to equal zeal. For the things which they ought to have heard from, us, these they themselves talk of, anticipating: us. And yet in the case of such there is frequently envy, but the exceeding greatness of the thing conquered even this, and they are the heralds of your conflicts. And though left behind, not even so are they silenced, but they are beforehand with us. And being such, it is not possible for them to disbelieve our report.

What means, "What manner of entering in we had unto you"? That it was full of dangers, and numberless deaths, but that none of these things troubled you. But as if nothing had happened, so you adhered to us; as if ye had suffered no evil, but had enjoyed infinite good, so you received us after these things. For this was the second entering. They went to Beroea, they were persecuted, and when they came after this they so received them, as though they had been honored by these also, so that they even laid down their lives for them. The expression, "What manner of entering in we had," is complicated, and contains an encomium both of them and of themselves. But he himself has turned this to their advantage. "And how," he says, "ye turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God"; that is, that ye did it readily, that ye did it with much eagerness, that it did not require much labor to make you. "In order to serve," says he, "a living and true God."

Here also he introduced an exhortation, which is the part of one who would make his discourse less offensive. "And to wait," he says, "for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come." "And to wait," he says, "for His Son from heaven"; Him that was crucified, Him that was buried; to wait for Him from heaven. And how "from heaven"? "Whom He raised from the dead." You see all things at the same time; both the Resurrection, and the Ascension, and the second Coming, the Judgment, the retribution of the just, the punishment of the wicked. "Jesus," he says, "which delivereth us from the wrath to come." This is at once comfort, and exhortation, and encouragement. For if He raised Him from the dead, and He is in heaven, and thence will come, (and ye believed in Him; for if ye had not believed in Him, ye would not have suffered so much), this of itself is sufficient comfort. These shall suffer punishment, which he says in his second epistle, and you will have no small consolation.

And to "wait," he says, "for His Son from heaven." The terrible things are in hand, but the good things are in the future, when Christ shall come from heaven. See how much hope is required, in that He who was crucified has been raised, that He has been taken up into heaven, that He will come to judge the quick and the dead.