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Thursday, November 11, 2004

HOMILIES OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS, 5:1-8:

HOMILY IX.

1 THESSALONIANS, CHAPTER 5

Ver. 1, 2."But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night."

NOTHING, as it seems, is so curious, and so fondly prone to pry into things obscure and concealed, as the nature of men. And this is wont to happen to it, when the mind is unsettled and in an imperfect state. For the simpler sort of children never cease teasing their nurses, and tutors, and parents, with their frequent questions, in which there is nothing else but "when will this be?" and "when that?" And this comes to pass also from living in indulgence, and having nothing to do. Many things therefore our mind is in haste to learn already and to comprehend, but especially concerning the period of the consummation; and what wonder if we are thus affected, for those holy men, themselves, were most of all affected in the same way? And before the Passion, the Apostles come and say to Christ, "Tell us, when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" And after the Passion and the Resurrection from the dead, they said to Him, Tell us, "Dost Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" And they asked Him nothing sooner than this.

But it was not so afterwards, when they had been vouchsafed the Holy Spirit. Not only do they not themselves inquire, nor complain of this ignorance, but they repress those who labor under this unseasonable curiosity. Hear for instance what the blessed Paul now says, "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you." Why has he not said that no one knows? Why has he not said, that it is not revealed, instead of saying, "Ye have no need that aught be written unto you"? Because in that case he would have grieved them more, but by speaking thus he comforted them. For by the expression, "Ye have no need," as if it were both superfluous, and inexpedient, he suffers them not to enquire.
For tell me, what would be the advantage? Let us suppose that the end would be after twenty or thirty or a hundred years, what is this to us? Is not the end of his own life the consummation to every individual? Why art thou curious, and travailest about the general end? But the case is the same with us in this, as in other things. For as in other things, leaving our own private concerns, we are anxious about things in general, saying, Such an one is a fornicator, such an one an adulterer, that man has robbed, another has been injurious; but no one takes account of what is his own, but each thinks of anything rather than his own private concerns; so here also, each omitting to take thought about his own end, we are anxious to hear about the general dissolution. Now what concern is that of yours? for if you make your own a good end, you will suffer no harm from the other; be it far off, or be it near. This is nothing to us.

For this reason Christ did not tell it, because it was not expedient. How, you say, was it not expedient? He who also concealed it knows wherefore it was not expedient. For hear Him saying to His Apostles, "It is not for you to know times, or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority." Why are you curious? Peter, the chief of the Apostles, and his fellows, heard this said, as if they were seeking things too great for them to know. True, you say; but it were possible to stop the mouths of the Greeks in this way. How? Tell me. Because they say, that this world is a god; if we knew the period of its dissolution, we should have stopped their mouths. Why, is this what will stop their mouths, to know when it will be destroyed, or to know that it will be destroyed? Tell them this, that it will have an end. If they do not believe this, neither will they believe the other.

Hear Paul saying, "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night." Not the general day only, but that of every individual. For the one resembles the other, is also akin to it. For what the one does collectively, that the other does partially. For the period of consummation took its beginning from Adam, and then is the end of the consummation; since even now one would not err in calling it a consummation. For when ten thousand die every day, and all await That Day, and no one is raised before it is it not the work of That Day? And if you would know on what account it is concealed and why it so cometh as a thief in the night, I will tell you how I think I can well account for it. No one would have ever cultivated virtue during his whole life; but knowing his last day, and, after having committed numberless sins, then having come to the Layer, he would so have departed. For if now, when the fear arising from its uncertainty shakes the souls of all, still all, having spent their whole former life in wickedness, at their last breath give themselves up to Baptism,--if they had fully persuaded themselves concerning this matter, who would ever have cultivated virtue? If many have departed without Illumination, and not even this fear has taught them, whilst living, to cultivate the things that are pleasing to God; if this fear also had been removed, who would ever have been sober, or who gentle? There is not one And another thing again. The fear of death and the love of life restrain many. But if each one knew that tomorrow he would certainly die, there is nothing he would refuse to attempt before that day, but he would murder whomsoever he wished, and would retrieve himself by taking vengeance on his enemies, and would perpetrate ten thousand crimes.

For a wicked man, who despairs of his life here, pays no regard even to him who is invested with the purple. He therefore who was persuaded that he must at all events die would both be revenged upon his enemy, and after having first satisfied his own soul, so would meet his end. Let me mention also a third thing. Those who are fond of life, and vehemently attached to the things of this world, would be ruined by despair and grief. For if any of the young knew that before he reached old age, he should meet his end, as the most sluggish of wild beasts, when they are taken, become still more sluggish from expecting their end, so would he also be affected. Besides, not even the men that are courageous would have had their reward. For if they knew that after three years they must certainly die, and before that time it was not possible, what reward would they have gained for daring in the face of dangers? For any one might say to them, Because you are confident of the three years of life, for this reason you throw yourselves into dangers, knowing that it is not possible for you to pass away. For he, that expects from each danger that he may come by his death, and knows that he shall live indeed, if he does not expose himself to peril, but shall die if he attempts such and such actions, he gives the greatest proof of his zeal, and of his contempt for the present life. And this I will make plain to you by an example. Tell me, if the patriarch Abraham, foreknowing that he should not have to sacrifice his son, had brought him to the place, would he then have had any reward? And what if Paul, foreknowing that he should not die, had despised dangers, in what respect would he have been admirable? For so even the most sluggish would rush into the fire, if he could find any one he could trust to ensure his safety. But not such were the Three Children. For hear them saying, "O king, there is a God in heaven, who will deliver us out of thine hands, and out of this furnace; and if not, be it known to thee that we do not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

Ye see how many advantages there are, and yet there are more than these that arise from not knowing the time of our end. Meanwhile it is sufficient to learn these. On this account He so cometh as a thief in the night; that we may not abandon ourselves to wickedness, nor to sloth; that He may not take from us our reward. "For yourselves know perfectly," he says. Why then are you curious, if you are persuaded? But that the future is uncertain, learn from what Christ has said. For that on this account He said it, hear what he says, "Watch therefore: for ye know not at what hour" the thief "cometh." On this account also Paul said,

Ver. 3. "When they are saying "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in nowise escape."

Here he has glanced at something which he has also said in his second Epistle. For since they indeed were in affliction, but they that warred on them at ease and in luxury, and then while he comforted them in their present sufferings by this mention of the Resurrection, the others insulted them with arguments taken from their forefathers, and said, When will it happen?--which the Prophets also said, "Woe unto them that say, Let him make speed, let God hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel come, that we may know it!" ; and again "Woe unto them that desire the day of the Lord." (Amos v. 18.) He means this day; for he does not speak simply of persons who desire it, but of those who desire it because they disbelieve it: and "the day of the Lord," he says, "is darkness, and not light"--see then how Paul consoles them, as if he had said, Let them not account their being in a prosperous state, a proof that the Judgment is not coming. For so it is that it will come.

But it may be worth while to ask, "If Antichrist comes, and Elias comes, how is it 'when they say Peace and safety,' that then a sudden destruction comes upon them?" For these things do not permit the day to come upon them unawares, being signs of its coming. But he does not mean this to be the time of Antichrist, and the whole day, because that will be a sign of the coming of Christ, but Himself will not have a sign, but will come suddenly and unexpectedly. For travail, indeed, you say, does not come upon the pregnant woman unexpectedly: for she knows that after nine months the birth will take place. And yet it is very uncertain. For some bring forth at the seventh month, and others at the ninth. And at any rate the day and the hour is uncertain. With respect to this therefore, Paul speaks thus. And the image is exact. For there are not many sure signs of travail; many indeed have brought forth in the high roads, or when out of their houses and abroad, not fore-seeing it. And he has not only glanced here at the uncertainty, but also at the bitterness of the pain. For as she while sporting, laughing, not looking for anything at all, being suddenly seized with unspeakable pains, is pierced through with the pangs of labor --so will it be with those souls, when the Day comes upon them.

Ver.3. (continued)"And they shall in nowise escape."
As he was saying just now.

Ver. 4. "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief."

Here he speaks of a life that is dark and impure. For it is just as corrupt and wicked men do all things as in the night, escaping the notice of all, and inclosing themselves in darkness. For tell me, does not the adulterer watch for the evening, and the thief for the night? Does not the violator of the tombs carry on all his trade in the night? What then? Does it not overtake them as a thief? Does it not come upon them also uncertainly, but do they know it beforehand? How then does he say, "Ye have no need that aught be written unto you"? He speaks here not with respect to the uncertainty, but with respect to the calamity, that is, it will not come as an evil to them. For it will come uncertainly indeed even to them, but it will involve them in no trouble. "That that Day," he says, "may not overtake you as a thief." For in the case of those who are watching and who are in the light, if there should be any entry of a robber, it can do them no harm: so also it is with those who live well. But those who are sleeping he will strip of everything, and go off; that is, those who are trusting in the things of this life.

Ver. 5. "For ye are all, sons of light, and sons of the day."

And how is it possible to be "sons of the day "? Just as it is said, "sons of destruction" and "sons of hell." Wherefore Christ also said to the Pharisees, "Woe unto you--for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is become so, ye make him a son of hell."And again Paul said, "For which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." That is, those who do the works of hell and the works of disobedience. So also sons of God are those who do things pleasing to God; so also sons of day and sons of light, those who do the works of light.

Ver.5. (continued) "And we are not of the night nor of darkness."

Ver. 6, 7, 8. "So then let us not sleep, as do also the rest, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, since we are of the day, be sober."

Here he shows, that to be in the day depends on ourselves. For here indeed, in the case of the present day and night, it does not depend on ourselves. But night comes even against our will, and sleep overtakes us when we do not wish it. But with respect to that night and that sleep, it is not so, but it is in our power always to have it day, it is in our power always to watch. For to shut the eyes of the soul, and to bring on the sleep of wickedness, is not of nature, but of our own choice. "But let us watch," he says, "and be sober." For it is possible to sleep while awake, by doing nothing good. Wherefore he has added, "and be sober." For even by day, if any one watches, but is not sober, he will fall into numberless dangers, so that sobriety is the intensity of watchfulness. "They that sleep," he says, "sleep in the night, and they that be drunken are drunken in the night." The drunkenness he here speaks of is not that from wine only, but that also which comes of all vices. For riches and the desire of wealth is a drunkenness of the soul, and so carnal lust; and every sin you can name is a drunkenness of the soul. On what account then has he called vice sleep? Because in the first place the vicious man is inactive with respect to virtue: again, because he sees everything as a vision, he views nothing in its true light, but is full of dreams, and oftentimes of unreasonable actions: and if he sees anything good, he has no firmness, no fixedness. Such is the present life. It is full of dreams, and of phantasy. Riches are a dream, and glory, and everything of that sort. He who sleeps sees not things that are and have a real subsistence, but things that are not he fancies as things that are. Such is vice, and the life that is passed in vice. It sees not things that are, that is, spiritual, heavenly, abiding things, but things that are fleeting and fly away, and that soon recede from us.

But it is not sufficient to watch and be sober, we must also be armed. For if a man watch and is sober, but has not arms, the robbers soon dispatch him. When therefore we ought both to watch, and to be sober, and to be armed, and we are unarmed and naked and asleep, who will hinder him from thrusting home his sword? Wherefore showing this also, that we have need of arms, he has added:

Ver. 8. (continued) "Putting on the breastplate of faith and love: and for a helmet the hope of salvation."

"Of faith and love," he says. Here he glances at life and doctrine. He has shown what it is to watch and be sober, to have "the breastplate of faith and love." Not a common faith, he says, but as nothing can soon pierce through a breastplate, but it is a safe wall to the breast;--so do thou also, he says, surround thy soul with faith and love, and none of the fiery darts of the devil can ever be fixed in it. For where the power of the soul is preoccupied with the armor of love, all the devices of those who plot against it are vain and ineffectual. For neither wickedness, nor hatred, nor envy, nor flattery, nor hypocrisy, nor any other thing will be able to penetrate such a soul. He has not simply said "love," but he has bid them put it on as a strong breastplate. "And for a helmet the hope of salvation." For as the helmet guards the vital part in us, surrounding the head and covering it on every side, so also this hope does not suffer the reason to falter, but sets it upright as the head, not permitting anything from without to fall upon it. And whilst nothing falls on it, neither does it slip of itself. For it is not possible that one who is fortified with such arms as these, should ever fall. For "now abideth faith, hope, love." (1 Cor. xiii. 13.) Then having said, "Put on", and array yourselves, he himself provides the armor, whence faith, hope, and love may be produced, and may become strong.