The Prelate’s Sermon, October 30
Today, on the 8th Sunday of the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel reading is from Saint Luke 8:17-21. The Evangelist narrates an instructive event. While our Lord Jesus Christ is preaching inside a home, His mother and brothers come to meet Him. However, because of the crowd inside the house, they are forced to stay outside. As soon as His disciples are informed of the presence of His mother and brothers, they tell Jesus, and He replies to them: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God, and do it.”
Whoever hears or reads this response would be surprised, if not shocked, by this unusual attitude. Nevertheless, if we ponder for a moment not what we hear or read but what Jesus actually means, then we might witness that what Jesus is teaching is fully in line with His redemptive mission and a very genuine reflection of it.
In addition to the Scriptural message, I would like to share a few thoughts derived from the life of Saint John Chrysostom, whose feast was celebrated yesterday in the Armenian Apostolic Church. Saint John has a unique place among the Church Fathers of the Universal as well as the Armenian Church, who strengthened the foundation of our Faith laid by our Lord Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Apostles. Saint John Chrysostom’s biblical and theological legacy is indeed remarkable, and as Armenians we should feel proud that major oeuvres of this prominent Church Father would have otherwise been lost if they had not been translated into Armenian and preserved since the 5th century.
- John Chrysostom was converted to Christianity and was baptized in 361 at the age of 21. As a true follower of Christ, literally interpreting the instruction of our Lord (see Lk 18:22) he gave up his paternal inheritance and prominent career as a lawyer, isolated himself in a cave, and devoted himself to study the Scriptures. In 381, he was ordained a celibate priest. His sermons attracted large crowds, and soon he was honored by the believers with the Greek title of “Chrysostom” which means “golden-mouthed”; in Armenian, “Vosgeperan”. In 397, he was elected the Patriarch of Constantinople, which unfortunately as the capital of Byzantium Empire was witnessing a sharp decline in moral and social values. His criticism was not welcomed by the nobles, most especially by the Empress whom he identified with Herodias, by saying, “Once again Herodias is razing, once again Salome is dancing and asking for the beheading of John” (cf. Mt 14:1-12). The verdict was not delayed and the Empress dethroned and exiled him. The patriarch, after spending some time in Armenia, marched under the sever summer heat toward the last station of his exile in Comana, in Pontus. In 407, on September 14, on the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, he celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the Chapel of Saint Basilius, who had appeared to him in a dream the previous night. Before he expired, John Chrysostom offered a thanksgiving praise: “Glory to you, O God, glory to you! For the sake of all things, O Lord, glory to you!” The Armenian Church recites this prayer every day during the Evening Hour of Prayer “Park kez, Asdvadz, park kez! Haghakus amenayni, Der, park kez!”
- The renouncement by Saint John Chrysostom of his inheritance and career, then devoting himself to the study of the Bible, reflect his deeper conviction that the word of God meets all the requirements of our needs.
The Bible is not merely a book, but it is the best means embedded with the breath and wisdom of God by which we live our existence for its supreme goal. The Bible embraces our life in all its fullness.
It is true that John Chrysostom isolated himself in a cave, but through the Scriptures, the entire course of life with its past, present, and future was in front of him as transparent reality. Thus, as much as he was distant from society, he could still associate himself with society and pray for its salvation.
3. Amazingly, people have a natural intuition to recognize the authentic messenger of God. Thus they gave him the eloquent title of “Chrysostom,” a Greek word that means “golden-mouthed,” to this humble servant of God, for he spread the word of God, as did the Prophets.
The best sign of being a messenger of God is what Saint Paul, through his own experience, conveys to us, by saying, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). John Chrysostom chose to be a faithful servant, and while knowing the consequences to his outspokenness, he continued to emphasize to the people, and especially those in authority, that they should turn from their evil ways and live in Godly virtue.
4. The life of this servant of Christ is a great example, starting with his conversion and baptism, and then his renunciation of the world to his commendable reputation and golden orations. Yet, it is John Chrysostom’s concluding prayer, “Glory to you, O God, glory to you! For the sake of all things, O Lord, glory to you,” which typifies his absolute Christian conviction. This was not the thankful exclamation of an individual showered by success, honor, glory, and joy, but the humble prayer from a man who was subdued by unrighteous fate and had crossed the painful valley of persecution and death, yet had always enjoyed the presence of God, as St Paul would have confirmed: “Nothing could separate him from the love of God” (Rom 8:39).
Saint John Chrysostom today conveys to us through his experience, that according to the golden message of our Lord we can all be His brothers and sisters through our own life path if we hear and do the word of God. Therefore, let us all, with the ever-generating power of the Holy Spirit, hear the Word of God, actualize the Word in our lives, and praise the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.