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St. Paul is staying in the house of Aquila and his wife Priscilla, the family are making tents and St. Paul is writing. Engraving by J. Sadeler after Jodocus Winghe. Photo: wikipedia.org    
Our beloved Father among the Saints, St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), the greatest Christian preacher who ever lived, peached two sermons specifically on Saints Priscilla and Aquila. This married couple were Jewish converts to Christ who were living in Rome when the Roman Emperor Claudius, in about the year 49 A.D., expelled all the Jews from that city “on account of disturbances among them over Chrestus” (an obvious reference to Christ), according to the Roman historian Suetonius.
Priscilla and Aquila fled to Corinth, where St. Paul had recently come while on his very extended second missionary journey. Because they were fellow tentmakers, Paul stayed in their house for nearly two years as he preached and labored in Corinth (see Acts 18:1-11).
Priscilla and Aquila then accompanied Paul when he left Corinth to go to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19). There the husband and wife missionary team hosted a house-church in their home; and it was here that Priscilla instructed Apollos further in the way of Christ (Acts 18:24-28).
Later, Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome, where again a house-church met in their home. So when Paul writes his Epistle to the Romans, he includes these words:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise great the church that is in their home (Romans 16:3-5).
These verses are the Scriptural text that forms the basis for St. John’s two sermons on Priscilla and Aquila.
The Greek text of this sermon is found in J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Graeca, vol. 51.187C-196B. I was assisted in doing my new translation of it by an unpublished translation of it done by Catherine Kroeger. As far as I know, this sermon has never been published in English translation.
I’ve added subheadings to aid the reader in following the flow of the sermon.—Dr. David Ford
There is nothing superfluous in the Scriptures
I suppose many of you are marveling at this portion of the Epistle reading for today [Romans 16:1-16], and especially that one might reflect upon this seemingly incidental, superfluous part of the epistle, which only has frequent salutations in quick succession. Today, then, I’m prepared to shift from what we spoke about previously, and to expound upon this assertion: that in the Divine Scriptures, there is nothing superfluous, nothing incidental, even if it’s one iota, even if it’s one period.
Indeed, even a mere greeting opens up for us a great sea of considerations. And why do I say “a mere greeting”? Often even the addition of a single letter can bring in a whole new meaning. This can be seen in the naming of Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:5).
How would it not be out of place, upon receiving a letter from a friend, to only read the main part of the letter, and not also the salutation in which is discerned the disposition of the writer? In this case, it’s Paul who is the writer—though not really Paul, but the grace of the Holy Spirit—and it’s composed for an entire city and such a great populace—and through them, for the whole world!
Thinking that certain parts of the Scriptures are superfluous, and so skipping over them without reflecting upon them, is what has made everything upside down. This, yes this, is what fills us with great indifference (rathumia): not to immerse ourselves in all the Scriptures. Rather, we decide which parts are clearer; and selecting these, we consider the rest to be of no account. This is what leads to heresies: not wishing to be immersed in the entire corpus of the Scriptures, and to decide which parts are superfluous and incidental.
“We must study all of it diligently”
For this reason, we must study all of it diligently, not only what seems to be superfluous, but also what seems to be incomprehensible and vexing. For experiential knowledge (empeiria) of all the Scriptures has been neglected and overlooked.
Yet those excited at the sight of a horserace can say with complete accuracy the names, and herd, and pedigree, and birthplace, and rearing of the horses, and also their age and racing ability; and which horses, if matched against which, will gain the victory; and which horse from which starting gate, and having which driver, will win the race, outpacing its rival.
Those devoted to the theaters demonstrate no less enthusiasm. Indeed, they have greater mania for those conducting themselves disgracefully on the stage—I mean mimes and dancing girls—and they can categorically state their ancestry, and birthplace, and training, and everything else.
But when we are asked how many, and to whom, are the Epistles of Paul, we cannot give the number. And if those who do know the number are asked which cities received the Epistles, they’re at a loss to answer the question.
Yet a certain man, a eunuch and barbarian, although burdened with a myriad of cares and business concerns, nevertheless, so that he would not waste his time in idleness while on a journey, while sitting in his chariot he devoted himself to reading the Divine Scriptures—and hence he himself got included in the Scriptures (Acts 8:26-39). Yet we, who do not have such lack of leisure as that man had, do not welcome the names in the Epistles, gathering them from the readings on each Lord’s Day and enjoying Divine instruction about them.
But lest our discourse only be a rebuke, come, let’s proceed into the midst of the greeting that may appear superfluous and even irritating. When the greeting is carefully examined, and the gain therefrom is made clear to those who listen with diligence, then greater will be the accusation against those who neglect such treasures, who cast from their hands such spiritual riches.
Only a mere greeting?
So what is this greeting? “Greet Priscilla and Aquila,” he says, “my fellow-workers in the Lord” (Romans 16:3). So then! Does it not seem to be a mere greeting, revealing to us nothing great or noble?
Come then, let us devote our entire homily to this greeting alone. And actually, our words spoken today will not suffice to draw out for you all the meaning of these few words in the Scripture. We will have to save for another day the rest of the abundance of insights which are generated by this little greeting. For I’m not prepared to go through the whole passage that was read today—just the beginning of it: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila.”
Paul’s care for all the churches
First to be mentioned is Paul’s virtue—how he had taken in hand the whole world, both land and sea; and all the cities under the sun, both barbarian and Greek, and all the people moving about in them; and yet he had such solicitude for this one man and one woman.
Second is this marvel—how despite being sleepless and having a soul heavily burdened with cares, he not only cared for the whole world in general, but he also had special regard for each person who was approved and noble. It’s not surprising, in having to quell tumults, in being given oversight over a city—and besides this, due to the magnitude of the dangers, the length of the journey, the plethora of concerns, the endless succession of waves, the ceaseless visitation of all of this and of much more besides—that Church leaders would drop from their memory those who are completely dependable to be useful helpers.
But Paul did not forget those who were like that. And why were they not forgotten? Because of Paul’s greatness of soul (megalopsychian), and his fervor, and his genuine love (agapēn). He had them in mind so much that he frequently remembered them in his epistles.
Priscilla and Aquila’s humble status
But now let’s see what sort of people these were who took Paul into their hands, who drew to themselves his great affection (pothon). So then! Were they consuls or generals? Were they rulers? Had they attained some other eminent distinction? Were they compassed about with much wealth? Were they magistrates of the city? Nothing like this can be said of them—rather, the complete opposite. For they were poor and needy, living by the labor of their hands. For, it says, “They were tentmakers by trade” (Acts 18:3).
And Paul was not ashamed, neither did he consider it a matter of reproach, to command the imperial city and its haughty people to greet those two artisans. Nor did he consider his love (philia) for this couple to be an insult to the city.
Now that we have explained these things, let’s now give a spiritual exhortation (philosophein). Often with us, if we have relatives who are even just a little less well-off than we are, we avoid close association with them; and we consider it to be a reproach to us if it’s discovered that we’re related to them. But Paul was not like that. Rather, he took pride in his occupation. And not only to his contemporaries, but also to all those coming afterwards, he made it clear that those tentmakers were among the first to perfect (eteloun) their love (philian) for him.
And let no one say to me, “And what’s so marvelous about that?—that he, being of the same trade as they, would not be ashamed of his fellow tradesmen?” What are you saying? This was indeed great and marvelous. For those who are suddenly raised up from a low status to a high distinction often become disdainful of those who are thereby inferior to them. But no one was more illustrious than Paul; no one was more eminent. He was more distinguished than kings themselves, as is evident to all. For he commanded demons, and raised the dead; and by his command, he was able both to make blind, and to heal those who were blinded. His clothing and his shadow healed every form of disease, so that he was considered to be no longer a man but a certain angel come down from Heaven.
And yet, while enjoying such glory, and being marveled at everywhere, and converting everyone wherever he might appear, he was not ashamed of the tentmakers, neither did he expect those in high station to disdain those beneath them in dignity. For it’s likely that there were many who were illustrious in the Church of the Romans whom he was constraining to greet these poor folk. For he knew, he clearly knew, that nobility is produced not from the splendor of wealth or the abundance of riches, but rather from the mildness and equanimity (epieikeia) of one’s life.
The Romans were deficient in this virtue; and they were arrogant, due to the glory of their forebears. They were adorned with the mere name of nobility, but not the reality. Often even the claim to nobility does not bear scrutiny, if one investigates the lineage of these “nobles” further back. For if you consider someone who’s famous and illustrious, whose father and grandfather he could say also were distinguished, and you investigate with precision, often you will find that his great-grandfather was of common birth, with an obscure name. Similarly, if we inquire a bit into the lineage of those who appear to be commoners, we will often find among their ancestors rulers and generals who might then have become swineherds and groomsmen of horses.
Their nobility of soul
All of this Paul understood, but he did not consider these things to be of much account. For he sought nobility of soul, and he taught others to marvel at this.
Thus far we have reaped not a little fruit from these few words: to not be ashamed of anyone in a more lowly state, to seek excellence of soul, and to recognize the significance of everything around us that appears externally to be superfluous and unprofitable.
St. John Chrysostom
Translation from the original by Dr. David C. Ford
St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary


President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”


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« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2021, 05:00:56 PM »
Icon of Saint Paul with Sts Aquila and Priscilla. Photo: afanasiy.netIcon of Saint Paul with Sts Aquila and Priscilla. Photo: afanasiy.net    
Marriage is no obstacle to serving Christ
There’s another benefit that can be reaped from these words—one that especially maintains our life in uprightness. And what is this? Not to condemn marriage, and neither to consider it to be an impediment or an obstacle on the path leading to virtue to have a wife, to raise children, to preside over a household, to work at a trade with one’s hands.
Behold here a man and a woman, excelling in their workshop, working their trade with their hands, and displaying Christian philosophy much more precisely (akribesteran) than those living in monasteries. And how is this evident? From the things that Paul said before about them—or rather, not from those things, but from what he witnesses about them next. For after saying, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila,” he adds the reason for their worthiness. And what is this? He does not say that they were wealthy, or illustrious, or well-born; but what?—“my fellow-workers in the Lord.” Nothing could equal this attestation of excellence! And their worth is evident not only from this, but also from the fact that Paul stayed with them, not just for a day, or two or three, but for two whole years (cf. Acts 18:1-3, 11, 18). In this, their virtue is manifest.
Just as secular magistrates do not ever choose to lodge with those who are lowly and humble, but rather seek splendid homes of notable men, lest the lowliness of their hosts might sully the greatness of their position, so the Apostles did also in their own way. For they did not stay with whomever they chanced upon, even if the house might be the most splendid. Rather, they sought out excellence of soul. And after discovering through precise inquiry who were appropriate, they stayed with those people.
And indeed, this law is commanded by Christ, Who said: “Into whatever city or household you enter, ask who is worthy in it, and stay there” (Matt. 10:11; Luke 9:4). So this couple was worthy of Paul. And if worthy of Paul, they were also worthy of angels. I would gladly (tharrōn) refer to their home as both Heaven and Church. For where Paul was, there was also Christ: “If you seek evidence of Christ speaking in me” (2 Cor. 13:3). And where Christ was, there the angels continually congregated.
Think what they became in their two years of dwelling with him”
And if this couple had already rendered themselves worthy of ministering to Paul, think what they became in their two years of dwelling with him, as they carefully watched his bearing, his walk, his glance, his way of dressing, his comings and goings, and everything else. For with the saints, we have more than their words, their teachings and exhortations. We also have the rest of their lives—their entire way of life—from which to learn further the teaching of true philosophy.
Think how tremendous it was to see Paul having supper, and rebuking, and consoling, and praying, and weeping, and going out and coming in. For if we only have fourteen of Paul’s Epistles, and we carry them everywhere across the earth, what must that couple have become who lived together with such an “angel”—the very wellspring of those Epistles, the tongue of the world, the light of the Churches, the foundation of the Faith, the pillar and ground of the truth! For if his garments had such power that they were fearsome to demons (cf. Acts 19:12), how much would living with him have attracted the grace of the Spirit!
To see Paul’s bed, to see the blanket over it, to see his sandals—would this not have been enough to keep them in constant amazement and compunction? For if the demons shuddered upon seeing his clothing, much more were those believers living with him struck with contrition upon seeing these things of his!
Priscilla is placed first
This too is worthy of being commented upon—the fact that in greeting them, Paul places Priscilla before her husband. For he did not say, “Greet Aquila and Priscilla,” but rather, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila.” He did not do this at random; for it seems to me that he is acknowledging that she had greater godliness than did her husband. And that what I’ve just said is not conjecture, it’s possible to learn from the Acts of the Apostles. For she took aside Apollos, a man mighty in the Scriptures but knowing only the baptism of John, and taught him the way of God, making him a fully equipped teacher (Acts 18:24-26).
Photo: opv-ak.ruPhoto: opv-ak.ru    
The Apostolic women
For the women in the company of the Apostles did not worry about the things that are of so much concern to the women of our own day—how they might array themselves in splendid finery; how they might adorn their faces with cosmetics and lines painted around their eyes; how they might prevail over their husbands to purchase a more expensive coat for them than their neighbor of the same social standing might have; how they might also have white mules with gold-covered bridles, and a retinue of eunuchs, and a great swarm of maidservants, and everything else that makes for a fantastical spectacle worthy of scorn.
The women back then shook off all such things. Casting away worldly vanity, they sought only one thing: how they might become partners (koinōnoi) with the Apostles, sharing in the same pursuit with them.
And there were not only those such as Priscilla, but all the others besides. For concerning a certain Persis he says, “who labored much for us” (Romans 16:12). And as for Mary and Tryphena, he marvels at their labors, for they worked along with the Apostles, and participated as spiritual athletes with them (Romans 16:6 and 12).
On women teaching
So how does he say, in writing to Timothy, “I do not permit a woman to teach, neither to exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12)? This is when the man is godly, and possesses the same Faith, and shares the same wisdom. But when the man is unbelieving, or going off into error, Paul does not deprive her of the authority to teach. Indeed, in writing to the Corinthians, he says, “And if the woman has an unbelieving husband, she must not leave him. For what do you know, O wife, whether or not you might save your husband?” (1 Cor. 7:13, 16). And how can a believing wife save her unbelieving husband? It’s evident that this can happen through her instructing, and teaching, and leading him to the Faith, just as Priscilla herself did with Apollos (Acts 18:24-28).
And besides, when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” he was speaking about teaching in the church (en tō bēmati), about public discourse, and about speaking against the clergy. He does not forbid exhorting and counseling in private. For if that were forbidden, he would not have praised her for doing so.
Let the men listen, and let the women give heed to these things—the women, that they might imitate her who is of their same sex, and a kinswoman of Christ; and the men, so that they might not appear to be more feeble than their wives. For what excuse will we have, what pardon, when the women display such zeal, and such Christian philosophy, while we men are constantly bound to the things of this world?
Seeking virtue with poverty
And let the rulers learn these things, and those who are under authority, and priests, and all those in the rank of the laity, so that no one will marvel at the rich or pursue splendid dwellings, but rather that they will seek virtue with poverty, and not despise the poorer ones among the brethren, overlooking neither the tentmaker, nor the tanner, nor the seller of purple, nor the coppersmith, nor any who serve under domination.
Let those who are ruled over not think their status is an obstacle to their giving hospitality to the saints. Rather, let them consider the widow, the one who gave hospitality to Elijah when she had only a fistful of flour (3 Kingdoms 17:8-16, LXX; 1 Kings 17:8-16, KJV), and also the couple who gave room and board to Paul for two years. Let them open their homes to those in need, and let them hold everything they possess in common with those strangers.
Don’t tell me this—that you don’t have household servants! For even if you had ten thousand of them, God commands that you reap the fruit of hospitality yourself. Wherefore Paul, in examining women who are widows, and commanding them to give hospitality to strangers, specified that they do so not through others, but by doing so themselves. For in saying, “If she has shown hospitality to strangers,” he then added, “If she has washed the feet of the saints” (cf. 1 Tim. 5:9, 10). He did not say, “If she has spent money for them,” or, “If she has commanded servants to do it,” but “If she herself has done this.” And Abraham, who had 318 servants, himself ran to the herd, and carried the calf, and performed all the other acts of serving, and made his wife his partner in reaping the fruit of hospitality (Gen. 18:1-8).
Wherefore our Lord Jesus Christ was born in a manger, and raised in a house; but once He was grown He did not have a place to lay His head. This was so you might be instructed not to gape after the glittering things of this life, but rather to be a lover (erastēn) of simplicity everywhere, to pursue poverty, to flee from over-abundance, and to adorn yourself within. For “All the glory of the King’s daughter,” it says, “is within” (Ps. 44:14, LXX; Ps. 45:13, KJV).
Christian hospitality
If you have a hospitable disposition, you have the entire treasure chest of hospitality, even if you only possess a single coin. But if you are a hater of mankind in general, and a hater of strangers, even if you are encompassed with a multitude of possessions, your house will be too constricted for the presence of guests.
The home of Priscilla and Aquila did not have couches covered with silver, but much good judgment (sōphrosunēn) was there. It did not have fine bedding, but it had a gentle and welcoming atmosphere. It did not have gleaming pillars, but it had a shining beauty of spirit. It was not encompassed by marble walls, neither was its flooring covered with mosaics; but it was a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul praised these things, and loved them dearly. Wherefore, after staying in that home for two years, he did not repudiate it.
On account of these things, he remembered his hosts constantly. Indeed, he composed a great and marvelous tribute to them, not in order to make them more illustrious, but to lead others to the same zeal, and to persuade everyone to regard as blessed, not the wealthy, not those in authority, but the hospitable, the merciful, those full of love for mankind (philanthrōpous), those demonstrating great friendliness and kindness (philophrosunēn) to the saints.
Don’t be ashamed to work at a trade
So, having learned these things from the greeting, let us make them manifest in our works. Let’s not indiscriminately consider the rich to be blessed, and neither let us disparage the poor, nor scorn tradesmen, nor consider labor to be a reproach. Rather, let us be ashamed of idleness, and have nothing to do with it.
If labor were a reproach, Paul would not have worked at a trade; neither would he have considered it to be beneficial for himself. For as he said, “If I preach the Gospel, there’s no reason for me to boast. What, then, are my wages? That through my preaching I present the Gospel of Christ free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:16 and 18). If a trade were a reproach, he would not have commanded that those not working should not eat (cf. 2 Thess. 3:10).
For only sin is a reproach. Idleness usually gives birth to sin—and not to one or two or three sins only, but to every evil altogether. Wherefore a certain wise man made clear that idleness teaches every evil; and so he said concerning servants, “Set him to work, lest he be idle” (Wisdom of Sirach 33:28).
Just as a bit is to a horse, so is labor to our human nature. If idleness were good, then the earth would sprout forth without any plowing and sowing, and no one would work at such toil. But in the beginning God did not command that everything bring forth without plowing. Neither does He do so now. For He has made it a law that men yoke the oxen, and drag the plow, and cut the furrows, and cast in the seed, and in many other ways care for the vine, and trees, and the grain, so that involvement in such labor would lead their minds away from working any kind of evil.
In the very beginning, to show forth His power, God prepared things so that everything would be provided without our labor: “Let the earth sprout forth green vegetation,” He said (Gen. 1:11); and immediately it came forth abundantly.
But after these things, it was not that way. For then He commanded that produce be brought forth from the earth through our labors, so that you might learn that He introduced labor for our benefit and advantage. It seems to be a punishment and retribution when we hear, “In the sweat of your face you will eat your bread” (Gen. 3:19), but in truth this was an admonition and chastisement, and medicine for the wounds of sin.
The example of Paul
Therefore Paul plied his trade constantly, not only in the day, but also at night. For he cries out, saying of himself, “working night and day, so as not to be a burden to any of you” (1 Thess. 2:9). He did not apply himself to his work simply for enjoyment, or to impress others, as many of the brethren do, but to make manifest one thing about it only: that it enabled him to be of assistance to others: “These hands of mine have ministered to my own needs, and to the needs of those with me” (Acts 20:34).
This man, who commanded demons, who was the teacher of the civilized world, who was entrusted with all those dwelling upon the earth and with all the Churches under the sun, who ministered with great solicitude to peoples and nations and cities—this man worked night and day with his hands, and did not have even a bit of rest from those labors.
Yet we, involved with not a thousandth of his cares and concerns, whose minds cannot even grasp those concerns—we finish our days living in constant idleness. What kind of defense will we have, what sort of pardon? Tell me! Hence all sorts of evils are introduced into our life.
Many people consider it to be the greatest and most worthy thing not to put their hands to a trade; and they think it’s the ultimate condemnation to appear to have any knowledge of such a thing. Yet Paul was not ashamed to use the knife and stitch the hides, and to tell of these things to persons of importance; for he took pride in these things, even with thousands of illustrious, remarkable men approaching him. And not only was he not ashamed to do these things, but he proclaimed his trade in his epistles, just as if on a bronze tablet.
He applied himself to his trade after all that he had learned from the beginning. And he returned to his trade even after being taken up into the third heaven, after he was carried up into Paradise, after having shared in unutterable words with God (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2-4).
Yet we, who are not worthy of his sandals, are ashamed of the very things on which he prided himself. And we spend each day neglectfully, not correcting ourselves, not considering this to be a disgrace. We flee from living by upright labor as if that were shameful and an object of ridicule.
So what hope do we have of salvation? Tell me! We ought to be ashamed of what indeed is shameful—sin, and striking out against God, and doing anything that one should not do. And we should be taking pride in trades and honest workmanship. For we can easily cast out evil thoughts from our minds through engagement in labor, and be of assistance to those in need, and not be an annoyance at the doors of others. And we will fulfill the law of Christ when He said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Because of this, we have hands—that we may help ourselves, and that we may contribute from out of our own goods to those who are crippled in body, having no ability to help themselves. Anyone who continues to live in idleness yet is in good health is more wretched than those burning with fever. For these have their illness as their excuse, and deserve our mercy; while the former bring shame upon their good health, and would very understandably become hated by everyone, as transgressing the laws of God, becoming objects of disgust at the table of the sick, and making their own souls even more paltry and worthless.
This is not the only fearful thing. For when such people ought to be taking care of themselves in their own homes, they disturb the homes of others, and make themselves worse than all others. For there is nothing, nothing at all, that’s not destroyed by idleness. Standing water becomes putrid, while running water everywhere retains its purity. Iron that’s lying unused becomes less useful, getting corroded with rust; but when it’s used in work, it becomes much more useful and attractive, gleaming no less brightly than any silver. And anyone can see that land lying unattended produces nothing wholesome, but only bad weeds, and thorns and thistles, and trees bearing no fruit; but when it enjoys cultivation, it abounds with domesticated fruits. Everything that exists, to speak simply, is ruined by idleness, but becomes more beneficial through humble labor.
Knowing, therefore, all these things—both how much injury there is in idleness and how much gain in labor—let us flee from the one and pursue the other, so that we may live gracefully (euschēmonōs) in this present life, coming to the aid of the needy as we are able, and thereby preparing our soul more thoroughly to attain the everlasting good things.
May we all attain these things, through the grace and love for mankind (philanthrōpia) of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory and might, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom
Translation from the original by Dr. David C. Ford
St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary


President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”


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« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2021, 11:52:58 AM »
St. John Chrysostom and Apostle Paul   
There are tons of pedagogical literature, both academic and popular. There are thick volumes with mixed-up directions, proven and unproven conclusions—with all manner of advice, methods, and principles. Some of these books are becoming table reference books for parents, and really help them in the difficult work of raising children. But many of them are in fact no more than abstruse bundles of words, behind which we no longer recognize our own child. Upbringing is all organized on shelves, in categories and subcategories, tables and graphs; and it’s all logical and comprehensible. Only it’s unclear what, or more exactly, who a child will grow up to be after all these pedagogical tricks. There is education, food, and various feeding methods. But upbringing? Formation of their image? And what image? We often miss such things. Sometimes people have to drink nothing but pure water in order to retrieve their natural taste—to return to their own real children from the swamp of that informational flood. We need to see them, themselves, emerging above the surface of our own daily anxieties and cares for their upbringing.
For me, that pure water is the reading of St. John Chrysostom. I especially love his explanation of the apostolic epistles and the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Somehow all I have to do is open his works to any page and I definitely find the answer to my immediate state. And no matter what happens, I only have to read one paragraph and everything becomes so much clearer and simpler.
St. John Chrysostom spoke very much about the family, especially in his homiletics (sermons that Priest John, and later Archbishop John gave in Antioch and Constantinople). He spoke even more about education. Reminders and digressions on these themes can be found in practically any of his homilies. But in the saint’s works are also particular homilies dedicated to the family and children.
We could write a small article that collects “everything St. John Chrysostom taught about the family and children”. But then things would be cited that are very important and profound, but pulled out of context. Sometimes such jerking out of context can lead to a total distortion of the author’s thoughts. In order to learn St. John Chrystostom’s teaching on the family and the upbringing of children you have to read his collected works.
When I was little, in my father’s office, standing in a neat row were the tall volumes of the complete works of St. John Chrysostom with gold letters on the covers. Despite my fertile imagination, I couldn’t conceive that an ordinary, “normal” person could read all of that. Taking such a volume into your hands seemed like an event from some abstract intellectual-spiritual world. And then to read it... My girlfriend once took (also from her father) one such volume. And on the next day she returned the book to her home library; it was just too hard to read. It would be better to read something contemporary. But to my mind, reading all twelve volumes from cover to cover was something so absolutely undoable that I didn’t even want to do it.
But in fact it’s only a matter of beginning to read. And not necessarily from the very beginning. Researchers divide the works of St. John Chrysostom into several periods. And they all divide them differently. This is in approximately the early and late periods. For us with families, most interesting is the saint’s homiletic period, when he taught ordinary laypeople; when he talks about the ordering of the ordinary person’s life. The saint applies every word of Holy Scripture, every parable to ordinary family life.
And he was not at all speaking to the ideal “Byzantine” Christian. Society at the time of St. John Chrysostom was in many ways similar to our modern world. There were huge cities in which there lived pagans, Jews, and Christians, people of many different nationalities, freemen and slaves, the very poor and the very rich. The traditions of Roman and Hellenic paganism were often mixed in with people’s everyday lives, people who were only second generation Christians. Christianity had only just begun to enter into society’s customs. Fornication and divorce, domestic violence and irresponsible parents, for whom entertainment and money were more valuable than children and families—these were the kinds of parents the saint was talking to. And the times and morals? Here is an illustration: In one of his early homilies the saint advises parents against sending their children to school, not at all because he was against secular education as such, but because very often educational institutions were hothouses of “love for boys”. Sixteen centuries have passed since then, but we are not living in either better or the worse conditions than St. Chrysostom’s listeners. True, they had the opportunity to come to church and hear a man whom the Orthodox Church has glorified as a great ecumenical teacher and saint. But we too can come to the very same churches and hear the words of sermons. We too can hear that same Chrysostom, by reading and re-reading his works.
We can begin by reading those sermons in which St. John Chrysostom talks about the family and children. There aren’t so many of them. Yes, and my girlfriend by the way, for whom the texts of Chrysostom seemed to heavy, tried again after a while to read the saint’s words and now she returns to him over and over. This is because she simply opened the book to a certain place—she read into it, and fell in love with the peculiar but very colorful language of one of the most outstanding preachers “of all times and peoples”. You only have to begin reading and you won’t be able to tear yourself away; it will become a necessity.
[In Russian] the complete works of St. John Chrysostom can be found on the Internet [much can be found in English as well[1]], so this reading is accessible to all. But it is better to have “living” books—to make pencil marks in those places that seem important. You can write your thoughts in the margins about what you’ve read. And then you can return to those texts. And then other family members will take the book in their hands and see what previous readers noted.
First I’ll tell you about the works of St. John Chrysostom in which the family and upbringing of children are the main theme. They are:
1. Five homilies on Anna. De Anna sermones.[2]
Here the saint looks at the story of the prophetess Anna, mother of Prophet Samuel. Anna’s relationship to her child is an example for every father and every mother. Chrysostom talks in detail about this relationship. What two “silent teachers” do we have from the beginning? Who is given to us “by God’s Providence” as a third teacher? What does it mean to dedicate your child to God? How can we lead our child from an early age into “heavenly life”? The saint poses these questions and thoroughly answers them. He tells how any mother can become a royal temple, how Anna competes with the patriarch Abraham in zeal and honors her little son, how parents care daily for their children.
The ability to give birth has its beginning from above—from God’s Providence, and... for this neither women’s nature, nor cohabitation with a husband or anything else is sufficient by itself (Five homilies on Anna, 1).
2. Discourse on the words: Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old (1 Tim. 5:9), on the upbringing of children, and on almsgiving In illud: Vidua eligatur.
Chrysostom begins this discourse with what is said about widows (true widows), about second marriages, and marriage in general. He discusses the relationship of a new wife to the memory of the former one. And he gradually transitions to the theme of raising children; here he no longer talks about widows but about parents. Moreover the saint first addresses the father and not the mother. He calls those who do not give their children a proper upbringing infanticides, asserting that by not giving them any upbringing, we destroy the whole world, no more no less.
What authority God has given to the father, and what means has he given to enforce it? What is the measure of parental responsibility for the child? How is honor for parents correlated with our relationship to God? Where should children receive a “religious education”? What about a married woman? How could it happen that a father betrays his own children? Why do many parents only wake up to the need to bring up their children only when the latter are practically grown up and the law enforcement officers have come for them? This and much more can be learned in this discourse.
If you bring up your son excellently, then he will do the same for his son, and his son in turn for his own son; and it will be as if a certain chain and series of better lives will go forward, having received a beginning and root from you and bringing you the fruits of your care for your descendants (Discourse on the widow).
3. Discourse 20 from “Discourses on the Epistle to the Ephesians”
In epistulam ad Ephesios argumentum et homiliae 1-24; CPG, N 4431; PG. 62. Col. 9-176.
Here St. John Chrysostom explains the fifth chapter of the Epistle of Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, in which he talks about marriage. You can read this discourse in total, and then reread it little by little, line-by-line, a paragraph a day, striving to take it in and understand what the saint is saying. It is one of the first clearly formulated, detailed Christian teachings on family. And it remains as the foundation of all the teachings of our Orthodox Church to follow on the little Church [—the family]. This discourse should definitely be read before entering into marriage, during every marital conflict—best when the conflict is just beginning to ripen. It should be read at every wedding anniversary, and then those anniversaries will be much more meaningful than they often are in our society.
Discussed in the discourse is the unanimity between the spouses as the main condition for peace in the world and the good upbringing of children. It talks about how the wife submits to the husband and at the same time, how the husband loves his wife, and in what ways he teaches her obedience. About what to do with his wife’s failings. About fleshly and spiritual union in marriage. About the ideal relationship of mutual respect, patience, and obedience. And again, about love and oneness of mind in marriage. On prayer at home. It is here that the saint emphasizes that the home is a small Church (the word is capitalized in the original Greek).
The husband brings her into submission and is above her, precisely so that there would be peace. There can be no peace where there is equality, be it in state governance or if all should command—there must be a ruler (Discourse 20 on the Epistle to the Ephesians).
What other questions does Chrysostom answer here? What does it mean to leave your wife or husband in order to follow Christ? What should the husband do if the wife is depraved and despises her husband? What should one spouse do if the other does not fulfill his or her duty? What is a spiritual marriage? What does it mean to “fear the husband”? What significance does money have for marital relations? What place does the husband occupy in marital life? What place does the wife occupy in the social and spiritual life of her husband? How should family possessions be divided? There are even words on the inner disposition of a newly wed Christian.
Do not only just call her, but do it with affection, honor, and great love. Respect her, and she will not feel the need for respect from others, she will not need the approval of others if she enjoys your respect and approval. Prefer her over all others, in all respects—praise her with regard to both beauty and wisdom (Discourse 20 on the Epistle to the Ephesians).
4. Discourse 21 from “Discourse on the Epistle to the Ephesians”
In epistulam ad Ephesios argumentum et homiliae 1-24; CPG, N 4431; PG. 62. Col. 9-176
This discourse is a continuation of Discourse 20, only now particularly on the upbringing of children. A conversation begins again on the theme of married life: If the husband and wife will be true to what was laid out in the previous discourse, then the children will also be in submission to Divine law. The saint briefly speaks of the children’s duty with respect to their parents, and more explicitly on the parents’ obligations. It talks about the main cause of children’s disobedience to their parents, how to make the child a Christian, and who is obligated to make this happen. What does it mean to entrust your child to God? Who should bring up the children in the correction and teachings of the Lord? What does “practical education” mean?
He also speaks of the particularities of the values system of Christian education, about the interrelationship of this true education with the outward, secular systems. And about how true education enables career growth, and a brilliant secular education without a true education engenders extreme need while yet in earthly life. About how the path to the Kingdom of Heaven for the husband and father is bound up with the “education and good ordering”[3] of the wife and children. And also about whether God will help us parents in the upbringing of our children if we pray but do not labor over their upbringing. Or if we labor, but do not turn to Him.
If he whose children are unruly is not worthy of a bishopric, then even less so is he worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven (Discourse 20 on the Epistle to the Ephesians).
5. Treatise “On ambition and about how parents must bring up their children”
Περ κενοδοξίας κα ὅπως δεῖ τοὺς ϒονέας ἀνατρέφειν τὰ τέκνα; De inani gloria et de educandis liberis; CPG, N 4455; SC. 188
This text is not so accessible as the previous one, and has almost a detective-like publication history. But for that it is no less interesting, especially for parents. It is inaccessible [in Russian] because it is hard to find in the compilation of the complete works of St. John Chrysostom that was published in the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth century, from which all reprints were made in post-soviet Russia. The problem is that the translation of a more or less complete collection of Chrysostom’s works in Russian was prepared only at the end of the nineteenth century through the efforts of students at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Before that, we had separate works or anthologies compiled from various texts. This translation, which we use to this day, was made from the “Greek Patrology” of Abbot Minya (at the time it was the most complete collection of texts). And Abbot Minya did not include this very treatise, “On the Upbringing of Children”, in his Patrology, neither in the section of authentic, nor in the disputed works of the saint. And this treatise does not exist in the Russian collection.[4]
Today this text is considered to be the authentic work of Chrysostom and is used as one of the main works by the saint on the upbringing of children.[5] The treatise has been translated into modern Greek in the publication of the Greek Fathers of the Church (Έλληνες Πατέρες της Εκκλησίας. Τ. 30), and is used by Greek Orthodox priests to describe Chrysostom’s pedagogical teachings.[6] In 1990 a translation of this treatise appeared in Russian,[7] can be downloaded from the Internet or read in libraries. Let’s take a look at how this treatise can help us parents in the upbringing of our own children. After all, in any case, this text is dedicated particularly to Christian care for the child.
Here we can also find very figurative value systems, by which Christian parents should be guided. But the main thing is the quite workable practical recommendations for the upbringing of a “struggler for Christ” and “citizen of Heaven”.
For example, here is what really inspires me. In many of his homilies, St. John Chrysostom calls upon parents to teach their children Holy Scripture. And in this treatise is thoroughly explained how this can be done in practice. During family dinners, the father can retell the story of Cain and Abel in his own words. It is shown how this retelling can be prepared. The Mother sits next to him and listens approvingly to the father’s words along with the children. The father, and later the mother explain the meaning of the Bible story. During the next meal the father asks the child what he remembers from yesterday’s story—a repetition of the foregoing. And the father again explains the moral of the Biblical brothers’ relationship. Then comes the conclusive step of this domestic lesson, drawn out over several days: The father takes the child by the hand, leads him to the church that day, when that same story is read in the church. “And then the matter is impressed in the child’s memory for the future,” says the saint. This is an example of religious education that takes place in the small Church and the greater Church at the same time.
The treatise talks about the teaching of chasteness in the same understandable and quite applicable way for the life of a family in the twenty-first century, from the earliest age. Here we can read about the gates to a child’s soul and how to guard those gates. About the meaning of the sculptor and king in the upbringing of children. About the benefit of young people’s association with monks and bishops. About the relationship of the child to his younger brothers as a school of controlling one’s own feelings. On prayer and fasting for a child. And on how in bringing up their children, parents can create a golden chain for their descendants. And also, of course, about weddings:
Now everyone exerts all efforts to teach their children crafts, sciences, and rhetoric, and no one takes time to adorn their souls. I will not cease to appease you, ask and beg that you take care to order your children before all other important matters (Discourse “On Ambition, and how parents should bring up their children).
There are of course many other homilies by the saint in which Chrysostom teaches us about family life, teaches parents the “education and ordering” of children. It is not always easy to find such passages because they are often hidden within some “mature” text. For example, in his Explanation of the Gospel of Matthew, the saint talks about the fig tree (Discourse 77). He talks about the end of time, about love and alms, fulfilling God’s will, about the need to take care of our neighbors. This care can be of many different kinds, including: “Each one of us has a lamb, which we are obligated to lead to a good pasture. The husband as he rises from his bed should strive only for this—to by words and deeds plant more piety in his home and family. By the same token his wife look after the home, but she should also have another, more real care that the whole family should labor for the Kingdom of Heaven.” There you have it, just one phrase, but it’s a whole lesson. It’s worth it to read it and think about it...
I’ll note that if we read prepared collections “on the upbringing of children” we can find vast citations about how teachers should teach the young generation. After checking them we can see that that the saint was not at all directing these words to teachers, and they are not about children. The saint is addressing priests, who are the teachers of those adults who come to church. Or, it is about the catechism of adults. Therefore I repeat it again and again: We ourselves have to read the texts of the great universal teacher and holy hierarch, St. John Chrysostom.
In conclusion we must definitely mention also those works by St. John Chrysostom in which the theme of family and the upbringing of children are not the main theme, but run like a golden thread throughout many texts:
6. Eight homilies on the Book of Genesis.[8] Especially: Homily 4 on the origin of the husband’s authority over the wife; on the authority of parents over the children; homily 5 on the wife who has an unfaithful husband. At the end of the final two discourses are the saint’s thoughts on family dinners.
7. Discourses on the holy Evangelist Matthew. In almost every discourse you can learn about family life and the upbringing of children. Discourse 11 on spiritual education in the family, discourse 60 on curbing children’s uruliness, discourse 17 and 62 on love in marriage, and on divorce as lawlessness and equal to adultery.
8. Discourse on the holy Apostle and Evangelist John.
9. Explanation of the Epistle to the Romans.
10. Discourses on the First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Especially: Discourse 19 on disinclination from marital cohabitation, on love, oneness of mind between spouses, and the terrible consequences spousal conflicts. The saint clearly and at times unexpectedly talks about the real causes of the breakup of Christian families. Discourse 26 on the wife’s obedience and submission to her husband, and on a husband’s lawlessness and madness if he strikes his wife.
11. Explanation of the psalms. For example, on Psalm 41. On how to make your home a Church and on common family prayer, or on Psalm 43, where the parents teach their children Scripture.
12. Discourses on the Epistle to Titus. Especially 2 and 4 about what it means exactly to be chaste, and on love and hierarchy in relations between husband and wife.
13. Discourses on the Epistle to the Colossians. Especially: Discourse 7 on the sickness and death of a child, discourse 10 on love and submission in marriage, on when it is necessary to give in to your children, and on the beauty of the wife. Discourse 12 is a veritable hymn to marriage, which talks about the cohabitation of spouses, on conception, birth and upbringing of children, and on weddings.
14. Discourses on the Acts of the Apostles.
15. Discourses on the First and Second Epistles to Timothy. Especially: Discourse 9, in which is discussed the woman’s path of salvation, and the cultivation of restraint.
Anna Saprykina
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

[1] There are many texts by St. John Chrysostom in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library: ccel.org.
[2] J.-P. Migne. Patrologiae cursus completus (series Graeca). - Paris: Migne, 1857-1866.
[3] On the concepts, through the help of which the saint describes the teaching, education, and upbringing of children: A. A. Saprykina, “Key pedagogical concepts in the heritage of St. John Chrysostom”, Vestnik, St. Tikhon’s Humanitarian University, Series: Education, psychology, 2012, No. IV:4(27) [Russian].
[4] More about this treatise can be found in Russian: A. A. Saprykina, education in the pedagogical teaching of St. John Chrysostom: doctoral dissertation, 2012; I. L. Khlynova, treatise “On Ambition, and how children should educate their children”: a problem of authorship, Yearly theological conference of OSTHU. Annual theological conference, 2004: Materials (Moscow: OSTHU Publishers, 2004), 26–36 [Russian].
[5] With a large preface, annotations, and critical apparatus of treatises, as belonging precisely to Chrysostom, published in the well known French series, Sources Chrétiennes: A – M Malingrey. ‘Jean Chrysostom: Sur le vaine gloire et l’education des enfants.’ Sources Chretiennes 188, Paris 1972.
This treatise was used for analysis of the pedagogical teachings of Chrysostom: Gärtner M. Die Familienerziehung in der Alten Kirche. Köln, 1985.; Tloka J. Griechische Christen - Christliche Griechen. Plausibilisierungsstrategien des antiken Christentums bei Origenes und Johannes Chrysostomos. Tübingen, 2005; Uciecha, A. Rodzina miejscem wychowania w traktacie pedagogicznym o wychowaniu dzieci Jana Chryzostoma. Slaskie studia historyczno-teologiczne 19/20, 1986/87; Pasquato O. Forme della tradizione classica nel De inani gloria et de educandis liberis di Giovanni Crisostomo // Orientalia Christiana Periodica 58, 1992; Idem. “«La vanagloria e l’educazione dei figli» di Giovanni Crisostomo. Pedagogia tra deculturazione e inculturazione nel Tardoantico” // Orientamenti Pedagogici 38, 1991. P. 95-108.
[6] Ζήσης Θεόδορος. Η ανατροφή των παιδιών κατά τον Αγίο Ιωάννη Χρυσόστομο Θεσσαλονίκη, 2002; Archpriest Gabriel Makarov, problems of youth and the path to their resolution (2006).
[7] First in the collection: Western European medieval school and pedagogical thought (Moscow, 1990) [Russian]. However, in this translation and in the description of the treatise, inaccuracies have been allowed. For more detail see A. A. Saprykina, “Family education in the pedagogical teachings of St. John Chrysostom”, 2012 [Russian].
[8] The list is given in chronological order, in accordance with the periodization proposed by A. R. Fokin (A. R. Fokin, St. John Chrysostom, Orthodox Encyclopedia, v. XXIV, p 159–205) [Russian].

President Harry S. Truman said: “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount.  The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings…  If we don't have the proper fundamental moral background, we will finally wind up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the state.”


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