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Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Sorrows" Why they are sent and how to endure them



Sometimes sorrows are sent to us for the purpose of testing our faith and loyalty to God, and for strengthening us in this faith and loyalty. Many people, when living peacefully, think that they love God with all their hearts. Apostle Peter declared that he would never renounce his Lord; the other disciples wanted to follow Him unto death. But when the time of tribulation came - Peter renounced his Lord and Master; the disciples dispersed. And it was at this point that they realized, despite their heart- felt grief, that they had not yet reached the state in which they would find themselves later on, when they joyously suffered martyrdom and disgrace for Christ.

Without testing even iron looks like steel, pewter looks like silver, bronze looks like gold and plain glass looks like crystal, but tempering shows their true worth. The same happens with people: many appear to be meek and humble, simple and good, religious, etc., while tribulations often reveal them to be malicious, and proud, and cruel-hearted, and greedy, and envious, etc. Tribulations come in the form of loss and deprivation, grief, illness, disgrace, and those who endure the trials are found to be dependable candidates for the Kingdom of God, while those who are unable to endure are not dependable, because they still contain a large admixture of evil. Through suffering and woe in their lives, virtuous people become even more fortified in their virtue.

“Like a goldsmith, upon throwing gold into the furnace, leaves it to melt in the fire until he sees it attain the greatest purity, - says St. John Chrysostome, - so does the Lord allow the souls of men to suffer tribulations until they become pure and shining, and until they acquire great benefit from these temptations. If the goldsmith knows exactly how long he must keep the gold melting in the furnace and when to take it out, and never allows the gold to remain until it is spoiled or burned; even more so does God know, and when He sees that we have become purer, He delivers us from our tribulations, lest we stumble and fall. Let us not grumble and be faint of heart when something unexpected occurs, but let us allow the Lord to purify our soul as long as He wants; for He does it with great mercy and for our benefit.”

Suffering causes us to take stock, to look around, to ponder: are we living properly or have we, perhaps, wandered far away from the life prescribed to us by the Lord in His Gospel? St. John Chrysostome says: “When you see your woes multiplying, do not despair, but take heart. God allows them in order to shatter your indifference, to wake you up from sinful slumber. Because in times of woe everything that is extraneous is cut off, all earthly things are forgotten, man becomes more ardent in his prayer, more earnest in his charity, and passions are more easily vanquished as they flee in the face of sorrow.” “Moreover, - St. John notes elsewhere, - through the punishment and the tribulations which God sends us in this life, our future torment is greatly alleviated. Do you see how God uses all possible means so that we, even though we sin, would suffer a lighter punishment than we deserve, or would be delivered from it altogether?”

Thus, no matter how numerous and varied are the tribulations and sufferings in life, we see that not one of them is sent by chance, without a special purpose known only to Divine Providence. This makes it clear to us that we should endure all the vicissitudes of life patiently, because only in that case will our sorrows be beneficial for us and lead us to salvation. “Let us be thankful to God in all cases, - says St. John Chrysostom, - because that constitutes true gratitude. It is easy to be thankful in times of happiness, but it is noteworthy to be thankful in dire circumstances. If we give thanks for that which others blaspheme, from which others despair, - see the great wisdom in this: firstly, you have made God rejoice; secondly, you have put the devil to shame; thirdly, you have shown that what happened is not a burden to you. And at the moment in which you give thanks, - God takes away your sorrow, while the devil retreats. In other words, if you despair, then the devil, having received what he wants, stand next to you, while God, seeing your blasphemy, leaves you and your woes consequently increase. If, on the other hand, you give thanks, then the devil, not having had any success, leaves you, while God, having been honored by you, rewards you with even greater honor. There is nothing holier than the tongue which gives thanks in misfortune. It truly does not differ from the tongue of martyrs and receives the same crown as the latter. For next to this tongue stands an executioner, forcing it to renounce God through blasphemy, next to it stands the devil, who torments it with painful thoughts and darkens the heart with sorrow. Thus, whoever suffers tribulation and gives thanks to God, receives a martyr’s crown.”

Besides, we must always remember that no matter how great our suffering, it is never sent beyond the scope of our endurance. And even in the throes of the greatest suffering, an Orthodox Christian will find comfort in church and in the Holy Writ. St. John Chrysostom says: “Whatever the sorrow that disturbs our heart, it can easily cease when we come to church, for Christ Himself is present here, and everyone who approaches Him with faith can quickly be comforted.”

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk says: “When a father leaves his son without punishment and lets him live according to his will, then it is seen that the father has rejected his son; thus, when God leaves a person without punishment, this is a sign of his rejection from God’s mercy. One of the holy fathers told the following story: how, when he was in Alexandria, he once came to church to pray and saw a pious woman there. She was dressed all in black and, praying before an icon of the Saviour, she wept and tearfully repeated over and over again: “Thou hast abandoned me, o Lord! Have mercy upon me, o Merciful One!” Why is she crying so? - I thought. She is a widow and is probably being persecuted by someone. I will talk to her and comfort her. Waiting until she had finished praying, I came up to her and said: “Is someone causing you trouble that you are crying so?” - “Oh, no, - she said and began weeping anew, - no, father, you do not know my sorrow. I live among people and am not persecuted in any way. It is for this reason that I am crying: that God has forgotten to visit me and it is already three years that I have not been sent any tribulations. During all this time I myself have not been sick, my son has not been sick, I have not even lost a single chicken from my home. I therefore think that God has abandoned me for my sins, does not send me any woes, and so I am crying before Him, asking Him to have mercy upon me.” So do God-fearing people reason when they are not sent any sorrows for a long time: they think that God has forgotten them; they look upon sorrow as a special mark of attention from God, as a special mercy.”

Thus, dear brothers and sisters, remembering all of the above, let us not despair when we are visited by trials and tribulations.



“Spiritual instruction,” Moscow, 1906.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Spiritual Life in the Family ( St. Paisios )


The practice of virtue within the family

—Elder, how can a husband become practiced in the virtues?
—God will give him opportunities. Many men, however, after asking God to give them opportunities to practice the virtues, grumble when they are faced with a certain difficulty. For example, sometimes the Good God, in His boundless love, and in order to provide practice in humility and patience, will take away his Grace from the wife, and she will begin acting outlandishly and treating the husband inconsiderately. Then the husband should not complain, but rather rejoice and thank God for the opportunity to struggle which He has given him. Or, a mother asks God to grant her patience. Her little child then comes in, and as soon as she has the table set for dinner, he pulls on the table cloth and everything spills on the floor. At such times it’s as if the child is saying to his mother: “Mama, be patient!”
In general, the difficulties which exist today in the world force those who desire to live a little spiritual life to be watchful. Just as, may God protect us, in a war the people are in a watchful state, I see the same thing happening now with whomever strives to live spiritually. Look how tough the poor children have it who are close to the Church! But the war, which exists because of the terrible environment in which they live, helps them, in a way, to stay awake. You see, in times of peace, when there are no difficulties, the majority of people slack off. Instead, they should utilize such serenity for spiritual growth—to cut off their shortcomings and cultivate the virtues.
Silence greatly helps in spiritual life. It is good for one to practice silence for about an hour a day: to test himself, to acknowledge his passions and to fight in order to cut them off and purify his heart. It is very good if there is a quiet room in the house which gives him the feeling of a monastic cell. There, “in secret” [4], he is able to do his spiritual maintenance, to study, and to pray. A little spiritual study done before prayer helps greatly. The soul warms up and the mind is transported to the spiritual realm. That’s why, when a person has many distractions during the day, he should rejoice if he has ten minutes for prayer, or even two minutes to read something, so as to drive away distractions. 

—Elder, is this perhaps too difficult for someone living in the world?
—No, there are laymen who live very spiritually—even like ascetics—with their fasting, their services, their prayer ropes, their prostrations—even with children and grandchildren. On Sunday they go to church, receive Holy Communion, and then return home again to their “cell,” just like the hermits who go to the Kyriakon [5] on Sunday, and afterwards keep silence in their cells. Glory to God! There are many such souls in the world. As a matter of fact, I know a certain family man who says the Jesus prayer unceasingly, wherever he is, and has continuous tears at prayer. His prayer has become self-activating, and his tears are sweet; they are tears of divine rejoicing. I also remember a certain worker on the Holy Mountain—Yanni was his name—who worked very hard, doing the work of two men. I had advised him to start saying the Jesus Prayer while working, and slowly but surely he grew accustomed to it. He came to me once and told me that he felt great joy when he said the prayer. “‘Dawn is breaking,’” I told him. Soon after I learned he had been killed by two drunks. How saddened I was! A few days later a certain monk was looking for a tool, but he couldn’t find it because Yanni had put it somewhere. That evening Yanni appeared to him in his sleep and told him where he had left it. He had attained such a spiritual state that enabled him to help others from the life hereafter.
How simple spiritual life is! If one loves God, if he acknowledges His great Sacrifice and benefactions and if he forces himself with discernment in imitating the Saints, he will quickly become holy. He attains humility and an understanding of his own wretchedness and his tremendous ungratefulness to God. 

Prayer in the family
—Elder, should the entire family do compline together at night? [6]
—The older family members should motivate the youngsters with their solemnity. They should do compline and say to the small children: “If you want, stay a little while.” When the children are somewhat bigger they can have a rule—for example, fifteen minutes for the older ones, and two to five minutes for the small children—then after their rule, as much as they want. If the parents make them stay for all of compline they’ll resent it. Parents shouldn’t pressure their children because they don’t yet understand the power and value of prayer. Parents, you could say, are able to eat beans and meat: hearty food. But when a little child is still only drinking milk, should they tell him to eat meat because it is strengthening? Maybe it is more strengthening, but the poor thing can’t even digest it. That’s why starting out they should give him little pieces of meat and broth, so that he’ll want more.
—Elder, sometimes even the adults are so tired in the evening that they aren’t able to do compline.
—When adults are very tired or sick they should say half of the compline or at least one “Our Father.” They should not completely bypass prayer. In wartime if you end up on a hill in the evening, surrounded by enemies, you let out a few shots to frighten the enemy, so they will not attack. Adults should also let out a few shots so as to scare the little demons away.
Prayer has great power within the family. I know two siblings who not only kept their parents—who had a big problem between them—from separating, but even caused them to be more in love. With us my father said: “You don’t know what you’re going to do; two times a day you must entrust the future to God, so as to know where you’ll end up.” Each morning and evening we would all pray together before the icons, father, mother and the children, ending with a prostration before the icon of Christ. When a problem arose in the family we would pray and it would clear up. I remember once, when our youngest brother got sick and my father said: “Come, let’s beg God to make him well or to take him, so that he won’t suffer anymore.” We all prayed together and he recovered.
Even at the table, we all sat together. First we prayed and then we would begin eating. If someone started to eat before the food was blessed we would say “he fornicated.” We considered a failure to remain temperate fornication. It destroys a family if each person comes home, at whatever hour he wants, and eats alone without reason.
Children and the spiritual life 

Elder, if a mother gives holy water to her child and he spits it out, what should she do?
—She should pray for her child. Maybe the way in which she gives the holy water to her child causes a reaction. For the child to be on the path of God the parents must also live right spiritually. Some parents who are religious strive to help their children to become good, not because they are concerned for the salvation of their souls, but because they what to have good children. In other words, they are more worried about what people will say about their child instead of whether they might go to hell. So how can God help? The aim is not for children to go to church through compulsion, but to love the church; not to do good through compulsion, but to feel the need to do good. The holy lives of parents instruct the souls of their children and they naturally follow. In this way they grow up piously, with health of both soul and body and without spiritual injuries. If parents force their children out of fear of God, He helps and the child is benefited. If, however, they do it out of egoism, then God does not help. Children are often troubled because of their parent’s pride. 

—Elder, some mothers ask us what prayer should a child of three or four years old do?
—You should tell them: “You are the mother; see how much your child can handle.” They shouldn’t give them a rule. 

—Elder, what if the little children get tired when their parents bring them here for vigils? [7]
—During Orthros they should let them out a little to relax, and during Divine Liturgy bring them back into the church.
Without forcing their children mothers must teach them to pray. Villagers in Cappadocia* intensely lived the ascetic tradition. They would take their children to hermitages, do prostrations and pray with tears, and in this way, the children learned how to pray. Chetes [8] would sometimes go by night to rob them; and when passing the chapels they would hear crying and stop in surprise. “OK, what’s going on?” they would say. “During the day they are all smiles and at night they cry?” They couldn’t understand what was going on.
Miracles happen through the prayers of small children. Whatever they ask of God He gives them because they are guileless and He hears their pure prayer. I remember one time our parents had gone out into the field and had left me in the house with my two younger siblings. The sky suddenly darkened and a torrential rainstorm began. “What will our parents do now?,” we said. “How will they get back home?” The two little ones began crying. “Come here,” I told them, “we will ask Christ to stop the rain.” The three of us knelt down before the family’s icons and prayed. In just a few minutes the rain stopped.
Parents must use discernment to help their children draw near to Christ from their early years, and from their childhood to live the joy on high—spiritual joy. When they start school they should learn, little by little, to read spiritual books to help themselves live spiritually. In this way they will become little angels, and their prayers will have greater boldness before God. Such children are spiritual heads of the home. The lives of saints especially help small children in their spiritual lives. As a small boy I found a little book of the lives of saints which they had back in those days. I went out into the forest to read and pray. I was flying with joy. From the age of ten to sixteen, when the Greek-Italian war began, I lived the spiritual life without restraint. Childhood joys are pure; they leave an imprint on a person that greatly affects him when he grows up. If children live spiritually they will live joyfully in this life, and in the next they will rejoice eternally with Christ. 

Temptations on feast days
—Elder, why do temptations often occur on feast days?
—Don’t you know? On feast days, Christ, the Panagia, and the Saints are joyful. They treat people, giving blessings and spiritual gifts. If parents give gifts when their children celebrate their namedays and kings release prisoners when a prince is born, why shouldn’t the Saints care for us on special occasions, too? Certainly the joy they give greatly endures and our souls are greatly helped. Knowing this the devil creates temptations in order to deprive people of the Divine gifts: they neither rejoice nor benefit from the feast. Sometimes you even see when a family is preparing to commune on a feast day, that the devil will send them a temptation to fight and then not only do they not commune, but they don’t even go to church! That’s how the little demon does it, so as to be deprived of all Divine help.
The same thing can be seen in our own monastic life. Many times the little demon—tempter that he is, because he knows from experience that we will be spiritually helped on some feast—will, beginning on the eve of the feast, create an atmosphere of temptation. For example, he might get us to quarrel with another brother, and then afterwards torment us in order to overpower us both spiritually and bodily. In this way he doesn’t allow us to benefit from the feast, with its joyous atmosphere of doxology. But the Good God helps us when He sees that we had not given occasion, but that this happened only by the envy of the evil one. And God helps us even more when we humbly reproach ourselves, blaming neither our brother nor even the devil, who hates everything good. For his work is this: to create scandals and spread evil—while man, as the image of God, should spread peace and goodness. 



An excerpt from the book Family Life (Vol 4), by Elder Paisios the Athonite

Thursday, June 21, 2018

On wearing lipstick ( Church Etiquette )

Lipstick looks terrible smeared on icons, crosses, the communion spoon, and the priest’s or bishop’s hand. Hand-written icons have been ruined by lipstick; and even though the cross or spoon can usually be cleaned after everyone venerates, it’s not very considerate to those who follow. What is the answer? If one insists on wearing lipstick to church, blot your lips well before venerating... Point of consideration: God, Whom we alone come before in Liturgy, is not impressed with our external attractiveness, but with the adorning of our souls in humility, good works, and piety.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The desire for good food is a trap of the evil one ( St. Paisios )




The desire for good food is a trap of the evil one. Whoever does not get rid of this desire is caught by the enemy’s hook and is fried in his own fat by his burning flesh. On the contrary, the desire for spiritual nourishment takes the heart away from earthly things and raises the soul to Heaven, where it tastes the food of angels.


St. Paisios

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Avoid Cancer, Live Like A Monk



A Foolproof Anti-Cancer Diet... With Just One or Two Drawbacks



If you want to avoid cancer, live like a monk. That is the inescapable conclusion from research into one of the world’s most renowned monastic communities.

The austere regime of the 1,500 monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, begins with an hour’s pre-dawn prayers and is designed to protect their souls.

Their low-stress existence and simple diet (no meat, occasional fish, home-grown vegetables and fruit) may, however, also protect them from more worldly troubles.

The monks, who inhabit a peninsula from which women are banned, enjoy astonishingly low rates of cancer.

Since 1994, the monks have been regularly tested, and only 11 have developed prostate cancer, a rate less than one quarter of the international average. In one study, their rate of lung and bladder cancer was found to be zero.

Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, said that the monks’ diet, which calls on them to avoid olive oil, dairy products and wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, helped to explain the statistics. “What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and nonolive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins,” he said. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Small simple meals at regular intervals are very important.”

Meals on the peninsula, which the Prince of Wales has visited regularly and which can only be reached by boat, are ascetic and repetitive affairs that have changed little over the centuries, although there are variations between the 20 monasteries.

The monks sit in silence while, from a pulpit, passages from the Bible are read in Greek. They eat at speed – as soon as the Bible passage is over, the meal is officially completed.

The staples are fruit and vegetables, pasta, rice and soya dishes, and bread and olives. They grow much of what they eat themselves. Agioritiko red wine is made locally from mountain grapes. Dairy products are rare – female animals are banned from the autonomous semi-state.

Life on Athos has changed little over the past 1,043 years. Breakfast is hard bread and tea. Much of the day is taken up with chores – cleaning, cooking, tending to crops – followed by a supper, typically of lentils, fruit and salad, and evening prayers.

Some of the seaside monasteries specialise in catching octopus, a delicacy that is softened up by bashing on the rock. Fish also feeds the Athos cats, protected by the monks for their mouse-catching prowess. Of all domestic animals, only cats are exempt from the ban on females. Some of the monks live in hillside huts or cliff-side caves perched above the sea as satellites of the main establishments, perhaps the closest that modern Christianity gets to medieval hermits. They depend for their sustenance on handouts of bread and olives.

On holidays and feast days such as Christmas and Easter, when other Greeks are feasting on roast meat, the monks prefer fish, their only culinary luxury. Father Moses of the Koutloumousi monastery, one of the 20 organised cloisters scattered over the Athos peninsula, said: “We never eat meat. We produce most of the vegetables and fruit we consume. And we never forget that all year round, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we don’t use olive oil on our food.”

The olive-oil routine, which also applies to wine and dairy products, appears to have no religious significance, but is a way of eking out their supplies.

All the monks stick to the rigorous fasting periods of the Orthodox Church, in which a strict vegan diet is prescribed for weeks at a stretch.

Michalis Hourdakis, a dietician associated with Athens University, said: “This limited consumption of calories has been found to lengthen life. Meat has been associated with intestinal cancer, while fruit and vegetables help ward off prostate cancer.”

The lack of air pollution on Mount Athos as well as the monks’ hard work in the fields also played their part, the researchers said. There was no mention, however, of whether the absence of women had any effect on the monks’ renowned spiritual calm.

Salad days: Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday

Breakfast: Hard bread, tea
Lunch: Pasta or rice,vegetables, olive oil
Dinner: Lentils, fruit and salad, olive oil. Red wine

Monday, Wednesday and Friday: no olive oil

Holidays and feast days: Fish and seafood

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pride is the root and source of every sin ( The Salvation of Sinners )



Pride is the root and source of every sin. 
St. Gregory the Diologist refers to pride as “the queen of all sins.” Whereas St. Isidor states that pride “eradicates every existing virtue.”
Man is endowed with an array of spiritual virtues, physical attributes, and material goods. Examples of spiritual gifts are the grace of God, the gift
of prophecy, and the ability to perform miracles. 
Qualities that we possess naturally include intelligence, beauty, and strength. Forms of worldly prosperity we commonly attain are wealth, honor, and social status. When, however,
we do not understand that the Lord is He Who grants all these good traits and qualities to whomever He wants, as He wants, when He wants, and for as long as He wills, we begin to enter the realm of pride, which, according to St. Gregory, consists of five distinct stages

The first stage is when a person who possesses spiritual, physical, or material gifts does not comprehend that he received them from God, but
rather believes that they are the result of his own efforts. 
The second stage is when a person realizes that every good thing he possesses has been given to him by God; however, he does not consider them to be a free gift but something that he justifiably deserves on account of his own merit. 
The third stage is when someone imagines he possesses virtues that he, in fact,does not have. 
The fourth stage of pride is when someone looks down on others (who he regards as inferior), and,
believing that he is more deserving than others,
desires honor and recognition for himself
The fifth and final stage of pride is when a person does not observe and altogether ignores the
sacred laws that have been established by the holy Fathers, and rejects the sacred traditions of the Church (such as fasting,for example)
All of these stages are sinful; however, the fifth type of pride is worst because a person in this state, in a way, blatantly disregards and disdains God, the Master and King Who appointed the divine laws.
Just as humility is a trait of God’s select servants and a certain sign that they are destined to delight in His Heavenly Kingdom, similarly pride is a characteristic of people who will be condemned and indisputable testimony that they will be put to shame and punished eternally in Hell. For as Christ stated,
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Lk. 18:14).
Concerning Pride - from the book The Salvation of Sinners 
http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/en/index.php

Friday, June 1, 2018

Those Who Find Fault With The Body ( St. John Chrysostom )



In as much, then, as you have now shaken off despondency, we are desirous to recall you to the recollection of former matters; so that our discourse may be rendered the clearer to you. For what we said of the creation, that God not only made it beautiful, and wonderful, and vast, but also weak and corruptible; and moreover that He has established various proofs of this; ordering both these circumstances for our advantage; leading us on by its beauty to admiration of Him who framed it: and by its weakness leading us away from the worship of the creature; this we may see, take place also in the case of the body. For with respect to this too there are many among the enemies to the truth, as well as among those who belong to our own ranks, who make it a subject of enquiry, why it was created corruptible and frail? Many also of the Greeks and heretics affirm, that it was not even created by God. For they declare it to be unworthy of God's creative art, and enlarge upon its impurities, its sweat, its tears, its labours, and sufferings, and all the other incidents of the body. But, for my part, when such things are talked of, I would first make this reply. Tell me not of man, fallen, degraded and condemned. But if you would learn what manner of body God formed us with at the first, let us go to Paradise, and survey the Man that was created at the beginning. For that body was not thus corruptible and mortal; but like as some statue of gold just brought from the furnace, that shines splendidly, so that frame was free from all corruption. Labour did not trouble it, nor sweat deface it. Cares did not conspire against it; nor sorrows besiege it; nor was there any other affection of that kind to distress it. But when man did not bear his felicity with moderation, but threw contempt upon his Benefactor, and thought a deceiving demon more worthy of credit than God who cared for him, and who had raised him to honour, and when he expected to become himself a god, and conceived thoughts above his proper dignity, then—then indeed it was that God, to humble him by decisive acts, made him mortal, as well as corruptible; and fettered him with such varied necessities; not from hatred or aversion, but in care for him, and to repress at the very outset that evil and destructive pride; and instead of permitting it to proceed any further, He admonished Him by actual experience, that he was mortal and corruptible; thus to convince him that he must never again think or dream of such things as he had done. For the devil's suggestion, was, "You shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5). Desiring then utterly to eradicate this idea, God made the body subject to much suffering and disease; to instruct him by its very nature that he must never again entertain such a thought. And that this is true, is really most evident from what befell him; for after such an expectation, he was condemned to this punishment. Consider also with me the wisdom of God in this matter. He did not allow him to be the first to die, but permitted his Son to suffer this death; in order that seeing before his eyes the body corrupting and decaying, he might receive a striking lesson of wisdom from that spectacle; and learn what had come to pass, and be duly chastened before he departed hence.

But why do you marvel if this has happened in respect to the body, when even with respect to the soul it is plain, that a similar thing has taken place. For God made it not mortal, but permitted it to be immortal; He constituted it however subject to forgetfulness, to ignorance, to sadness, and to care; and this, lest regarding its own nobility of birth, it might take up a conceit too high for its proper dignity. For if, even while the case stands thus, some have dared to aver, that it is of the Divine essence; to what a pitch of frenzy would they not have reached, if it had been devoid of these imperfections? What, however, I affirmed respecting the creation, I affirm also respecting the body, that both these things alike excite my admiration of God; that He has made it corruptible; and that in its very corruptibility, He has manifested His own power and wisdom. For that He could have made it of some better material, He has evidenced from the celestial and the solar substance. For He that made those such as they are, could have made this also like them, had He thought proper to do so. But the cause of its imperfection is what I before adverted to. This circumstance by no means lowers the admiration due to the Creator's workmanship, but rather increases it; for the meanness of the substance, manifests the resource and adaptiveness of His art; since He has introduced such a harmony of parts in clay and ashes, and senses so various and manifold and capable of such spiritual wisdom.

In proportion, therefore, as you find fault with the meanness of the substance, be so much the more astonished at the greatness of the art displayed. For this reason also, I do not so much admire the statuary who forms a beautiful figure out of gold, as him who, by the resources of art, is able, even in crumbling clay, to exhibit a marvellous and inimitable mould of beauty. In the former case, the material gives some aid to the artist, but in the latter, there is a naked display of his art. Would you learn then, how great the wisdom of the Creator is, consider what it is that is made out of clay? What else is there but brick and tile? Nevertheless, God, the Supreme Artist, from the same material of which only the brick and tile is formed, has been able to make an eye so beautiful, as to astonish all who behold it, and to implant in it such power, that it can at once survey the high aerial expanse, and by the aid of a small pupil embrace the mountains, forests, hills, the ocean, yea, the heaven, by so small a thing! Tell me not then of tears and rheums, for these things are the fruit of your sin; but consider its beauty, and visual power; and how it is that while it ranges over such an expanse of air, it experiences no weariness or distress! The feet indeed become tired and weakened even after going but a small distance; but the eye, in traversing a space so lofty and so wide, is not sensible of any infirmity. For since this is the most necessary to us of all our members, He has not suffered it to be oppressed with fatigue; in order that the service it renders us might be free and unfettered.

But rather, I should say, what language is fully adequate to set forth the whole excellency of this member? And why do I speak of the pupil and the visual faculty? For if you were to investigate that which seems the meanest of all the members, I mean the eyelashes, you would behold even in these the manifold wisdom of God the Creator! For as it is with respect to the ears of grain; the beards, standing forth as a sort of spears, repel the birds, and do not suffer them to settle upon the fruits, and to break the stalk, which is too tender to bear them; so also is it with regard to the eyes. The hairs of the eyelids are ranged in front, and answer the purpose of beards and spears; keeping dust and light substances at a distance from the eyes, and any thing that might incommode the sight; and not permitting the eyelids to be annoyed. Another instance of wisdom, no less remarkable, is to be observed in eyebrows. Who can help being struck by their position? For they do not project to an immoderate degree, so as to obscure the sight; nor do they retire farther back than is fitting; but in the same manner as the eaves of a house, they stand out above, receiving the perspiration as it descends from the forehead, and not permitting it to annoy the eyes. For this purpose too there is a growth of hair upon them, which serves by its roughness to stay what descends from above, and affords the exact protection that is needed, and contributes also much appearance of beauty to the eyes. Nor is this the only matter of wonder! There is another thing also which is equally so. How is it, I ask, that the hairs of the head increase, and are cut off; but those of the eyebrows, not so? For not even this has happened undesignedly, or by chance, but in order that they might not darken the sight too much by becoming very long; an inconvenience from which those suffer who have arrived at extreme old age.

And who could possibly trace out all the wisdom which is manifested by means of the brain! For, in the first place, He made it soft, since it serves as a fountain to all the senses. Next, in order that it might not suffer injury owing to its peculiar nature, He fortified it on every side with bones. Further; that it might not suffer from friction, by the hardness of the bones, He interposed a middle membrane: and not only a single one, but also a second; the former being spread out on the under side of the skull, but the latter enveloping the upper substance of the brain, and the first being the harder of the two. And this was done, both for the cause that has been mentioned, and in order that the brain might not be the first to receive the blows inflicted upon the head; but that these membranes first encountering them, might free it from all injury, and preserve it unwounded. Moreover, that the bone which covers the brain is not a single and continuous one, but has many sutures on every side, is a circumstance which contributes much to its security. For a ventilation of the vapours that surround it may easily take place outward through these sutures, so as to prevent it from being suffocated; and if a blow should be inflicted upon it, on any particular point, the damage does not extend to the whole. For if the bone had been one and continuous, the stroke even when it fell upon one part, only, would have injured the whole; but now, by its being divided into many parts, this can never happen. For if one part should chance to be wounded, only the bone that is situated near that part receives injury, but all the rest remain unhurt; the continuity of the stroke being intercepted by the division of the bones, and being unable to extend itself to the adjacent parts. By reason of this God has constructed a covering for the brain of many bones; and just as when one builds a house, he lays on a roof, and tiles upon the upper part, so God has placed these bones above upon the head, and has provided that the hairs should shoot forth, and serve as a kind of cap for it.

The very same thing also He has done with regard to the heart. For inasmuch as the heart has preeminence over all the members in our body, and that the supreme power over our whole life is entrusted to it, and death happens when it receives but a slight blow; He has fenced it about on every side with stiff and hard bones, surrounding it by the protection of the breast-bone before, and the blade-bones behind. And what He did with respect to the membranes of the brain, He has done in this instance also. For in order that it might not be rubbed and pained in striking against the hard bones which encompass it, in the throbbing and quick pulsation to which it is subject in anger and similar affections, He both interposed many membranes there, and placed the lungs by the side of it to act the part of a soft bed to these pulsations, so that the heart may break its force on these without sustaining injury or distress.

But why do I speak of the heart, and of the brain, when if any one will investigate even the very nails, he will see the manifold wisdom of God displayed in these; as well by their form, as by their substance and position. I might also have mentioned why our fingers are not all equal, and many other particulars besides; but to those who are inclined to attend, the wisdom of God Who created us, will be sufficiently clear from what has been said. Wherefore, leaving this department to be investigated with diligence by those who are desirous of the task, I shall turn myself to another objection.


St. John Chrysostom

From Homily 11 of On the Statues.