My patron saint for 2015 speaks with a golden tongue

One of the most important dimensions of St. John Chrysostom’s exalted vision of the Christian life is his emphasis on Christ-filled marriage and family life. May I ask: how many of you are aware of his emphasis on marriage, and his very high view of Christian marriage? He believed that it is the calling of every Christian married couple to make their home a little church, and he preached with all his heart to inspire the married people in his flock, to fill them with this vision, this ideal, this goal, and to instruct them in how to bring this vision to pass in their own homes.

Let’s look now at some of the most important characteristics of the home as a little church that can be found in St. John Chrysostom’s preaching and writing. I believe six such characteristics stand out:

The six characteristics of the home as a little church

1. First, we see a great emphasis on the need, indeed the requirement, that husbands love their wives with Christ-like, self-sacrificial love. As St. Paul says to the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25; my emphasis). In a very memorable passage, Chrysostom speaks of the ceaseless, nurturing, forgiving, protecting love of Christ for His Church using in significant measure the imagery of a good husband’s love for his wife:

“For Christ espoused His Church as a wife, He loves her as a daughter, He provides for her as a handmaid, He guards her as a virgin, He fences her around like a garden, and cherishes her like a part of His own body. As a head He provides for her, as a root He causes her to grow, as a shepherd He feeds her, as a bridegroom He weds her, as a propitiation He pardons her, as a sheep He is sacrificed, as a bridegroom He preserves her in her beauty, as a husband He provides for her support.”

2. This is a pattern of order and discipline in the family, with the husband as the servant-head of the family, and his wife as second-in-command, and their children in obedience under them:

“True rulers are those who rule over themselves. For there are these four things— soul, family, city, world—which form a regular progression. Therefore, he who is to superintend a family, and order it well, must first bring his own soul into order (ρυθμίζειν... rhythm); … He who is able to regulate his own soul, and makes the soul to rule and the body to be subject, this man will be able to regulate a family also.”

3. This is: the careful, attentive, heartfelt instruction and training of the children given by the parents. Chrysostom strongly exhorts parents to train their children carefully and diligently in the ways of the Lord. Not to teach them virtue, not to call them to account for their actions, is, as he says, “to trample upon the noble nature of the soul”

4. The four characteristic is regular Scripture study, spiritual discussions, and prayer. Concerning the reading of the Holy Scriptures, in one notable passage Chrysostom suggests that families need this more than monastics do:

“The solitaries do not need the consolation and the help of the Holy Scriptures as much as do those who are in the midst of the whirl of a distracting existence/" Specifically concerning instructing children, he exhorts, “Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures.”

5. In a Christian home, the husband and wife will be encouraging and inspiring each other and the children to godliness and virtue through mutual exhortation and through the example of their lives. As Chrysostom says, “Let wives exhort their husbands, and let husbands admonish their wives”

“If we seek the things that are perfect, the secondary things will follow.  The Lord says, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’ (Matt. 6:33).  What sort of person do you think the children of such parents will be?…  For generally the children acquire the character of their parents, they are formed in the mold of their parents’ temperament, they love the same things their parents love, they talk in the same fashion, and they work for the same ends.”

6. The sixth characteristic we can glean from Chrysostom’s preaching and writing is regular, generous almsgiving. Almsgiving, as you probably know, is one of Chrysostom’s favorite themes. He often emphasizes, in the spirit of the 25th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew (“When I was hungry, you gave Me food . . .”), that when we give to the poor we are giving directly to Christ Himself, which brings us great spiritual rewards:

“Many are our debts—not of money, but of sins.  Let us then lend Christ our riches, that we may receive pardon of our sins, for He is the One who will judge us.  Let us not neglect Him here when He is hungry, that He may ever feed us there.  Here let us clothe Him, that He leave us not bare of the safety which is from Him…. If we go to Him in prison, He will free us from our bonds; if we take Him in when He is a stranger, He will not suffer us to be strangers to the Kingdom of Heaven, but will give us a portion in the City which is above; if we visit Him when He is sick, He will quickly deliver us from our infirmities.”


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