The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/The Blessings of Death
THE BLESSINGS OF DEATH
Born in 347, died in 407; Presbyter at Antioch about 886; made Patriarch of Constantinople in 398; exiled to Cappadocia in 404.
Believe me, I am ashamed and blush to see unbecoming groups of women pass along the mart, tearing their hair, cutting their arms and cheeks, and all this under the eyes of the Greeks. For what will they not say? What will they not utter concerning us? Are these the men who philosophize about a resurrection? Indeed! How poorly their actions agree with their opinions! In words, they philosophize about a resurrection: but they act just like those who do not acknowledge a resurrection. If they fully believed in a resurrection, they would not act thus; if they had really persuaded themselves that a deceased friend had departed to a better state, they would not mourn. These things, and more than these, the unbelievers say when they hear those lamentations. Let us then be ashamed, and be more moderate, and not occasion so much harm to ourselves and to those who are looking on us.
For on what account, tell me, do you thus weep for one departed? Because he was a bad man? You ought on that very account to be thankful, since the occasions of wickedness are now cut off. Because he was good and kind? If so, you ought to rejoice; since he has been soon removed, before wickedness had corrupted him: and he has gone away to a world where he stands ever secure, and there is no room even to mistrust a change. Because he was a youth? For that, too, praise Him who has taken him, because He has speedily called him to a better lot. Because he was an aged man? On this account, also, give thanks and glorify Him that has taken him. Be ashamed of your manner of burial. The singing of psalms, the prayers, the assembling of the [spiritual] fathers and brethren—all this is not that you may weep and lament and afflict yourselves, but that you may render thanks to Him who has taken the departed. For as when men are called to some high office multitudes with praises on their lips assemble to escort them at their departure to their stations, so do all with abundant praise join to send forward, as to greater honor, those of the pious who have departed.
Death is rest; a deliverance from the exhausting labors and cares of this world. When, then, thou seest a relative departing, yield not to despondency; give thyself to reflection; examine thy conscience; cherish the thought that after a little while this end awaits thee also. Be more considerate; let another's death excite thee to salutary fear; shake off all indolence; examine your past deeds; quit your sins, and commence a happy change.
We differ from unbelievers in our estimate of things. The unbeliever surveys the heavens and worships it because he thinks it a divinity; he looks to the earth and makes himself a servant to it, and longs for the things of sense. But not so with us. We survey the Heaven, and admire Him that made it; for we believe it not to be a god, but a work of God. I look on the whole creation and am led by it to the Creator. He looks on wealth and longs for it with earnest desire; I look on wealth and contemn it. He sees poverty and laments; I see poverty and rejoice. I see things in one light; he in another.
Just so in regard to death. He sees a corpse and thinks of it as a corpse; I see a corpse and behold sleep rather than death. And as in regard to books, both learned persons and unlearned see them with the same eyes, but not with the same understanding—for to the unlearned the mere shapes of letters appear, while the learned discover the sense that lies within those letters; differ from them, shall we agree with them in our sentiments respecting death?in respect to affairs in general, we all see what takes place with the same eyes, but not with the same understanding and judgment. Since, therefore, in all other things we
Consider to whom the departed has gone and take comfort. He has gone where Paul is, and Peter, and the whole company of the saints. Consider how he shall arise, and with what glory and splendor!
- From one of his sermons preached while a presbyter at Antioch, where Chrysostom won high reputation for preaching and especially by his homilies on the "Statutes" of the Emperor Theodosius. His works, consisting mainly of homilies, commentaries, treatises, epistles, and liturgies, in the best edition (folio, Paris, 1718-1738) comprise thirteen volumes. Translations of some of the homilies and commentaries are given in the Oxford "Library of the Fathers."