From The Blog

Mission Monthly – August 2004

“And I know well, that to many I seem over-minute in busying myself about these things; I shall not however refrain from this. For the cause of all our evils is this, such faults as being at all counted as trifling, and therefore disregarded.”

St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew

St. John Chrysostom is given such high regard in the overall consciousness of the Church that one cannot help but be intrigued when he himself anticipates criticism over something he is writing. One thing I believe about St. John from reading many of his Gospel commentaries is that he had a deep knowledge of human nature. I have also concluded (for the sufferings he endured for Christ, the Church and for his congregation) that he was a shepherd with a deep love for his flock that is rarely matched.

So what was the “minutia” for which St. John was preparing himself to be criticized? Believe it or not, it was for comments directed towards the fashion of women’s footwear. I suppose that St. John was able to anticipate all the questions as to why he would be concerning himself about such a thing. I believe I can hear people today with the same wonder. What I want to make perfectly clear regarding St. John’s words is that they are motivated out of nothing less than love, as he hopes above all hope simply to bring guidance and sanctity to his people as they navigate the dangers of social currents.

I will write more about his specific comments in a moment. Let us first take of a look at St. John’s particular commentary on Matthew 14:14-22, the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand men (“besides women and children”) with the five loaves and two fishes. St. John is taking note of how the people, both Jesus’ disciples and those who sought after Jesus to hear his words and to be healed by him, were so deeply engrossed in their seeking after Jesus that apparently no one remembered to bring food. For this St. John applauded the people who laid aside their “earthly cares” in favor of seeking after the Word of God. St. John was not decrying the fact that people have needs in this world. He certainly was astute enough to know what constitutes man’s basic needs. This is just another example of St. John’s consistent effort to pastor the Church in ways that are “profitable to us.”

Every Orthodox Christian should desire guidance like that of St. John’s (although in his day he himself was exiled five times, where he would eventually die, for his exhortations to the Church). There are times when his words soothe and other times when they exceedingly challenge. We should neither seek only the former nor run from the latter, for in all things we should again desire that which brings us spiritual profit. In this instance, for example, he is pressing the issues of luxury and extravagance, the “parent(s) of all diseases and sufferings,” and is trying to help us see the differences between needs and wants, the necessary and the unnecessary, that which is helpful and that which is hurtful. It would benefit each of us to ask ourselves this question, “Am I able—on my own—to see the differences between these polarities in my life?” I believe that all of us could use some help with this discernment and should welcome spiritual guidance in seeking only after “that which is needful.”

Why did St. John revile the fashion of women’s footwear? Though there were several critical reasons, the following two comprise his main emphasis: 1) the possibility of “pervert(ing) men to the gestures of women” and of causing women, in the awareness of their own sexual attractiveness, to become “wanton;” and 2) the money spent (vainly wasted) in acquiring stylish fashions is a serious “neglect” of the poor. St. John accords such people the stark accusation of being “void of virtue.”

It certainly is not easy to hear these things, yet let no one among us think they are above such accusations. Maybe it isn’t shoes in our day but certainly there are areas of our lives where we are immodest or selfishly indulgent! I believe St. John would say something like this, “Why do you cast your whole soul into the mire of extravagance? Why be anxious about things that are dust? Do you not see the vanity of this madness? That which you waste could be such a blessing to the poor, but tragically it has become a millstone around your neck. Where your modesty could be a support to the overcoming of passions, your vanity has become a stumbling block of lust. Why do you constrain yourself to the things of this earth when God has given you eyes to see the heights of heaven?” I have no question that this great pastor wants nothing less than to set God’s people free from their bondage to earthly cares. May we all have the courage to welcome and seek his “minutia” so that God, Who is greatly glorified in His Saints, may sanctify and transform our lives into His image by His grace and by our willingness to change.