None Can Harm the One Who Does Not Harm Himself – A Homily on the 12th Sunday After Pentecost (2020)
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.
Today’s sermon is going to take a different direction than the usual homily because it incorporates a treatise, with large portions of verbatim texts, along with various edits and commentary. The work is by St. John Chrysostom and was written while in exile from his See in Constantinople, near the end of his life. It was written to his spiritual daughter, the nun Olympiada, and is entitled, None Can Harm the One Who Does Not Harm Himself.
It is difficult to emphasize what is a quote, what is a commentary, what is extra so we won’t try, but we’ll let the direction of St. John’s work guide the course of this sermon.
He begins this work by saying, We have the common assumption of mankind, which in the course of ages has taken deep root in the minds of the multitude, and proclaims the following throughout the world: all things have been turned upside down, the human race is full of much confusion and many are they who every day are being wronged, insulted, and subjected to violence and injury - the weak by the strong, the poor by the rich: and as it is impossible to number the waves of the sea, so is it impossible to reckon the multitude of those who are the victims of intrigue, insult, and suffering; and neither the correction of law, nor the fear of being brought to trial, nor anything else can arrest this pestilence and disorder, but the evil is increasing every day, and the groans, and lamentations, and weeping of the sufferers are universal; and the judges who are appointed to reform such evils, themselves intensify the tempest, and inflame the disorder, and hence many of the more senseless and despicable kind, seized with a new type of frenzy, accuse the providence of God, when they see the forbearing man often violently seized, tormented, and oppressed, and the audacious, impetuous, low and low-born man waxing rich, and invested with authority, and inflicting countless troubles upon the more moderate; and this is perpetrated both in town and country, in the desert, on the sea and on the land.
This discourse of ours, of necessity, is in direct opposition to what is alleged above, and maintains a contention which is new, contrary to opinion, yet useful, true, and profitable to those who will give heed to it and be persuaded by it; for what I undertake, he says, is to prove that no one of those who are wronged is wronged by another, but experiences this injury at his own hands.
A. The Virtue of Man
The virtue of a man has its contrary evil which injures and ruins that virtue as many things do when subject to evil: iron by rust, wool by moth, flocks of sheep by wolves; the virtue of wine is injured when it ferments and turns sour, our own flesh is subject to fevers, and palsies, and a crowd of other maladies.
The virtue of a man, most people will say, is ruined by either poverty, or bodily disease, or loss of property, or slander, or death. Therefore, often is heard the lament of those who are exiled from their country, deprived of their freedom, made captive by enemies or those who have been burnt.
However, none of the above-mentioned things is able to ruin a man’s virtue, nor can injure the one who lives soberly.
The virtue of a horse does not consist in a bridle studded with gold and silken threads, or a headgear studded with jewels, but in swift and strong legs, even in its paces, hoofs suitable to a well-bred horse. But what is the virtue of man?
Not riches that you should fear poverty: nor the health of the body that you should dread sickness, nor the opinion of the public, that you should view an evil reputation with alarm, nor life simply for its own sake, that death should be terrible to you, nor liberty that you should avoid servitude; no the virtue of man is carefulness in holding true doctrine, and rectitude/ uprightness in life (right living). Of these things, not even the devil himself will be able to rob a man, if he who possesses them guards them with the needful carefulness; and that most malicious and ferocious demon is aware of this.
B. The Example of Job
“For this cause also he robbed Job of his substance, not to make him poor, but that he might force him into uttering some blasphemous speech, and he tortured his body, not to subject him to infirmity, but to upset the virtue of his soul.” For the devil turned Job from a rich man into a poor man and one who had many children, to being childless; he scarred his body worse than those who receive whippings and beating, and even worms gnawed at him; he procured a bad reputation for him, for even when his friends approached him, they declared that his sufferings must be a chastisement for his sins; he expelled him from his city and home, to dwell atop a dunghill.
However, after all this, the devil afflicted no damage upon Job but made him more glorious due to the designs against him. For although Job was robbed of many things, yet he was not robbed of his truest possessions and even increased the wealth of his virtues. For after these things, he enjoyed greater confidence because he had contended in a more severe contest.
Now if he who underwent such sufferings, and this not at the hand of man, but at the hand of the devil who is more wicked than all men, sustained no injury, which of those persons who say that such and such a man injured and damaged me will have any defense to make in the future?”
C. The Examples of Adam, Lazarus, and Abel
Someone will say, did he not inflict injury on Adam, and upset him, and cast him out of paradise? No, he did not, but the cause was the listlessness of him who was injured, and his want of temperance and vigilance. For he who applied such powerful and manifold devices and yet was not able to subdue Job, how could he by inferior means have mastered Adam, had not Adam betrayed himself through his own listlessness?
What about those who are slandered, or have their property confiscated, or are deprived of their goods, or swindled from their inheritance, or struggle with extreme poverty? No, St. John says, he has not been injured, but has even profited, if he be sober. For, tell me, what harm did this do the Apostles? Were they not continually struggling with hunger, and thirst and nakedness? And this was the very reason why they were so illustrious, and distinguished, and won for themselves much help from God.
Again what harm was done to Lazarus by his disease, and sores, and poverty? Were they not the reasons why garlands of victory were more abundantly woven for him?
For what harm did death itself inflict on Abel, although it was a violent and untimely death, and perpetrated by a brother’s hand? Is not this the reason why his praise is sounded throughout the whole world? For not only does this disclose the fact that no one is injured by anybody, but also that they who take heed to themselves derive the greater gain from such assaults.
D. Conclusion - Littleness of soul vs. nobility of soul
Can we suppose that someone can harm the moral condition of the soul? If a man suffers damage, the damage does not come from another but proceeds from within, and from the man himself. How so, do you say? When anyone having been beaten by another, or deprived of his goods, or having endured some other grievous insult, utters a blasphemous speech, he certainly sustains a damage thereby, and a very great one, nevertheless it does not proceed from the one who inflicted the insult, but from his own littleness of soul. Because, and I repeat, no man if he be infinitely wicked could attack anyone more wickedly or more bitterly than that revengeful demon who is implacably hostile to us, the devil: but yet this cruel demon had not power to upset or overthrow Job who lived before the law, and before the time of grace, although he discharged so many and such bitter weapons against him from all quarters. Such is the force of nobility of soul.
i) The Apostle Paul
And what shall I say of Paul? Did he not suffer so many distresses that even to make a list of them is no easy matter?
He was put in prison, loaded with chains, dragged hither and thither, scourged by the Jews, stoned, lacerated on the back not only by cords but also by rods, he was immersed in the sea, oftentimes beset by robbers, involved in strife with his own countrymen, continually assailed both by foes and by acquaintances, subjected to countless intrigues, struggling with hunger and nakedness, and why need I mention the greater part of them? He was dying every day: but yet, although subjected to so many and such grievous sufferings, he not only uttered no blasphemous word, but rejoiced over these things and gloried in them: and one time he says I rejoice in my sufferings, and then again not only this but we also glory in afflictions (Romans 5:3). If then, he rejoiced and gloried when suffering such significant troubles, what excuse will you have, and what defense will you make if you blaspheme when you do not undergo the smallest fraction of them.
E. The Virtue of a Man, and Poverty
But I am injured in other ways, one will say, and even if I do not blaspheme, yet when I am robbed of my money, I am disabled from giving alms. This is a mere pretext and pretense. For if you grieve on this account, know certainly that poverty is no bar to almsgiving. For even if you are infinitely poor you are not poorer than the woman who possessed only a handful of meal, (1 Kings 17:12) and the one who had only two mites, (Luke 21:2) each of whom, having spent all her substance upon those who were in need, was an object of surpassing admiration: and such great poverty was no hindrance to such great lovingkindness, but the alms bestowed from the two mites was so abundant and generous as to eclipse all who had riches, and in the wealth of intention and superabundance of zeal, to surpass those who cast in many coins. Wherefore even in this matter, you are not injured but rather benefitted, receiving by means of a small contribution rewards more glorious than they who put down large sums.
For wherefore, O man, do riches seem to you worthy of such diligent pursuit? But wealth is not generally wont to make anyone wiser, or more self-controlled, or more gentle, or more intelligent, or kind, or benevolent, or superior to anger-or gluttony-or pleasure: it does not train anyone to be moderate, or teach him how to be humble, nor introduce and implant any other piece of virtue in the soul. Neither could you say for which of these things it deserves to be so diligently sought and desired. For not only is it ignorant how to plant and cultivate any good thing, but even if it finds a store of them it mars and stunts and blights them; and some of them it even uproots, and introduces their opposites - unmeasured licentiousness, unseasonable wrath, unrighteous anger, pride, arrogance, foolishness.
F. Some say that poverty disposes us to be discontent – the example of Lazarus
But poverty, someone will say, disposes men to be discontented and often also to utter profane words, and condescend to mean actions. It is not poverty which does this, but littleness of soul: for Lazarus also was poor, aye! very poor: and besides poverty, he suffered from infirmity, a bitterer trial than any form of poverty, and one which makes poverty more severely felt; and in addition to infirmity there was a total absence of protectors, and difficulty in finding any to supply his wants, which increased the bitterness of poverty and infirmity; for each of these things is painful in itself, but when there are none to minister to the sufferer’s wants, the suffering becomes greater, the flame more painful, the distress more bitter. And if one examines the case thoroughly, there was yet a fourth trial besides these - the unconcern and luxury of the rich man who dwelt close by. And if you would find a fifth thing, serving as fuel to the flame, you will see quite clearly that he was beset by it. For not only was that rich man living luxuriously, but several times in the day he saw the poor man: for he had been laid at his gate, being a grievous spectacle of pitiable distress, and the bare sight of him was sufficient to soften even a heart of stone: and yet even this did not induce that unmerciful man to assist this case of poverty. But although he saw that poor man every day distressed by grievous hunger and the bitterest infirmity, and the oppression of his many sores, and by destitution, and the ills which result from these things, he never even gave him a thought: but the poor man - and he so very poor, and encompassed with so many miseries - was not even vouchsafed the crumbs which fell from that table, although he greatly desired them: and yet none of these things injured him, he did not give vent to a bitter word, he did not utter a profane speech; but like a piece of gold which shines all the more brilliantly when it is purified by excessive heat, even so, he, although oppressed by these sufferings, was superior to all of them, and to the agitation which in many cases is produced by them. What would the condition of this poor man have been had he not been very wise and noble-hearted? Do you perceive that he who does not injure himself suffers no evil?
G. The Scriptures and the Lives of the Saints as portraits of the victorious and of the defeated
As an extension to the Scriptures, hagiography, that is the Lives of the Saints, stretch out and expand into our present days from the Old and New Testaments to illustrate those who are upset and those who are crowned victorious in this contest, in order that they may instruct us by means of examples to make known that no one will be able to injure one who is not injured by himself, even if all the world were to kindle a fierce war against him. For it is not the stress of circumstances, nor variation of seasons, nor insults of men in power, nor intrigues besetting you like snowstorms, nor a crowd of calamities, nor a promiscuous collection of all the ills to which mankind is subject, which can disturb even slightly the man who is brave, and temperate, and watchful; just as on the contrary the indolent and supine man who is his own betrayer cannot be made better, even with the aid of innumerable ministrations.
Saints are made, not born. They did not overcome because they were more than human, or had visions or a special grace that is not available to anyone else. No, they overcame because of their own nobility of soul. As St. John says about the three youths who were cast into the furnace that inasmuch as they brought to the work all the strength which they had, God also henceforth contributed his strength to it. For it was not God’s doing only that they achieved those things for the sake of which they were to receive a reward, but the beginning and starting point was from their own purpose, and having manifested that to be noble and brave, they won for themselves the help of God, and so accomplished their aim. For this is how the grace of God is drawn down upon a person, and comes to assist us.
And on this day how can we not look to the example of St. Joseph the Hesychast, on his first feast day, who had such manifest sobriety and temperance. How often did he say to his disciples, revealing his own nobility of soul, that they did not know how difficult it was on the Holy Mountain when he was young and this desert was filled with demons. In his vigilance, he encouraged his disciples to also be vigilant and to not sleep at night. However, how often do we hear from Elder Ephraim that he tried but would nod off and then run to St. Joseph’s cell where he would listen to encouraging words and be taught how to be watchful and the other lessons of the hesychastic life. Although he had the fattest cat in the whole synodia, it was not indicative of fatness in his soul, for he had an austere soul that pleased God, Who enabled him to impart divine gifts to his spiritual children. Ridiculed by others and scoffed at; accused of being deluded, yet he stood unmoved. Diseased and not complaining, illness forced him to shed blood and by choice, in his strictness, he shed blood and obtained spirit, and what is more, he obtained that Kingdom which moth and rust cannot destroy. Today we offer prayers and supplications to him, asking for his intercessions and praising his labors and struggles.
At the end of his life, St. John Chrysostom was slandered. Being wrongly accused he was condemned to exile. Exiled from his home and family and flock in Constantinople, he was taken by a dispatch of guards, on foot to Georgia. He suffered much from fevers and headaches, and more than once was brought to the brink of death. Knowing that if anyone be harmed and injured he certainly suffers this at his own hands, not at the hands of others even if there be countless multitudes injuring and insulting him, St. John lifts up his voice, to seal his final testament and crown the labors of his life by proclaiming: “Glory to God for all things!”
THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM AND JOSEPH THE HESYCHAST, LORD JESUS CHRIST HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.
That none can harm the one who does not harm himself was made manifest to us by the parable of the two men, of whom the one built his house upon the rock, the other upon the sand: not that we are to think of sand and rock, or of a building of stone, and a roof, or of rivers, and rain, and wild winds, beating against the buildings, but we are to extract virtue and vice as the meaning of these things, and to perceive from them that no one injures a man who does not injure himself. Therefore neither the rain although driven furiously along, nor the streams dashing against it with much vehemence, nor the wild winds beating against it with a mighty rush, shook the one house in any degree: but it remained undisturbed, unmoved: that you might understand that no trial can agitate the man who does not betray himself. But the house of the other man was easily swept away, not on account of the force of the trials (for in that case the other would have experienced the same fate), but on account of his own folly; for it did not fall because the wind blew upon it, but because it was built upon the sand, that is to say upon indolence and iniquity. For before that tempest beat upon it, it was weak and ready to fall. For buildings of that kind, even if no one puts any pressure on them, fall to pieces of themselves, the foundation sinking and giving way in every direction. And just as cobwebs part asunder, although no strain is put upon them, but adamant remains unshaken even when it is struck: even so also they who do not injure themselves become stronger, even if they receive innumerable blows; but they who betray themselves, even if there is no one to harass them, fall of themselves, and collapse and perish. For even thus did Judas perish, not only having been unassailed by any trial of this kind, but having actually enjoyed the benefit of much assistance.
 Chrysostom, St. John. “A Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st series, trans. Rev. W. R. W. Stephens. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999) 9:271-284..
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