Friday, 25 October 2013

Only We Can Hurt Ourselves

by St. John Chrysostom

Check your anger, quench your wrath. If anyone does you injury or violence, weep for him. Do not be vexed, but sow sympathy for him, so that you may not become provoked and say: “My soul has been hurt.” No one’s soul is hurt, unless we hurt our own souls. How is this so? Let me tell you. Has someone stolen your property? He has not hurt you in your soul, but in your purse; but if you bear a grudge against him, you have hurt yourself in your soul. The loss of property did no hurt to your soul, but even helped it; if, however, you do not put aside your anger, you will pay the penalty hereafter for the grudge you bear. Has someone abused and insulted you? He has hurt neither your soul nor your body. But did you return his abuse and insults in kind? You have hurt your own soul and you are going to pay hereafter the penalty for the words you have spoken.

Indeed, I wish, above all things, that you understand that no one has the power to do harm to the soul of the faithful Christian, not even the devil himself. Not only is it a wonderful thing that God has made us incapable of being overcome by any treachery, but that He has fitted us for the practice of virtue. If we be willing, there is nothing to stop us, even if we be poor, weak in body, outcasts, nameless, or slaves. For neither poverty, nor weakness, nor bodily disability, nor slavery, nor any other such thing could be a hindrance to virtue.

And why do I speak of the poor man, the slave, and the nameless? Even if you are in prison, this is no hindrance to virtue. Let me tell you how this is so. Has someone in your household hurt or provoked you? Lay aside your anger against him. Neither prison, nor poverty, nor lack of fame is a hindrance to your doing that, is it? And why call these a hindrance? They even help us and work with us in checking our vanity.

Did you see some other man enjoying prosperity? Do not envy him, for poverty is no hindrance in this case either. Again, when it is time to pray, do so with a sober and wakeful heart, and there will be nothing here to hinder you. Show your meekness, all the mildness of your heart, your temperance, your holiness; these require no external aids. And this is the most important thing about virtue: it has no need of wealth, or power, or glory, or any other such thing. If only the soul be holy, virtue seeks nothing beyond that.

Note well that this same thing is true in the case of grace. Even if a man be lame, or his eyes have been torn out, or he be disabled in body, or has fallen into the most extreme weakness, none of these things prevents grace from coming into the soul. For grace seeks out only the soul which is eager to receive it, and ignores all these external things.

Baptismal Instruction 12:25 in Paul W. Harkins (trans.), St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instruction, Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1963, pp.180-2.