A talk given at St. Vladimir's Seminary on January 30th, 2008, the Feast of the Three Hierarchs as part of a Symposium on St John Chrysostom, which wrapped up a year-long commemoration of the 1600th anniversary of the his repose. The Very Reverend Josiah Trenham, pastor of St Andrew’s Orthodox Church in Riverside, California spoke about St John Chrysostom and his teachings on married life. Fr Josiah read excerpts of texts where St John described the ideal Christian married and family life and "fleshed out" St John’s teachings on the differences in mankind’s state before the fall, after the fall, and in the Kingdom of Heaven, and how those differences affect the experience of marriage. His book on "Marriage and Virginity according to St John Chrysostom" is scheduled to be published later this year.
January 31, 2008 Length: 42:11
Father Chad Hatfield: Our third speaker, Father Josiah Trenham, hails from the other side of the United States, in Glendale, California. His education includes a bachelor’s thesis on the great American theologian and revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, theological training at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, as well as Reformed Theological Seminary in Mississippi, studying under reformed theologians like R. C. Sproul, and finally, doctoral work in theology at the University of Durham in England, under Father Andrew Louth.
His writings include forthcoming publications, on an academic level, his dissertation Terrestrial Angels: Marriage and Virginity According to Saint John Chrysostom, by St. Herman Press, and the same press will be publishing, in a more popular form, God’s Gifts: Marriage, Monasticism and Sexuality According to the Patristic Tradition.
His faith-background includes his upbringing in the Presbyterian and Covenant churches, serving as a licensed minister in the Presbyterian Church of the U.S., and as a clergyman of the Reformed Episcopal Church. He was received into the Orthodox Church in 1993 by His Grace Bishop Basil Essey and was ordained to the Holy Priesthood.
He has served as Assistant Pastor at Saint Athanasios Orthodox Church, Santa Barbara in the mid nineties for a few years, then as Resident Priest at Saint Innocent Orphanage in Rosarito, Mexico for one year, and since 1998, as Pastor of Saint Andrew Orthodox Church in Riverside, California.
His teaching includes a stint in the nineties as a Teacher of Religion at Catholic High School in Santa Barbara, and since 2004 as Adjunct Professor of History at California Baptist University in Riverside, California.
But perhaps, more than any of these qualifications, and certainly along with them, I believe he has the experience to present the pastoral power of Saint John Chrysostom on marriage and sexuality, because he has been married for years, [laughter] and is the father not just of one or two children, but eight [laughter and applause].
Father Josiah: There you have it. There you have it. Now they’re all going to listen, you know?
Father Chad: So with these nine additional very good reasons [laughter], let us give our minds and our hearts to attend to Father Josiah Trenham. [applause]
Father Josiah: Thank you. Your blessings, Your Grace. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Your Grace, Bishop Basil, esteemed Dean, Father John and my beloved brother, Father Chad, Chancellor, and my new friends, seminarians who are beloved to the Church and brothers and sisters, I’m so please to be here and to bring you the greetings of my father in God, His Grace, Bishop Joseph, the Bishop of Los Angeles, who sent me here with much love. He’s anticipating coming to Saint Vladimir’s soon himself. I bring his blessings to you all.
I must say that being a former Presbyterian, I feel very comfortable in this room [laughter]. I’ve been meditating upon my Presbyterian past in these white walls for several hours [laughter], and I am very enthused to speak to you and to join this chorus of praise, really, in honor and the deepest respect for the life and the work of Saint John Chrysostom, the “Golden Mouth” himself, who reigns with our Savior in heaven.
Saint Gregory the Theologian eulogized Saint Athanasios the Great, and he called him the patron Saint, the patron, the benefactor of the monastic and the married alike. This is how Saint Gregory described Saint Athanasios. If, in fact, Saint Gregory had lived and thirty years or so later, had been at the funeral of Saint John Chrysostom, I think he would have used this same image of double patronage with even more vigor. Because, like Saint Athanasios, Saint John Chrysostom was philomonastic and philo-family. He was a great promoter, defender and teacher both of monks and nuns and of married Christians.
I would like, in this presentation, to do several things. First, is to give you a taste, something of an overview of his theology of marriage, and then to use a little window from some of his counsels about how this beautiful theology works itself out in the Christian home, and then conclude with just a word about the relationship between the married and the monastic and how they have a symbiotic, mutually fertilizing, encouraging relationship together.
I suggest to you, brothers and sisters, that no God-inspired father has bequeathed to the Church a more precise and developed theology of marriage, nor such practical counsels on how to actually live out the high calling of marriage, as has Saint John Chrysostom.
In his commentaries on Genesis and elsewhere in his corpus, Chrysostom sets forth a developed protology. He gives us a picture of paradise and of man as originally created, in which he posits an anthropology that’s normative for all of his commentary on the topic of marriage, and from which he does not deviate until his last breath.
At its core, is the notion that Adam was designed and crafted by God to be a terrestrial angel. In solidarity with the bodiless hosts, mankind in paradise was in communion with the living God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Man moved in the energies of God—yes, Chrysostom used that language—he moved in the energies of God and radiated the light of the Godhead in a manner brighter than the noonday sun.
In Eden, man worshiped God in union with the angels and possessed a life that was in no way inferior to the angels, but even enjoyed in his body the angelic immunity from weakness, disease and suffering. Adam was a prophet. He was under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit and he possessed an immense intellect.
In the garden of delights, Adam lived with his partner in a perfect state of virginity, and in an intimate union of soul with Eve, but this union, according to Chrysostom, was not yet marriage as we know it. In paradise, man and woman lived as in heaven, and there was, “no need for marriage.” In fact, all of the classical byproducts of marriage that have been extolled throughout history in all great civilizations—things such as large populations, developed cities, crafts, homes, et cetera—did not exist in paradise, yet this in no way eclipsed the happiness and contentment of Adam or Eve.
Man, the terrestrial angel, was not originally designed for, nor oriented towards what we know today as marriage on the earth, nor towards sexual intercourse and procreation as post-Fall man is, and was expected, according to Chrysostom, to carry out the command of God to be fruitful and multiply in an angelic manner. He followed Saint Gregory of Nyssa in that suggestion and was himself followed by other fathers, like Saint John of Damascus. So much for man in paradise, and his union of soul and intimacy with his partner, Eve. Now the Fall.
Having broken faith with God, Adam found himself radically deformed, virtually unrecognizable when compared to his original condition. He was bereft of the Holy Spirit, divested of his robe of glory, stripped of his priestly, princely and heavenly raiment, and found himself covered in shame and confusion. He had forfeited God’s esteem, which for Chrysostom was one of the greatest tragedies of the Fall.
He no longer shared the angelic immunity from suffering. His labor became taxing and servile. He began to sweat miserably and to experience pain. He was clothed in garments of skin. He found himself torn by powerful passions and impulses, not the least of which was the tyranny of the sexual impulse.
He found himself burning in lust. He was oppressed by bodily necessities, racked by hunger and thirst, and the constitution of his nature itself became slothful, hard to move towards virtue and tending—pushing—towards perdition.
Evidence was lacking that he indeed was the image of God. His dominion over the animal kingdom was contested by many of his subjects, and his dominion over his own thoughts was severely tried.
No longer were the physical earth and ashes simply a component of man’s being, but they had become the defining element of man’s existence. He had lost the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. No longer did he prophesy by God’s help. His intelligence and perception were drastically dimmed. Death, corruption and the evil one had taken Adam’s place as the new, but illegitimate co-regents of the world. And, worst of all, Adam lost his face-to-face relationship, that of a friend, to God.
When our first parents tragically fell, so did their paradisal union. Together with Adam and Eve, that heavenly partnership, that koinonia bios, was viciously deformed and suffered a sorrowful collapse. New and tyrannical urges disturbed Adam and Eve and, when continued, to disturb their posterity. And, having lost their primal unity, men and women would scramble to reassert union, but would find doing so very difficult in the midst of disunity, isolation, misunderstanding and loneliness.
At the Fall, mankind became beastly and animal-like, and sexual union in carnal copulation fit their new existence, and came into being. This is why the first reference, according to Chrysostom, to sexual intercourse in the scriptures is found in the first verse of the fourth chapter of Genesis, immediately after the Fall.
Besides the appearance, after the Fall, of blessed marriage and lawful sexual intercourse, many sorrowful realities sprung into being at that time. Domestic discord and violence erupted, beginning with the heartless accusation Adam made of Eve when God questioned him about his sin.
All sorts of grotesque sexual perversions arose as the bad fruit of man’s fallen condition. Polygamy began with Lamech and continued as normative for millennia. The sin of intermarriage with unbelievers was practiced, and Noah’s generation was so overcome by the pleasures of the flesh, that in God’s eyes they lost their status as human beings.
Homosexuality was practiced in Sodom and Gomorrah which led to the fiery destruction of those cities as a forewarning of the hell of fire for those who practice such perversions. Incest reared its head, as seen in the case of Lot and his virgin daughters. Prostitution and incest appeared in the case of Judah and Tamar. There was rape and resultant murder as in the incident with Jacob’s daughter, Dinah.
We could go on—about adultery, fornication, birth control and more, and this extensive litany of misery is just from the first book of the Old Testament. Pristine virginity, man’s glory, was banished, and relational and sexual dysfunction became normative.
In the midst of the tears of Adam and Eve, the Lord God in his great condescension and love for man, fashioned marriage for Adam’s new state, and filled it with immense redemptive potential.
What, then, is the origin of marriage? According to Chrysostom, marriage itself is the offspring of death, and is a mortal and a slavish garment. Since mortality and slavery did not exist in paradise, marriage did not exist. Saint Paul explained that, “where there is sin, there is death.” Saint John carries this further by stating, “where death is, there is marriage.”
The pattern is as follows: sin, death, marriage. Each of the main components of marriage, such as sexual intercourse, conception, labor and childbirth, is a form of corruption.
Though the very existence of marriage reminds us of the fact that we have fallen from our angelic condition, marriage itself also reminds us of our God’s condescension and His sympathetic love. As such, it should neither be exalted unduly, since it is for fallen man, nor in any way denigrated since it has a divine origin.
The Lord has endowed marriage with power from on high to assist man on his road to salvation in three very distinct ways, and I’m not suggesting that these three ways are given equal attention in Chrysostom’s writings. Their not at all, but they are affirmed by him in different places.
Preeminently, the wife is given to the husband as a God-given remedy for his wild and unruly nature. The wife is a potent healing charm, a pharmacon. She is a drug to calm man’s passions. She is the harbor in the storm of man’s life. She is the means by which the flames of passion are quenched, something like a divinely given fire extinguisher. [laughter] As such, marriage prevents illicit unions, and provides a blessed and lawful avenue for sexual expression, so that man does not burn.
Secondly, the wife is given for consolation, conversation, and to share the same being. As such, Chrysostom calls marriage, “a sweet ointment,” niro. Marriage, he says, possesses its own nobility and is in no way a hindrance to a spiritual life. On the contrary, the marriage partnership, though not causing holiness itself—and Chrysostom is very clear in his writings not to call marriage, in its essence, “holy”—the marriage partnership does not cause holiness, but it serves as a context for its fashioning, and as a preservative for its maintenance. Lifelong companionship in all aspects of life is God’s special gift to man.
Thirdly and lastly, marriage possesses an immense power of union in procreation. Marriage demonstrates that in order for two to become three, they must first retreat into being one. Procreation through sexual union, though not a valid reason for marriage after the Incarnation, when the world has already been populated, according to Chrysostom, remains the greatest consolation to man, part and parcel of marriage itself, a minimizer of what he calls “the fearsome visage of death,” a foreshadowing of the resurrection, a type of receiving the Holy Eucharist, and of the one-flesh union between Jesus Christ and His Church and the individual believer, both, of the store of spiritual profit through labor and childbirth, an enhancer of and expression of marital unity, for in fact the child is a tangible witness to an abiding one-flesh union of husband and wife, and a mystery of love to be cherished.
What has happened to marriage in the New Covenant? Throughout the Old Covenant, God adapted marriage to meet man’s needs in his age of childhood and spiritual immaturity. The Lord God at that time tolerated many things in the life of His people that were not His will, and would in time, following the Incarnation, be done away with. Israel’s spiritual immaturity is the rationale behind God’s primarily inspiring and motivating His people by the promise of earthly, not heavenly, blessings in the Old Testament. I quote Saint John:
It was especially when the majority of people were handicapped by limitations that He gave them these material goods. He led the Jewish people, at any rate, along such a way of living. Wealth abounded for them, remember, life was lengthened into old age. All diseases were absent. For those believing in God, there was granted destruction of enemies, profound peace, trophies and victories, the blessing of large families and everything of this kind.
But when our Lord Jesus Christ came calling us to heaven, and urging us to spurn the here and now, encouraging the love of those other goods and detaching us from things of this life, it was appropriate for these things to be reduced, and all riches to be found instead in those other things, now that we had become perfect.
In the case of children too, their parents provide them, when still small, with such things as footwear and clothing, gold trinkets and armlets. But when they grow up, they take these things from them and give them other things of greater importance: reputation in public life, prominence in high society, confidence in the imperial court, offices and influence and thus drawing them away from childish ambition.
That is exactly what God did. He led us away from those trifling and childish things, and promised us the things of heaven. So do not pine for what is passing and fleeting, and let not your spirit be stunted.
With the accomplishment and the proclamation of the Holy Gospel, truly Christian and spiritual marriage—which is Chrysostom’s preferred term for describing Christian marriage—Christian and spiritual marriage blooms. God has become man, the chasm bridged, the mediation effected, righteousness perfected and modeled on the earth, death slain, the devil defeated, sin atoned for, the curse annulled, Hades destroyed, Christ resurrected, the God-Man ascended, paradise opened, human flesh enthroned in heaven, the throne of David occupied, the kingdom established, the demons trampled, man dignified, God is with us, understand all ye nations and submit yourselves.
The newness of Christian man, expresses itself clearly in his marriage and in his sexual life. With the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the elevation of human nature, has come the possibility of resuming the angelic life, and entering a race again with the incorporeal powers.
Monasticism, the angelic life of virginity in the New Covenant, is then a signpost bearing witness to man’s new creation. It’s an eschatological flag. Mortified in baptism, united to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, human nature is called to a loftier peak. Virginity itself becomes the eschatologically apropos way of living for Christians, according to Saint John.
Our father describes this redemptive, historical movement with a beautiful image of a mother bird. Initially the mother rears her young, then she nudges them in the nest into the air, escorting them from the nest. If they are too weak, they are permitted to remain in the nest until they are able to gather sufficient strength to fly off with security.
Christ, the “mother bird,” has come to escort us all from the nest of the world and earthly marriage. Those who remain in the nest, do so because of their plodding nature or deep sleep, and because they are attached to worldly things. Those who are truly noble, quit the nest with great ease and fly high in the air and skim the heavens.
With this present age speeding to its termination, it is God’s wish that mankind now leave marriage behind and grow up. Everyone who can embrace the monastic life, should, according to Saint John. There is no question that all Christians eventually will embrace the angelic, virginal life. The question is not if, the question is when?
For in the kingdom there is no marriage and reproduction. If one cannot embrace the virginal life in this life, this is a sign that his calling is to Christian marriage. This is how Saint John interprets Saint Paul in one Corinthians seven, when he says, “Every man has his own gift from God, one in this matter and another in that.” Saint John says what that means is, God’s calling you to monastic life, if you can’t do it, that means your gift is for marriage.
For those who cannot embrace the monastic life, a spiritual and a heavenly-minded marriage, based on the same gospel ethic as monasticism, becomes the norm and radiates with its own beauty.
I’d like now to turn to a brief description of what this spiritual marriage, according to Saint Chrysostom, is. I’ve entitled this section Spiritual Marriage, Monastic Family, and Domestic Church which are all his words.
The truly Christian marriage follows the same gospel life as a monk, and Chrysostom is thorough in his counsels to the married, on how to actualize the gospel in their home. I’d like to take two topics of home life, and through those topics explain his vision.
First, let us take the subject of real estate and property. Poverty and dispossession, even in marriage, remain the Christian ideal. As such, married Christians who own private property, must justify its existence by its use. Married Christians should not build elaborate houses designed for display, and should be very thoughtful about the size of their habitation.
If someone puts on a sandal, larger than one’s foot, the sandal becomes a hindrance, rather than a help. The same is true concerning the family home. It should be just big enough to meet the needs of the family and no more. Most families need nothing more than a house with three rooms, and ought to remember that some large families only have one room in which to dwell.
To construct a house excessively large impedes one’s progress to heaven and is an irresponsible use of finances which God has given, not for the construction of excessively large homes, but for distribution to those less fortunate. In fact, one of the primary causes of involuntary poverty, is the desire for families to live separately, each in his own house.
I won’t make any connections between that and the “American dream” at all. [laughter] Leave that to you.
If someone would like to build a large home, it’s not forbidden, as long as one builds it in heaven by generous alms-giving on the earth. [laughter] If you have an extra house, the thing to do is to sell it, and give it to the needy, and in so doing you will in fact be giving a house to yourself in the next life. It’s the ultimate real estate investment. [laughter]
Christ never once, according to Saint John, entered into an elaborate house but into the homes of fisherman. He considers homes that are filled with virtue to be beautifully adorned. The poor state of a home is not in a disordered kitchen or an untidy bed, but in the sin of those who inhabit it.
The Patriarch Abraham is the model for the married Christian, for Abraham did not cover his roof with gold, as he could have, being a rich man, but he established his home in a tent, near an oak tree, content with its shade. This humble dwelling was to God, so illustrious that angels visited the tent of Abraham. Though it was poorly appointed, it was, according to Saint John, “more illustrious than the halls of kings.”
By his contempt of riches and luxury, and by his refusal to own a home, the married Abraham was more austere than many monks who were living at the tops of the mountains outside of Antioch. Chrysostom criticized those who sought expensively adorned furniture and fancy beds. He taught that the truly beautiful bed is King David’s bed, full of tears and confession.
The Patriarch Jacob taught us to hold fancy beds in contempt by laying on the bare ground and using a rock for his pillow. And God showed His pleasure in such asceticism by granting to Jacob a vision as he slept. Married Christians ought to use the practice of sleeping on the ground as a sort of self-imposed penance for certain sins. Especially contemptible to Saint John is the practice of perfuming bed linens, which was a practice he thought rooted in luxury.
The furniture of a Christian household must be prayers, alms, supplications and vigils. Costly tapestries, decorated couches, elaborate beds do not make for a well-appointed home, but justice, contempt of money, honor in human values and the embrace of poverty do.
The aristocracy, who own large estates, should see to it that a church is built on their property, and they should maintain a priest and a deacon out of their own funds, on the site, who cannot only lead them in daily prayers, but teach the whole surrounding village, edify the laborers, bless the wine press and the crops, provide increased estate security, provide for the perpetual memorial of the founders of the Church until the second coming of Christ and call down upon them all God’s blessing.
To build a church is a worthy way to give to the poor, according to Saint John. This was not only a suggestion given by him to the wealthy, but he laid it down as a law that there should be no estate without a church. Such a requirement reflected his great concern for the evangelization of the peasants in the rural areas where the gospel had not thoroughly been preached.
Always having the eschatological day of judgment in his mind as he guides his flock, Chrysostom had this to say about home building, I quote:
It is a fine thing to build one’s self splendid houses, to have servants, to lie and gaze at at a gilded roof. Is it? Why then assuredly it is superfluous and unprofitable, for other buildings there are far brighter and more majestic than these. On such we must gladden our eyes for there is none to hinder us. Will thou see the fairest of roofs? At eventide, look upon the starry heaven.
‘But,’ saith someone, ‘this roof is not mine.’ Yet, in truth, it is more thine than the other. For thee it was made and is common to thee and to thy brethren. The other is not thine, but theirs who, after thy death, will inherit it. The one may do thee the greatest service, guiding thee by its beauty to its Creator; the other, the greatest harm, becoming thy greatest accuser on the Day of Judgment, inasmuch as it is covered with gold, while Christ hath not even needful clothing.
Let us not, I entreat you, be subject to such folly. Let us not pursue things which flee away, and flee those which endure. Let us not betray our own salvation but hold fast to our hope of what shall be hereafter.
The aged, as certainly knowing that but a little space of life is left us, the young, as well persuaded that what is left is not much. For that day cometh so as a thief in the night. Knowing this, let wives exhort their husbands and husbands admonish their wives. Let us teach youths and maidens and all instruct one another to care not for the present things, but to desire those which are to come.
Here we see Saint John Chrysostom apply his theology of marriage, and the single gospel ethic which inspires both the married life and the monastic life to the subject of real estate. And I’ve chosen just one more topic from the home, to explain this vision, and that, I’m entitling The Typicon of the Domestic Church.
Saint John counseled that the Christian home be well ordered according to a certain ecclesiastical regulation. The churchly ethos of the Christian home is maintained by a fervent and continual link with the Church. The blessing of the household is contingent upon a faithful participation in the prayers of the Church. No excuse should be tolerated in families for staying away from religious services. Time in the Church should be preferred to time anywhere else.
I quote Saint John, “What profit do you gain which can outweigh the loss you bring on yourself and on your whole household when you stay away from the religious service? Suppose you find a whole treasure house filled with gold, and this discovery is your reason for staying away? You have lost more than you found, and your loss is as much greater as things of the Spirit are better than the things we see.”
Chrysostom discloses the secret of the virtuous home life: “Nothing contributes to a virtuous and a moral way of life as does the time that you spend here in church. The time we spend here in church is the basis of every blessing.”
The sanctification of the Christian family starts and ever continues, according to Chrysostom, by a faithful participation in the life of the corporate body of the Church. The sanctity of the home is a sanctity derived from the holiness of the Church, and the latter undergirds every joy of the home. It is not the sanctity of the family that is primary and that produces the same in the Church but vice versa.
One day in seven, the Lord’s day, must be consecrated to the matters of the soul and should be free of all worldly endeavors. On the Lord’s day, parents should especially teach their children the Christian faith. Imitating the practices of the Church, the Christian home should have formal prayers every morning and evening.
The husband and wife must be sure to pray together. Upon arising, which should be done before the sun, and before washing, one should say his prayers. For just as water washes the body, so prayers wash the soul. Following the evening meal, the family should give themselves to thanksgiving, and not to drunkenness and excess.
Married couples can imitate the self-denial of the monks by giving themselves to thanksgiving and to psalm singing in their own home. After our Savior fed the multitudes, he did not dismiss them to sleep but he taught them. To such instruction, families should also commit themselves following their meals.
Each person should strictly judge his own behavior during the day just before retiring for bed. If one remembers hell before going to bed, the sleep will be peaceful. Nighttime is the special time for prayer. If one is awakened in the middle of the night, he should consider this as an opportunity to get up and pray.
Prayer at night is particularly effective. Families should arouse themselves in the middle of the night to pray, and should wake even very young children to join them for at least one or two prayers before putting them back to sleep. By so doing, the parents will not only be imitating Jesus who prayed through the night as an example for Christians to come, but will accustom their children to disciplining their sleep, and making it the servant of prayer. This practice, according to Saint John, turns homes into little churches.
Christian families should also practice fasting. Christians are not to live to eat, but rather to eat to live. Such fasting is not only for the older and stronger members of the family, but even for the infants and the family pets. [laughter] The animals of the pagan Ninevites fasted, and the Prophet Joel required that even the infants on the breast fast. He’s always so Biblical. [laughter]
Families should become proficient in this fasting, so that it functions in the home as a proper medicine. They must pay attention to the time fasting should be practiced, on Wednesdays and Fridays especially, the quantity and the severity of the regimen, the temperament of their individual bodies, the nature of the country, the season of the year, the particulars of the fasting diet and many other particulars. Talk about a pastoral approach to fasting.
If we pay such attention to our body when it is sick, how much more should we pay this type of attention to the body that is in direct service of the health of the soul. Most of all families should ensure that when they fast, they are actually sinning less, not more.
Families should make regular pilgrimages to the shrines of the martyrs. Such pilgrimages will obtain for the family immense joy and happiness. Families who bring their troubles to the relics of the Saints, even to their sepulchres, for they too have been filled with grace, will return to their homes with great consolation.
Pilgrimage to see the ascetics in the desert will enable the family to estrange itself from the world. The ascetics in the monasteries are like lighthouses, drawing all men to their calm, and preserving from shipwreck those who make friends with them. “Go then to their tabernacles. To go to the monastery of a holy man is to pass, as it were, from earth to heaven.”
It should be the custom of the family to exercise spiritual care when they pass through the thresholds of their homes to enter into the world. Upon leaving the house, one should without fail say this, “I renounce thee, satan. Thy pomps and service, and I enter into Thy service, O Christ,” recalling their baptisms every time they go out the door of the house.
The sign of the precious Cross should be inscribed on the doorposts of the dwelling and throughout the house on windows and walls. Such will offer immense protection to the home. “For if we on seeing the places in which criminals are beheaded shudder, think what the evil spirits must endure seeing the weapon whereby Christ put an end to all his power, and cut off the head of the dragon.”
Parents who have small children, who are not able to cross themselves should make the sign of the cross on their foreheads until they are old enough to do it themselves. These two examples, and we could choose many more. I was tempted to scrap them and just talk about almsgiving in the home [laugh], based on my two predecessors here, since he gives such beautiful, practical advice about almsgiving in the home. But we just chose these two examples of real estate and The Domestic Typicon, the ecclesiastical arrangement of the house. They demonstrate Saint John’s vision for Christian marriage.
We could talk also about Christian education, which he gives himself so much to, spousal relations, discipline, et cetera, but at its essence, he conceived of the home as a domestic asceterion, a small training ground for ascetics. He called upon parents to raise children who are athletes for Jesus.
“Let thy home,” he says, “be a sort of arena, a stadium of exercise for virtue. That having trained thyself well there, thou mayest with skill encounter all abroad.” Every day the married Christian rises in his own form of monastery. He has his own brotherhood and fellow ascetics in his wife and children. There he is called by God to anoint himself for the contest each day, and to exercise himself in the home against all passions.
This is the domestic vision of Saint John Chrysostom. This is the saving path that he laid out in his pastoral love to his families. The goal of the Christian home, and the goal of the Christian monastery is the same: the salvation of those who dwell there.
Should a couple succeed in so consecrating their union to Jesus, and having what he calls a truly spiritual marriage, they will be, in his words, “but little inferior to monks, the married, but little below the unmarried.”
And let me end, brothers and sisters with this, really an apostolic charge from his beautiful mouth that he gave to his married sheep. He says this, “Use marriage appropriately, and you shall be the first in the kingdom and enjoy every good thing.”