Rorate Caeli

"Behold, ye despisers"

Surgens Paulus, et manu silentium indicens, ait: "Viri fratres, filii generis Abraham, et qui in vobis timent Deum, vobis verbum salutis huius missum est. ... nos vobis annuntiamus eam, quæ ad patres nostros repromissio facta est: quoniam hanc Deus adimplevit filiis nostris, resuscitans Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum." [from the Lesson for Tuesday in the Octave of Easter, Acts of the Apostles xiii, 16, 26, 32-33: Paul standing up, and with his hand bespeaking silence, said, "Men, brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you fear God, to you the word of this salvation is sent. ... And we declare unto you that the promise which was made to our fathers, the same God hath fulfilled to our children, raising up Our Lord Jesus Christ."]


The first great sermon preached by Saint Paul and recorded in the Bible was the one he addressed to the audience of the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia [Acts of the Apostles xiii, 16-41], the center of which was the message of resurrection — which is why it was made the lesson for Easter Tuesday, according to the immemorial paschal tradition of the Church of Rome. Saint John Chrysostom used the Pauline lesson to severely warn the "People of the Resurrection": what is the use of purporting to believe in the Resurrection of the Lord if the baptised act as the "despisers" [Acts of the Apostles xiii, 41]?

"He has raised up Jesus again" [v. 33]... Yes, upon this the rest follows of course. Why did he not allege some text by which they would be persuaded that forgiveness of sins [v. 38: ...through him forgiveness of sins is preached to you...] is by Him? Because the great point with them was to show, in the first place, that He was risen: this being acknowledged, the rest was unquestionable. ... And, besides, he wished to bring them to a longing desire of this great thing. Well, then, His death was not dereliction, but fulfilling of Prophecy — for the rest, he puts them in mind of historical facts, since they through ignorance would suffer evils without number. And this he hints in the conclusion, saying, "Behold, ye despisers," and so forth... [v. 41]

And observe how, this being harsh, he cuts it short. Let not that, he says, come upon you, which was spoken for the others ... . Wonder not that it seems incredible: this very thing was foretold from the first [i.e. that it would not be believed]. "Behold, ye despisers," refers to those who disbelieve in the Resurrection. ...

This too might with reason be said to us: "Behold, ye despisers." For the Church indeed is in a very sad situation, although you think her affairs to be in peace. For the mischief of it is, that while we labor under so many evils, we do not even know that we have any.

"What do you say? We are in possession of our Churches, our Church property, and all the rest, the services are held, the congregation comes to Church every day!" True, but one is not to judge the state of a Church from these things! From what then? Whether there be piety, whether we return home with profit each day, whether reaping some fruit, be it much or little, whether we do it not merely of routine and for the formal acquittance of a duty.

Who has become a better man by attending [daily] liturgies for a whole month? That is the point: otherwise, the very thing which seems to bespeak a flourishing condition does in fact bespeak an ill condition, when all this is done, and nothing comes of it. ... indeed, as things are, it turns out even for the worse!

What fruit do you get from your services? Surely if you were getting any profit from them, you ought to have been long leading the life of true wisdom, with so many prophets ... discoursing to you, so many Apostles, and Evangelists, all setting forth the doctrines of salvation, and placing before you with much exactness that which can set the character aright. The soldier by going to his drill, becomes more perfect in his tactics; the wrestler by frequenting the gymnastic ground becomes more skilful in wrestling; the physician by attending on his teacher becomes more accurate, and knows more, and learns more: and you — what have you gained?

I speak not to those who have been members of the Church for only a year, but to those who from their earliest age have been attending [Church]. Do you think that to be religious is to be constant in Church-going? This is nothing, unless we reap some fruit for ourselves: if [from the gathering together in Church] we do not gather something for ourselves, it would be better to remain at home. For our forefathers built the Churches for us, not just to bring us together from our private houses and show us one to another: this could have been done also in a marketplace, and in baths, and in public parades! — but to bring together learners and teachers, and make the one better by means of the other.

With us it has all become mere customary routine, and formal discharge of a duty: a thing we are used to, that is all. Easter [Πάσχα] comes, and then great is the stir, great is the hubbub, and crowding — I had rather not call them human beings, for their behavior is not commonly human. Easter goes, the tumult abates, but then the quiet which succeeds is again fruitless of good. "Vigils, and holy singing": and what is got by these? No, it is all the worse. Many do so merely out of vanity!

Think how sick at heart it must make me, to see it all like [water] poured into a bottle with holes in it! But you will assuredly say to me: "We know the Scriptures!" And what of that? If you exemplify the Scriptures by your works, that is the gain, that is the profit. The Church is a dyer's vat: if, time after time, perpetually, you go hence without receiving any dye, what is the use of coming here continually? Why, the mischief is all the greater!

... Or, rather, why do I weary myself in vain, and talk uselessly, if you are to remain in the same state, if the Church services work no good in you? "No," you will say, "we pray!" And what of that? "Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven" [Matthew vii, 21].
Saint John Chrysostom
Homily 29 on the Acts of the Apostles