On Honoring Dishonorable Priests

St. John Chrysostom ca. 349-407

He that honors the Priest, will honor God also; and he who has learned to despise the Priest, will in process of time insult God. He that receives you, He says, receives Me. Matt. 10:40 Hold my priests in honor Sirach 7:31, He says. The Jews learned to despise God, because they despised Moses, and would have stoned him. For when a man is piously disposed towards thePriest, he is much more so towards God. And even if the Priest be wicked, God seeing that you respect him, though unworthy of honor, through reverence to Him, will Himself reward you. For if he that receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward Matt. 10:41; then he who honors and submits and gives way to the Priest shall certainly be rewarded. For if in the case of hospitality, when you know not the guest, you receive so high a recompense, much more will you be requited, if you obey him whom He requires you to obey. The Scribes and Pharisees, He says, sit in Moses’ seat; all therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do not do after their works. Matt. 23:2-3 Do you not know what the Priest is? He is an Angel of the Lord. Are they his own words that he speaks? If you despise him, you despise not him, but God that ordained him. But how does it appear, you ask, that he is ordained of God? Nay, if you suppose it otherwise, your hope is rendered vain. For if God works nothing through his means, thou neither hast any Laver, nor art partaker of the Mysteries, nor of the benefit of Blessings; you are therefore not a Christian. What then, you say, does God ordain all, even the unworthy? God indeed does not ordain all, but He works through all, though they be themselves unworthy, that the people may be saved. For if He spoke, for the sake of the people, by an ass, and by Balaam, a most wicked man, much more will He speak by the mouth of the Priest. What indeed will not God do or say for our salvation? By whom does He not act? For if He wrought through Judas and those other that prophesied, to whom He will say, I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of iniquity Matt. 7:22-23; and if others cast out devils Psa. 6:8; will He not much more work through the Priests? Since if we were to make inquisition into the lives of our rulers, we should then become the ordainers of our own teachers, and all would be confusion; the feet would be uppermost, the head below. Hear Paul saying, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. 1 Cor. 4:3 And again, Why do you judge your brother? Rom. 14:10 For if we may not judge our brother, much less our teacher. If God commands this indeed, you do well, and sinnest if you do it not; but if the contrary, dare not do it, nor attempt to go beyond the lines that are marked out. After Aaron had made the golden calf, Corah, Dathan, and Abiram raised an insurrection against him. And did they not perish? Let each attend to his own department. For if he teach perverted doctrine, though he be an Angel, obey him not; but if he teach the truth, take heed not to his life, but to his words. You have Paul to instruct you in what is right both by words and works. But you say, He gives not to the poor, he does not govern well. Whence do you know this? Blame not, before you are informed. Be afraid of the great account. Many judgments are formed upon mere opinion. Imitate your Lord, who said, I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, and if not, I will know. Gen. 18:21 But if you have enquired, and informed yourself, and seen; yet await the Judge, and usurp not the office of Christ. To Him it belongs, and not to you, to make this inquisition. You are an inferior servant, not a master. You are a sheep, be not curious concerning the shepherd, lest you have to give account of your accusations against him. But you say, How does he teach me that which he does not practice himself? It is not he that speaks to you. If it be he whom you obey, you have no reward. It is Christ that thus admonishes you. And what do I say? You ought not to obey even Paul, if he speaks of himself, or anything human, but the Apostle, that has Christ speaking in him. Let not us judge one another’s conduct, but each his own. Examine your own life.

But you say, He ought to be better than I. Wherefore? Because he is a Priest. And is he not superior to you in his labors, his dangers, his anxious conflicts and troubles? But if he is not better, ought thou therefore to destroy yourself? These are the words of arrogance. For how is he not better than yourself? He steals, you say, and commits sacrilege! How do you know this? Why do you cast yourself down a precipice? If you should hear it said that such an one has a purple robe, though you knew it to be true, and couldest convict him, you decline to do it, and pretend ignorance, not being willing to run into unnecessary danger. But in this case you are so far from being backward, that even without cause you expose yourself to the danger. Nor think you are not responsible for these words. Hear what Christ says, Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. Matt.12:36 And do you think yourself better than another, and do you not groan, and beat your breast, and bow down your head, and imitate the Publican?

And then you destroy yourself, though thou be better. Be silent, that you cease not to be better. If you speak of it, you have done away the merit; if you think it, I do not say so; if you dost not think it, you have added much. For if a notorious sinner, when he confessed, went home justified, he who is a sinner in a less degree, and is conscious of it, how will he not be rewarded? Examine your own life. Thou dost not steal; but you are rapacious, and overbearing, and guilty of many other such things. I say not this to defend theft; God forbid! Deeply lament if there is any one really guilty of it, but I do not believe it. How great an evil is sacrilege, it is impossible to say. But I spare you. For I would not that our virtue should be rendered vain by accusing others. What was worse than the Publican? For it is true that he was a publican, and guilty of many offenses, yet because the Pharisee only said, I am not as this publican, he destroyed all his merit. I am not, you say, like this sacrilegious Priest. And dost not thou make all in vain?

This I am compelled to say, and to enlarge upon in my discourse, not so much because I am concerned for them, but because I fear for you, lest you should render your virtue vain by this boasting of yourselves, and condemnation of others. For hear the exhortation of Paul, Let every one prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. Gal. 6:4

If you had a wound, tell me, and should go to a physician, would you stay him from salving and dressing your own wound, and be curious to enquire whether the physician had a wound, or not? And if he had, would you mind it? Or because he had it, would you forbear dressing your own, and say, A physician ought to be in sound health, and since he is not so, I shall let my wound go uncured? For will it be any palliation for him that is under rule, that his Priest is wicked? By no means. He will suffer the destinedpunishment, and you too will meet with that which is your due. For the Teacher now only fills a place. For it is written, They shall all be taught of God. Jn. 6:45; Isa. 54:13 Neither shall they say, Know the Lord. For all shall know Me from the least to the greatest. Jer. 31:34 Why then, you will say, does he preside? Why is he set over us? I beseech you, let us not speak ill of our teachers, nor call them to so strict an account, lest we bring evil upon ourselves. Let us examine ourselves, and we shall not speak ill of others. Let us reverence that day, on which heenlightened us. He who has a father, whatever faults he has, conceals them all. For it is said, Glory not in the dishonor of your father; for your father’s dishonor is no glory unto you. And if his understanding fail, have patience with him. Sirach 3:10-12 And if this be said of our natural fathers, much more of our spiritual fathers. Reverence him, in that he every day ministers to you, causes the Scriptures to be read, sets the house in order for you, watches for you, prays for you, stands imploring God on your behalf, offers supplications for you, for you is all his worship.Reverence all this, think of this, and approach him with pious respect. Say not, he is wicked. What of that? He that is not wicked, does he of himself bestow upon you these great benefits? By no means. Everything works according to your faith. Not even the righteous man can benefit you, if you are unfaithful, nor the unrighteous harm you, if you are faithful. God, when He would save His people, wrought for the ark by oxen. 1 Sam. 6:12 Is it the good life or the virtue of the Priest that confers so much on you? The gifts which God bestows are not such as to be effects of the virtue of the Priest. All is of grace. His part is but to open his mouth, while God works all: the Priest only performs a symbol. Consider how wide was the distance between John and Jesus. Hear John saying, I have need to be baptized by You Matt. 3:14, and, Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. Jn. 1:27 Yet notwithstanding this difference, the Spirit descended. Which John had not. For of His fullness, it is said, we all have received. Jn. 1:16Yet nevertheless, It descended not till He was baptized. But neither was it John who caused It to descend. Why then is this done? That you may learn that the Priest performs a symbol. No man differs so widely from another man, asJohn from Jesus, and yet with him the Spirit descended, that we may learn, that it is God who works all, that all is God’s doing. I am about to say what may appear strange, but be not astonished nor startled at it. The Offering is the same, whether a common man, or Paul or Peter offer it. It is the same which Christ gave to His disciples, and which the Priests now minister. This is nowise inferior to that, because it is not men that sanctify even this, but the Same who sanctified the one sanctifies the other also. For as the words which God spoke are the same which the Priest now utters, so is the Offering the same, and the Baptism, that which He gave. Thus the whole is of faith. The Spirit immediately fell upon Cornelius, because he had previously fulfilled his part, and contributed his faith. And this is His Body, as well as that. And he who thinks the one inferior to the other, knows not that Christ even now is present, even now operates. Knowing therefore these things, which we have not said without reason, but that we may conform your minds in what is right, and render you more secure for the future, keep carefully in mind what has been spoken. For if we are always hearers, and never doers, we shall reap no advantage from what is said. Let us therefore attend diligently to the things spoken. Let us imprint them upon our minds. Let us have them ever engraved upon our consciences, and let us continually ascribe glory to theFather, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. (Homily 2 on 2nd Timothy)

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