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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Encouragement during Adversity
By Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347–407)
 
From the ‘Letters to Olympias’

TO my Lady, the most reverend and divinely favored Deaconess Olympias, I John, Bishop, send greeting in the Lord: Come now, let me relieve the wound of thy despondency, and disperse the thoughts which gather this cloud of care around thee. For what is it which upsets thy mind, and why art thou sorrowful and dejected? Is it because of the fierce black storm which has overtaken the Church, enveloping all things in darkness as of a night without a moon, and is growing to a head every day, travailing to bring forth disastrous shipwrecks, and increasing the ruin of the world? I know all this as well as you; none shall gainsay it, and if you like I will form an image of the things now taking place so as to present the tragedy yet more distinctly to thee. We behold a sea upheaved from the very lowest depths, some sailors floating dead upon the waves, others engulfed by them, the planks of the ships breaking up, the sails torn to tatters, the masts sprung, the oars dashed out of the sailors’ hands, the pilots seated on the deck, clasping their knees with their hands instead of grasping the rudder, bewailing the hopelessness of their situation with sharp cries and bitter lamentations, neither sky nor sea clearly visible, but all one deep and impenetrable darkness, so that no one can see his neighbor; whilst mighty is the roaring of the billows, and monsters of the sea attack the crews on every side.  1
  But how much further shall I pursue the unattainable? for whatever image of our present evils I may seek, speech shrinks baffled from the attempt. Nevertheless, even when I look at these calamities I do not abandon the hope of better things, considering as I do who the Pilot is in all this—not one who gets the better of the storm by his art, but calms the raging waters by his rod. But if he does not effect this at the outset and speedily, such is his custom—he does not at the beginning put down these terrible evils; but when they have increased and come to extremities, and most persons are reduced to despair, then he works wondrously and beyond all expectation, thus manifesting his own power and training the patience of those who undergo these calamities. Do not therefore be cast down. For there is only one thing, Olympias, which is really terrible, only one real trial, and that is sin; and I have never ceased continually harping upon this theme: but as for all other things, plots, enmities, frauds, calumnies, insults, accusations, confiscation, exile, the keen sword of the enemy, the peril of the deep, warfare of the whole world, or anything else you like to name, they are but idle tales. For whatever the nature of these things may be, they are transitory and perishable, and operate in a mortal body without doing any injury to the vigilant soul. Therefore the blessed Paul, desiring to prove the insignificance both of the pleasures and sorrows relating to this life, declared the whole truth in one sentence when he said, “For the things which are seen are temporal.” Why then dost thou fear temporal things which pass away like the stream of a river? For such is the nature of present things, whether they be pleasant or painful. And another prophet compared all human prosperity not to grass, but to another material even more flimsy, describing the whole of it “as the flower of grass.” For he did not single out any one part of it, as wealth alone, or luxury alone, or power, or honor; but having comprised all the things which are esteemed splendid amongst men under the one designation of glory, he said, “All the glory of man is as the flower of grass.”  2
  Nevertheless, you will say, adversity is a terrible thing and grievous to be borne. Yet look at it again compared with another image, and then also learn to despise it. For the railing, and insults, and reproaches, and gibes, inflicted by enemies and their plots, are compared to a worn-out garment and moth-eaten wool, when God says, “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings, for they shall wax old as doth a garment, and like moth-eaten wool so shall they be consumed.” Therefore let none of these things which are happening trouble thee; but ceasing to invoke the aid of this or that person, and to run after shadows (for such are human alliances), do thou persistently call upon Jesus whom thou servest, merely to bow his head and in a moment of time all these evils will be dissolved. But if thou hast already called upon him, and yet they have not been dissolved, such is the manner of God’s dealing (for I will resume my former argument); he does not put down evils at the outset, but when they have grown to a head, when scarcely any form of the enemy’s malice remains ungratified, then he suddenly converts all things to a state of tranquillity and conducts them to an unexpected settlement. For he is not only able to turn as many things as we expect and hope, to good, but many more, yea infinitely more. Wherefore also Paul saith, “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Could he not, for example, have prevented the Three Children at the outset from falling into trial? But he did not choose to do this, thereby conferring great pain upon them. Therefore he suffered them to be delivered into the hands of barbarians, and the furnace to be heated to an immeasurable height and the wrath of the king to blaze even more fiercely than the furnace, and hands and feet to be bound with great severity, and they themselves to be cast into the fire; and then, when all they who beheld despaired of their rescue, suddenly and beyond all hope the wonder-working power of God, the supreme artificer, was displayed, and shone forth with exceeding splendor. For the fire was bound and the bondmen were released; and the furnace became a temple of prayer, a place of fountains and dew, of higher dignity than a royal court, and the very hairs of their head prevailed over that all-devouring element which gets the better even of iron and stone, and masters every kind of substance. And a solemn song of universal praise was instituted there by these holy men, inviting every kind of created thing to join in the wondrous melody: and they uttered hymns of thanksgiving to God for that they had been bound, and also burnt, as far at least as the malice of their enemies had power; that they had been exiles from their country, captives deprived of their liberty, wandering outcasts from city and home, sojourners in a strange and barbarous land: for all this was the outpouring of a grateful heart. And when the malicious devices of their enemies were perfected (for what further could they attempt after their death?) and the labors of the heroes were completed, and the garland of victory was woven, and their rewards were prepared, and nothing more was wanting for their renown, then at last their calamities were brought to an end, and he who caused the furnace to be kindled, and delivered them over to that great punishment, became himself the panegyrist of those holy heroes and the herald of God’s marvelous deed, and everywhere throughout the world issued letters full of reverent praise, recording what had taken place, and becoming the faithful herald of the miracles wrought by the wonder-working God. For inasmuch as he had been an enemy and adversary, what he wrote was above suspicion even in the opinion of enemies.  3
  Dost thou see the abundance of resource belonging to God? his extraordinary power, his loving-kindness and care? Be not therefore dismayed or troubled, but continue to give thanks to God for all things, praising and invoking him; beseeching and supplicating; even if countless tumults and troubles come upon thee, even if tempests are stirred up before thine eyes, let none of these things disturb thee. For our Master is not baffled by the difficulty, even if all things are reduced to the extremity of ruin. For it is possible for him to raise those who have fallen, to convert those who are in error, to set straight those who have been ensnared, to release those who have been laden with countless sins, and make them righteous, to quicken those who are dead, to restore lustre to decayed things, and freshness to those who have waxen old. For if he makes things which are not to come into being, and bestows existence on things which are nowhere by any means manifest, how much more will he rectify things which already exist!  4
 
 
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