Instructions to Catechumens
By St. John Chrysostom
5. This I think it right that you who are about
to be initiated should learn. For this word is a covenant with the Master. And
just as we, when we buy slaves, first ask those who are being sold if they are
willing to be our servants: So also does Christ. When He is about to receive
thee into service, He first asks if thou wishest to leave that cruel and
relentless tyrant, and He receives covenants from thee. For his service is not
forced upon thee. And see the lovingkindness of God. For we, before we put down
the price, ask those who are being sold, and when we have learned that they are
willing, then we put down the price. But Christ not so, but He even put down the
price for us all; his precious blood. For, He says, ye were bought with a price.
Notwithstanding, not even then does He compel those who are unwilling, to serve
him; but except thou hast grace, He says, and of thine own accord and will
determinest to enroll thyself under my rule, I do not compel, nor force thee.
And we should not have chosen to buy wicked slaves. But if we should at any time
have so chosen, we buy them with a perverted choice, and put down a
corresponding price for them. But Christ, buying ungrateful and lawless slaves,
put down the price of a servant of first quality, nay rather much more, and so
much greater that neither speech nor thought can set forth its greatness. For
neither giving heaven, nor earth, nor sea, but giving up that which is more
valuable than all these, his own blood, thus He bought us. And after all these
things, he does not require of us witnesses, or registration, but is content
with the single word, if thou sayest it from thy heart. "I renounce thee,
Satan, and thy pomp," has included all. Let us then say this, "I
renounce thee, Satan," as men who are about in that world at that day to
have that word demanded of them, and let us keep it in order that we may then
return this deposit safe. But Satan's pomps are theatres, and the circus, and
all sin, and observance of days, and incantations and omens.
"And what are omens?" says one. Often
when going forth from his own house he has seen a one-eyed or lame man, and has
shunned him as an omen. This is a pomp of Satan. For meeting the man does not
make the day turn out ill, but to live in sin. When thou goest forth, then,
beware of one thing--that sin does not meet thee. For this it is which trips us
up. And without this the devil will be able to do us no harm. What sayest thou?
Thou seest a man, and shunnest him as an omen, and dost not see the snare of the
devil, how he sets thee at war with him who has done thee no wrong, how he makes
thee the enemy of thy brother on no just pretext; but God has bidden us love our
enemies; but thou art turned away from him who did thee no wrong, having nothing
to charge him with, and dost thou not consider how great is the absurdity, how
great the shame, rather how great is the danger? Can I speak of anything more
absurd? I am ashamed, indeed, and I blush: But for your salvation's sake, I am,
I am compelled to speak of it. If a virgin meet him he says the day becomes
unsuccessful; but if a harlot meet him, it is propitious, and profitable, and
full of much business; are you ashamed? and do you smite your foreheads, and
bend to the ground? But do not this on account of the words which I have spoken,
but of the deeds which have been done. See then, in this case, how the devil hid
his snare, in order that we might turn away from the modest, but salute and be
friendly to the unchaste. For since he has heard Christ saying that "He who
looketh on a woman to desire her, has already committed adultery with her,"
and has seen many get the better of unchastity, wishing by another wrong to cast
them again into sin, by this superstitious observance he gladly persuades them
to pay attention to whorish women.
And what is one to say about them who use charms
and amulets, and encircle their heads and feet with golden coins of Alexander of
Macedon. Are these our hopes, tell me, that after the cross and death of our
Master, we should place our hopes of salvation on an image of a Greek king? Dost
thou not know what great result the cross has achieved? It has abolished death,
has extinguished sin, has made Hades useless, has undone the power of the devil,
and is it not worth trusting for the health of the body?
It has raised up the whole world, and dost thou
not take courage in it? And what wouldest thou be worthy to suffer, tell me?
Thou dost not only have amulets always with thee, but incantations bringing
drunken and half-witted old women into thine house, and art thou not ashamed,
and dost thou not blush, after so great philosophy, to be terrified at such
things? and there is a graver thing than this error. For when we deliver these
exhortations, and lead them away, thinking that they defend themselves, they
say, that the woman is a Christian who makes these incantations, and utters
nothing else than the name of God. On this account I especially hate and turn
away from her, because she makes use of the name of God, with a view to
ribaldry. For even the demons uttered the name of God, but still they were
demons, and thus they used to say to Christ, "We know thee who thou art,
the Holy One of God," and notwithstanding, he rebuked them, and drave them
away. On this account, then, I beseech you to cleanse yourselves from this
error, and to keep hold of this word as a staff; and just as without sandals,
and cloak, no one of you would choose to go down to the market-place, so without
this word never enter the market-place, but when thou art about to pass over the
threshold of the gateway, say this word first: I leave thy ranks, Satan, and thy
pomp, and thy service, and I join the ranks of Christ. And never go forth
without this word.
This shall be a staff to thee, this thine armor,
this an impregnable fortress, and accompany this word with the sign of the cross
on thy forehead. For thus not only a man who meets you, but even the devil
himself, will be unable to hurt you at all, when he sees thee everywhere
appearing with these weapons; and discipline thyself by these means henceforth,
in order that when thou receivest the seal thou mayest be a well-equipped
soldier, and planting thy trophy against the devil, may receive the crown of
righteousness, which may it be the lot of us all to obtain, through the grace
and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom be glory to the Father
and to the Holy Spirit for ever and ever--Amen.
Translated with Introduction and Notes by the Rev. W.R.W.
Prebendary of Chichester and Rector of Woolbeding, Sussex
Assisted by the Rev. T.P. Brandram, M.A.
Rector of Rumboldswhyke, Chichester
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight