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Pseudo-Chrysostom: Catechetical sermon on Easter
Leafing through the Holy Synopsis (the summary of movable feast services), I find that in leaving on the dot when John Damascene’s Canon started for offal and eggs, I had also been missing out on a lovely sermon by John Chrysostom, wedged in after the bible readings. The Synopsis groused that the sermon was intended to prepare the faithful for communion, so it should have been before Mass proper, but Tradition had moved it up too close after the readings. The point of Orthodoxy is tradition, of course: it cuts both ways.
The sermon is, I’ve gotta say, surprisingly… Christian for its liturgical context: it’s closer to Jesus’ commensality than I’m used to from the Orthodox mass. (To put it less eruditely: more Christian love and charity and acceptance of human frailty than I’m used to from the mass. Especially when “Christ is risen from the dead”, an hour or so before, wished that sinners would melt away before God like wax from a candle.)
The text is in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 59.721-724, with some slightly different wording from what I found in the Synopsis. The two sources are about as reliable as each other, but I’ll stick with the Migne, because it’s in the TLG (2062.259). The work is spurious, which is no surprise: Chrysostom was a famous orator (hence the nickname, Goldmouth); so many an anonymous Byzantine sermomiser would guarantee their work would be transmitted by attributing it to him. That’s how Chrysostom ends up the most prolific author in the TLG corpus, with something like 4 million words. Which is close to all the literary output we have from Classical Athens…
I’ll indulge myself with attaching my translation here. Happy Easter, ye people!
If anyone is pious and God-loving, let them enjoy this beautiful festival. If anyone is a grateful servant, let them enter gladly into their Lord’s celebration. If anyone is tired from fasting, let them now receive their coin of payment. If anyone has been working since 7 in the morning, let them accept today what is justly owed them. If anyone came to work after 10, let them gratefully celebrate. If anyone arrived after 1, let them not doubt: they’ll suffer no harm. If anyone showed up late at 4, let them approach, and not hesitate. If anyone has arrived even at 6, let them not fear for their tardiness. The Master is generous, and he will receive the last just like the first. He will rest the one from 6 in the evening, just like the one working since 7 in the morning. He will have mercy on the last, and restoration for the first. He will give to the one, and gift to the other. He honours good works, and praises good intentions.
So everyone, enter into our Lord’s celebration. Both first-ranked and second-ranked, receive your payment. Rich and poor, dance with each other. Both disciplined and lazy, honour the day. Both fasting and not fasting, rejoice today. The table is full, everyone indulge. There’s plenty of calf, none will leave hungry. Everyone enjoy the riches of wholesomeness. Noone lament their poverty; for the common Kingdom has appeared. Noone bemoan their misdeeds; for forgiveness has shone out of the tomb. Noone fear death; for the Saviour has freed us from death. He has extinguished Death while possessed by Death. He has punished Hell by descending into Hell. He has left Hell embittered, when Hell tasted his flesh.
Anticipating this, Isaiah cried out: “Hell is embittered“. Hell met You down below, and was embittered, for he was abolished. He was embittered, for he was mocked. He took in a corpse, and happened upon God. He took in earth, and met Heaven. He took in what he could see, and fell from what he could not see. “Death, where is your sting? Hell, where is your victory?” Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and demons fall away. Christ is risen, and angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and no dead are in the tombs. “For when Christ arose from the dead, he became the firstfruits for those who slept.” To Him glory and power, world without end. Amen.