The ex-slave Eutropius ruled Constantinople by controlling a puppet emperor, who abolished the right of churches to shelter fugitives. When Eutropius himself ended up a fugitive in a church, St. John Chrysostom gave him shelter— but on Sunday he revealed the cowering Eutropius to the whole congregation. Then he preached one of the most memorable sermons of his career.
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
This saying ought to be written on our walls and clothes, in the marketplace, in the house, on the streets, on the doors and entrances, and above all on the conscience of everyone. It should be a perpetual theme for meditation.
Since deceitful things, masks, and pretenses seem real to many, at supper and at breakfast and whenever people gather together, everyone should say to his neighbor, and hear his neighbor say in return, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Didn’t I keep telling you that wealth was a runaway? But you wouldn’t listen. Didn’t I tell you it was an ungrateful servant? But you wouldn’t be persuaded. But now look! Actual experience has proved that it is not only a runaway and an ungrateful servant, but also a murderous one, because it’s what has made you fear and tremble.
When you kept rebuking me for speaking the truth, didn’t I tell you, “I love you more than those who flatter you! When I reprove you, I care more for you than those who pay court to you”? Didn’t I also say that the words of friends were more reliable than the willing kisses of enemies?
If you had submitted to my wounds, their kisses wouldn’t have brought this destruction on you. My wounds bring health, but their kisses have produced an incurable disease.
–St. John Chrysostom, Homily 1 on Eutropius, 1IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
What do I really rely on?
Where would I turn if material wealth failed me tomorrow?
Lord, touch my understanding, and take away from me all vanity, hypocrisy, and deceit.
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