St. John Chrysostom - Homily on Genesis - 02 (Gen. 1:1)

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Conversation 2 

On the beginning of creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

1. I am filled with great joy today, seeing your kind faces. And truly, child-loving parents do not rejoice as much when their children surround them from all sides and give them great pleasure with their goodness and their helpfulness, as I now rejoice and am made glad when I see how this spiritual gathering of yours has flocked here with such piety and with a lively desire to listen to the Word of God, and how you, having despised fleshly food, hasten to a spiritual feast and by your very deeds justify the words of the Lord: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Let us also act like farmers: just as they, when they see that the earth has already been cleansed and liberated from harmful plants, plant seeds in great abundance, so we, when in our country our spiritual field has been cleansed of painful passions by the grace of God, when amusements have ceased and no one has confusion and storms in their thoughts, but there has come a great silence and calmness in our minds, flying and soaring to the sky itself, so to speak, and contemplating spiritual objects instead of carnal ones, let us talk a little, with your love, and dare today to more subtle reflections by offering you teachings from the Divine Scriptures.

If we do not do this now, when we have fasting, contempt (of the pleasures) of the stomach, and such a proper mood of our thoughts, then when will we be able to offer this to your love? Is it then when there are amusements, immoderation in food, and great carelessness? But then we cannot do it properly, and you, flooded by waves of thoughts, as if by some kind of cloud, will not be able to accept any of the proposed teachings.

But if there is a time for such teachings, it is now, when the slave no longer rebels against her mistress, but, having become quiet, renders great submission and obedience, taming the impulses of the flesh and remaining within her own limits. And fasting is the calming of our souls, the adornment of the elders, the mentor of young men, the teacher of the chaste; it adorns every age and gender with a diadem, as it were. Nowhere today is there any noise, no shouting, no cutting of meat, no running of cooks; all this has ceased, and our city now resembles an honest, modest, and chaste wife.

When I think about the sudden change that has taken place today, and remember the disturbances of yesterday, I am astounded and amazed at the power of fasting, how, having entered into the conscience of everyone, it changed thoughts, cleared the mind not only of those in authority, but also of ordinary people, not only of free, but also among slaves, not only among men, but also among women, not only among the rich, but also among the poor, not only among those who know the Greek language, but also among the barbarians. But why speak of those in authority or of the ordinary people? Fasting even inclined the conscience of the one wearing the diadem to the same obedience as the rest. Today you will not see any difference between the meal of the rich and the poor, but everywhere the food is simple, alien to sophistication and quirks; and a simple meal is approached with greater pleasure than when many delicious dishes and wine were offered.

2. Do you see the power of fasting, beloved, from what has been said? Therefore, today, with more zeal than before, I venture to speak with you, knowing that I am planting seeds in rich and deep soil, which may soon bring us rich fruits from sowing. Let us consider, if you please, the meaning of the words that we read today from the blessed Moses. But listen, I ask you, with attention to our words, because we will not speak from ourselves, but that the grace of God will inspire us for your benefit.

What is this? "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Here (first of all) the question is pertinent: why does the blessed prophet tell us this, who lived many generations after (the event)? Not without reason and not without purpose. In the beginning, God, who created man, Himself talked to people as long as people could hear Him. So He came to Adam; so He rebuked Cain; thus He spoke with Noah; thus He visited Abraham.

When the whole human race fell into great wickedness, even then the Creator did not completely turn away from the whole human race; but since people had become unworthy of conversation with Him, wanting to resume communication with them, he sent the Scriptures to people, as if to those who are far away, in order to attract the whole human race to himself. This Scripture was sent by God and brought by Moses.

What does Scripture say? "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." See in this, beloved, the special excellence of this wonderful prophet. All the other prophets spoke either about what was to happen a long time after them, or about what was to happen at the same time as them, but he, the blessed one, who lived many generations (after the creation of the world), was rewarded, by the guidance of the upper right hand, to utter that which was created by the Lord before his birth. That is why he began to say this: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” as if calling out to all of us with a loud voice: I do not say this according to the teaching of people; the One Who called these (heaven and earth) from non-existence into existence, He has moved my tongue to tell of them.

So, I beg you, let us heed these words as if we were listening not to Moses, but to the very Lord of the universe, speaking through the mouth of Moses, and let us bid farewell for a long time to our own reasoning: “For the thoughts of man are timid, and their intentions are sinful” (Wis. 9:14) With great gratitude, let us accept what was said (by Moses), without stepping out of our boundaries and not testing what is higher than us, as the enemies of the truth did, who wanted to comprehend everything with their mind, not realizing that human nature cannot comprehend God's works.

And what do I say of God's works? We cannot even comprehend the art of a man like us. Indeed, tell me how the art of melting gives us the nature of gold, or how the purity of glass is obtained from sand? You cannot say how. But if it is impossible to comprehend what lies before our  eyes and what, according to the love of God, human wisdom produces, then how can you, a man, comprehend what God has created?

And what justification can you have, what excuse, when you are so mad and dream of what is higher than your nature? To say that everything came from a ready-made substance, and not to admit that the Creator of the universe produced everything from nothing, would be a sign of extreme madness. So, blocking the mouths of the foolish, the blessed prophet at the very beginning of the book said this: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

When you hear: “created,” then do not invent anything else, but humbly believe what is said. It is God who creates and transforms everything, and arranges everything according to His will. Notice here the extreme indulgence: (Moses) does not speak of invisible powers, does not say: “In the beginning God created the Angels or Archangels”. It was not in vain and not without purpose that he chose this path of teaching for us. Since he speaks to the Jews, who were attached to the present and could not contemplate anything comprehended by the mind, he first elevates them from sensual objects to the Creator of the universe, so that, having recognized the Artist from His works, they would render worship to the Creator and not stop at the creatures. If even after that they did not stop deifying creatures and paying respect to the lowest animals, then what madness would they not have reached if He had not shown such indulgence?

3. Do not be surprised, then, beloved, that Moses follows this path, first of all turning his speech to the rude Jews, when Paul, in the time of grace, after such a spread of the preaching, having begun to converse with the Athenians, gives them instruction from visible objects, saying thus: “God, who created the world and all that is in it, this Lord of this heaven and earth, does not live in temples made with hands, nor accepts favors from the hands of men” (Acts 17:24–25). Inasmuch as he knew that such instruction was appropriate for them, he chose this path. Considering those who were receiving instruction from him, he, guided by the Holy Spirit, taught the doctrine.

And in order to convince you that the reason for this is the difference between people and the rudeness of the listeners, listen to how he, in the Epistle to the Colossians, no longer uses these means, but talks to them differently and says: "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Col. 1:16). And John, the son of thunder, proclaimed thus: "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3). But Moses [taught] not so, and rightly, because it would not be prudent to give solid food to those who still need to be fed with milk. Just as teachers who receive children from their parents teach them the very beginning things first, and those who receive children from these teachers impart to them more perfect knowledge, so did blessed Moses, and the teacher of the nations, and the son of thunder. He, having received the human race at the very beginning, taught the listeners the first things; but these, having received them from Moses, now transmitted the most perfect teaching.

Now we have learned the reason for the indulgence (of Moses) and that he, under the inspiration of the Spirit, expounded everything, adapting himself to the listeners. But at the same time, he throws out all the heresies that appear in the Church like tares with the same words: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Whether a Manichaean comes up to you, who claims that matter existed before, or Marcion, or Valentinus, or any of the Gentiles, say to them: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

But he doesn’t believe the Scriptures? Then turn away from him as from the violent and insane. Can one who does not believe the Creator of the universe and, as it were, accuses the truth of a lie ever deserve forgiveness? These people have a feigned appearance, and putting on the mask of meekness, they hide a wolf under sheep's skin. But do not be deceived, rather hate such a person even more because he stands in front of you, a slave just like him, pretending to be meek, but he rises up against the Lord of all - God, and does not feel that he is going against his own salvation.

We, however, will hold on to the unshakable foundation and turn again to the beginning: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Look how the Divine nature is revealed in the very image of creation: how it creates contrary to human custom - first He spreads the sky, and then underlies the earth, first the roof, and then the foundation. Who has seen, who has heard (anything like this)? This never happens in human creations, but when God commands, then everything yields and obeys His will. Let us not test the works of God with our human mind, but, looking at what has been created, let us marvel at the Artist. "For the invisible things of Him" says the Scripture, “from the creation of the world are clearly seen" (Rom. 1:20).

4. If the enemies of the truth insist that it is impossible to produce something from something that does not exist, then we will ask them: was the first man created from the earth or from something else? No doubt they will agree with us and say that they are from the earth. So let them tell us how flesh was formed from the earth? From the earth there may be dirt, brick, clay, tiles: but how did the flesh come into being? Also bones, nerves, tendons, fat, skin, nails, hair? How can there be so many things with different qualities, made out of one available substance? They cannot even open their mouths to this.

What about our body? Let them tell us about the bread we eat daily; how does it, being uniform, turn into blood, phlegm, bile and various juices? Most of the bread is the color of wheat, and the blood is red or black. Thus, if they cannot tell us about what is daily before our eyes, how much less can they tell us about the other creatures of God.

But if, after so many proofs, they stubbornly maintain their interrogation, we will not stop saying the same thing to them: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This one saying can overthrow all the supports of the opponents, destroy to the very foundations all human reasoning, and lead even them themselves to the path of truth, if only they will someday choose to cease their disputes. The whole earth, he says, "was invisible and without form."

Why, tell me, did (God) make heaven bright and perfect, but the earth without form? He did not do this in vain, but so that you, having known His creativity in the best part of creation, would leave aside other perplexities and not think that this was due to a lack of power. Besides, He made the earth without form for another reason. Since it is our nurse and mother; it is from it that we originated, from it we receive our food, it is for us both a fatherland and a common grave, we return to it again, and through it we receive countless blessings - so that people would not begin to revere it beyond what is proper because of what is useful and necessary, it is shown to you beforehand, without form and without order, so that you ascribe the benefits you receive from the earth not to the nature of the earth, but to the One who brought it from non-existence into existence.

That is why he says: "But the earth was invisible and without form." It may be that we have brought your mind to a tense state by abstract reasoning too soon and too early; therefore, we consider it necessary to stop the discussion here, asking your love to remember what was said, and always have it fresh in your memory; and when you leave here, then, along with a sensual meal, offer a spiritual meal: let the husband convey something of what has been said here, and let the wife listen, let the children learn, and let the servants receive a lesson, and thus let the house be a church, so that the devil would flee from there and this crafty demon and enemy of our salvation would hide, and so that the grace of the Holy Spirit would rest there, and perfect peace and unanimity would protect the living. Remembering what has been said before, you will more readily accept what comes after what is offered; and we will also set forth with great diligence and abundance what Divine grace will give when we see that what is sown grows. Similarly, when a farmer sees that the seeds are growing, then he looks after the fields with great zeal, and eagerly begins to sow in other places as well.

5. So, in order to arouse more zeal in us, show the exact preservation of what has already been said and combine great care for your way of life with true dogmas. “Let your light shine before men,” says (the Lord), “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Let our life correspond to the dogmas, and the dogmas will be the heralds of life. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), and works without faith are dead. If we keep sound dogmas, but do not care about our way of life, we will not benefit from the dogmas; and again, if we take care of our way of life, but are weak in the dogmas, in this case also there will be no benefit. Therefore, it is necessary that our spiritual home be strong on both sides.

“Everyone ...,” says the Lord, “who hears this word of mine, and does it, will become like a wise man” (Matt. 7:24). You see how He wants us not only to listen, but also to do and show by deeds what we hear, calling wise the one who acts in accordance with the words, and stupid the one who does not go beyond the words. And this is just, because the latter, says the Lord, “built his house on the sand,” because of which it could not endure the pressure of the winds, but immediately fell (Matt. 7:26–27). Such are the careless souls who have not established themselves on the spiritual rock. (In the words of the Lord) it is not about a building and a house, but about souls that are shaken by the smallest temptations. Under the name of wind, rain, and rivers, the Lord showed the effect of temptations on us.

A firm, cheerful and sober person is strengthened even more by this, and the more sorrows multiply, the more his courage increases; but a negligent and careless person immediately wavers and falls as soon as a light breeze of temptation blows on him, not from the nature of temptations, but from the weakness of his will. Therefore, we need to be sober, vigilant, and ready for everything, so that we can be self-controlled in happiness, and not lose heart in sorrows, but maintain great prudence, constantly sending thanks to the man-loving God.

If we arrange our lives in this way, we will receive great grace from above and will be able to lead our present life in safety, and in the future life prepare for ourselves great boldness, which may we all achieve, according to the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and honor, now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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