St. John Chrysostom - Homily on Genesis - 03 (Gen. 1:1-5)

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A continuation on the words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth", continuing until the words: "And there was evening and there was morning, one day" (Genesis 1:1-5).

1. Reading the Divine Scriptures is like a treasure. As he who receives even a little particle from a gem acquires great riches for himself, so also in the Divine Scriptures, even in a short speech, one can find great spiritual power and unspeakable richness of thoughts. And not only is the word of God like a treasure, but it is like a spring that flows abundantly and has much water: we learned all this in fact yesterday. Beginning with the first words of the book of creation, we devoted the whole teaching to the words: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth," and yet we could not embrace everything, because the riches of this treasure are great and the streams of this spiritual spring are abundant.

Do not be surprised that this happened to us: our ancestors drew from these streams according to their strength, and our descendants will do the same, and yet they will not be able to exhaust everything; on the contrary, the waters will flow and the streams will multiply. This is the characteristic of spiritual streams: the more one draws from them, the more spiritual grace begins to flow and multiply. Therefore Christ also said: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink: he who believes in Me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living waters shall flow out of his belly" (John 7:37-38), showing us the abundance of these streams. If such is the property of spiritual streams, then let each of us bring the vessels of the mind in abundance, that, having filled them, we may return home, because the grace of the Spirit, as the fervent desire and excited mind will see, communicates its gifts in abundance.

Let us therefore leave all the worldly things and tear out of ourselves the cares that can stifle our minds like thorns, and let us concentrate our thoughts on the spiritual strivings so that we may leave here with much benefit, with great and glorious gain. But to make (our) speech clearer to you, let us remind your love of something said yesterday: in this way also what will be said today will be united with what was said yesterday as if in one body. Yesterday, as you remember, we showed how the blessed Moses, in narrating to us the creation of these visible elements said: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth. But the earth was invisible and unsettled," and we explained to you why and for what purpose God created the earth ugly and unsettled - I think you remember all this well.

Then today we need to consider the words that follow. Having said, "But the earth was invisible and unsettled," Moses explains to us precisely why it was invisible and unsettled, and says, "and darkness was above the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved above the waters." See how here the blessed prophet does not say anything superfluous and does not describe all created things piece by piece, but having told us about the most important elements and having mentioned the heavens and the earth, he leaves everything else. So he, not having mentioned the creation of water, says, "And darkness was above the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved above the water.» These were the things that covered the face of the earth, i.e., the darkness and the abyss of the waters.

From this we learn that everything we see was an abyss of waters, covered with darkness, and it took a wise Creator to stop all this confusion and bring everything into a good shape. "And the darkness," he says, "was above the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved above the water." What do the words, "The Spirit of God moved above the water" mean? It seems to me to mean that there was some life activity inherent in the waters and that it was not just standing and still water, but that it was moving and had some life force. The motionless is good for nothing, but what moves is good for many things.

2. So to teach us that this water, great and extraordinary, had some life-giving power, Moses said: "...and the Spirit of God moved above  the water." And the Divine Scripture says this first not without reason, but since it means to show us that from these waters, at the command of the Creator of the universe, the animals also came forth, it lets the listener know here that the water was not just standing, but was moving, spreading out and flooding everything.

So, when everything visible had no proper appearance, the supreme Artist God commanded - and the formlessness disappeared. The extraordinary beauty of visible light appeared, drove away the sensual darkness, and illuminated everything. "And God said," says the Scriptures, "let there be light, and there was light." He spoke, and it was accomplished; He commanded, the darkness disappeared, and there was light. Do you see the unspeakable power (of God)?

But people who are deluded, not paying attention to the course of speech and not listening to the words of the blessed Moses: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth", and then: "But the earth was invisible and unsettled", because it was covered with darkness and waters - and it was the Lord's will in the beginning to create it - these people say that matter existed before, that darkness existed before. Can there be anything worse than such madness? Do you hear that "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," and that out of the non-existent that which exists came into being, and you say that there was matter before? Who among the reasonable could allow such folly?

It was not man who was creating, as if He needed any ready-made substance for the work of His art. It was God, Whom all things obey, Who creates by word and command. See, He just spoke, and there was light, and darkness disappeared. "And God separated the light and the darkness."

What does this mean, "separate"? He appointed a place and a time for each. And then, after this had happened, He gives each a corresponding name. "And God called the light 'day'," it says, "and He called the darkness 'night'." Do you see how this beautiful separation and wonderful creation, which surpasses every mind, is accomplished by a single word and command? Do you see what condescension the blessed prophet, or better, the man-loving God showed, teaching the human race by the mouth of the prophet to know the order of creation - Who is the Creator of all things and how each thing came into being?

Since the human race was then still weak and could not understand the most perfect (teaching), that is why the Holy Spirit, who moved the mouth of the prophet, tells us about everything in a way that is adapted to the weakness of the listeners. And to assure you that He truly used such leniency in this narrative because of the imperfection of our minds, look at the son of thunder, how he, when the human race had made progress in perfection, no longer speaks in this way, but in a different way, leading his hearers to a higher doctrine. Having said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1), he added: "That is the true Light, which enlightens every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). As here this sensual light produced by the Lord's command drove away the visible darkness, so the spiritual Light drove away the darkness of error and led those who had gone astray to the truth.

3. Let us accept with great thanksgiving the instructions of the Divine Scriptures, and let us not oppose the truth and remain in darkness, but let us hasten toward the light and do works worthy of the light and day, as Paul also exhorts, saying, "Let us walk honestly, as in the day," and "let us put off... the works of darkness" (Romans 13:12-13). "And God called the light 'day'," says (Scripture), "and the darkness He called `night'."

But we have almost missed something; we need to turn back. After the words, "Let there be light, and there was light," is added, "and God saw the light, and it was good." See, beloved, what indulgence of speech there is here too. Did God not know before the appearance of light that it was good? Did the sight of it show the Creator the beauty of created things only after it appeared? What intelligent person could say that? If even a man who is engaged in any art, before completing his work, before perfecting it, knows the use for which the work is useful, how much more the Creator of the universe, who brought everything from nothingness to existence by word, knew, even before the creation of light, that it was good.

Why did (Moses) use such an expression? Compassionate to the custom of man, the blessed prophet speaks  in the way which men, when they have done something with great care and when they have finished their labors, praise their works, having already tested them. In the same way, the Divine Scripture, condescending here to the weakness of your hearing, says: "And God saw that the light was good." And then it continues, "And God parted the light from the darkness. And he called the light 'day' and the darkness 'night'."

To each He assigned its place. He set limits on each from the very beginning, which they must forever observe inviolably. And every sane person can see how, from that time forward, neither has light transgressed its limits, nor has darkness left its place or produced any confusion or disorder. Even this alone is sufficient for those who are unwilling to remain unreasonable to come to submission and obedience to the words of the Divine Scriptures. Let them at least imitate the order of the elements; steadily keeping their course, and not transgressing their limits, but knowing their own nature.

Then, since each (light and darkness) was given a special name, he combines both into one, and says, "And there was evening and there was morning, a single day. The end of the day and the end of the night he clearly called one (day), in order to establish some order and consistency in that which was visible, so that there would be no confusion. Taught from the Holy Spirit by the mouth of the blessed prophet, we can see what is created on the first day and what is created on the following days.

And this also is the work of the condescension of a man-loving God. His almighty right hand and infinite wisdom would not have found it difficult to create everything in one day. And what do I say, in one day? Not even in a single moment. But as He created all things not for His own benefit — because He needs nothing, being fully satisfied; on the contrary, He created everything out of His humanity and goodness — He creates it piece by piece, and teaches us, through the mouth of the blessed prophet, a clear teaching about what is being created, so that we, after thoroughly learning about it, would not fall to those who are carried away by human thinking. If even after this, there are people who claim that everything happened by itself, what would they not have dared to say and what would they not have done to the detriment of their own salvation, if (God) had not shown such condescension and given us such an explanation? 

4. What can be more pitiful and maddening than people who dare to assert that everything in existence took place by itself, and deprive all of creation of the providence of God? How is it possible, tell me, that so many elements and such an arrangement of (existing) things should be governed without a ruler and lord of the universe?

A ship cannot navigate the waves of the sea without a pilot, a warrior cannot do any valiant deeds without a commander, and a house cannot stand without someone to lead it. And this infinite world, and this arrangement of the elements, could they possibly exist of their own accord, if there were no governor of all, who by His wisdom maintained and regulated all that was visible?

But why do we take so much effort to prove to these people that which, according to the proverb, is evident to the blind? We will not, however, cease to offer them the counsel of the Scriptures, and to exert every effort to turn them from error, and bring them to the truth. Although still enslaved by error, they are of the same nature as we are, and therefore great care must be taken of them, never slackening, but with the greatest care we must do what depends on us to provide them with proper medicine, so that they, however late, may attain to true health.

Nothing is more desirable to God than the salvation of the soul. So Paul cries out: "He who wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4); and God Himself says, "I do not desire the death of the sinner, but that he should be converted... and live" (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). So He created all nature, and He created us, not to destroy us or to punish us, but to save us, and having delivered us from error, to give us bliss in the kingdom (of Heaven). He prepared it for us not now, after the creation, but before the foundation of the world, as He Himself says: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). See how man-loving the Lord is, how He prepared innumerable blessings for us before creation and before man came into existence, and by this He showed what care He had for our race, and that He desires to save all.

When we have such a Master, who is so loving, so good, and so merciful, let us take care of our own salvation and that of our brothers. It will also contribute to our salvation if we do not care only for ourselves, but if we also do good to our neighbor and guide him in the way of truth. And that thou mayest see what great benefit it is, in contributing to thy salvation, to avail another also, listen to what the prophet says in the name of God: "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth" (Jeremiah 15:19). What does this mean? Whoever leads his neighbor from error to truth, or from evil to good, he, says (the Lord), is like Me, as much as it is possible for man.

He Himself, being God, put on our flesh and was made man for no other purpose than to save the human race. And what do I say, He put on our flesh and experienced everything that happens to men, when He took upon Himself even the Cross, that He might deliver us who are captives of sins from the curse? Paul cries out about it, saying, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal.3:13).

So, if He, God, and a being of incomprehensible humanity, according to His unfathomable love for mankind, took this all upon Himself for us and our salvation, what should we not do for our brothers and fellows, to snatch them from the jaws of the devil and bring them to the way of virtue? As far as the soul is better than the body, so much greater rewards — in comparison with those who give money to the poor — will they receive, who through exhortations and frequent promptings, lead the negligent and deluded to the straight path, showing them the ugliness of vice and the great beauty of divine virtue.

5. Therefore, knowing all this, let us speak to our neighbors about the salvation of the soul more than all worldly things, stirring up in them the concern for it. It is desirable, yes, it is desirable that the soul, constantly hearing such a suggestion, should rise from the abyss of evils that surround us, and overcome the attack of the passions that continually besiege it. Therefore, we need great vigilance, as our battle is continuous and never knows a truce.

Therefore Paul also writes to the Ephesians: "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against evil spirits under heaven" (Еph. 6:12). Do not think, he says, that we are facing an accidental battle: we are not fighting with people like us, and the battle is not equal, because being bound by the body, we must fight against immaterial forces. Fear not, for though it be not equal, yet great is the strength of our weapons.

"You know who your enemies are", the Apostle continues in this manner, "do not become discouraged or weaken in battle, but take up all the armaments of God, in order to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). He (the devil) has many wiles, i.e. the ways by which he tries to catch the careless. Therefore, it is necessary to learn them carefully, to avoid his nets and not give him any access (to us). We must carefully guard our tongue, guard our eyes, keep our thoughts pure, and constantly be ready to fight, as if some wild beast were attacking us and threatening us with destruction.

Therefore that heavenly soul, the teacher of the nations, the mouth of the universe, who did everything to save his disciples, after the words, "Take up all the arms of God," shielding us from all sides and making us irresistible, says: "For this reason, gird your loins with truth, and put on the armor of faith, and put on your feet the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all, receive the shield of faith, with which you are able to quench all the darts of the wicked, which are kindled with fire: and receive the helmet of salvation, and the spiritual sword, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6 :14-17).

See how he has shielded all our members! As if intending to lead us out into some battle, he first girded us with a belt so that we could move easily. Then he put on armor so that arrows would not strike us, shod our feet as well, and shielded us on all sides with faith. It is precisely this that he says "will extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one". What are these darts of the evil one? Evil lusts, impure thoughts, pernicious passions, anger, slander, envy, irritability, enmity, greediness, and all other evil tendencies. All these arrows, he says, can be extinguished by the spiritual sword.

And what do I say: to extinguish the darts? It is possible to cut off the very head of the enemy. See how (the apostle) strengthened his disciples? How he made those that were softer than wax harder than iron? Since our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with immaterial forces, he clothed us not with bodily weapons, but with spiritual ones, and these are so bright that the evil demon cannot endure their shining.

6. So, having put on such weapons, let us not be afraid of the strife and run away from the fight. Let us not be careless, because as with our vigilance that evil demon cannot overcome the strength of our weapons, if only we want to destroy his intrigues, so, on the contrary, if we are careless, it will not do you any good: the enemy of our salvation is constantly awake and does everything against your salvation.

Let us therefore arm ourselves on all sides. Let us beware of words and of works that may harm us, and together with abstinence in food and other virtues, let us give generous alms to the poor, knowing what reward is in store for us for caring for them. "He who gives to the poor," says (the Scripture), "lends to God" (Proverbs 19:17). See, what a new and unusual kind of loan: one person receives, but a different person becomes the debtor. But what is also extraordinary here is that when one lends, one does not experience ingratitude or any other harm. No, God promises to give not a hundredth part only of the profit, as happens here, but a hundred times more than what was lent. He is not satisfied even with this, but rewarding us thus in the present age, in the future (He will also give us) eternal life.

In this life if somebody promises to pay double of what he will get from us, we would gladly give him all our property, and meanwhile how much ingratitude and how much deceit on the part of selfish people there is! Many of even the most decent people do not pay their own debt either out of folly, or often even out of poverty. But we cannot think this of the Lord of the universe. On the contrary, the sum given remains intact, and for the favor He promises to pay a hundredfold, and in the next age He prepares for us life (eternal).

What excuse is there for us, when we do not try and hasten to receive a hundredfold more for the little, the future for the present, the eternal for the temporal, but with pleasure we lock up the money with doors and shutters, and this money, which lies useless and in vain, when we do not want to give to the needy now, so that in the next age we may find them to be our intercessors?

"Make yourselves friends from unrighteous mammon, that when you become poor, you may be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9). I know that many not only do not accept our words, but they do not give them the importance they deserve, and they consider them mere talk and fables. I am thus troubled and afflicted that neither experience, nor the great promise of God, nor fear of the future, nor our daily exhortations could touch these people; nevertheless, in spite of this, I will not cease to repeat this counsel to them, as long as I do not succeed in overcoming them and in awakening them to attentiveness and leading them out of the satiety and intoxication into which their passion for money, which has clouded their minds, has plunged them.

I know, I know, that with the grace of God, both our constant teaching and the healing of Lent will succeed, although not anytime soon, in curing them of this grievous illness and returning them to perfect health, so that they too may be delivered from the punishment that threatens them, and we may be delivered from affliction, and for all things praise may be given to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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