Mine eye is troubled with anger… exegesis from St John Chrysostom

Today's reading (5th Saturday of Great Lent, Hebrews 9:24-28) is from Hebrews, and I sometimes read St John Chrysostom's commentaries when they apply to the readings.

As usual, St John applies morality to theology (how can they ever be separated – Oh, I remember – by making up theology, mostly by not understanding the Epistles of St Paul,  because of opposition to immoral Rome, and in so doing, tossing The Epistles of James, Peter and John , and the Holy Fathers and uninterrupted Holy Tradition of the true church), and although he is a "chewy" read, it is always worth the effort.

The Homily that covers the verses in today's reading also goes beyond them a bit, and St John refers parenthetically to the Psalm verse (6:5). Here is is in a little context:

I am wearied with my groaning; I shall wash my bed every night; I shall water my couch with tears.  (7)  Mine eye is troubled because of my wrath; I am worn out because of all my enemies. ( Psa 6:5-6  (not 6:6-7) Brenton Sept)

Here is is in the "Boston Psalter" that we use in church:

"I have toiled in my groaning; every night I will wash my bed, with tears will I water my couch. 6 Through wrath is mine eye become troubled, I have grown old among all mine enemies" ("Boston" Psalter 6:5-6)

Here is St John's commentary (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf114.v.xxi.html), with a little context:

This eye we have it in our own power to create, and to make it quick sighted and beautiful. For when we direct it, not to the smoke nor to the dust (for such are all human things), but to the delicate breeze, to the light air, to things heavenly and high, and full of much calmness and purity, and of much delight, we shall speedily restore it, and shall invigorate it, as it luxuriates in such contemplation. Hast thou seen covetousness and great wealth? do not thou lift up thine eye thereto. The thing is mire, it is smoke, an evil vapor, darkness, and great distress and suffocating cares. Hast thou seen a man cultivating righteousness, content with his own, and having abundant space for recreation, having anxieties, not fixing his thoughts on things here?

 

Set [thine eye] there, and lift [it] up on high; and thou wilt make it far the most beautiful, and more splendid, feasting it not with the flowers of the earth, but with those of virtue, with temperance, moderation, and all the rest.

 

For nothing so troubles the eye as an evil conscience (“Mine eye,” it is said, “was troubled by reason of anger”— Ps. vi. 6 ); nothing so darkens it. Set it free from this injury, and thou wilt make it vigorous and strong, ever nourished with good hopes

 


 

St  John shows us that the "wrath (also translated anger, grief) in the Psalm is that of the soul being aware of its sins – such awareness in an unrepentant and unrepentant person causes an "evil conscience".

 

The Holy David is in the process of repenting in this Psalm, and this process involves tears, and wrath directed against himself, and toil. 

 

Remember, the Scripture is always about you! How does your repentance stand up to this Scriptural example? I tremble when making the comparison.

 

There are a few commentaries on the Psalms by St John available. He says about verse 5 here:

"Let us, therefore, when we sin, consider if we are worthy of mercy, if we did anything to have mercy shown us, if we repented, if we proved better people, if we turned over a new leaf. In other words, salvation of the penitent is salvation that comes from Divine mercy" (St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms)

I have found that many who cannot except Orthodoxy because of indoctrination by "Reformed" theology do not understand how to lament over sins, try to do better, and at the same time know that salvation comes solely from the mercy of God, and not because of anything we do (but it will not come if we do not try to "do!"). They mistake our "eye being troubled with anger" with some sort of lack of faith in the mercy of God, and dependence on works.

No! They do not understand the fear of God, and that the man who has been saved has only one greatest grief – that he will do anything to disappoint his savior.

Here is another pearl from St John, that makes it clear that remembrance of sins disturbs the eye of the soul:

"Do you see a contrite spirit? Having mentioned repentance, he refers again to the passions, the tumult of the mind, the fear arising from God's ire. He refers at this point, note, to the eye of the soul, that penetrating and rational vision, which the knowledge of one's sins is in the habit of disturbing." 

And, check this, St John describes the heart of true repentance, misunderstood by many who carry a bible:

"Since you see, he kept his faults before his eyes in every circumstance, he also considered God's ire, living in fear and without grief like the multitude, but in conflict and trembling. Such disturbance is the mother of tranquility, such fear is the basis of contentment. The person so disturbed drives out every temptation; not to have the soul in such a condition means undergoing stormy billows. Just as a ship without ballast is at the mercy of the force of the wild blasts and quickly founders, so too a soul living without grief is subject to countless passions"

Thank God for our services, all throughout the year, but especially during the forty (plus) days, which teach us how to repent!

 


 

When you read St John's commentaries, I recommend the ccel.org website. Get a free account, and when logged in, you can make permanent hi-lights and notes. It can be a little confusing to get around, and a whole lot of the site is not up to Orthodox Christian standards, but it is a great resource.

 

 

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