Raising the Dead Influencing the belief of the dead. St John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Ephesians

A useful perspective for the pastor, and anyone who cares.


Sep 19/ Oct 2 2009 2009 17th Friday after Pentecost


Icon of St John Chrysostom john-chrysostom-01.jpgToday, in reading St John Chrysostom’s homilies on Ephesians, I came across a startling “attitude adjustment”, that is a different and better way to look at a vexing problem.


We all have this problem; people do not readily change their way of thinking or way of life.


A pastor especially encounters this problem, and because he (me) has feet of clay, all kinds of non-productive thoughts pop up.  One wonders, why am I serving this service, I feel like Fr McKenzie[1], or “what’s the use? I have said ‘blah blah’ a million times and gotten little response”, or the most damaging thoughts, “I am a failure”.


It takes great patience and faith to be the one that plants and waters[2], and wait for God to cause the growth. I think sometimes we are not up to it, not only because of our weak faith and general “noise” of our passions, but also because of an unrealistic assessment of how difficult certain things are.


I think it is part of our nature that when we believe something strongly, with our entire heart, so much that we have dedicated our life to it, that we find it very difficult to understand why others do not believe as we do. 


St John gives a whole new perspective that should help quiet some of these thoughts. For him, RAISING THE DEAD is easier than changing the beliefs (and practices) of a person. Now, I know that I cannot raise the dead, so I guess I (and maybe you too) should relax a little about changing people.


That is not to say that I (you) should not try – what is pastoral work except helping people to change? (And since we are all a “royal priesthood” we are all responsible to in some way look out for each other’s welfare). 


Observe the wisdom of St John on this matter:


“But what is clear? that through His power we have believed that He has raised Christ. For to persuade souls, is a thing far more miraculous than to raise a dead body.

I will endeavor to make this clear. Hearken then. Christ said to the dead, "Lazarus, come forth," (John xi. 43.) and straightway he obeyed. Peter said, "Tabitha, arise," (Acts ix. 40.) and she did not refuse. He Himself shall speak the word at the last day, and all shall rise, and that so quickly, that "they which are yet alive, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep," (1 Thess. iv. 15.) and all shall come to pass, all run together "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." (1 Cor. xv. 52.)

But in the matter of believing, it is not thus, but how is it? Hearken then to Him again, how He says, "How often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not." (Matt. xxiii. 37.) You perceive that this last is the more difficult. Accordingly, it is upon this that he builds up the whole argument; because by human calculations it is far more difficult to influence the choice, than to work upon nature.

And the reason is this, it is because He would thus have us become good of our own will. Thus with good reason does he say,

"The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe." (Eph 1:19)

Yes, when Prophets had availed nothing, nor Angels, nor Archangels, when the whole creation, both visible and invisible, had failed, (the visible lying before us, and without any power to guide us, and much also which is invisible,) then He ordered His own coming, to show us that it was a matter which required Divine power. (St John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Ephesians, from New Advent disk (also online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/)



As is usual in the homilies of St John, he says much with few words. He constantly mixes a moral message with a theological one, and often shows great understanding of human psychology to boot. This is as all preaching should be – ALL theology is moral in nature, and since we preach to human beings, we had best understand how they think, live and act.


Did you see how he explained the reason for the incarnation? And in so doing, he gave us the proper perspective regarding ministering to others. God causes the change – this is so easy to say, but difficult to completely commit oneself to.



Perhaps some would be offended at the second heading of this article “Influencing the belief of the dead.”  This *IS* referring to my parishioners AND me, AND the human race.


We can think and act in one of two ways: the way of life or the way of death. When we sin, or our passions boil or influence us, we are going the way of death. Perhaps this may seem melodramatic to some, but it is wholly Christian to believe that sin leads to death. We do not know *how much* sin will actually cause our death, but it is a sure and certain fact that unchecked, unrepented of  sin will cause death. All of us, on a relative scale are alive AND dead (or doing things that lead to death) to varying degrees. Jesus Christ came so that we would be completely alive, with no darkness of any kind in us.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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[1] “Fr McKenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear, no one comes near” “Eleanor Rigby”, the Beatles. This song expresses the deep loneliness of a forgotten woman who dies alone. Fr McKenzie, is a lonely pastor who buries her; he is the only one at her funeral. As a pastor, I have always identified with the loneliness of Fr McKenzie.  This is not because of being “alone” as in not around people, but from feeling that a message is not getting across to very many people. This feeling  is particularly pervasive when there is a great feast and the church is almost empty.

[2] 1Co 3:6 KJV “ I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”




  1. Yes, Father, we are too unwilling to change, indeed. Sometimes I think it’s not because we don’t want to, but due to the fact that we don’t believe it is possible. Our Lord calls us…for perfection, for example: “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” But we deep in our heart are far from accepting it, it seems to us unreal. We don’t believe in ourselves, and in our neighbours either. This lack of belief is a consecuence of our weak belief in God, i suppose. If we strongly believed, we would’t doubt Our Father’s a single word! He does not set unreal goals to us. HE believes in us much more than we do…He loves us in a way we cannot even imagine. We thus should believe that we CAN change, can become much better then we are at present. And this would give us JOY. and our improvement will become real to us. We just should have more readiness & put our effort into it, as it is all possible with Christ’s help.

  2. Father, Bless,

    Thank you for this post. It was a very helpful reminder and encouragement. It is very easy just looking on a day to day basis (even on a year to year basis) for me to get very discouraged, at times, about the fruits of my labors. Your post inspired some thoughts about it.

    When it comes to judging the fruits of my labors, at times I feel like a little kid who upon looking at an apple seed has the great dream of growing an apple tree and enjoying its fruit. With great expectations and anticipation I plant the seed and water it. Everyday I jump out of bed and excitedly run to see my apple tree–and my apples! Nothing. Someone explains to me that it takes time for seeds to sprout, so I wait. For days I wait and I see absolutely nothing. Unbeknownst to me all sorts of things are happening below the ground where I cannot see. Finally the day arrives when I see the first signs of life. Huh? That tiny green sprout is it? I begin to realize that this is going to take a little longer than I expected. I quit watching it everyday. Some days I even forget to water it. It grows into a little sapling. But where are my apples?! Finally someone tells me that an apple tree has to be 2 or 3 years old before you get any fruit from it. More waiting. Then one day I notice that the leaves are starting to turn brown. Oh, no! Did I underwater it? Overwater it? No, it is just that time of year. But all winter long I stare at a bare stick–wondering if it really is still alive. Spring comes and new leaves appear. Seasons come and go and each winter I wait to see if the leaves will appear again and every spring I wait for signs of fruit. Finally one year I see a beautiful flower. But there’s a late frost and the flower dies, leaving no fruit. The next year, two flowers appear and there is no frost. Finally my first apple! Some years the bugs eat all of the meager little fruit my tree produces. Some years there is abundance, other years there is barely anything. But every year, unseen by my eyes the roots of my tree are growing stronger and deeper.

    The main thing I have learned from tending this tree is that most of what has occurred had very little to do with me. God is the creator of this amazing process and my job has been to tend it sometimes, keep my hands off of it sometimes–and wait. I have trouble doing all three of those things. I forget to take care of things I should, I get involved and try to do things when I shouldn’t and I HATE waiting. I still sometimes fight fear and panic waiting through the winter and summer when there is no sign of fruit–and through the years of drought, frost and pestilence when there is no fruit. But I’m beginning to see that God is at work in this process. Through rain and drought He is keeping my little tree alive, teaching me how to care for it, and teaching me that He is the judge of the fruit it produces–not me.

    “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 4:3-4

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