Chrysostom and Grief (1)

A life was snatched, prematurely according to men, and grief will ensue. No one has the words to bring comfort, nor peace, nor a still of the storm for the family of the child that is no longer with us. The pastor must stand and give comfort where he can, and I do not envy him – nor do I wish to be in his place. I can doing nothing for this family – although I wish I had those magic words to erase all grief, but I cannot. I know that those in the local congregation read this blog, and because of this, I will post the words of a master in dealing with grief – John Chrysostom. Maybe they will bring them some measure of comfort. In the end, perhaps, Chrysostom’s words are for me.

1. That you have sustained a severe blow, and that the weapon directed from above has been planted in a vital part all will readily admit, and none even of the most rigid moralists will deny it; but since they who are stricken with sorrow ought not to spend their whole time in mourning and tears, but to make good provision also for the healing of their wounds, lest, if they be neglected their tears should aggravate the wound, and the fire of their sorrow become inflamed, it is a good thing to listen to words of consolation, and restraining for a brief season at least the fountain of your tears to surrender yourself to those who endeavour to console you.

On this account I abstained from troubling you when your sorrow was at its height, and the thunderbolt had only just fallen upon you; but having waited an interval and permitted you to take your fill of mourning, now that you are able to look out a little through the mist, and to open your ears to those who attempt to comfort you, I also would second the words of your handmaids by some contributions of my own.

For while the tempest is still severe, and a full gale of sorrow is blowing, he who exhorts another to desist from grief would only provoke him to increased lamentations and having incurred his hatred would add fuel to the flame by such speeches besides being regarded himself as an unkind and foolish person. But when the troubled water has begun to subside, and God has allayed the fury of the waves, then we may freely spread the sails of our discourse. For in a moderate storm skill may perhaps play its part; but when the onslaught of the wind is irresistible experience is of no avail. For these reasons I have hitherto held my peace, and even now have only just ventured to break silence because I have heard from your uncle that one may begin to take courage, as some of your more esteemed handmaids are now venturing to discourse at length upon these matters, women also outside your own household, who are your kinsfolk, or are otherwise qualified for this office.

Now if you allow them to talk to you I have the greatest hope and confidence that you will not disdain my words but do your best to give them a calm and quiet hearing. Under any circumstances indeed the female sex is the more apt to be sensitive to suffering; but when in addition there is youth, and untimely widowhood, and inexperience in business, and a great crowd of cares, while the whole life previously has been nurtured in the midst of luxury, and cheerfulness and wealth, the evil is increased many fold, and if she who is subjected to it does not obtain help from on high even an accidental thought will be able to unhinge her. Now I hold this to be the foremost and greatest evidence of God’s care concerning you; for that you have not been overwhelmed by grief, nor driven out of your natural condition of mind when such great troubles suddenly concurred to afflict you was not due to any human assistance but to the almighty hand the understanding of which there is no measure, the wisdom which is past finding out, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3 For He Himself it is said has smitten us, and He will heal us; He will strike, and He will dress the wound and make us whole. Hosea 6:2

For as long as that blessed husband of yours was with you, you enjoyed honour, and care and zealous attention; in fact you enjoyed such as you might expect to enjoy from a husband; but since God took him to Himself He has supplied his place to you. And this is not my saying but that of the blessed prophet David for he says He will take up the fatherless and the widow, and elsewhere he calls Him father of the fatherless and judge of the widow; thus in many passages you will see that He earnestly considers the cause of this class of mankind.

Source. Translated by W.R.W. Stephens. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 9. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. .

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