The More They Humble Themselves

From “Homily 6,” Homilies on Isaiah (386-387)

This vision terrified and stupefied the prophet… and thanks to this vision, he knows better the weakness of his nature. So are all the saints; the more they are honored, the more they humble themselves. Abraham, when he speaks to God, is called earth and dust… Isaiah deplores his condition, first of all because of his nature: “Unhappy that I am! My affliction is great…I who have unclean lips.”… And see how his confession is rewarded. He accused himself and immediately he was purified. For when he had spoken these words, “One of the seraphim,” said he, “was sent to me; he had in his hand a coal which he had taken with tongs from above the altar. And having touched my mouth, he said to me, “This coal has touched your lips, that it has taken away your sins, and has cleansed your iniquities.”…

And he then offers to be sent by the Lord as a prophet. Do you see what the vision produced? Do you see the good that the fear has done? The same thing happened to Moses. If he saw neither the seraphim nor God seated on a throne, the sight that appeared to him was not less strange, it was even so amazing that no one could have contemplated it. For “the bush burned, without being consumed.” And yet, even after this… the great Moses hesitated, he imagined a thousand pretexts to escape his mission…

Ezekiel, although he had received a precise order, still remains seven days near the river, full of hesitation and not feeling the same force to accomplish his mission… Jonah did more than refuse, he fled. Is Isaiah more bold than all of these? Is Isaiah more bold than the great Moses? Who would dare to say it? Why, then, does one hesitate after having received the order, while the other, without an evident command, ardently embraces this office of prophet? God does not say to him: “Go,” but he only says, “Whom shall I send?” …

As Isaiah had confessed in his name and in the name of the people, and a seraphim had been sent to him to purify his lips, he hoped that the same favor would be given to the people and that he would be a deputy to announce it to him… If the saints love God, they are also the ones who love others the most. As Isaiah hoped that he would have to announce to the people the forgiveness of sins, he hastened to exclaim: “Here am I: send me.”

St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was Archbishop of Constantinople, and one of the greatest preachers of his era. He is traditionally counted among the Four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church.  The Homilies on Isaiah date from his ministry in his native Antioch, and were preached in the 380s and 390s. His feast day is September 13.


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