Chrysostom: Political government is useless without self-government

ST John Chrysostom, whose feast falls tomorrow, is appealing to Christians in the capital city (Constantinople) to attend the liturgy.

He reminds us that outward government cannot achieve anything good without personal responsibility, and the grace that comes through Christian prayer and assembly.

WHAT then is the government, more dignified than that of the empire, which they who enter here receive?

They are trained to master untoward passions, to rule wicked lusts, to command anger, to regulate ill-will, to subdue vainglory.

The emperor, seated on the imperial throne, and wearing his diadem, is not so dignified as the man who has elevated his own inward right reason to the throne of government over base passions, and by his dominion over them has bound as it were a glorious diadem upon his brow.

An icon of the Blessed Virgin and her child in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), Constantinople/Istanbul.

An icon of the Blessed Virgin and her child in the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), Constantinople/Istanbul.

For what profit is there, pray, in purple, and raiment wrought with gold, and a jewelled crown, when the soul is in captivity to the passions?

What gain is there in outward freedom when the ruling element within us is reduced to a state of disgraceful and pitiable servitude?

For just as when a fever penetrates deep, and inflames all the inward parts, there is no benefit to be got from the outward surface of the body, although it is not affected in the same way: even so when our soul is violently carried away by the passion within, no outward government, not even the imperial throne, is of any profit, since reason is deposed from the throne of empire by the violent usurpation of the passions, and bows and trembles beneath their insurrectionary movements.

Now to prevent this taking place prophets and apostles concur on all sides in helping us, repressing our passions, and expelling all the ferocity of the irrational element within us, and committing a mode of government to us far more dignified than the empire.




WHAT have I to offer thee, wretched as I am, O Lady? Except springs of tears, and thankful praise for the things done for me. But turn O Lady thy gracious eye upon my weak and lowly soul; scatter the clouds of my passions, and deliver thy servant from the mists that swirl over me.

Or this Cross-Theotokion.

WHEN she that had known no man beheld thee, O Jesus, hanged upon the wood of the Cross, she wept and said: Sweetest child, why dost thou leave me alone, who bare thee, the unapproachable Light of the Father who is from everlasting? Make haste and be glorified, that they who glorify thy divine Passion may themselves attain to divine glory.

At Vespers for today. Source.


BEFORE Thy cross we bow down in worship,
O our Master,
and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


3 thoughts on “Chrysostom: Political government is useless without self-government

  1. I always love the story of Diogenes- he seems to perfectly demonstrate the case of self-government. Even the king had nothing to offer him. He is known to carry his lantern by day because he was looking for an honest man!

    passion can be a very violent thing. We see that destructive pattern being repeated over and over throughout the history. And one doesn’t have to look into the government for that.. although its widely displayed on the front pages of news papers these last few days. I must say, passion is not one of my favorite words at all. It’s actually at the opposite end of the spectrum.

  2. It’s a pity that it is used for such very different things: 1) Christ’s Passion, which saves us; 2) a passion for justice, without which we don’t clothe the naked, or a passionate embrace, without which marriage is little more than friendship; and 3) the passions which try to steal our self-determination, and enslave us to what is demeaning.

    The bottom line is, we need more words in English! Who’d have thought that would be a problem?!

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