Another terrifying sermon for us aspirants to the Office of the Holy Ministry.
Nota Bene: yes, St. Cyril does indeed fall short of a CA IV definition of justification coram Deo in this sermon. However, I do not think that this weakness detracts from the significant merit of the work overall. Please don’t burn me.
St. Luke 12:41-48: “And Peter said, ‘Lord do You speak this parable unto us, or also unto all?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give the portion of food in its season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord at his coming shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will appoint him over all that he has. But if that servant say in his heart, My lord delays his coming, and begin to beat the men servants and female servants, and to eat and drink, and be drunken: the lord of that servant shall come in a day that he expects not, and at an hour of which he is not aware, and will cut him asunder, and give him a portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his lord’s will, and did it not, neither prepared according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But He who knew it not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will require the more.'”
It is a good and saving thing for us to direct the penetrating glance of the mind unto the words of God. For it is written of the words which God speaks, “Who is wise, and he will understand them? Or prudent, and he will know their meaning?” For simply to hear, and receive the spoken word in the ear, is common to all men, both to the wise, and to those who are not so: but the habit of penetrating deep into profitable thoughts is found only with those who are truly wise. Let us therefore ask this of Christ: let us imitate the blessed Peter, that chosen disciple, that faithful steward and true believer; who, when he had heard Christ say somewhat highly advantageous for their benefit, prayed that it might be explained to him, and did not allow it to pass by, because he had not as yet clearly understood it. For he said, “Lord, speak You this parable unto us, or also unto all? Is it,” he asks, “a general law, and one that appertains in equal measure to all, or is it fitting for those only who are superior to the rest?” What then was it which troubled the wise disciple, or what led him to wish to learn things such as this from Christ? This point then we will first discuss.
There are then some commandments which befit those who have attained to apostolic dignities, or possess a more than ordinary knowledge, and the higher spiritual virtues; while others belong to those in an inferior station. And that this is true, and according to my words, we may see from what the blessed Paul wrote unto certain of his disciples, “I have given you milk to drink, and not meat: for you were not as yet strong enough, nor even yet could you bear it. For solid food belongs to them that are full grown, who by reason of perfectness have the senses of the heart exercised for the discerning of good and evil.” For just, for instance, as very heavy burdens can be carried by persons of a very powerful frame, to which men of weaker stature are unequal, so those of a vigorous mind may justly be expected to fulfill the weightier and more excellent commands among those which become the saints; while such as are, so to speak, simple, and quite easy, and free from all difficulty, suit those who have not yet attained to this spiritual strength. The blessed Peter therefore, considering with himself the force of what Christ had said, rightly asked, which of the two was meant; whether the declaration referred to all believers, or only to them; that is, to those who had been called to the discipleship, and especially honoured by the grant of apostolic powers?
And what is our Lord’s reply? He makes use of a clear and very evident example, to show that the commandment especially belongs to those who occupy a more dignified position, and have been admitted into the rank of teachers. “For who,” He says, “is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord will set over his household, to give the allowance of food at its season? Let us suppose,” He says,
…A householder; who being about to go upon a journey, has entrusted to one of his faithful slaves the charge of all his house, to give his household, that is, his servants, their allowance of corn at its due season. When therefore he shall return, if on coming to his house he shall find him so doing as he commanded, very blessed shall that servant be. For he will set him over all that he has. But if he be neglectful and indolent, and take pleasure in oppressing his fellow-servants, eating and drinking, and given up to self-indulgent voluptuousness, he will be cut asunder, that is, will have to bear the severest punishment, when his lord shall come to him in a day that he expects not, and at an hour of which he is not aware.
Such then is the simple and plain meaning of the passage: but if we now fix our mind accurately upon it, we shall see what is signified by it, and how useful it is for their benefit who have been called to the apostleship, to the office, that is, of teacher. The Saviour has ordained as stewards, so to speak, over his servants—that is, over those who have been won by faith to the acknowledgment of His glory—men faithful and of great understanding, and well instructed in the sacred doctrines. And He has ordained them, commanding them to give their fellow-servants their allowance of food; and that not simply and without distinction, but rather at its proper season: by which is meant such food, I mean spiritual food, as is sufficient and fitting for each individual. For it is not fitting to address simply to all who have believed in Christ instruction upon all points; for it is written, “With knowledge learn the souls of your flock.” For very different is the way in which we establish in the paths of truth one who has but just now become a disciple—using simple teaching, in which there is nothing profound nor difficult to understand, counseling him to escape from the error of polytheism, and fittingly persuading him to discern by the beauty of things created, the universal Creator and Artificer, Who is One by nature, and verily God—from the way in which we instruct those who are more confirmed in mind, and able to understand what is the height and depth, and what the length and breadth, of the definitions of the supreme Godhead. For as we have already said, “Solid meat belongs to them that are full grown.”
Whoever therefore shall wisely in due season, and according to their need, divide to his fellow-servants their portion, that is, their food, very blessed shall he be, according to the Saviour’s word. For he shall be counted worthy of still greater things, and shall receive a suitable recompense for his fidelity. “For he will set him, He says, over all that he has.” And this the Saviour has elsewhere taught us, where praising the active and faithful servant, He said, “O good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over few things, I will set you over many things: enter into the joy of your lord.”
But if, He says, neglecting the duty of being diligent and faithful, and despising watchfulness in these things as superfluous, he let his mind grow intoxicated with worldly cares, and is seduced into improper courses, dragging by force, and oppressing those who are subject to him, and not giving them their portion, in utter wretchedness shall he be. For this I think, and this only, is the meaning of his being cut asunder. “And his portion too,” He says, “shall be with the unbelievers.” For whosoever has done wrong to the glory of Christ, or ventured to think slightingly of the flock entrusted to his charge, differs in no respect whatsoever from those who know Him not: and all such persons will justly be counted among those who have no love for Him. For Christ even once said to the blessed Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me? Feed My sheep; feed My lambs.” If therefore he who feeds his flock loves it, then of course he that neglects it, and leaves the flock that has been entrusted to him without oversight, hates it: and if he hate it he will be punished, and be liable to the condemnation pronounced upon the unbelievers, as being convicted by the very facts of being negligent and contemptuous. Such was he who received the talent to trade with in things spiritual, and did not do so, but on the contrary brought that which had been given him without increase, saying, “Lord, I knew that you are a hard man, that you reap where others have sown, and gather whence others have scattered; and I was afraid, and hid the talent. Lo! You have what is yours.” But those who had received the five talents, or even yet more, and laboured and loved service, were honoured with glorious dignities. For they heard, the one of them, “Be you over ten,” and the other, “Be you over five cities,” while that contumelious and slothful servant suffered the severest condemnation. To be negligent therefore in discharging the duties of the ministry is everywhere dangerous, or rather, brings upon men perdition, but to perform them with unwearying zeal earns for us life and glory. And this means to discourse to our fellow servants correctly and without error the things which relate to God, and whatsoever is able to benefit them in attaining both to the knowledge and the ability to walk uprightly. And the blessed Peter also writes to certain persons, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive your reward.” And as knowing that slothfulness is the door of perdition, Paul said, “Woe is me, if I preach not.”
And that bitter and inevitable punishment is threatened against those who are slothful in this duty, the Saviour immediately showed, by adding to what had been already said two examples one after the other. “For the servant,” He says, “who knew his master’s will, and did it not, neither prepared according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes: but he who knew it not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” Now the guilt is indisputable in the case of him who knew his master’s will, but afterwards neglected it, and did nothing that was fitting, and which it was his duty to do. For it is manifest contumely, and therefore the many stripes.
But for what reason were the few stripes inflicted on him who neither knew nor did his master’s will? For some one, for instance, may say, “How can he who knew it not be guilty?” The reason is, because he would not know it, although it was in his power to learn. But if he who is entirely ignorant of it does not escape from anger, because when it was his duty to know he neglected the means of learning, what plea can deliver him from justly bearing many stripes, who knew, and disregarded it? “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will require the more.”
Very severe therefore is the condemnation of those who teach. And this Christ’s disciple shows us, saying, “Let there not be many teachers among you, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” For abundant is the bestowal of spiritual gifts upon those who are the chiefs of the people. For so the wise Paul also somewhere wrote to the blessed Timothy: “The Lord shall give you wisdom in every thing.” And, “Despise not the gift that is in you, which was given you by the laying on of my hands.” From such as these then, the Saviour of all, in that He has given them much, requires much in return. And what are the virtues He requires? Constancy in the faith; correctness in teaching; to be well grounded in hope; unwavering in patience; invincible in spiritual strength; cheerful and brave in every more excellent achievement, that so we may be examples to others of the evangelic life. For if we will thus live, Christ will bestow upon us the crown; by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.