St John Chrysostom: On Whose Account Do You Adorn Yourself?

Feast of St Moses the Black of Skete

Chrysostom_Square_4.jpegDO YOU WISH to adorn your face? Do not do so with gems but with piety and modesty; thus adorned, a man will find your appearance more pleasing to behold. For that other kind of adornment generally arouses suspicions which give rise to jealousy, enmity, strife, and quarrels. For there is nothing more disgusting than a suspiciously beautiful face. But the adornment which comes from almsgiving and modesty drives out all wicked suspicion and draws your husband to you with greater strength than any chain. For natural beauty does not make a face become beautiful as much as does the disposition of him who beholds it, and nothing is more likely to produce this disposition than modesty and piety. Hence, even if a woman be beautiful but her husband hates her, she will appear to him as the ugliest of women; if a woman does not happen to be comely but she pleases her husband, he will find her the fairest of women. Judgments are made not in the light of what is seen but in the light of the disposition of those who see it.

Adorn your face, therefore, with modesty, piety, almsgiving, benevolence, love, kindliness toward your husband, reasonableness, mildness, and forbearance. These are the pigments of virtue; by these you draw not men but angels to you as your lovers; for these you have God Himself to praise you. When God shall approve you, He will win over your husband to you in every way; for if wisdom illumines the face of a man, much more does virtue make the face of a woman shine forth.

If you consider that virtue is a great adornment to your beauty, tell me, what benefit will come to you from pearls on that day? [. . .] For what word of defense will you be able to speak when the Master shall accuse you in the matter of these pearls, and when He shall lead forward the poor who have perished from hunger? This is why Paul said: “not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothing” (1 Tim. 2.9). For these could be a trap.

But even if we should enjoy these things day in and day out, we shall be separated from them utterly by death. Virtue, however, does not change or alter; it is completely secure, and it both makes us more secure in this world and goes along with us to the next. Do you wish to possess pearls and never to lay aside this wealth? Then strip off your adornment and put it into Christ’s hands through the hands of His poor. He will guard all your riches for you against the day when He will raise up your body with great glory. Then He will put on you a better wealth and richer adornment, since your present wealth and adornment are really paltry and ridiculous.

Think, then, who they are whom you wish to please and on whose account you wear this adornment. Is it that the ropemaker and the coppersmith and the man in the market may look at you and marvel? Are you not ashamed and do you not blush to be showing yourself off to these people and to be doing all this for men whom you do not consider worthy of a greeting?

—St John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions

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