A man went into the forest to choose a tree from which to make roof-beams. And he saw two trees, one beside the other. One was smooth and tall, but had rotted away inside, and the other was rough on the outside and ugly, but its core was healthy. The man sighed, and said to himself: “What use is this tree to me if it is rotten inside and useless for beams? The other it is rough and ugly, is at least healthy on the inside and so, if I put a bit more effort into it, I can use it for roof-beams for my house.” And, without thinking any more about it, he chose that tree.
So will God choose between two men for His house, and will choose not the one who appears outwardly righteous, but the one whose heart is filled with God’s healthy righteousness.
Notice the way in which Zacchaeus confessed his sin. He did not say: “Lord, I am a sinful man!”, or “Avarice is my sickness!” No; but, showing the fruits of repentance, he thus confessed his sin and his sickness: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor.” is not this a clear confession that riches are his passion? “And if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Is not this a clear confession that his riches were acquired in a sinful manner? He did not, before this, say to the Lord: “I am a sinner, and I repent.” He confessed this silently to the Lord in his heart, and the Lord silently received his confession and repentance.
It is of more importance to the Lord that a man acknowledge and confess his sickness and cry for help in his heart than with this tongue, for the tongue is capable of deception, but the heart is not.
Repentance is the abandoning of all false paths that have been trodden by men’s feet, and men’s thoughts and desires, and a return to the new path: Christ’s path. But how can a sinful man repent unless he, in his heart, meets with the Lord and knows his own shame? Before little Zacchaeus saw the Lord with his eyes, he met Him in his heart and was ashamed of all his ways.
According to thy mercy, pour out upon me, who am miserable, at least one small drop of grace to make me understand and be converted, that I might make at least some small effort to correct myself. For if thy grace does not illumine my soul, I will not be able to see the carelessness and negligence that the passions have produced in me through my apathy and recklessness.
If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul. There is no obstacle for a man who wants to be saved other than negligence and laziness of soul.
Do not imagine this a victory, holy Sopatros, to have denounced [Tit. 3:9] a devotion, or an opinion, which apparently is not good. For neither—even if you should have convicted it accurately—are the (teachings) of Sopatros consequently good. For it is possible, both that you and others, whilst occupied in many things that are false and apparent, should overlook the true, which is One and hidden. For neither, if anything is not red, is it therefore white, nor if something is not a horse, is it necessarily a man. But thus will you do, if you follow my advice, you will cease indeed to speak against others, but will so speak on behalf of truth, that every thing said is altogether unquestionable.
Pay attention carefully. After the sin comes the shame; courage follows repentance. Did you pay attention to what I said? Satan upsets the order; he gives the courage to sin and the shame to repentance.
Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.
It was fitting that the Giver of all holiness should enter this world by a pure and holy birth. For He it is that of old formed Adam from the virgin earth, and from Adam without help of woman formed woman. For as without woman Adam produced woman, so did the Virgin without man this day bring forth a man. For it is a man, saith the Lord, and who shall know him [Jer. 17:9]. For since the race of women owed to men a debt, as from Adam without woman woman came, therefore without man the Virgin this day brought forth, and on behalf of Eve repaid the debt to man.
That Adam might not take pride, that he without woman had engendered woman, a Woman without man has begotten man; so that by the similarity of the mystery is proved the similarity in nature. For as before the Almighty took a rib from Adam, and by that Adam was not made less; so in the Virgin He formed a living temple, and the holy virginity remained unchanged. Sound and unharmed Adam remained even after the deprivation of a rib; unstained the Virgin though a Child was born of her.
+ St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”