Saint John Chrysostom on the World as a Theater

St. John Chrysostom

Both men, (Lazarus and Dives) departed to that place where everything is true. The stage sets were removed and the masks were taken off. In a theater of this world at mid-day the stage is set and many actors enter, playing parts, wearing masks on their faces, retelling some old story, narrating the events. One becomes a philosopher, though he is not a philosopher. Another becomes a king, though he is not a king, but has the appearance of a king for the story. Another becomes a physician without knowing how to handle even a piece of wood, but wearing the garments of a physician. Another becomes a slave, though he is free; another a teacher, though he does not even know his letters. They appear something other than what they are, and they do not appear what they really are. One appears to be a physician, another appears to be a philosopher by wearing a hairy mask, and another appears to be a soldier by bearing the equipment of a soldier. The appearance of the mask deceives us, but it does not falsify the nature, for it truly changes the character which is represented. As long as the audience remains in their seats, the masks are valid; but when evening overtakes them, and the play is ended, and everyone goes out, the masks are cast aside. He who is a king inside the theater is found to be a coppersmith outside. The masks are removed, the deceit departs, the truth is revealed. He who is a free man inside the theater is found to be a slave outside; for, as I said, the deceit is inside, but truth is outside. Evening over takes them, the play is ended, the truth appears. So it is also in life and its end. The present world is a theater, the conditions of men are roles: wealth and poverty, ruler and ruled, and so forth. When this day is cast aside, and that terrible night comes, or rather day, night indeed for sinners, but day for the righteous, when the play is ended, when the masks are removed, when each person is judged with his works – not each person with his wealth, not each person with his office, not each person with his authority, not each person with his power, but each person with his works, whether he is a ruler or a king, a woman or a man, when He requires an account of our life and our good deeds, not the weight of our reputation, not the slightness of our poverty, not the tyranny of our disdain – give me your deeds if you are a slave but nobler than a free person, if you are a woman but braver than a man. When the masks are removed, then the truly rich and the truly poor are revealed. When the play ends, one of us looking out an upper window sees the man who is a philosopher inside the theater but a coppersmith outside, and says, “Hey! Wasn’t this man a philosopher inside? Outside I see that he is a coppersmith. Wasn’t this other man a king inside? Outside I see that he is some humble person. Wasn’t that man rich inside? Outside I see that he is poor.” The same thing happens when this life ends.

* This excerpt is from “Daily Readings from the Writings of St. John Chrysostom” compiled by Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris


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