Do you wish to see what makes a bed truly beautiful? … I am showing you the bed of David. Not one adorned all over with silver and gold, but with tears and confessions. St. John Chrysostom, First Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man
As we are at the beginning of Great Lent, it is fair to bring up this point of Chrysostom’s chastisement of luxurious living. Here, the “golden mouthed” preacher makes reference to the Prophet Amos’s denunciation of those who “sleep on beds of ivory and live delicately on couches” (1). In the parable, it is not hard to imagine the rich man doing this. Dining sumptuously every day and dressed in purple, of course he would also have furnishings more of status and wealth than of function. Poor Lazarus couldn’t even get a crumb from a table made of expensive materials. While dogs licked his sores, the rich man undoubtedly rested on silk. If the TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” were filmed at that time, Robin Leach would have shown this man’s well-appointed bedroom.
John names a man who was far richer than this unnamed person in the parable, Kind David. He commanded not only vast sums of money, but entire armies who were victorious in battles. He had embassies in other ancient kingdoms to negotiate trade in anything he wished to have for himself and his nation. Even women beyond a life-long monogamous marital bond was not denied to this king as he was chosen by God to rule over His people. David possessed a far more beautiful bed not because of his wealth and power. It is because David was a man of deep repentance.
How deep was David’s repentance? These are his words from Psalter: “I shall wash my bed every night, I shall water my couch with my tears” (2). Chrysostom notes that David’s repentance is not a one and off event. Nor is it an occasional occurrence, such as after the Bathsheba/Uriah incident. David makes time to confess his sins to the point of tears every night. Here is a man who can afford to entertain himself in his leisure time any way he wishes. But, he chooses to use that time for repentance. And he does this not on account of some public discrepancy or scandalous act. David is shedding tears over his private sins (3).
Now, here is a place where too many people of all social and political stripes must improve if we are to be reconciled to God and each other. We do not take repentance seriously. Sure, it is unhealthy to blame one’s self for everything wrong with the world. But, I think it is fair and honest to say that the vast majority of us do not make time for a private confession to God in our own rooms on a regular basis. Unless something really bothers our conscience, or we got caught doing or saying something wrong; we don’t bother repenting. As for our private sins, we frequently don’t consider them worthy of repentance if no one was hurt or offended. Gluttony, selfishness, arrogance (the rich man’s sins), holding grudges, anger, jealousy (sins that Lazarus avoided); here are a few things that we all (especially myself) ought to be able to flood our bedrooms with in confessing to God. But, do we even try to do this even one night a week? Of course not, we have 400 channel TV subscriptions, 24 hour news feeds, social media platforms, sporting events, music, clubs, bars, and oodles of entertainments in and outside of the home.
And who among us have the wealth, power, and entertainments of King David? None of us. Has any of us been anointed by the Prophet Samuel as God’s chosen? No. Is it possible that any of us are able to be the ancestor of the Messiah? Of course not. Then, who are we not to try to set aside some time to repent as David did? Sure, some of us want to “dance like David danced” when the “Spirit of the Lord is on us.” But, where does the Descendant of David say, “Dance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?” (4) No, if the “Spirit of the Lord” never leads us to, or distracts us from repentance, that spirit is suspect.(5) While there are many scriptures which talk about the greatness of praise, it is never to be a substitute for repentance. Nor is railing against the immorality of or injustice in our society. If our demonstrations and marches produced lawmakers who would put a permanent end to abortion and police brutality, what good would that do us unless we are just as mindful to be repentant as we are to protest? Or, have we forgotten the question asked by our Master, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” (6) In a sense, when we are more devoted to and indulge ourselves in moral and social crusades more than our personal transformation, we are no better than the rich man who dined sumptuously on and well clothed in the issues of the day to his own desires and leaves his own soul a lonely, sick, starving, and weak Lazarus.
Furthermore, if our indulgences of moral and social crusades and styles of worship are no substitutes for repentance, certainly the pursuit and life of luxury fails completely as well. Our Lord instructed a rich young man who seemed to be justified in his righteousness to sell all and give to the poor so that he would have treasure in heaven and follow Him. Alas, the man wouldn’t because he had great wealth. (7) One cannot be repentant and pursue a life of Christ and pursue wealth at the same time. Anthony of Egypt understood this and gave up his inheritance and grew spiritually to become the father of monastics. Basil of Cappadocia likewise abandoned his earthly wealth and lived modestly though a priest and bishop. Even in our modern times, it was said of Martin Luther King Jr that a thief breaking into his home would have to bring something with him worth stealing. It is when we abandon a life of pursuing wealth and relentlessly repent and pursue God instead that He makes us useful vessels of His glory.
Perhaps the most disciplined monks and nuns can pray the whole Canon of St. Andrew of Crete every night.(8) It is also fair to say that not everyone receives the gift of tears of repentance and those who do may not experience them every night. However, all of us can put ourselves in a position to receive the gift as the Spirit grants it to us. We have prayers from Antiochus, Ephraim, Macarius, and others we can offer nightly that are found in our prayer books.(9) We can offer them with our own confessions. Any priest or spiritual father or mother will tell a beginner to start off with something brief, yet meaningful. By the grace of God, such advisers can help us to turn repentance from being hollow words to real change. True transformations are absolutely necessary for reconciliation with God and one another. David’s royal pattern of repentance, as described by St. John Chrysostom is an essential step in such transformations.
- Chrysostom, pg. 24, Amos 4:6
- Psalms 6:7
- Chrysostom, pg. 25
- Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14
- Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, St. Herman Press, 1975 & 2013, pg. 167. While Fr. Seraphim seems a bit harsh on this point, he does make it clear that the Holy Spirit leads us to spiritual sobriety.
- Matthew 6:16-26
- Matthew 19:16-22
- Usually prayed over four nights as a part of Compline (nightly) prayers the first four days of Great Lent.
- Both the “Jordanville” Prayer Book of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the St. Philip’s Prayer Manual and Common Discipline of the Antiochian jurisdiction use these three in almost the same order.