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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV TWO VISITORS BY NIGHT

Gathering Clouds A Tale Of The Days Of St Chrysostom by Frederic William Farrar

CHAPTER IV TWO VISITORS BY NIGHT

Accipiam hospitio, si nox advenis. -- Plaut. Rudent, ii.4.

John would have been more than mortal if he had not felt some of the gratification which the orator derives from the sense of his own power. Nor could he be otherwise than conscious that among the hungers, fevers, appetites, and malignities around him he was wielding the power of a true man. But he resisted all tendency to pride; and mere vanity could have no place in a soul so noble as his.

He lived in Singon Street, in which, as he delighted to narrate, Paul and Barnabas had also lived when they first began to preach to the Gentiles, and had won so many converts that the brethren were first called Christians' at Antioch. Those who had fixed on that hybrid nickname, half Greek and half Latin in form, and expressive of a Jewish conception, had little dreamed that a title which was then synonymous with stupid fanatic and semi-malefactor was to become the most glorious in the world.

As the great preacher walked home in the gathering dusk his eyes sought the ground, his lips moved in silent prayer. For though he had spoken in terms of lofty encouragement, he had not concealed from his hearers the awfulness of the crisis, and his hope was placed far less in man than in the living God.

He was somewhat weary after his effort, and looked forward to one of those evenings of quiet study which he dearly loved. His mother, Anthusa, met him on the threshold, and strained him to her heart. She had prepared for him one of those frugal meals of fruit and vegetables which alone he would take, and she had placed the lamp on the table of his little room. The house was furnished with extreme simplicity, but the taste and the beauty of many of the objects in the court and hall and tablinum showed that it had belonged to a person of distinction. For John's father, Secundus, was an officer who had risen to the high rank of an illustris, and had bequeathed an ample provision to his widow. If the undisputed control of this patrimony had been in the hands of Chrysostom, very little would have been left undevoted to works of beneficence. He had reduced his own wants to the simplest necessities of life.

He had scarcely ended his slight supper when he was surprised by a low summons at the door. Phlegon, the slave, who opened it -- a slave in name only, but treated like a brother beloved -- hesitated to interrupt his master's studies, and told the stately stranger that unless it was a case of sickness or spiritual urgency John did not see visitors at so late an hour.

He will see me,' was the answer. Tell him that Libanius desires an interview.'

John arose immediately on hearing the name, and hastened to salute his former teacher. What brings the world-famous orator and worshipper of the gods to the house of the Christian presbyter?' he asked.

I come, John,' he said, to talk to you about the truly deplorable state of the city. Can nothing be done for this miserable people?'

If anyone can do anything for them it should be Libanius,' answered Chrysostom. You are not like us poor Christians. You are known to all the noble and the mighty. The Count of the East is your personal friend. Further, men know that you sympathise with the miserable, for they have read the admirable letter, which does you so much credit, on behalf of a poor man oppressed by a cruel governor. Why not go to Constantinople, and plead the cause of Antioch before the Emperor?'

I?' answered Libanius. It is eight hundred miles off. The mountains of Taurus lie deep in snow. My life has not suited me for such sacrifices. And the effort would be useless. Theodosius is a rough Spanish soldier with no literary culture. My polished periods would be wasted on him. Besides, he is a Christian, and detests us who do not believe in the Nazarene.'

It is idolatry and Pagan sins that have brought down his retribution on our city,' said Chrysostom.

Libanius waved his hand with a gesture of deprecation. We will not enter into that discussion now,' he said. If Zeus hurled his lightnings every time men sinned, he would soon be weaponless. But have you nothing to suggest?'

I have,' said Chrysostom. There are a hundred thousand Pagans in Antioch, and none of them will help. Even their advocates will not plead for the accused in these cruel days. There are thousands of Jews in Antioch, but neither they nor their Archon will lift a finger; for though Herod beautified the city, they still see the great Cherubim of their Temple where the hated Titus fixed them over our city gate. But Flavian, our bishop, will plead for us all. He is old. The journey is long and painful. The weather is wintry. His sister is dying, and Lent, with all its extra burdens, is close at hand. But the brave old Bishop will face every toil and every peril, and will leave his dying sister, and has yielded to the entreaty which I and others have urged upon him. He has already started. I hope much from his intercession.'

I rejoice to hear it,' said Libanius. It will immensely promote the cause of you Christians. And, though I believe not in your creed, this I will say for you, that you have hearts of pity. Julian himself, my great and friendly Emperor, the last defender of the gods, reproached us with our indifference to the sufferings of our fellow-men. And, heavens! what women you Christians have! What beautiful Pagan widow of twenty would have remained a widow all her days, as your mother, Anthusa, has done, to serve her only son? You can never persuade me to accept your worship of the Crucified, but when I see your good works I feel within a little of being a Christian.'

So King Agrippa said to our Paul long ago,' answered Chrysostom; and Paul, whose name is the true glory of Antioch -- not your grove of Daphne, nor your crowned Charonium -- Paul answered, uplifting his fettered hands,

|Would to God that not thou only, but all these who hear me, were altogether such as I am, except these bonds.| Yours, Libanius, is, as our Tertullian said, |The testimony of a mind naturally Christian.|'

Libanius shook his hand. It is your compassion which I admire,' he said, not your creed; your good deeds, not your Christianity.'

Our good deeds are our Christianity,' answered Chrysostom; that is, they are its test, its issue. They are the golden fruits which grow on the Tree of Life. Love is the fulfilling of our law, and we hold that he who doeth righteousness is born of God.'

Your words sound to me like the echo of far-off dreams,' said the sophist; but I wish I could share your good hopes of the clemency of Theodosius. I know him. He is frightfully choleric. You remember how philosophical your great Constantine was when the mob inflicted that atrocious insult at Edessa? They took down his brazen statue, and actually whipped it, exactly as boys are whipped in schools, to show that he was more fit to be a schoolboy than an emperor! Yet he showed no rage, sought no revenge, and did not punish the city at all. But Theodosius is not like that. He might forgive the insult to himself, for he is not without magnanimity; but he will not forgive the insults to his beloved Flaccilla, to his two boys, to his honoured father. Already all the rich are flying from this doomed city, and carrying their treasures with them. I feel half inclined to follow them. Many a city would welcome me.'

Despise such selfishness,' said Chrysostom; choose the nobler part. Stay here, and throw the shield of your eloquence and your influence over the trembling populace.'

Libanius mused for a few moments with bowed head. 'I will,' he said; I will. After all, what matters it? Man, as Pindar sang, is but the dream of a shadow. Farewell, John. You are a braver man than I, my old pupil; but we will work together.'

As Libanius stepped into the deserted street, and muffled his face in his flowing robe, he muttered to himself: A noble fellow is John, in spite of his creed! His heart is better than his head. Yet he is a deeper thinker and a greater orator than I. It is strange!'

And Chrysostom thought to himself: He is a man of good impulses, but they are poisoned by timidity and self-interest. The god of this world has blinded his heart.'

He composed himself once more to his studies, but he was not destined to be undisturbed that evening. He had not read for many moments when he again heard at the outer door a low but peculiarly wild and agitated knocking.

He lifted his head to listen, and when Phlegon opened the door he heard a boy's voice crying, I must see John the Presbyter! I must see John the Presbyter!'

Who are you?' asked the old porter, with a roughness unusual to him. It is not for every street-boy of Antioch to come rushing here at all hours, disturbing the studies of the Presbyter.'

Oh, let me see him! let me see him!' pleaded the boy.

It is dark, and late, and most of the household have gone to bed. You must come to-morrow.'

Oh! I must, I must see him!' said the boy; and brushing past the astonished slave, he sprang to the partly opened door of Chrysostom's study, through which there was a gleam of lamplight. Pushing the curtain aside, he stood dazed for a moment by the sudden glow after the darkness of the street, and, shading his eyes, caught sight of the Presbyter seated with a manuscript before him. Chrysostom saw at once from his style of dress that he was a young boy, probably the son of one of the wealthier traders of Antioch, while the golden bulla which hung down over his tunic showed that his father was a Pagan. He saw, too, that he did not belong to the lower class of the Antiochene gamins, the noisy and mischievous hangers-on of the dregs of the Forum. His neat dress, the bright eyes, the ingenuous features on which there was none of the furtive look of vice, the dark curls which it was evident had known a mother's tendance, won for him a kindly feeling before he spoke.

But Chrysostom had barely time to glance at him when the boy flung himself down on the floor, and, grasping the hem of the Presbyter's toga, kissed it, and began to implore his pity and protection.

What is it?' said John kindly. You are a Pagan. Why do you not go to one of your own temples?'

The boy was sobbing so wildly that it was some time before he could find voice to speak; but Chrysostom laid a kind hand upon his head, and bade him take courage, for he would help him in any way he could.

Oh, sir!' he cried, it is true that I am not a Christian. My father used to sell the little silver shrines of Apollo which the visitors to Antioch buy; but oh, sir! I have no father now. His name was Hermas, and he was one of the leaders in the riot. They flung him yesterday to the beasts in the amphitheatre -- '

Again he stopped, and sobbed as if his heart would break.

-- 'He hated the Christian emperor, who has ruined his trade. And I know that my mother will die of fear and anguish, for the archers are on my track too.'

On yours, my poor lad? Why, what can you have done?'

The boy turned pale as death, and glanced round the room with terror.

There is no one to hear you,' said John; speak to me without fear.'

Oh, sir!' said the boy, you will not betray me?'

Chrysostom could scarcely forbear a smile. 'Betray you?' he said. Ah! I see you have never lived among Christians. No, you are quite safe, my son; and we Christians are taught to do good unto all men.'

Sir,' said the boy in a low voice, and trembling in every limb, it was I who threw that first stone which hit the statue of the Emperor in the Prætorium.'

Chrysostom looked very grave. What frightful consequences had issued from that thoughtless act! The boy caught the expression of the Presbyter's face, and cried, 'Oh, father, forgive me! I meant nothing. I was not thinking of the Emperor, or of the taxes. I was only amused and excited by the doings of the crowd.'

Did anyone see you?'

Yes, the two boys who were with me saw me. And, oh, sir! -- -- ' Here he broke into such a paroxysm of weeping that he could not proceed. Chrysostom suffered his anguish to find its natural relief, and then asked:

Have they informed against you?'

No, sir,' sobbed the boy. Alas! alas! they are dead. When I had thrown the stone they began to throw stones, too, at the other pictures and statues, but not at the Emperor's. And some spy saw them, and the archers dragged them from their homes, and yesterday -- -- '

Again it was long before he could speak.

Yesterday,' he said, after a deep shudder, they cast Achillas to the lions, and -- oh, horrible! horrible! -- they burned Eros, who was my dearest friend, in the amphitheatre. I crept there. I hid myself behind a statue of the Quoit-thrower. The shriek of Eros when the flames reached him will ring in my ears until I die. For the first time in my life I fainted away, and -- -- '

But the two boys did not tell of you?'

No; they loved me too dearly, as I loved them. But I had been seen with them, and as my father was a ringleader in the riot -- -- Alas! alas! -- oh, that shriek! those flames!'

The boy hid his pale face in Chrysostom's robe, and gave way to unrestrained grief, during which John could only stroke his dark curls in pity.

But,' he asked, why have you come here? What can I do for you, my son?'

Oh! hide me, father. Hide me for the sake of the immortal gods. Oh! I forgot -- yet hide me from the avengers, for the love of Heaven. Let me not be flung to the lions or burnt as Eros was!'

Hide you?' said John; how can I hide you in this small house, which many visit? Who bade you come here?'

My mother, sir,' he said. She is ill -- I fear she is dying; but friends will tend her, and she bade me fly in the darkness to your house, for she said the Christians are kinder and braver than our people. But, sir, if you cannot hide me I will return. The archers are certain to come for me to-morrow. I can but die. But oh, my mother! my mother!'

He rose from the floor and prepared to go out; but Chrysostom bade him stay while he considered what to do, and at the same moment Anthusa entered.

John,' she said, who is this boy? I heard sobs and cries, and I have come to see if I can be of any use.'

The boy hid his face with his hands, through which the tears streamed, while Chrysostom briefly told her the story.

And you would have suffered him to go, John?' she asked in surprise. That would have been utterly unlike you. My boy, we will save you.'

He seized her hand with transport, and kneeled and kissed it.

Nay, mother,' said Chrysostom, I never dreamed of leaving him unhelped. I was only perplexed what to do.'

Let my woman's wit help you,' said Anthusa with a smile. He shall sleep here to-night; early in the dawn a few touches -- even a veil over his eyes and a pallium -- will suffice to disguise him as though he were one of my girls, and I will go with him up the ravine to the cavern of the hermit Macedonius. Christian women and others sometimes go to consult him, so that even if we are seen on that lonely track it will excite no surprise; but at early dawn, and in the present deserted state of the streets, it is unlikely that we shall meet a single human being.'

Macedonius the barley-eater!' said Chrysostom with a smile. Imagine this bright Pagan lad, accustomed to the streets of Antioch, and the Circus, and the Amphitheatre, and the games, and all the gladness of life in youth, shut up in the damp, dark cavern with the old man who eats nothing but barley, who spends his life in scourgings and fastings and vigils! Why, mother, before a week was over he would almost wish to come back and face the archers. Remember, mother, I have tried the life, and know what it is.'

Macedonius is very wise, as well as very good,' answered the lady. I did not mean to leave the lad -- -- What is your name, my boy?'

Philip, lady; but they named me after the great Macedonian, not after your apostle.'

Well, I did not mean to leave you with Macedonius in the cave of Mount Silpius, Philip, but only to ask his advice about you.'

I have heard of him, lady, and would fain see him. The horrors of these few days, and the death of my friends, have entered deep into my heart. In my agony I found no Pagan who would help me. I would know more of the religion which makes men brave and kind.'

God bless you, my poor Philip,' said Chrysostom. I leave you in my mother's hands. With her you will be more than safe.'

Anthusa with her own hands prepared a little cubicle for Philip that night. Not one of the slaves was admitted into the secret, except her nurse Damaris and old Phlegon. The lad slept the deep sleep of sorrow and weariness, and by dawn Anthusa, accompanied by her two trusted servants, was on her way with him to the cave of Macedonius.

They met no one; but near the track which climbed to the cave one of the vilest beggars of Antioch, half-beggar, half-brigand, saw them, and recognised Philip, whom he had often noticed in the streets as one of the brightest boys in Antioch, as he passed down Herod's Colonnade on his way to school. The boy, from habit, had put on his golden bulla -- an ornament unusual in his rank of life, but his father had seen better days -- and the mendicant, seeing it gleam through the front of the pallium, had looked at him more attentively, and had penetrated his too slight disguise.

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