Vanity of Vanities

It is always proper, but even more so at this time, to say: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

Where is the flickering torchlight now? Where are the clapping hands, the dances, the assemblies and the festivals? Where are the green garlands and curtains floating in the breeze? Where is the cry of the town, the cheers of the hippodrome, and the roar of noisy spectators?

All that is gone. A wind blew. The leaves came down and the tree stands bare, its trunk and branches trembling.

Where now are the friends, those that pretended to be something when they were not, and those that followed the fashions? Where are the suppers and feasts? Where is the swarm of people hanging around to have a good time?

Where is the wine that sat around for the taking? Where are the cooks and the beautifully decorated tables they served? What happened to everything done with words and ways to please?

All of this was imaginary. It was nothing but a dream. Now that day has come, they have vanished. They were spring flowers. But now that spring has ended, they have died. They were a shadow, and the shadow has fled. They were smoke and the smoke has wafted into thin air. They were bubbles and they burst. They were cobwebs now swept away. So all we have left to sing is “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

Oh that these words were written on every wall, on everyone’s clothing, in the markets and in peoples’ home, on signs by the roadside, on doors and over entry ways! Oh that they were written in everyone’s conscience, so we might see them all day long!

While engaged in this deceptive business of life, this wearing of masks and play-acting that so many take for the truth, I wish every one of you would bring these words to the attention one of another. I wish you would repeat them every day, at dinner and at supper, and at every meeting in between: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

John Chrysostom, ca. AD 347- 407, Byzantium

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