On hiding one’s good deeds

Bishop Irenei (Steenberg) is the bishop of the Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia or ROCOR. Over the years he has produced a number of podcasts of ‘short meditations’ on texts of a patristic nature, the latest one being A Word from the Holy Fathers on the Patristic Nectar web site. Homily 19 on St Matthew’s gospel is the subject of the episode entitled St. John Chrysostom on What is Hidden and Revealed.

If thou take pains to lie hid now, God Himself will then proclaim thee in the presence of the whole universe. Wherefore, if thou would have men see thy good deeds hide them now and then all may look upon them with more honor, God making manifest and extolling them and proclaiming them before all.

St. John Chrysostom on What is Hidden and Revealed

Matthew 6:3-4
But when you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does: That your alms may be in secret: and your Father who sees in secret himself shall reward you openly.
Matt 6:6
But you, when you pray, enter into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.

The modern phenomenon of Virtue Signalling has been defined as “the conspicuous communication of moral values and good deeds”. St John Chrysostom’s commentary on the gospel of Matthew chapter 6, verses 3-4, & 6 addresses this very topic from a fourth century Christian perspective.

John Chrysostom (AD 407) Homily 19
Setting for him a great and august assemblage of spectators, and what He desires, that very thing bestowing on him in great abundance. For what, says He, do you wish? Is it not to have some to be spectators of what is going on? Behold then, you have some; not angels, nor archangels, but the God of all. And if you desire to have men also as spectators, neither of this desire does He deprive you at the fitting season, but rather in greater abundance affords it unto you. For, if you should now make a display, you will be able to make it to ten only, or twenty, or (we will say) a hundred persons: but if you take pains to lie hidden now, God Himself will then proclaim you in the presence of the whole universe.Wherefore above all, if you will have men see your good deeds, hide them now, that then all may look on them with the more honor, God making them manifest, and extolling them, and proclaiming them before all. Again, whereas now they that behold will rather condemn you as vainglorious; when they see you crowned, so far from condemning, they will even admire you, all of them. When therefore by waiting a little, you may both receive a reward, and reap greater admiration; consider what folly it is to cast yourself out of both these; and while you are seeking your reward from God, and while God is beholding, to summon men for the display of what is going on. Why, if display must be made of our love, to our Father above all should we make it; and this most especially, when our Father has the power both to crown and to punish. And let me add, even were there no penalty, it were not meet for him who desires glory, to let go this our theatre, and take in exchange that of men. For who is there so wretched, as that when the king was hastening to come and see his achievements, he would let him go, and make up his assembly of spectators of poor men and beggars? For this cause then, He not only commands to make no display, but even to take pains to be concealed: it not being at all the same, not to strive for publicity, and to strive for concealment.