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September 14 — John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom

Today’s Bible reading

Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord abides for ever.”

That word is the good news which was preached to you. —1 Peter 1:21-25

More thoughts for meditation about John Chrysostom (c. 349 – September 14, 407),

John of Antioch was nicknamed Χρυσόστομος (Chrysostomos, anglicized as Chrysostom), which means “golden-mouthed” in Greek, because he was famous for being eloquent. He not only preached frequently, he was also among the most prolific authors in the early Church. He is known as one of the “church fathers.” As Archbishop of Constantinople (seat of the Roman Empire at the time) he was known for his denunciation of abuse of authority by both church and political leaders, as well as his emphasis on worship and prayer.  

John was raised in Antioch, a leading intellectual center of his day, by his widowed mother, Anthusa, a devoted Jesus follower. His tutor was Libanius, the famous pagan rhetorician who had been a professor in both Athens and Constantinople.

After his education, like many devout men of his day, the spidery John (he was short, thin, and long-limbed) entered monastic seclusion. But his ascetic rigors were so strenuous, they damaged his health (the effects would last his whole life), and he was forced to return to public life. He quickly went from lector to deacon to priest at the church in Antioch.

It was in Antioch where Chrysostom’s preaching began to be noticed, especially after what has been called the “Affair of the Statues.” In the spring of 388, a rebellion erupted in Antioch over the announcement of increased taxes. Statues of the emperor and his family were desecrated. Imperial officials responded by punishing city leaders, killing some; Archbishop Flavian rushed to the capital in Constantinople, some 800 miles away, to beg the emperor for clemency. In Flavian’s absence, John preached to the terrified city: “Improve yourselves now truly, not as when during one of the numerous earthquakes or in famine or drought or in similar visitations you leave off your sinning for three or four days and then begin the old life again.”

When Flavian returned eight weeks later with the good news of the emperor’s pardon, John’s reputation soared. From then on, he was in demand as a preacher. He preached through many books of the Bible, though he had his favorites: “I like all the saints, but St. Paul the most of all—that vessel of election, the trumpet of heaven.” In his sermons, he denounced abortion, prostitution, gluttony, the theater, and swearing. About the love of horse racing, he complained, “My sermons are applauded merely from custom, then everyone runs off to [horse racing] again and gives much more applause to the jockeys, showing indeed unrestrained passion for them! There they put their heads together with great attention, and say with mutual rivalry, ‘This horse did not run well, this one stumbled,’ and one holds to this jockey and another to that. No one thinks any more of my sermons, nor of the holy and awesome mysteries that are accomplished here.”

His large bald head, deeply set eyes, and sunken cheeks reminded people of Elisha the prophet. Though his sermons (which lasted between 30 minutes and two hours) were well attended, he sometimes became discouraged: “My work is like that of a man who is trying to clean a piece of ground into which a muddy stream is constantly flowing.” At the same time, he said, “Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.”

In early 398, John was seized by soldiers and taken to the capital, where he was forcibly consecrated as archbishop of Constantinople. His kidnapping was arranged by a government official who wanted to adorn the church in the capital city with the best orator in Christianity. Rather than rebelling against the injustice, John accepted it as God’s providence. And rather than soften his words for his new and prestigious audience—which now included many from the imperial household—John continued themes he preached in Antioch. He railed against abuses of wealth and power. Even his lifestyle itself was a scandal: he lived an ascetic life, using his considerable household budget to care for the poor and build hospitals.

He continued preaching against the great public sins. In a sermon against the theater, for example, he said, “Long after the theater is closed and everyone is gone away, those images [of “shameful women” actresses] still float before your soul, their words, their conduct, their glances, their walk, their positions, their excitation, their unchaste limbs … And there within you she kindles the Babylonian furnace in which the peace of your home, the purity of your heart, the happiness of your marriage will be burnt up!”

His lack of tact and political skill made him too many enemies—in the imperial family and among fellow bishops. For complex reasons, Theophilus, the archbishop of Alexandria, was able to call a council outside of Constantinople and, trump up charges of heresy against  John. He was deposed and sent into exile by Empress Eudoxia and Emperor Arcadius. He was taken across the plains of what is now Turkey in the heat of summer, and almost immediately his health began to fail. He was visited by loyal followers, and wrote letters of encouragement to others: “When you see the church scattered, suffering the most terrible trials, her most illustrious members persecuted and flogged, her leader carried away into exile, don’t only consider these events, but also the things that have resulted: the rewards, the recompense, the awards for the athlete who wins in the games and the prizes won in the contest.” On the eastern shore of the Black Sea, at the edges of the empire, his body gave out and he died.

Thirty-four years later, after John’s chief enemies had died, his relics were brought back in triumph to the capital. Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, publicly asked forgiveness for the sins of his parents. He was later given the title “Doctor of the Church” because of the value of his writings (600 sermons and 200 letters survive).

Quotes:

    • “It is foolishness and a public madness to fill the cupboards with clothing and allow men who are created in God’s image and likeness to stand naked and trembling with cold, so that they can hardly hold themselves upright.
      Yes, you say, he is cheating and he is only pretending to be weak and trembling. What! Do you not fear that lightning from Heaven will fall on you for this word? Indeed, forgive me, but I almost burst from anger.
      Only see, you are large and fat, you hold drinking parties until late at night, and sleep in a warm, soft bed. And do you not think of how you must give an account of your misuse of the gifts of God?” — 21st homily on 1 Corinthians
    • A comprehended god is no God.
    • Hell is paved with priests’ skulls.
    • Slander is worse than cannibalism.
    • You received your fortune by inheritance; so be it! Therefore, you have not sinned personally, but how know you that you may not be enjoying the fruits of theft and crime committed before you?—Epist. i. ad Tim., 12
    • Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
    • As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’…We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. —Homilies on the Statues, Homily XX

More?

Bio and recitation of “The Resurrection” in this video

One of his famous works: Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom

All his works online

John is very controversial for some of his teaching that goes against modern sensibilities:

Suggestions for action

Maybe John was writing for posterity, but that is doubtful. Most of us would not want all our writings collected and then dissected by later generations. What we said in our 20’s might not match what we said in our 40’s. Had John lived, he might have changed some of his views.

Most of what you think and say is probably worth hearing, however. You may not have a golden tongue, but you should probably speak up with what you’ve got. John’s fearlessness made him influential for Jesus.

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