Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, one of the Three Hierarchs [January 30], was born at Antioch in about the year 347 into the family of a military commander. His father, Secundus, died soon after the birth of his son. His mother, Anthusa, widowed at twenty years of age, did not seek to remarry but rather devoted all her efforts to the raising of her son in Christian piety. The youth studied under the finest philosophers and rhetoricians. But, scorning the vain disciplines of pagan knowledge, the future hierarch turned himself to the profound study of Holy Scripture and prayerful contemplation. Saint Meletius, Bishop of Antioch (February 12), loved John like a son, guided him in the Faith, and in the year 367 baptized him.
After three years John was tonsured as a Reader. When Saint Meletius had been sent into exile by the emperor Valens in the year 372, John and Theodore (afterwards Bishop of Mopsuestia) studied under the experienced instructors of ascetic life, the presbyters Flavian and Diodorus of Tarsus. The highly refined Diodorus had particular influence upon the youth. When John’s mother died, he embraced monasticism, which he called the “true philosophy.” Soon John and his friend Basil were being considered as candidates for the episcopal office, and they decided to withdraw into the wilderness to avoid this. While Saint John avoided the episcopal rank out of humility, he secretly assisted in Basil’s consecration.
During this period Saint John wrote his “Six Discourses on the Priesthood,” a great work of Orthodox pastoral theology. The saint spent four years struggling in the wilderness, living the ascetic life under the guidance of an experienced spiritual guide. And here he wrote three books entitled, “Against the Opponents of Those Attracted to the Monastic Life”, and a collection entitled, “A Comparison of the Monk with the Emperor” (also known as “Comparison of Imperial Power, Wealth and Eminence, with the True and Christian Wisdom-Loving Monastic Life”), both works which are marked by a profound reflection of the worthiness of the monastic vocation.
For two years, the saint lived in a cave in complete silence, but was obliged to return to Antioch to recover his health. Saint Meletius, the Bishop of Antioch, ordained him deacon in the year 381. The following years were devoted to work on new theological writings: “Concerning Providence” (“To the Ascetic Stagirios”), “Book Concerning Virginity,” “To a Young Widow” (2 discourses), and the “Book of Saint Babylos, and Against Julian and the Pagans.”
In the year 386 Saint John was ordained presbyter by Bishop Flavian of Antioch. Saint John was a splendid preacher, and his inspired words earned him the name “Golden-Mouthed” (“Chrysostom”). For twelve years the saint preached in church, usually twice a week, but sometimes daily, deeply stirring the hearts of his listeners.
In his pastoral zeal to provide Christians with a better understanding of Holy Scripture, Saint John employed hermeneutics, an interpretation and analysis of the Word of God (i.e. exegesis). Among his exegetical works are commentaries on entire books of the Holy Scripture (Genesis, the Psalter, the Gospels of Matthew and John, the Epistles of the Apostle Paul), and also many homilies on individual texts of the Holy Bible, but also instructions on the Feastdays, laudations on the Saints, and also apologetic (i.e. defensive) homilies (against Anomoeans, Judaizers and pagans). As a priest, Saint John zealously fulfilled the Lord’s command to care for the needy. Under Saint John, the Antiochian Church provided sustenance each day to as many as 3,000 virgins and widows, not including in this number the shut-ins, wanderers and the sick.
Saint John began his commentary on Genesis at the beginning of Great Lent in 388, preaching thirty-two homilies during the forty day period. During Holy Week he spoke of how Christ was betrayed, and about the Cross. During Bright Week, his pastoral discourse was devoted to the Resurrection. His exegesis of the Book of Genesis was concluded only at the end of October (388).
At Pascha in the following year the saint began his homilies on the Gospel of John, and toward the end of the year 389 he took up the Gospel of Matthew. In the year 391 the Christians of Antioch listened to his commentary on the Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul to the Romans and to the Corinthians. In 393 he explained the Epistles to the Galatians, the Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and the Psalms. In his homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians, Saint John denounced a schism in Antioch, “I tell you and I witness before you, that to tear asunder the Church means nothing less than to fall into heresy. The Church is the house of the heavenly Father, one Body and one Spirit.”
The fame of the holy preacher grew, and in the year 397 with the death of Archbishop Nectarius of Constantinople, successor to Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom was summoned from Antioch, and elected to the See of Constantinople. At the capital, the holy archpastor was not able to preach as often as he had at Antioch. Many matters awaited the saint’s attention, and he began with the most important — the spiritual perfection of the priesthood. He himself was the best example of this. The financial means apportioned for the archbishop were channeled by the saint into the upkeep of several hospices for the sick and two hostels for pilgrims. He fasted strictly and ate very little food, and usually refused invitations to dine because of his delicate stomach.
The saint’s zeal in spreading the Christian Faith extended not only to the inhabitants of Constantinople, but also to Thrace to include Slavs and Goths, and to Asia Minor and the Pontine region. He established a bishop for the Bosphorus Church in the Crimea. Saint John sent off zealous missionaries to Phoenicia, to Persia, and to the Scythians, to convert pagans to Christ. He also wrote letters to Syria to bring back the Marcionites into the Church, and he accomplished this. Preserving the unity of the Church, the saint would not permit a powerful Gothic military commander, who wanted the emperor to reward his bravery in battle, to open an Arian church at Constantinople. The saint exerted much effort in enhancing the splendor of the church services: he compiled a Liturgy, he introduced antiphonal singing for the all-night Vigil, and he wrote several prayers for the rite of anointing the sick with oil.
The saintly hierarch denounced the dissolute morals of people in the capital, especially at the imperial court, irrespective of person. When the empress Eudoxia connived to confiscate the last properties of the widow and children of a disgraced dignitary, the saint rose to their defense. The arrogant empress would not relent, and nursed a grudge against the archpastor. Eudoxia’s hatred of the saint blazed forth anew when malefactors told her that the saint apparently had her in mind during his sermon on vain women. A court was convened composed of hierarchs who had been justly condemned by Chrysostom: Theophilus of Alexandria, Bishop Severian of Gabala, who had been banished from the capital because of improprieties, and others.
This court of judgment declared Saint John deposed, and that he be executed for his insult to the empress. The emperor decided on exile instead of execution. An angry crowd gathered at the church, resolved to defend their pastor. In order to avoid a riot, Saint John submitted to the authorities. That very night there was an earthquake at Constantinople. The terrified Eudoxia urgently requested the emperor to bring the saint back, and promptly sent a letter to the banished pastor, beseeching him to return. Once more, in the capital church, the saint praised the Lord in a short talk, “For All His Ways.”
The slanderers fled to Alexandria. But after only two months a new denunciation provoked the wrath of Eudoxia. In March 404, an unjust council was convened, decreeing the exile of Saint John. Upon his removal from the capital, a fire reduced the church of Hagia Sophia and also the Senate building to ashes. Devastating barbarian incursions soon followed, and Eudoxia died in October 404. Even pagans regarded these events as God’s punishment for the unjust judgment against the saint.
In Armenia, the saint strove all the more to encourage his spiritual children. In numerous letters (245 are preserved) to bishops in Asia, Africa, Europe and particularly to his friends in Constantinople, Saint John consoled the suffering, guiding and giving support to his followers. In the winter of 406 Saint John was confined to his bed with sickness, but his enemies were not to be appeased. From the capital came orders to transfer Saint John to desolate Pityus in Abkhazia on the Black Sea. Worn out by sickness, the saint began his final journey under military escort, traveling for three months in the rain and frost. He never arrived at his place of exile, for his strength failed him at Comana.
At the crypt of Saint Basiliscus (May 22), Saint John was comforted by a vision of the martyr, who said, “Despair not, brother John! Tomorrow we shall be together.” After receiving the Holy Mysteries, the hierarch fell asleep in the Lord on September 14, 407. His last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”
The holy relics of Saint John Chrysostom were solemnly transferred to Constantinople in the year 438. The disciple of Saint John, the venerable Isidore of Pelusium (February 4), wrote: “The house of David is grown strong, and the house of Saul enfeebled. He is victor over the storms of life, and has entered into heavenly repose.”
Although he died on September 14, Saint John’s celebration was transferred to this day because of the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. Saint John Chrysostom is also celebrated on January 27 and January 30.
This greatest and most beloved of all Christian orators was born in Antioch the Great in the year 344 or 347; his pious parents were called Secundus and Anthusa. After his mother was widowed at the age of twenty, she devoted herself to bringing up John and his elder sister in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. John received his literary training under Anthragathius the philosopher, and Libanius the sophist, who was the greatest Greek scholar and rhetorician of his day. Libanius was a pagan, and when asked before his death whom he wished to have for his successor, he said, “John, had not the Christians stolen him from us.” With such a training, and with such gifts as he had by nature, John had before him a brilliant career as a rhetorician. But through the good example of his godly mother Anthusa and of the holy Bishop Meletius of Antioch (see Feb. 12), by whom he was ordained reader about the year 370, he chose instead to dedicate himself to God. From the years 374 to 381 he lived the monastic life in the hermitages that were near Antioch. His extreme asceticism undermined his health, compelling him to return to Antioch, where Saint Meletius ordained him deacon about the year 381. Saint Meletius was called to Constantinople later that year to preside over the Second Ecumenical Council, during which he fell asleep in the Lord. In 386 Bishop Flavian ordained John presbyter of the Church of Antioch. Upon his elevation to the priesthood his career as a public preacher began, and his exceptional oratorical gifts were made manifest through his many sermons and commentaries. They are distinguished by their eloquence and the remarkable ease with which rich imagery and scriptural allusions are multiplied; by their depth of insight into the meaning of Scripture and the workings of God’s providence; and, not least of all, by their earnestness and moral force, which issue from the heart of a blameless and guileless man who lived first what he preached to others. Because of his fame, he was chosen to succeed Saint Nectarius as Patriarch of Constantinople. He was taken away by stealth, to avoid the opposition of the people, and consecrated Patriarch of Constantinople on February 28, 398, by Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, who was to prove his mortal enemy.
At that time the Emperor of the East was Arcadius, who had had Saint Arsenius the Great as his tutor (see May 8); Arcadius was a man of weak character, and much under the influence of his wife Eudoxia. The zealous and upright Chrysostom’s unsparing censures of the lax morals in the imperial city stung the vain Eudoxia; through Theophilus’ plottings and her collaboration, Saint John was banished to Pontus in 403. The people were in an uproar, and the following night an earthquake shook the city; this so frightened the Empress Eudoxia that she begged Arcadius to call Chrysostom back. While his return was triumphant, his reconciliation with the Empress did not last long. When she had a silver statue of herself erected in the forum before the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Saint Sophia) in September of 403, and had it dedicated with much unseemly revelry, Saint John thundered against her, and she could not forgive him. In June of 404 he was exiled to Cucusus, on the borders of Cilicia and Armenia. From here he exchanged letters with Pope Innocent of Rome, who sent bishops and priests to Constantinople requesting that a council be held. Saint John’s enemies, dreading his return, prevailed upon the Emperor to see an insult in this, and had John taken to a more remote place of banishment called Pityus near the Caucasus. The journey was filled with bitter sufferings for the aged bishop, both because of the harshness of the elements and the cruelty of one of his 310 guards. He did not reach Pityus, but gave up his soul to the Lord near Comana in Pontus, at the chapel of the Martyr Basiliscus (see May 22), who had appeared to him shortly before, foretelling the day of his death, which came to pass on September 14, 407. His last words were “Glory be to God for all things.” His holy relics were brought from Comana to Constantinople thirty-one years later by the Emperor Theodosius the Younger and Saint Pulcheria his sister, the children of Arcadius and Eudoxia, with fervent supplications that the sin of their parents against him be forgiven; this return of his holy relics is celebrated on January 27.
Saint John was surnamed Chrysostom (“Golden-mouth”) because of his eloquence. He made exhaustive commentaries on the divine Scriptures and was the author of more works than any other Church Father, leaving us complete commentaries on the Book of Genesis, the Gospels of Saints Matthew and John, the Acts, and all the Epistles of Saint Paul. His extant works are 1,447 sermons and 240 epistles. Twenty-two teachers of the Church have written homilies of praise in his honour. Besides his feasts today and on January 27, he is celebrated as one of the Three Hierarchs on January 30, together with Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian.
It should be noted that, because September 14 is the Exaltation of the Cross, the Saint’s memory has been transferred to this day.
John was born in Antioch in the year 354 A.D. His father, Secundus, was an imperial commander and his mother’s name was Anthusa. Studying Greek philosophy, John became disgusted with Hellenic paganism and adopted the Christian Faith as the one and all-embracing truth. Meletius, Patriarch of Antioch, baptized John, and his parents also subsequently received baptism. Following his parents’ repose, John was tonsured a monk and lived a strict life of asceticism. He then wrote a book, On the Priesthood, after which the Holy Apostles John and Peter appeared to him, and prophesied that he would have a life of great service, great grace and great suffering. When he was to be ordained a priest, an angel of God appeared simultaneously to John and to Patriarch Flavian (Meletius’s successor). While the patriarch was ordaining John, a shining white dove was seen hovering over John’s head. Glorified for his wisdom, asceticism and power of words, John was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople at the behest of Emperor Arcadius. As patriarch, he governed the Church for six years with unequalled zeal and wisdom. He sent missionaries to the pagan Celts and Scythians and eradicated simony in the Church, deposing many bishops guilty of this vice. He extended the charitable works of the Church and wrote a special order of the Divine Liturgy. He shamed the heretics, denounced Empress Eudoxia, interpreted Holy Scripture with his golden mind and tongue, and bequeathed the Church many precious books of his homilies. The people glorified him, the envious loathed him, and the Empress, on two occasions, sent him into exile. John spent three years in exile, and reposed as an exile on the Feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross, September 14, 407 A.D., in the town of Comana in Georgia. Before his repose, the Holy Apostles John and Peter appeared to him again, as did the Holy Martyr Basiliscus (May 22) in whose church he received Communion for the last time. His last words were, “Glory be to God for all things,” and with that, the soul of the golden-mouthed patriarch was taken into Paradise. Chrysostom’s head reposes in the Church of the Dormition in Moscow, and his body reposes in the Vatican in Rome.
Source: oca.org / goarch.org / westserbdio.org