Orthodox America

  St. John Chrysostom

Called Chrysostom, or "Golden-mouth", by reason of the surpassing eloquence of his preaching, St. John is honored--together with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nazianzus as one of the Church's three Great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers; he is certainly the most renowned.

        The Saint was born at Antioch c. 347 of a noble family, and raised by his pious mother Anthusa, widowed when John was still very young. After completing his studies in Athens, where he impressed his teachers with his oratorical gifts, he returned to Antioch and was baptized (it still being a common practice to wait until adulthood). He respected his mother's request and deferred becoming a monk until after she died, in 374. He then joined a local community of ascetics in the desert South of Antioch, withdrawing after four years to live in a cave. But the conditions to which he subjected himself so undermined his health that he was compelled to return to civilization. Ordained to the priesthood in 386, he was appointed a regular preacher and won such a devoted following that when, in 397, Emperor Arcadius wished to elevate him to the patriarchal throne of Constantinople, he sent soldiers to take the Saint by stealth, fearing a riot of the people.

         In his elevated dignity as patriarch, St. John did not change his austere manner of life. His spare household budget enabled him to support several hospitals and give alms liberally, to which he also exhorted his flock. He sent missionaries, specially prepared with language study, to the Celts, the Scythians and the Persians. And he continued his labors in writing commentaries on the Scriptures. On three occasions his cell-attendant Proclus observed an old man, looking like St. Paul, speaking to St. John as he was thus engaged. But his principal occupation as patriarch was as a moralist. On becoming patriarch he addressed the Emperor with his characteristic frankness: "May thy piety know that I shall not fear, when the need ariseth, to speak instruction and reproofs for the good of thy Soul, just as the prophet Nathan was not afraid to denounce the transgressions of King David." The Imperial City was infected with worldliness; both among the clergy and at court moral laxity and a penchant for luxury prevailed. Chrysostom was a popular preacher, drawing great crowds to church, but he constantly had to remind his listeners that they were there not for entertainment but for their soul's amendment. Among those who resented the Saint's flaming admonitions and Corrective measures (he deposed many bishops guilty of simony) was the self-indulgent Empress Eudoxia, who took the Saint's frequent denunciations of the corrupting influence of wealth as a personal affront. Abetted by the envious Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, she succeeded in having the Saint deposed. No sooner bad he departed to his place of exile than an earthquake so frightened the superstitious Empress that she had him recalled. However, scarcely two months had passed before she again took offense and fenced the Saint's banishment. At her express instructions, the Soldiers conducting the Saint into exile made the arduous journey altogether unbearable, forcing him to ride on an unbroken ass and denying him adequate food and protection from the elements. Physically spent, the saint had a comforting vision of the Apostles Peter and John, informing him of his approaching departure from this world. A few days later they reached Comana, near the Black Sea. It was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Saint was allowed to liturgize. He finished the service and, having blessed the people, lay down in eternal repose. His parting words were, "Glory to God for all things." He reposed in the year 407.

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