Saint Spotlight Saint John Chrysostom

Feast Day 13 September

A way with words

John Chrysostom was an important Early Church Father who served as archbishop of Constantinople. He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, his Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. The epithet, anglicized as Chrysostom means "golden-mouthed" in Greek and denotes his celebrated eloquence. Chrysostom was among the most prolific authors in the early Christian Church. He is honoured as a saint in the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, as well as in some others. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholics hold him in special regard as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs. Beyond his preaching, the other lasting legacy of John is his influence on Christian liturgy. Two of his writings are particularly notable. He harmonized the liturgical life of the church by revising the prayers and rubrics of the Divine Liturgy, or celebration of the Holy Eucharist. To this day, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite typically celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom as the normal Eucharistic liturgy, although his exact connection with it remains a matter of debate among experts.

"Lead a life worthy of your vocation."· Ephesians 4: 1

Robert Burns, a poor Scottish farmer, became a celebrated man because of his gift for words. A sensitive and passionate man, Burns was able to say things truly and tenderly, and proclaim what is best in humankind. A similar eloquence, at the service of the gospel, is to· be found in John Chrysostom. Chrysostom means “golden mouth” and it well describes his gift for words. He was a native of Antioch, born in 347 AD. After a brilliant education in law and rhetoric, John took himself off into the mountains to join a monastery, but youthful austerity did nothing for his health and after eight years he came back to the city. The years of silence and contemplation may have done nothing for his stomach, but they produced honey in his speech. It was a genuine gift that he possessed, not only attracting the ear, but moving the heart to the love of God. We still have many of his sermons. They reveal what a captivating person he must have been.

However, gaining the Emperor’s attention in 398 AD was to be the cause of great suffering. Emperor Arcadius of Constantinople wanted John as his new Archbishop, though he got more than he bargained for. John was not only a preacher of the word, he was a doer of the word as well. He began to call for the reform of moral life at court and among the clergy. Soon his enemies gathered. An offended Empress and a jealous clerical rival joined forces to have Chrysostom exiled, and although an earthquake shook their resolve for a while, they eventually succeeded in getting rid of the “turbulent priest”.

A cruel, forced march in winter weather saw off this persecuted Christian man, and John died in 407 AD at the age of sixty. Although he was a captive in exile, in his heart he was utterly free. He reassured his people shortly before his banishment, “I do not dread death, I do not pray to live, except to help you advance in virtue. So I simply note what is happening at present and I call on you, my dear people, to be of good heart.”

Adapted from the Living Word Saints and Feasts