Who was John Chrysostom?
John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a Greek Early Church Father. His eloquent style of preaching to common people earned him the title ‘golden-mouthed’. He was also one of the most proficient authors in the early church and wrote a series of homilies. He is venerated in several churches, including Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic. Born in Antioch to a high-ranking military officer, Chrysostom was raised by his mother after his father died soon after his birth. As a student, he studied rhetoric under the notable pagan teacher Libanius. He then went on to study theology under bishop Diodore of Tarsus. Chrysostom grew up as an ascetic and became an eremite in 375, scarcely sleeping and memorizing the Bible. His tenure as archbishop was marked by opposition from anti-Johannite camps in Constantinople. The saint was eventually exiled. He died in 407, at the age of 58. Today, he is counted amongst the ‘Three Holy Hierarchs’ alongside Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Childhood & Early Life
John Chrysostom was born in 347 in Antioch to Secundus, a high-ranking military officer, and Anthusa. His mother raised him after his father’s death.
He received his early education from Libanius under whose guidance he learnt rhetoric and literature. Chrysostom later studied theology under bishop Diodore of Tarsus.
By about 375, he had distanced himself from the society to become a hermit.
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Service in Antioch
In 381, John Chrysostom was accepted as a deacon by Saint Meletius of Antioch. Following Meletius’ death, he was made a priest by Flavian, the successor of his rival Paulinus.
He gained popularity for his eloquence and straightforward preaching among the general public at the Golden Church.
During his tenure, Chrysostom delivered several homilies based on the Bible. In 387, he preached over twenty homilies and managed to make a lasting impression on the common people, compelling many of them to convert to Christianity.
Archbishop of Constantinople
In 397, John Chrysostom was made Archbishop of Constantinople without his knowledge. He became even more popular during this time because of his simplicity.
However, his tenure as archbishop earned him several rivals, including Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who accused him of being partial to Origen of Alexandria’s teachings.
The saint was also seen as an enemy by Empress Aelia Eudoxia who assumed that the former’s criticism of those indulging in luxurious feminine dresses was aimed at her.
In 403, a council was held and Chrysostom was eventually banished by Emperor Arcadius. However, he was soon recalled. The saint later spoke against Eudoxia and received his second banishment. He was subsequently kept in confinement in Armenia.
In 405, he started to offer financial and moral support to Christian monks who were destroying temples in Phoenicia to enforce anti-Pagan laws.
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Exile & Subsequent Death
John Chrysostom appealed to Pope Innocent I; Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia; and Venerius, the Bishop of Milan to help lift his banishment. Pope Innocent I protested the saint’s banishment, but it didn’t affect the authorities.
Chrysostom, who was able to connect with the public even in exile, wrote letters to his supporters. Due to this, he was ordered to move to Pitiunt from Cucusus. However, he never reached Pitiunt and died during the journey at Comana Pontica.
His date of death, recorded as 14 September 407, is celebrated as his feast day in many countries.
John Chrysostom came to be honored as a saint right after his death. His successor, Saint Proclus, preached a homily to honor and praise him in the Church of Hagia Sophia.
The homilies dedicated to the saint helped in getting the emperor’s permission to bring back Chrysostom’s relics to Constantinople. The relics were eventually kept in the Church of the Holy Apostle in 438.
The Eastern Orthodox Church regards Chrysostom as a "Great Ecumenical Teacher" alongside Gregory the Theologian and with Basil the Great. These three saints are commemorated together every year on 30 January. This feast is popular as the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs.
Many churches around the world also remember Chrysostom on 13 November. The date 27 January marks the day when his relics were brought from Comana to Constantinople.
The saint also holds a special position as a theologian in Eastern Christianity.
John Chrysostom was a superb preacher, theologian, and orator. Each of his sermons, treatises, and homilies delivered a social message.
One of his popular homilies is called the ‘Paschal Homily.’ It is read at the Paschal Divine Liturgy service every year.
Among his several homilies are 55 on the Acts of the Apostles, 59 on the Psalms, 67 homilies on Genesis, 88 on the Gospel of John, and 90 on the Gospel of Matthew.
During 386 and 387, he condemned Jews and Judaizing Christians through a series of homilies which was delivered to Christians who were participating in Jewish festivals.
The saint wrote a homily against homosexuality. He believed that homosexuality was the worst of sins, even worse than killing.
Chrysostom wrote a treatise titled ‘Against Those Who Oppose the Monastic Life’. This treatise was directed to parents whose sons wanted to become monks.