September 12, 2016

Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor

St. John Chrysostom
April 13th, is the memorial of Saint John Chrysostom (349 – 407) the archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church, known for his powerful eloquence. The name Chrysostomos, (anglicized as Chrysostom) means "golden-mouthed" and denotes his renowned oratory. His denunciation of abuses of authority, by both ecclesiastical and political leaders caused him to be exiled numerous times. Like the Apostle, Paul, whom he admired, he found the greatest peace and happiness in the midst of suffering.

The Orthodox and Byzantine rites venerate him as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs (together with Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus). He is honored as a saint in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

He was born in Antioch, Syria. His mother, Anthusa, was a devout Christian of Greek descent. His father, Secundus, was a high ranking Roman general. When Chrysostom was young, his father died. His mother never remarried, but focused entirely on her son’s education. At 18, Chrysostom was baptized a Christian. He completed his legal and rhetorical studies under, Libanius, the great pagan philosopher. Chrysostom came under the influence of Meletius, patriarch of Antioch, who sent him to the monastic school of Diodore, and ordained him lector. Years later, as Libanius was dying, he was asked who his successor would be. He answered, "John, if the Christians have not stolen him."

Convinced of the truth of the Christian faith, Chrysostom resolved to enter the monastic life. Before doing so, his mother pleaded with him saying, "Do not make me a widow for the second time." Chrysostom promised his mother that he would not leave her before her death. In the three-year period before her passing, he read Scripture thoroughly and prepared himself for his future vocation.

As a monk-hermit, Chrysostom led a life of extreme asceticism. Residing in a cave, he stood continuously, slept little and committed the Bible to memory. According to popular piety, during this period, he was visited by Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Peter who told him his ministry was not limited to the monastic life but to the whole universal Church in preaching to God’s people the Good News of Christ. The physical effects of severe deprivation damaged Chrysostom's health. He returned to Antioch, where he was ordained a priest.

His study of rhetoric and the law, enabled Chrysostom to merge his insights into the human condition with the truths of Scripture which he called the best medicine that could be applied to any wound. As a priest he delivered brilliant sermons. For Lent in 387, Chrysostom preached more than twenty homilies extolling people to see the error of their ways. These made a lasting impression on the population of Antioch. Many pagans converted to Christianity as a result.

Whether preaching from prepared texts or extemporaneously, Chrysostom captivated his listeners. His homilies and treatise convey divine truths that redound to the present. The Orthodox Church reads his Paschal Homily (also called the Catechetical Sermon of St. John Chrysostom) at the Easter Liturgy.

In 397, when the see of Constantinople became vacant, the Emperor Arcadius appointed Chrysostom patriarch. Since it was feared he would refuse the honor, he was sent to Constantinople and consecrated bishop in 398. Chrysostom had numerous enemies. His most powerful adversary was the Empress Eudoxia, who was offended by his condemnation of excess by the elite. Several accusations were brought against Chrysostom who was repeatedly sent into exile. He died in exile amid great suffering on September 14, 407. His last words were, "Glory to God for all things." O God, strength of those who hope in you, who willed that Saint John Chrysostom should be illustrious by his wonderful eloquence and his experience of suffering, grant us, we pray, that, instructed by his teachings, we may be strengthened through the example of his invincible patience.

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