Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

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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. St 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 St 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 St John avoided the episcopal rank out of humility, he secretly assisted in Basil’s consecration.

During this period St 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. St 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 St Babylos, and Against Julian and the Pagans.”

In the year 386 St John was ordained presbyter by Bishop Flavian of Antioch. St 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, St 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, St John zealously fulfilled the Lord’s command to care for the needy. Under St 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.

St 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 Antioch Christians 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, St 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 St Gregory the Theologian, St 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. St 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 St 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, St 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 St 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, St John consoled the suffering, guiding and giving support to his followers. In the winter of 406 St John was confined to his bed with sickness, but his enemies were not to be appeased. From the capital came orders to transfer St 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 St Basiliscus (May 22), St 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 St John Chrysostom were solemnly transferred to Constantinople in the year 438. The disciple of St 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, St John’s celebration was transferred to this day because of the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. St John Chrysostom is also celebrated on January 27 and January 30.

Feast Day: November 13

 

The celebration of the feast of Saint John Chrysostom at the Ecumenical Patriarchate

 

The tradition of enthronement of St. John Chrysostom on the Patriarchal Throne, is upheld to this very day in the Phanar, on the feast day of the Saint (13 November) as well as on the feast day of the Translation of his Holy Relics (27 January). On these days the Ecumenical Patriarch does not ascend onto his Throne, but he officiates from the “Parathronion”, the smaller throne next to the Patriarchal Throne, both during Great Vespers and Divine Liturgy. The sacred icon of St. John Chrysostom is placed on the Patriarchal Throne, and the Great Ecclesiarch places next to the icon the pastoral staff of the saint. The priests and the deacons who are going to participate in the celebration of both Great Vespers and the Divine Liturgy on those days do not receive the blessing from the Ecumenical Patriarch as they usually do, but from the sacred icon of the saint, who remains alive in the memory of the Church of Constantinople.

 

Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

by Sergei V. Bulgakov

 

He was born in 347 of famous, rich and pious inhabitants of Antioch, Secundus and Anthusa. Having lost his father early, he grew up under the direction of his pious mother, known for her high intellectual and moral qualities and who has devoted, despite her youth, herself exclusively to his education. The pious and chaste widow by her humble affection instilled in her son a loving heart, natural to him, and by her example of a truly Christian life taught him in accordance with the will of God self-denial for the sake of the highest moral purposes and unshakable firmness in pursuing these goals, and in the struggle with the trials and tribulations of life. In all of his early childhood John was occupied with the Holy Scriptures, studying it under the direction of his mother. The early acquaintance with the Bible and the beneficent influence on the heart of John by his virtuous mother instilled in him an ardent aspiration to virtue and the sacred life, and revulsion to the splendor prevailing everywhere in his time, and to all the generation of the prophets. In his youth John studied under the famous orator Libanius. Upon completing his education, Saint John became a lawyer and soon achieved fame for his eloquence.
The moral feeling, fostered by his Christian education, restrained John from enthusiasm for worldly vanity, and he soon left the secular life and civil service and, living in the world, began to follow strictly a selfless life. St. Meletius, bishop of Antioch, having noticed the great talents of John and his openly Christian attitude, approached him to complete his instruction in the Christian faith and baptized him (in the 25th year of his life), and during the year (370) tonsured him as reader of the Antiochian church. John, not looking at his illustrious birth, his great talent and his already acquired fame as an eloquent orator, humbly accepted the humble rank of reader, witnessed to by his deep devotion to the Church. Fulfilling the duties of the reader, he at this time continued seriously to study the Holy Scriptures. Following his love for monasticism, John was ready to withdraw to the solitary life, but as an obedient and loving son, at the request of his mother, continued to live in her house.
After the death of his mother, St. John gave his estate to the poor, freed his slaves, left for the desert and lived four years in ascetic labors of communal monasticism, and then, wishing to enter the ascetic life of a full hermit, he entered one cave, where he lived for two years (379-380) in unreasonably strict and severe ascetic labors. The ascetic labors enriched his experiences of spiritual life, his knowledge of the human heart and strengthened in him a high ideal of moral perfection. After the impairment of his health, and his need to return to Antioch, St. John was ordained to the rank of deacon by St. Meletius in 381. This decision to entirely devote his life to sacred service for St. John was submission to the will of the bishop and the expression of maturity in the ascetic deeds of monasticism. Besides serving the divine services and the supervision of the deanery in church assemblies, St. John as a deacon conducted works of ecclesiastical charity and executed various assignments of the bishop. It prepared him for an effective life. The visitation to the rich to ask them alms for the poor and to the poor to help them, gave St. John an all around knowledge of life and people and even more inflamed in him a love for the people and compassion for those living in misery and the needy. The first money, which St. John gave back to the poor, was his own, and from that day up to his very death he had nothing, and it may be said that he was the first poor man in the Antiochian church.
Ordained (in 386) to the rank of priest in Antioch, Saint John tirelessly preached the word of God. He preached sermons at least once a week, for the most part twice, and quite often each day. In his sermons Saint John explained Holy Scripture, rose up against false teachers, praised the ascetic exploits of the saints, censured unrighteousness and especially cruelty to the poor. The inhabitants of Antioch, drawn by his eloquence, not only the Orthodox, but also the heretics and even those of Judea and the pagans, crowded about to hear him, interrupted his sermon by loud applause, and sometimes, touched to the depth of their souls, began to cry and to sob. Especially was Saint John blessed with the gifts of smooth speech that he had become famous during a time of national rebellion arising in 387 by the imposition by the Antiochians of new taxes and the destruction of the imperial statues. Then the holy preacher was shown to be a true father – a comforter, a spiritual leader to his disciples, each day soothing their complaints and their cries by conversations (On the Statues, 21) in the market place and in the temple. The sermon of Saint John thundered without tiring from the church cathedra and the fame of his eloquence was propagated to all corners of the empire. During one sermon, he received from one woman the name of Chrysostom (Golden-Mouthed).
In 397 Saint John was consecrated the archbishop of Constantinople. Pouring out “with a mouth of golden radiance” “the rivers of sweet teachings”, he fervently made an effort to maintain his congregation “in holiness and truth”. As “an earthly angel and celestial man”, Saint John, being an example of virtue, also taught others the holy life. He cared much for the improvement of the Constantinople clergy; was the trustee and advocate of the widows, the orphans and the poor; and built hospitals and hospices. The activity of the caring bishop was not limited to only the Constantinople diocese, but reached even to the others, even to remote countries: he sent missionaries to Thrace, Arabia, Persia, and God blessed his apostolic work: the wild barbarians left their worship of idols, and converted to the religion of peace and love. The flaming zeal for Orthodoxy, the unshakable steadfastness in faith, the fervent love for his neighbors, the spirit of meekness, the wise moderation and condescension for the fallen, the spirit of a living faith and the rare pastoral persistence demanding of all the true life of a Christian, – absorbed the entire life and activity of the great hierarch. Full of love and with strict words he boldly railed against the prevailing vices of his congregation, especially the passion for theatrical shows, the love of money and the cruelty of the rich, the women’s passion for the latest fashion and dress, and the various superstitions of the simple people. The impartial sermon of Saint John, his strict accusation of the vices which he railed against, without any concessions to rank or position, soon rallied the wealthy, the elite and many others against him, and upon him came the denunciation of the Empress Eudoxia. The obvious slander, the spiteful misinterpretation of his words and his acts laid guilt on him, and the great teacher of the Church in the sixth year of his episcopal service was condemned to exile.
Because of the occurrence of an earthquake after his departure and the concern of the people, he returned from exile back to Constantinople, and continued as before to thunder against the vices of society and within six months was again sent into exile to the city of Cucusus (in Armenia), and then within two years still further to Abassia (see the New Athonite Monastery in the Georgian exarchate). But on the way to Abassia Saint John died in the city of Comana (407). The last words of Saint John – this great ecumenical teacher, the smooth speaking preacher, the strict charitable and loving pastor, were: “Glory to God for all things!”
In the church chants Saint John is praised, as “pillar of the church”, “treasury of good deeds”, “the wisdom of the depths”, “great bishop”, shining “into all the world, more than the rays of the sun with good deeds and pearly words, more wise than the wisest, and the greatest rhetor, defender of true doctrine, revealer of lies, teacher of repentance”, “father of orphans, speedy help to the injured, alms to the poor and drink to the thirsty”.
There is the existence of his Order of the Divine Liturgy known under the name of Chrysostom. Besides this, the Church has received from Saint John Chrysostom the teaching Concerning the Priesthood(representing an ideal Christian shepherd, his cycle of duties and the quality of service required of him), the numerous Scripture commentaries, contained in his works (about 800), the sacred hymns, the commentary on the word of God in letters to various persons, and his other compositions. In his works he is of incomparable wit and the greatest in oratory. No one possessed such a plenitude of speech, in which he was so rich. The most abstract subjects of faith in his descriptions are clear for everyone, because he explains them by comparisons, by pictures. Under his well-delivered speeches one always hears the presence of poetical feeling, generated by a lot of captivating pictures and images. By his own words he with inimitable artistic touches, rejoices, excites the emotions of the soul and convinces. As in the basis of all of his acts lay the love, that love which penetrated even to his every word. Saint John was preeminently a preacher of love in his sermons and breathes authority and perseverance, an unusual sensitivity and sincerity. It is impossible to present all the power and interest of the conversations of Saint Chrysostom, in which one may find the connection to all that is the highest in oratory and most convincing in the hidden conduct of conscience and hearts. These talks represent by themselves the best examples for imitation of preachers in all centuries and peoples. Our ancestors drew up a lot of “book sweetness” from the works of Saint Chrysostom and for them these works were the most favored reading. And at the present time everyone looking for spiritual truth and deep edification will find for himself a fuller satisfaction in the eternal works of Saint John Chrysostom. They always were new and will ever stay new. About the divine Chrysostom, Saint Demetrius of Rostov says: “It is right to say, he surpassed the reason of all the Hellenic wise men, by word and delightful speech the divine Scripture is beautifully explained and commented on”.
Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the riches of poverty, and revealed to us the heights of humility. Teaching us by your words, Father John Chrysostom, intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.
Kontakion in Plagal of the Second Tone
Having received divine grace from heaven, you teach all men to worship the one God in Trinity. All-blessed John Chrysostom, we rightly praise you, for you are our teacher, revealing things divine.

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