Life of St. John Chrysostom
The legion of saints of the Church is comprised of men of extraordinary ability whose talents may have been dissimilar but many of whom seem to have shared a common genius for oratory. Yet out of this vast assembly of eloquent speakers whose reputation might have rested on their gift of _expression alone, the one for whom the title "Chrysostom," or "golden mouthed," was reserved for was John of Antioch, known as St. John Chrysostom, a great distinction in view of the qualifications of so many others.
Endeared as one of the four great doctors of the Church, St. John Chrysostom was born in 347 in Antioch, Syria and was prepared for a career in law under the renowned Libanios, who marveled at his pupil's eloquence and foresaw a brilliant career for his pupil as statesman and lawgiver.
John, however decided otherwise. After he had been baptized at the age of twenty-three, he abandoned the law in favor of service to the Savior. He entered a monastery which served to school him in preparation for his ordination as a priest in A.D. 386. From the pulpit there emerged John, a preacher whose oratorical excellence gained him a reputation throughout the Christian world, a recognition which spurred him to even greater _expression that found favor with everyone but the empress Eudoxia, whom he saw fit to criticize in some of his sermons.
When St. John was forty-nine years old his immense popularity earned him election to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, a prestigious post from which he launched a crusade against excessiveness and extreme wealth which the Empress construed as a personal affront to her and her royal court. This also gave rise to sinister forces that envied him his tremendous influence. His enemies found an instrument for his indictment when they discovered that he had harbored some pious monks who had been excommunicated by his archrival Theophilos, bishop of Alexandria, who falsely accused John of treason and surreptitiously plotted his exile.
When it was discovered that the great St. John had been exiled by the puppets of the state, there arose such a clamor of protest, promising a real threat of civil disobedience, that not even the royal court dared to confront the angry multitudes and St. John was restored to his post. At about this time he put a stop to a practice which was offensive to him, although none of his predecessors outwardly considered it disrespectful; this practice was applauding in church, which would be considered extremely vulgar today, and the absence of which has added to the solemnity of church services.
St. John delivered a sermon in which he deplored the adulation of a frenzied crowd at the unveiling of a public statue of the empress Eudoxia. His sermon was grossly exaggerated by his enemies, and by the time it reached the ears of the Empress it resulted in his permanent exile from his beloved city of Constantinople. The humiliation of banishment did not deter the gallant, golden-mouthed St. John, who continued to communicate with the church and wrote his precious prose until he died in the lonely reaches of the Pontos in 407.
The treasure of treatises and letters which St. John left behind included the moving sermon that is heard at Easter Sunday services. The loss of his sermons which were not set down on paper is incalculable. Nevertheless, the immense store of his extant theological and exegetical works reveals his insight, straightforwardness, and rhetorical splendor, and commands a position of the greatest respect and influence in Christian thought, rivaling that of other Fathers of the Church. His liturgy, which we respect fully chant on Sundays, is a living testimony of his greatness.
The slight, five-foot St. John stood tall in his defiance of State authority, bowing only to God and never yielding the high principles of Christianity to expediency or personal welfare. In the words of his pupil, Cassian of Marseilles, "It would be a great thing to attain his stature, but it would be difficult. Nevertheless, a following of him is lovely and magnificent."
(St. John Chrysostom)
LET ALL PIOUS MEN and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the Last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort. Come you and enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it. He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom. He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh. When Isaias foresaw all this, he cried out : "O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world." Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! It discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! It encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible. O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished, Christ is risen and the demons are cast down, Christ is risen and the angels rejoice, Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead; for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Through the prayers of Saint John, may the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Amen!
George Poulos, Orthodox Saints
Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline Mass. 1991
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