Saint John Chrysostom was a bishop Bishop and a Doctor of the early Church. He is know as ‘John of the Golden mouth’ because of the eloquence of his preaching.
John was born in Antioch in the year 349 to Greek parents from Syria. His mother was a pagan and his father was a high-ranking military officer. John's father died soon after his birth and he was raised by his mother. His mother not only instructed her son in the faith, but also sent him to the best schools of Antioch.
At the time of his birth, Antioch was the second city of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. During the whole of the fourth century religious struggles had troubled the empire. John began his education under the pagan teacher Libanius who gave him a love of the Greek language and literature. As he grew older, John became more deeply committed to Christianity and went on to study theology.
Around the year 381, John was ordained deacon. As deacon he assisted at liturgical functions, looked after the sick and poor, and was charged with teaching catechumens or those preparing for baptism. At the same time he continued his work of writing. It is thought that he composed his most famous book, called "On the Priesthood" around this period of his life.
In the year 386 Chrysostom was ordained priest. His chief task during the next twelve years was that of preaching, and he was often called to stand in for the Bishop. He was not afraid to wander into political territory during his homilies, and his words had a great effect on the political and social developments of his time. On one occasion during lent in the year 387 he delivered a very powerful sermon and his speaking abilities came to light. His sermons were called "On the Statues".
Chrysostom delivered a series of approximately 21 sermons, full of passion, zeal and vigour. His famous and magnificent commentaries, offer us such an inexhaustible treasure of dogmatic, moral, and historical knowledge on the transition from the fourth to the fifth century. The years 386-98 was the period of the greatest theological productivity of Chrysostom, a period which alone would have assured him a place among the first Doctors of the Church. On 27 September 397, Nectarius, Bishop of Constantinople, died and St John Chrysostom was ordained Bishop of Constantinople. This was a hugely important see for Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) was considered to be the Rome of the East.
Chrysostom immediately saw a huge need for reform. He ordered that all expenses of the episcopal household be kept to a minimum. He said ‘If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice’.
After the clergy, Chrysostom turned his attention to his flock. As he had done at Antioch, so at Constantinople and with more reason, he frequently preached against the unreasonable extravagances of the rich. The people showed themselves delighted with the sermons of their new bishop, and frequently applauded him in the church. They never forgot his care for the poor and miserable, and that in his first year he had built a great hospital with the money he had saved in his household. Chrysostom had friends from all walks of life including the rich and noble classes. He encouraged the clergy to live holy lives, and conformed his own life to prayer as a prime example. John particularly encouraged Eucharistic devotion among his people, urging them to receive Communion as often as they could. He was known for being able to speak to the hearts of people who felt stuck in sin—“If you have fallen a second time, or even a thousand times into sin,” he said, “come to me, and you shall be healed.” He converted many with his compassion and firm invitation to repent.
John spent his last years of his life in exile because he had spoken out against the vain fashions of the time. The emperor conspired with a faction of bishops who opposed John and had him removed from office and exiled beyond the Black Sea. Guards seized him and took him from the city and marched him for three months to his exile. He suffered greatly on this journey, both from the elements and from rough treatment. He died on Sept. 14, 407. He wrote: “Violent storms encompass me on all sides. Though the sea roar and the waves rise high, they cannot overwhelm the ship of Jesus Christ. I fear not death, which is my gain; nor banishment, for the whole earth is the Lord’s; nor the loss of things, for I came naked into this world, and I can carry nothing out of it.”
Reflection on the life of St. John Chrysostom
When one reads about the life of St. John Chrysostom, one sees the fullness of his thought and its timeliness. His word spans the ages. He does not leave any aspect of the human soul uninspected. He has in-depth knowledge of the meaning of man’s existence. His spirit, however, is always timely and contemporary. Because Christ is at the centre of his thought, because his teaching transcends time. Essentially, he offered the word of the Gospel to his age, through the Holy Spirit who lived within him and enlightened him. Whenever we read him he always has something to say regarding the problems of his age, which also seem to apply to our contemporary problems.
In his writings on marriage St John Chrysostom places a huge emphasis on love and says that ‘the love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together’. Love is revealed through tenderness, through politeness, through showing interest. Love is expressed through words. He places a huge focus on words and their power. He says Words are the food of emotions, and they inspire love. “Let us be tolerant,” the Saint says, “of one another, with love. How is it possible to be tolerant if you are angry and foul-mouthed? If you can’t tolerate your neighbour, how will God tolerate you?
‘Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward & learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.’
‘Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs’.