This is the day that … John Chrysostom died in AD 407.
Actually he was not called “Chrysostom” until the 7th century (by Isadore of Seville) – and it is more of a nickname meaning “the golden mouthed”. Such was his eloquence, which still exists in his 600 written sermons.
“John of Antioch” is how others describe him – for that is where he was born in AD 347 (the exact date is unknown).
His Christian mother, Anthusa, influenced him greatly. After her death he entered a monastery and then lived as a hermit for some time. He lived on bread and water and held nothing to be his personal possession. Eventually he was ordained a priest (AD 386) and 12 years later, was appointed as Archbishop of Constantinople – capital of the Eastern Empire. But he refused to go. So “under orders from an imperial edict, he was kidnapped, transported to the capital and ordained!” (Christian History, Volume 44, page 2).
Upon taking office he imposed many reforms, attacking excess and indulgence and promoting economy. His own salary was given away to the poor and to fund hospitals. He held no banquets and refused all invitations to such. He stopped the celibate priests from having a “spiritual sister”, which were nothing more than de-facto wives.
He exercised a remarkable ministry, strong in his denunciation of sin “until the Empress banished him because, she said, he had insulted her.” His sermon on “The Vices of Women” led to Eudoxia deposing him from office … and his flight. While the Emperor Arcadius prompted John’s choice for Patriarch of Constantinople, his wife, Eudoxia, was a much more powerful person persisted in her opposition to John, ultimately causing his death.
However, an earthquake shook Constantinople and damaged Eudoxia’s bedroom! – and she begged John to return. The truce was only temporary.
Back in Constantinople again John Chrysostom once more lifted up his voice in criticism of the ruling party. “Again Herodias raves,” he cried, “again she dances, again she demands John’s head put on a charger.” (The Early Church, by H. Chadwick, page 190).
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, Cassia 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.”
John went into exile again.
“He was forced to march barefooted through the hot sand and bare-headed under the blazing sun. He died on the way …” (The Church in History, by B. Kuiper, page 46).
One delightful story concerning his ministry is that the congregation often “pushed and shoved their way to the front to hear him better”. Not only that, but they would “clap and stamp their feet whilst he was preaching”. So he delivered a stirring sermon condemning this as being “irreverent, disgraceful and dishonouring to God”.
The response was rather discouraging. When he had concluded this sermon, the congregation applauded him wildly!
John’s enduring contribution is in the wealth of writings he left behind, mostly written during his times of exile. F.F. Bruce speaks of him as “a great expositor of Scripture as well as a great preacher; the most valuable of his works are his Homilies on various books of the Bible where he displays much sound exegetical insight” (The Spreading Flame, page 330).
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.
Tags: archbishop, archbishop of constantinople, bread and water, celibate priests, defiance, eastern empire, emperor arcadius, eudoxia, john chrysostom, john of antioch, kidnap, mother, patriarch of constantinople, preacher, principle, reformer