Saint of the Day: St. John Chrysostom

(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. John Chrysostom, comes from Volume 4 of the series.) 

Saint John Chrysostom
"The legion of saints of the Church is comprised of people 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.

Beloved 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 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 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 Con-stantinople, 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 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 respectfully 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 diffcult. Nevertheless, a following of him is lovely and magnificent.”

(Image from Wikimedia.)

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