Saint John Chrysostom
By Kate White
Saint John Chrysostom was born at Antioch around the year 347. He wasn’t born as John Chrysostom, but given his latter name years later in the “Constitution” of Pope Vigilius. The name Chrysostom comes from the Greek word chrysostomos, which means “golden mouthed.” This is a name that fits his life and gift perfectly.
His father was in the Syrian army and when he passed away, he left behind a wife of only twenty years old to raise John and his sister. His mother was a determined woman who wanted nothing but the best for her children and persevered through hardships and sent John to the best school of Antioch. John began his foundation here, learning under some of the most brilliant philosophers and orators of that time.
A turning point in John’s life came around the year 367, when he met the Bishop Meletius. The mild, faithful example of the good Bishop captivated John in strong a manner that he started to devote himself to a religious life. After studying scripture and attending many sermons John received the Sacrament of Baptism and was commissioned a lector. But the young John yearned for more. He made prayer, manual labor and studying Sacred Scripture his focus and his occupations. It is believed that this is when his early writings began.
He then was either sent to the caves or went willingly to study, but remained there for two years and used this time to fast, pray, and study. He returned from the caves to Antioch only because his health had severely declined, after returning he resumed his task of lector in the church.
The timeline is unclear, but John was ordained a deacon by his Bishop mentor, Meletius. A few years later John was ordained a Priest and that is when John’s great gift of speaking came into full fruition. His writings and homilies spoke to the people and they listened and were greatly convicted. John could speak in a manner that the people understood and made them crave more. He spoke truth and imparted wisdom and light. His passion in his writings shined through the ages and still speaks greatly to us today. This is why he is one of the earliest Doctors of the Church.
As word spread of John’s ecclesiastical life, his name became known. The position of Patriarch of Constantinople had opened and much to John’s surprise he was nominated for that position. Worried about an uproar from the townspeople over their love for John and missing his great example, John was taken to Constantinople under the cover of night and made Bishop.
John began immediately to make great changes to the lavish lifestyles of the people. It is said that it was like John “began sweeping the stairs from the top.” He put a stop to the frequent banquets; he brought conviction and structure to the clergy, monks, and others who had committed to live a life married to Christ.
He then moved on to his “flock.” Some were displeased by John’s discipline and were offended, but for those few there were hundreds more who loved John and often his sermons were finished by great applauding from the crowds. John was well liked and honored by all classes of people. In his first year he was able to build a great hospital for the poor with money given and saved by his spreading conviction of selflessness. As the people revered John and great people respected him; a handful of leaders grew very, very jealous. After much debating, some evil underhanded behavior by some of his enemies, and two failed attempts on John’s life, his enemies succeeded in getting him exiled because he refused to worship a person as a false god. Even in a horrible exile John never gave up hope for his return. As people gave their lives in order to bring John out of exile, his enemies got nervous and moved him further. The soldiers who came to move him caused him great pain and suffering. Long marches in harsh weather, severe beatings and abuse made John take a turn for the worse. When John passed his last words were, “Glory be to God for all things.”
Saint John Chrysostom’s words and teachings live on. They have been divided into three parts, the “opuscula,” the “homilies,” and the “letters.” Saint John could be quoted all day long. His teachings on Scripture could be taught for years. To write a short essay on him is difficult because his brilliance, teachings, quotes, and passion have surpassed through the ages. His strong personal convictions should be an example of a life we are all called to live as followers of Christ and as the children of God.
The light he shined to a dark land and evil people that brought change should be an eye opener to all of us who simply blend-in with the times and go around acting like the people around us instead of changing their lives for the better and leading them to a knowledge of the one true God. If each of us could only example a small percentage of the selfless, convicted life Saint John Chrysostom lived we would bring much needed change to our homes, families, towns, cities, states and so forth.
We should be seeking the intercession of Saint John Chrysostom whenever we are in a secular place that needs the conviction of the Holy Spirit; before we go to work, school, and even church. We should live lives that encourage one another toward sanctity.
I will leave you with this quote by Saint John Chrysostom and pray that you will be lead to read more about this great Saint God gave us as a holy example: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill clad. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,’ and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me.’ What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the alter as well.”