Sainted John Chrysostomos (Zlatoust), Archbishop of Constantinople
Commemorated on November 13
Sainted John Chrysostomos (Zlatoust), Archbishop of Constantinople, one of the Three OEcumenical Hierarchs [in English termed "Three Saints", Comm. 30 January], was born at Antioch in about the year 347 into the family of a military-commander. His father, Secundus, died soon after the birth of his son. His mother, Anthusa, widowed at twenty years of age, did not seek to remarry but rather devoted all her efforts to the raising of her son in the dictates of Christian piety. The youth studied under the finest philosophers and rhetoricians. But, scorning the vain disciplines of pagan knowledge, the future hierarch turned himself to the profound study of Holy Scripture and prayerful contemplation. Saint Meletios, Bishop of Antioch (Comm. 12 February), loved John like a son, guided him in the faith, and in the year 367 baptised him. After three years John was made a church-reader. Later on, when Saint Meletios had been sent off into exile by the emperor Valens in the year 372, John together with Theodore (afterwards bishop of Mopsuetia) studied under the experienced instructors of ascetic life, the presbyters Flavian and Diodor of Tarsis. The highly refined Diodor had especial influence upon the youth. When John's mother died, he accepted monasticism, which he called the "true philosophy". Soon John and his friend Basil came to be regarded for the occupying of episcopal cathedra-chairs, and the friends decided to withdraw into the wilderness, fleeing assignment. But Saint John, himself evading the dignity of archbishop out of humility, secretly assisted in the consecration of Basil.
During this period
Saint John wrote his "Six Discourses on the Priesthood", a great work
of Orthodox pastoral theology. The saint spent four years in the toils of
wilderness life, asceticising under the guidance of an experienced spiritual
guide. And here he wrote three books entitled, "Against the Opponents of
Those Attracted to the Monastic Life", and a collection entitled, "A
Comparison of the Monk with the Emperor" (or, "Comparison of Imperial
Power, Wealth and Eminence, with the True and Christian Wisdom-Loving Monastic
Life"), – both works which are pervaded by a profound reflection of the
worthiness of the monastic vocation. For two years the saint maintained
complete silence, situated in a solitary cave. But to recover his health the
saint was obliged to return to Antioch. In the year 381 the bishop of Antioch
Saint Meletios ordained him deacon. The years following were devoted to work
over new theological tomes: "Concerning Providence" ("To the
Ascetic Stagirios"), "Book Concerning Virginity", "To a
Young Widow" (2 discourses), and the "Book About Saint Babylos and
Against Julian and the Pagans".
In the year 386 Saint John was ordained presbyter by the bishop of Antioch, Flavian. They imposed upon him the duty to preach the Word of God. Saint John was a splendid preacher, and for his rare talent with God-inspired words he received from his flock the title – the "Golden-Tongued" (Grk. "Chrysostomos", Slav. "Zlatoust"). For twelve years the saint preached in church amidst a crowded throng of people, deeply stirring the hearts of his listeners, usually twice a week, but sometimes daily.
In his pastoral zeal to provide Christians a rather better comprehension of Holy Scripture, Saint John made recourse to sacred-textual hermeneutics – the discipline of commentary explanation of the Word of God (i.e. exegesis"). Among his exegetical works are commentaries on entire books of the Holy Scripture (Genesis, the Psalter, the Gospels of Matthew and John, the Epistles of the Apostle Paul), and also many an homily on individual texts of the Holy Bible, but likewise instructions on the Feastdays, laudations on the Saints, and also apologetic (i.e. defensive) homilies (against Anomoeans, Judaisers and pagans). Saint John as presbyter zealously fulfilled the command of caring for the needy: under him the Antioch Church each day provided sustenance to as many as 3,000 virgins and widows, not including in this number the shut-ins, wanderers and the sick.
At the beginning of Great Lent in 388 the saint began his commentary on the Book of Genesis. Over the forty-day period he preached 32 homilies. During Passion week he spoke about the Betrayal and about the Cross, and during the Paschal Bright Week his parishioners were daily instructed by his pastoral discourse. His exegesis on the Book of Genesis was concluded only at the end of October (388). With Pascha in the following year the saint began his examination of the Gospel of John, and towards the end of the year 389 he switched over to the Gospel of Matthew. In the year 391 the Antioch Christians listened to his commentary on the Epistles of the holy Apostle Paul to the Romans and to the Corinthians. In 393 he addressed the Epistles to the Galatians, the Ephesians, Timothy, Titus and the Psalms. In his homily on the Epistle to the Ephesians, Saint John denounced an Antioch schism: "I tell ye and I witness before ye, that to tear asunder the Church means nothing less, than to fall into heresy. The Church is the house of the Heavenly Father, One Body and One Spirit".
The fame of the holy preacher grew, and in the year 397 with the demise of the Constantinople archbishop Nektarios – successor to Sainted Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom was summoned from Antioch for placement upon the Constantinople cathedra-seat. At the capital, the holy archpastor was not able to preach as often as he had at Antioch. Many matters awaited resolving by the saint, and he began with the most important – with the spiritual perfection of the priesthood. And in this he himself was the best example. The financial means apportioned for the archbishop were channelled by the saint into the upkeep of several hospices for the sick and two hostels for pilgrims. The archpastor sufficed on scant food, and he refused invitations to meals. The zeal of the saint in affirming the Christian faith spread not only to the inhabitants of Constantinople, but also to Thrace – to include Slavs and Goths, and to Asia Minor and the Pontine region. He established a bishop for the Bosphorus Church, situated in the Crimea. Saint John sent off zealous missionaries to Phoenicia, to Persia, and to the Skyths, to convert pagans to Christ. He also wrote missives to Syria to bring back the Marcionites into the Church, and he accomplished this. Preserving the oneness of the Church, the saint would not permit a powerful Gothic military-commander, who was dictating terms to the emperor, to open an Arian church at Constantinople. The saint exerted much effort in the arranging of august Divine-services: he compiled a Liturgy, he introduced antiphonal singing for the all-night vigil, and he wrote several prayers for the sacramental rite of anointing the sick with oil. The dissolute morals of people in the capital, especially at the imperial court, found in the person of the saintly hierarch its denunciation, irrespective of person. When the empress Eudoxia connived at the confiscation of the last properties of the widow and children of a disgraced dignitary, the saint rose to their defense. The arrogant empress did not concede and nursed a grudge against the archpastor. The hatred of Eudoxia against the saint blazed forth anew, when malefactors told her, that apparently the saint had her particularly in mind in his instruction on women of vanity. A trial-court was convened composed of hierarchs, which earlier had been justly condemned by Chrysostom: Theophilos of Alexandria, the Gabala bishop Severian, who shortly before had been banished from the capital because of improprieties, and others. This court of judgement declared Saint John deposed, and for his insult to the empress to be subject to execution. The emperor substituted exile for execution. At the church surged an angry crowd, resolved to defend their pastor. The saint, in order to avoid a riot, gave himself over into the hands of the authorities. That very night at Constantinople there occurred an earthquake. The court was ashudder. The terrified Eudoxia urgently besought the emperor to bring back the saint and promptly dispatched a letter to the banished pastor, beseeching him to return. And anew, in the capital church, the saint in a short talk praised the Lord, "For All His Ways". The slanderers fled to Alexandria. But already after a mere two months a new denunciation provoked the wrath of Eudoxia. In March of the year 404 there gathered an unjust Council, decreeing the exile of Saint John. Upon his removal from the capital, a conflagration reduced to ashes the temple of Saint Sophia and the Senate edifice. Devastating barbarian incursions soon followed, and in October 404 Eudoxia died. Even pagans saw in these events Heavenly chastisement for the unjust judgement rendered against the saint of God.
Situated in Armenia, the saint strove all the more to encourage his spiritual children. In numerous letters (245 are preserved) to bishops in Asia, Africa, Europe and particularly to his friends in Constantinople, Saint John consoled the suffering, guiding and giving support to his followers. In the Winter of 406 Saint John was confined to his bed with sickness. But his enemies were not to be appeased. From the capital came orders to transfer Saint John to desolate Pitius (in Abkhazia). Worn out by sickness, under accompanying military escort for three months in the rain and frost, the saint made his final transferral, – at Comana his powers failed him. At the crypt of Saint Basiliskos (Comm. 22 May), comforted by a vision of the martyr ("Despair not, brother John! Tomorrow we shalt be together"), and having communed the Holy Mysteries, the oecumenical hierarch with the words, "Glory to God for everything!", expired to the Lord on 14 September 407. The holy relics of Saint John Chrysostom were solemnly transferred to Constantinople in the year 438. The student of Saint John, the Monk Isidor Pelusiotes (Comm. 4 February), wrote: "The house of David is grown strong, and the house of Saul enfeebled: he is victor over the storms of life, and is entered into Heavenly repose". The memory of Sainted John Chrysostom is celebrated by Holy Church on 27 and 30 January and 13 November.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.