January 27 – John Chrysostom

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

John Chrysostom, faithful servant

In Antioch in about 371, the 22-year old John was already well-known, both as the most outstanding pupil ever of Libanios, the most famous orator of the day, and as a devout Christian, a reader in the church.  But when he heard of plans to ordain him, John, painfully aware of his immaturity and weakness, hid and then embraced the monastic life.  He was not running away (he always condemned the monk who did not serve his neighbour) but running to his only source of help.  In the harsh discipline of the Syrian monks, John sought not so much to subjugate the body as to free the desires, the imagination and the will, so that they could be focussed on God; and so the fasts and sleepless nights in prayer were accompanied by a deep immersion in the Old and New Testaments.  After four intense years, physically weakened but spiritually stronger, he returned to Antioch and the service of Bishop Meletios.  The outward forms of monasticism may have gone, but inward zeal for God remained.

John was soon ordained deacon (about 382) , and priest (387).  In the pulpit he used the eloquence he had acquired from the pagan Libanios to expound the Scriptures he loved and knew so deeply, delivering series of homilies on many of the major books, constantly exhorting the people to a more Christian way of life, and especially urging concern for the poor.  He is particularly known for his interpretations of Paul, revealing to us not only the meaning of his teaching, but how the text at hand was a pastoral response in love to the situation faced by the community to whom Paul was writing.  He was loved by the people, and was a great source of calm and consolation in times of major civil disturbance, but, as he often complained, he could not wean the majority of them away from the theatre and the races.

John’s reputation grew, and in 397 the Emperor summoned him to the capital and he was made bishop of Constantinople, a choice that angered factions who favoured another candidate.  He set about reforming the clergy, improving the Church’s help for the poor, and providing pastoral care for the city’s Gothic minority.  Although loved by the people and initially popular with the imperial household, his reforming zeal and his intense personality also made enemies.  His uncompromising insistence on Gospel teachings and values was accompanied by a quickness to act that was at times perhaps imprudent, insensitive or liable to arouse suspicion.  Through times of political intrigue and demonstrations of loyalty by the populace, his favour with the Emperor ebbed and flowed, but in 404 he was given his second and definitve sentence into exile.  Realising that all the earth belonged to God, he bore it patiently, even if he did complain in his letters.  The conditions became harsher as he was sent further towards the frontiers, and eventually the forced travel overcame him.  He died on 14th September 407, saying, “Glory be to God for all things.”

Contributed by Joseph Vnuk