St. John Chrysostom (349-14 September 407) was born in Antioch to pagan parents. His father, a soldier died while John was of an early age, and John was raised by his mother. He became a Christian, was baptised and became a reader in the church. At first due to his mother’s influence he studied under pagans and developed a gift for rhetoric. As he grew older he studied under Christians and later became a hermit, during which time he spend memorising the Bible. Too much fasting permanently damaged his kidneys and he had to return to Constantinople. Ordained a deacon in 381 and a presbyter in 386 he became well known because of his preaching. In preaching and writing he emphasised the spiritual and physical needs of the poor. His talks were very practical, leading people to a straightforward understanding of the Bible and of Christian duty in everyday life. While in Antioch, he preached 21 sermons leading to whole sale conversion to Christianity by pagans.
In 398 he became Archbishop of Constantinople. It is said that his sermons were so powerful, that people were so enthralled by them that pickpockets had easy targets, and it was suggested that people leave their purses at home. He was regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the ancient and eastern church. His sermons were eminently practical. He would tell people that before taking communion, they should consider the needs of the people around therm. Refusing to have banquets for the rich he made himself unpopular with the upper classes. He also forced priests to go back to where they were supposed to be. Either through fearlessness, or fault of tact, John found himself with enemies in high places, or the Empress Eudoxia became his enemy and organised a conspiracy against him. A synod was held against him in 403 and he was deposed and to be banished. At his arrest there was an earthquake and the people were rioting so the emperor called him back to his post He was banished once again to Armenia for criticising the empress. During this time he wrote several letters of great influence in Constantinople and was exiled to Georgia. He never made it to his final destination, and was buried in Georgia, where his tomb became a site of pilgrimage.
Considered to be the greatest preacher of the early church (Chrysostom means golden mouthed) he preached extensively from the whole Bible, and many of the congregants copied his sermons and passed them around. He criticised his audience for being too worldly, especially in pagan entertainments, but at the same time formed his sermons so they would be clear to all, especially emphasising care of the needy. He also revised the liturgy and has some connection with the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
John describes the liturgy as a glorious experience in which all heaven and earth participate. His sermons emphasise the importance of lay participation in the Eucharist. He asked, “Why do you marvel, that eh people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers in offering up sacred hymns. The main liturgy used by the Eastern Orthodox Church today is known as the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for his influence on it.
His treatise, Six Books on the Priesthood, is an excellent manual on the demands of the presbyteral office and its demands. Most of his sermons are still extant as they were copied down as he was preaching. We learn from John, that preaching is important, and that Christianity, is not something for Sunday, but something we should live out everyday, and not to worry about the authorities.
Heavenly Father, as you raised John Chrysostom to preach the Gospel and suffer for the faith. Grant that all preachers would have the eloquence to proclaim your word so as to build us up in faith and knowledge and love of you. Through the Messiah we pray, Amen. (red)
I Corinthians 12:31-13:7