CHURCH FATHERS (31) – Saint John Chrysostom

– Anastasios

When we talk of John from Antioch, we are not just talking of a Church Father like others. He is indeed considered as the greatest among the Greek Church Fathers. He was born in Antioch in 345 (or 347) from a well off family. In his young age he study literature and appreciated the beauty of the Classics. He would also study the Scripture and in the year 369 will be baptized by the Bishop of Antioch. He was attracted by monastic life but was also selected to be a Bishop of several churches, together with his friend Basil (Basil the Great). But he was attracted, as we have said, by monastic life and this is what he would do in 375. In 381 would be ordained deacon and in 386 would be ordained as priest. The Bishop who ordained John, Flavian, was at the time quite old and not in good health and would count on him for pastoral activity in his territory.

John was a very good preacher, crowds were attracted by his eloquence and this will bring to him the name “golden mouth,” in Greek “Chrysostom.” In 397 he was ordained Bishop of Constantinople. He would remain bishop of this city until his death in 407, amidst many confrontations with the imperial power while also pouring largely the gifts of his doctrine and his sanctity. 

He was a great preacher but his work was felt also on the reform of liturgy. This is why today we speak of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom that is still celebrated by some eastern Churches. Being a great preacher, among his most famous works are homilies on several books of the Bible, Old and New Testament. About the influence of his theology, we may consider this passage about him: “From the very first he was considered by the Greeks and Latins as a most important witness to the Faith. Even at the Council of Ephesus (431) both parties, St Cyril and the Antiochians, already invoked him on behalf of their opinions, and at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, when a passage of Chrysostom had been read in favour of the veneration of images, Bishop Peter of Nicomedia cried out: ‘If John Chrysostom speaks in the way of the images, who would dare to speak against them?’ which shows clearly the progress his authority had made up to that date” (Baur, C. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent).

Because of his defense of the interest of the Church he was also exiled. Before going to exile he pronounced an homily part of which reads: “Numerous are the waves, and great the tossing of the sea, but we have no fear of going down, for we stand upon the rock. Let the ocean rage as it will, it is powerless to break the rock. Let the waves roll, they cannot sink the bark of Jesus. Tell me, what should we fear? Death? To me to live is Christ and to die gain. Is it exile perchance? The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness of it. Is it confiscation of property? We brought nothing with us into the world, and it is clear that we can take nothing away with us. I despise what the world fears, and hold its good things in derision. I do not fear poverty, nor do I desire riches. I am not afraid of death; I do not pray to live, if it be not for your good. This is why I speak of what is now taking place, and exhort your charity to be of good cheer. For no man shall be able to separate us. No man can part that which God has joined together. If, speaking of man and wife, He says : On this account a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh; for that which God has joined together man shall not separate; if you cannot dissolve marriage, how much less shall you be able to break up the Church of God. You may fight her, you will not be able to harm the object of your attack. But whilst you make me more illustrious, you are undermining your own strength by fighting against me. It is hard for you to kick against a sharp goad. You do not take the edge off it, but you make your own feet bloody; and the waves do not break through the rock, but are dissolved in foam. There is nothing more powerful than the Church, man; give up fighting her, lest she overpower your strength. Wage not war against heaven. If you fight a man, you conquer or are conquered. But if you fight the Church, you cannot conquer. For God is stronger than all. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? Who will venture to subvert the order which God has established? You know not His power. He looks down upon the earth and causes it to tremble. He commands, and that which was shaken becomes firm. If He can establish in peace a city torn by factions, how much more is He able to establish the Church! The Church is stronger than heaven. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away. What words? Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

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