Skip to comments.The Golden Mouthed Preacher-St.John Chrysostom [Bishop,Doctor of Catholic and Orthodox Churches]
Posted on 09/13/2002 4:24:03 PM PDT by Lady In Blue
The Riot in Antioch
In 370 A,D. the city of Antioch, in Syria, was in a state of great unrest and anxiety. The people of Antioch had revolted against the Roman emperor, they had refused to pay the taxes, they had repelled, and in some instances, killed some of the Roman officials. "The taxes we have to pay do not leave us enough money to buy bread for our children!" they clamored. Under the leadership of fiery tempered individuals the rioting crowds filled the streets and pilfered stores. They fought the soldiers who were sent to restore order. The statue of the emperor was overturned. When the city was quiet and order was reestablished, a report was sent to the emperor in Constantinople. Would the emperor's decision be a greater burden than the taxes? Would the city be destroyed and thousands of people be imprisoned and exiled? Would terrible executions take place? The aged Patriarch of Antioch left for Constantinople to plead for his people. He would describe their distress to the emperor, their bitter need, the difficulties of the times. Would he succeed in persuading the emperor to forgive the people of Antioch?
The Priest John
During these days of anxiety and uncertainty there was one place where all could find comfort, reassurance and good counsel. This was the city cathedral where the Priest John was left in charge by the Patriarch of the Church of Antioch. Great Lent had begun and crowds had gathered for the services to hear John's unusual sermons. People had never lived through a Lenten period like this one. Never had anyone preached like this. He comforted them; yet he made them see their failures. He gave them courage to bear whatever else was to follow, and he gave them hope. He made them see clearly all the evils in their lives and he made them realize what God's love meant. As the weeks of the Lent slowly went by, the people of Antioch felt they were being really cleansed spiritually and prepared for the great Feast of Christ's Resurrection. Easter brought them peace and joy. The Patriarch returned bringing good news, for the emperor had listened to him favorably, the city had been forgiven, and there would be no reprisals.
St. John's Background
John was a priest who had moved the whole city with the fiery power of his words. He came to be called St. John Chrysostom (the word Chrysostom means golden mouthed). He was twenty years younger than St. Basil and St. Gregory, the great Fathers of the Church. His youth was in many ways similar to theirs: a happy childhood with a devoted Christian mother, an excellent education at the famous School of Antioch, and years spent in a monastery in the desert. He left his beloved monastery at the age of 41 because the Patriarch had insisted that he serve the Church as a priest in the great city of Antioch. The name Golden-mouthed was given to him by a simple woman who happened to hear one of his sermons. "Oh, Father," she said, "you are truly golden-mouthed and your words are beautiful. But your teaching is like a deep well and my poor mind is like a short rope; it is difficult for me to dip up the water of your wisdom." The name "Goldenmouthed" (Chrysostom in Greek) remained with John, but he took heed of the woman's request. He dropped the flowery eloquence that he had acquired at the School of Antioch for a simpler form that appealed directly to the heart of all his listeners. John remained in Antioch for eighteen years (379-397). With his long white garment, his hollow cheeks, deep sunken eyes and long beard, he became a familiar figure everywhere. He never had much physical strength, and sometimes remarked jokingly that he had a "cobweb body."
St. Johns Preaching
St. John's parish was the entire city of Antioch, one of the gayest and most frivolous cities in the world. Remainders of pagan practices and superstitions mingled freely with a superficial and formal kind of Christianity. People went to church much in the same way as they would attend a show. There was much coming and going of people, confusion, laughter and conversation. Pickpockets profited by the gathering. Gossip was exchanged. Women came dressed in their finery only to show it off. St. John came to his church daily to celebrate the Liturgy and to preach to his wayward flock. The time of the sermon was at the end of the Liturgy for the Catechumens, immediately after the reading of the Gospel. John held his worldly-minded listeners spellbound. He also taught his flock to read regularly and study the Sacred Scriptures. However hard John tried to overcome the custom, applause would break out at the end of his sermon. Many people would come to church just to listen to him and would leave immediately after the sermon was over. John changed the place of the sermon during the liturgy towards the end in order to avoid this practice. Although John so often found fault with his parishioners and reproved them sternly, he was loved by all. When the emperor decided to appoint him Bishop of Constantinople, the emperor's messengers had to sneak John away secretly, during the night, to avoid a riot. Frequently he would warn his frivolous flock against the dangers of wealth and preoccupation with worldly riches. "The power of riches is so great," he would say, "that even if we have all the other virtues, love of money can ruin everything. The desire, the thirst for wealth and for the good things of this world grows stronger and stronger through acquiring these, just like a fever is made worse by eating rich and heavy food. The way to reduce the fever and to slacken the thirst is to set your mind on eternal treasure."
St. John the Archbishop of Constantinople
John's work as Archbishop of Constantinople was even more exacting than that he had in Antioch. He celebrated Liturgy daily and preached in his church, then, tired as he was, he went to the cathedral in time to give a second sermon there. He had no time to write his sermons, but they have been preserved for us by scribes who took them down as he spoke. When the service was over, there was a great deal of business to attend to. According to the tradition of St. Basil, John developed and supervised a vast amount of help to the poor and the unfortunate. He did not merely administer this work from the Archbishop's palace. He himself went to the prisons and spent hours with the condemned, embittered prisoners. He visited the slums of Constantinople, giving advice, appealing to those who had the means to help, and straightening out many injustices. The Church, in those times, had its own court of justice which tried many cases, and Archbishop John had to disentangle many complicated family disputes, quarrels and inheritances. In reading the records of these trials one is amazed at his brilliant mind and wide education which permitted him to straighten out the most entangled legal problems. It was also the Archbishop's duty to correct many bad practices that had crept into the Church itself. Sometimes positions were granted to unworthy men who had given rich gifts to the Church. John had to speak tactfully but firmly to other bishops to make them realize that they had acted unwisely. Hardest of all was the task of defending the Christian principles in the family of the emperor himself.
St. John's Conflict With the Empress
Empress Eudoxia was an arrogant, dominant woman. Whenever St. John's sermons condemned faults and vices that were uncomfortably like her own, she resented them as a personal insult. Every disparaging remark that could be made about John was eagerly repeated at her court. The worst they could say about him was that he was "inhospitable", because he would not invite guests to his table, nor would he entertain on feast days. John was not moved by these criticisms. When cases came up before him for trial he made decisions without paying any attention to what the empress thought or said. He was very firm about his decisions. When the infuriated empress had John dismissed from the palace, John refused to let the empress enter the cathedral. At last, things came to a climax. Pressed by his wife, the emperor had John arrested and placed aboard a boat, to be sent into exile. John quieted the crowds who came to defend him, and persuaded them to return to their homes. But that very night a riot broke out and crowds almost attacked the imperial palace in their clamor for the return of their beloved archbishop. Next night an even more frightening event took place. An earthquake shook the city and the palace was damaged. The empress herself begged for John's return. The city was illuminated and the entire bay was covered with boats rowing out to meet Archbishop John.
St. John's Exile
Peace did not last long, however. John continued to preach and carry out his duties in his usual manner. The empress could not tolerate this. She gathered all her supporters, convened a council which condemned John without giving him a hearing. This time the verdict was upheld and Archbishop John was taken under military escort to the distant country of Armenia. The village folks along the way, the parish priests, the monks and hermits came out to greet him with tears exclaiming: "We would rather see the sun overcast than have your golden mouth silenced." For three years John remained in the little town of Kukuz, surrounded by the love and respect of all the people there. Then the emperor decided to send him still further away. The journey was very exhausting. The soldiers made John follow the mountain paths on foot under the scorching sun and in heavy rain. The journey lasted three months, and then the bishop's strength failed. John was now 63 years old, sick and exhausted. When he could not walk any further the party stopped for rest at a little town. That night John had a vision. A martyr, who had died in this town during the early persecutions, appeared to him and said: "Brother John, tomorrow we shall be together." The following day Archbishop John received the Holy Communion and passed away peacefully with these words on his lips: "Glory to God for everything!"
The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
The name of St. John Chrysostom is familiar to all of us because the Liturgy which bears his name is celebrated in our churches every Sunday except during the Great Lent. St. John did not compose the Liturgy the way an artist would compose his work. Rather, he established the practice of having certain liturgical rites, prayers and practices already in use at that time, follow each other in certain order. This order of the Liturgy came to be associated with his name.
"Prayer is the light of the spirit "Prayer and converse with God is a supreme good: it is a partnership and union with God. As the eyes of the body are enlightened when they see light, so our spirit, when it is intent on God, is illumined by his infinite light. I do not mean the prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times, or periods but continuous throughout the day and night.
Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God, and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God's love, and so make a palatable offering to the Lord of the universe. Throughout the whole of our lives we may enjoy the benefit that comes from prayer if we devote a great deal of time to it.
Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its own desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature.
Prayer stands before God as an honored ambassador. It gives joy to the spirit, peace to the heart. I speak of prayer, not words. It is the longing for God, love to deep for words, a gift not given by man but by God's grace. The apostle Paul says: "We do not know how we are to pray but the Spirit himself pleads for us with inexpressible longings." Rom. 8:26.
When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to [someone]; he gives him riches that cannot be taken away, heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord: his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity.
Practice prayer from the beginning. Paint your house with the colors of modesty and humility. Make it radiant with the light of justice. Decorate it with the finest gold leaf of good deeds. Adorn it with the walls and stones of faith and generosity. Crown it with the pinnacle of prayer. In this way you will make it a perfect dwelling place for the Lord. You will be able to receive him as in a splendid palace, and through his grace you will already possess him, his image enthroned in the temple of your spirit. "
Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, Catholic Book Publishing Co. (1976) pp. 68-70. This text is quoted for religious and educational purposes only. No other use is intended or permitted. (Emphasis added.)
A Roman Catholic friend once told me he thought St.John's liturgy was also used in Western churches occasionally prior to Vatican II.Can you confirm this?
Ignatius,I'm sorry I missed your question from last year but I'm unable to confirm that St.John's liturgy was used prior to Vatican 11. I did read somewhere a few years back that Cardinal Ratinger wants to reform the Roman Rite to a more Byzantine rite liturgy. I don't know if it would be based on St.John's liturgy or not. I haven't seen anything more on it.But here's hoping!
Eloquence seems to have been plentiful in those days.
I'm sure there are many on these threads who can't comprehend this as being a problem. Catholics going to Mass just to hear the homily ;-)
The first painting at the top (not icon) is listed as from:
Italian, Sebastiano del Piambo
"St. John Chrysostom and Saints" (XVI c.)
LET ALL PIOUS MEN and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the Last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort. Come you and enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it. He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom. He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh. When Isaias foresaw all this, he cried out : "O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world." Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! It discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! It encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible. O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished, Christ is risen and the demons are cast down, Christ is risen and the angels rejoice, Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead; for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Through the prayers of Saint John, may the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us. Amen!
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