Saint John Chrysostom (“The Golden Tongue”) was born at Antioch (Antakya, Turkey) in about the year 347 A.D. and into the middle class family of a military-commander. He spent his early years studying under the finest philosophers and rhetoricians. He was headed for a career in law but after his baptism at age 19, he became a desert monk until he was convinced to return to regular church life and ordained a deacon in the year 381 by the bishop of Antioch Saint Meletios. Because of his exceptional speaking ability as a deacon, and against his own desires, he was ordained a priest in 386 A.D. Because of his popularity as a preacher, – which gained him the nickname “golden mouthed”– his commentaries on Scripture, and his leadership, was summoned from Antioch to become the new Patriarch of Constantinople in 397 A.D.
John was a diplomat who was called upon to make various kinds of political and ecclesial interventions. He was a “rough reformer” who spoke frankly and acted decisively. He defied the political and religious leaders of the day by preaching against extreme wealth and lax morals. He lived what he preached and sold the expensive furnishings in his residence to give money to the poor and to hospitals. He ate like a monk and eschewed the large festal dinners of his predecessors. Some authorities, including the Empress, took a dislike of him and plotted to depose him, but the people protested in multitudes and John kept his position.
He was only five feet tall but his small stature never prevented him from standing tall in defiance of injustice, bowing only to God and never compromising his Christian principles. This eventually proved too much for the authorities and John was exiled in 404. The Emperor eventually sent him into deeper exile to Pitius in Abkhazia to break his continuing influence. After long illness because of the first exile, he died on the journey on September 14, 407 A.D. Before falling asleep in Christ, he received the Holy Eucharist and said “Glory to God for everything!”
St. John Chrysostom believed strongly in the power of public worship. He wrote: “You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is…the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests.”
Here’s an excerpt from St. John’s Easter Sermon, read in Eastern Catholic churches to this day:
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.