SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM – THE GOLDEN MOUTHED
Saint John Chrysostom - the Golden Mouthed, was born in Antioch,
in the year of 344 AD or 347 AD, into a very rich noble family. His father’s
name was Secundus, who was a high ranking officer in the
Syrian army. His mother Anthusa was to him, as Monica
to Saint Augustine
and Nonna to Saint Gregory, the Theologian. From his
mother he received his first lessons in Christian piety and nothing thereafter,
could erase them from his soul: not the
teachings of his pagan mentors, the examples of his friends, or the enthusiasm
of his youth. His mother’s authority was influential in his upbringing and in
the development of his childish soul.
that time St. John
was not baptized. The Holy Fathers strongly objected the tradition of
postponing baptism until an older age. This custom was widely spread and
partially based on the fact, that those who accepted baptism could no longer
attend pagan schools. St. John himself,
chastised this tradition and convinced parents not to postpone the baptism of
their infants. The first days of their birth should be dedicated to God in
order to make them a part of God’s grace, which Christ had given us.
Saint Meletius at that time, Bishop of Antioch, loved St. John and often
invited him for spiritual discussions. At the age of twenty eight, St. John was baptized by
Saint Meletius. With grace he approached this mystery of being accepted by
God. From that time on he was strict to
himself and never used God’s name in vain. All of his thoughts were directed
towards becoming a good Christian. He desperately wanted to leave the world for
a life in the dessert as an anchorite. This desire saddened his mother.
Shedding many tears, she described very touchingly to her son his entire
upbringing. St. John
fulfilled the wish of a loving mother and remained with her, in her big rich
house, where he continued to live a strict ascetic life devoted to prayer.
Saint Meletius soon made him a reader in the church.
After the death of his mother, St. John fulfilled his long awaited dream. He
sold his estates, gave away all his money to the poor, freed all his slaves and
became a monk in a monastery nearby Antioch.
He desired to dedicate his life to solitary prayer, but his fame attracted many
visitors. Some came for advice and instruction and
others with the hope of being cured of their ills. God gave St. John the power to grant miracles. When curing the sick, St. John tried to convince them to lead a
life devoted in prayer. Depending how receptive the nature of their hearts,
John granted them advice from his sincere heart.
It was said in the Monastery that St. John once had a vision. During the night,
surrounded by a shinning bright light, two men appeared to him
. They were the Apostles John and Peter.
“Be courageous and strong” said the
Apostles. “Fulfill your commands and do
not suppress the gift given to you by God for the enlightenment of His people.
Proclaim bravely the word of God, remembering what God has said: “Do not be
afraid, my small flock, because God has granted you the kingdom of heaven”.
You, also do not be afraid because, God wills through you to enlighten the
souls of many. You shall endure many sorrows and persecutions for the truth
but, endure everything and you will also inherit the kingdom of heaven”.
St. John further expanded his efforts in
preparation for the service that God had shown him. For a period of time St. John left the
monastery and in a distant cave strengthened his soul through constant prayer.
Through a persistent struggle within himself, he obtained spiritual
enlightment. Distant from the noises of the world, communicating with God and
envisioning the beauty of His creation, St.
John’s soul drew closer and closer to the fountain of
light and life.
But, his life’s efforts so weakened
his physical strength, that in a few years he had to return back to Antioch. He forever
treasured a fond remembrance of a monk’s quiet life.
Soon after his return from Antioch, Saint Meletius
ordained him a deacon. In the year 386, Bishop Flavian
I of Antioch,
successor to Meletius, raised him to Priesthood, not assigning him to any
particular church but, entrusted him with the duty of a preacher. St.
John long ago, in his book “On the Priesthood”,
outlined examples of what a true priest should achieve. He now accepted his
calling, with a heart full of trepidation and confusion and with total
dependence on God’s help, He, who can ease any burden.
Ascertaining hardships, St. John never lost
faith. He had a strong helper, whom he addressed with total dependency and who
blessed all his works. Accepting his calling, he decided to dedicate to his
obligations his full physical and mental strength. In other words, all of his
life he began with love and full enthusiasm. With a fatherly concern, he
followed every spiritual development of every child assigned to him; gave
strength to the depressed, supported the faltering and was everything to
everyone. He preached,
comforted, reproached, united meekness with strength, ferverent love and
condescendence with wisdom.
Before John’s time, what preacher lived
his life in total harmony with the lives of his flock: sharing in their sorrows
and joys, responding to them equally with words full of sincerity and zeal?
Many of those who first approached him came with sheer curiosity,
their souls were deeply moved with the mighty and powerful words of the
preacher. Many came to their senses, acknowledge their sins, sobbed and were enveloped
in their own tears.
In his conversations, St. John explained the Holy Scriptures and
extracted from this source the teachings required for every Christian. In order
to raise their hearts closer to God, John used the examples of social life to
remind his listeners of Gods laws.
Once it was said, a women from the
people, listening to him, shouted out, “St.
John spiritual confessor, Golden Mouth! Your teaching
is so deep in thought that our weak minds cannot grasp it all!” From then on, St. John especially tried to present his
teachings in the most simplest of manners for everyone to understand. The
people, however, always referred to him as the Golden Mouth, by which he is
recognized even now.
John was a priest in Antioch for twelve years. In the year 397,
the Archbishop of Constantinople died and St. John was elected to fill his see.
Knowing how much the Antiochians loved St.
John, the new Emperor Arkadius,
son of Theodosius the Great, was cautious that this appointment might cause a
disturbance among many people and ordered St.
John secretly to leave Antioch. In Constantinople
they received St. John
joyfully, his name being well known throughout the east. However, here he also found those who were
ill disposed towards him.
Now his duties were extremely
numerous. As the Patriarch of Constantinople he oversaw many church regions.
John was not afraid of work and began his new obligations diligently, giving
all his strength in service to God.
at that time were many Arians, especially from the tribe of Goth’s, who served
in the King’s Army. By the order of Theodosius, Arians were prohibited to have Temples inside the city
and were forced to serve behind the city gates.
Therefore, before every holiday they would gather in the evening in the
plaza and in porticos, and public places singing hymns full of blasphemy
against the Holy Trinity. The singing continued until the very early morning
hours and attracted many people. The Archbishop established for the Orthodox
processions with prayerful singing, venerating the Holy Cross. Prayers were
said for peace in the church, for the saving of souls and guarding against
hardships. All prayers concluded in common exhilaration, “Lord Have Mercy!” In
the processions people began wearing silver crosses and carrying lighted
candles. The Arian gatherings were completely abandoned and it became a
tradition to have processions with crosses for different reasons: prayers to
overt all hardships and in remembrance of all kindness granted by God. Nightly
Vesper Services were celebrated with special exaltation before every Great Holy
Day and Days of Highly Commemorated Saints. St. John built a church in Constantinople
for the Goth’s, who accepted the true faith. Here the services were performed
in the native tongue of the Goth’s and St.
John himself often preached to them with the help of a
translator. This served as a turning point for the Goth’s towards accepting the
St. John was concerned with the spreading of
God’s word. He sent preachers to Persia, Phinicia, beyond the Danube to the
Scythians and to the Slavs living in Asia: “You were the first to erect alters
for the Scythians living in nomadic tents”, wrote Bishop Theodorite of Cyprus
to St. John the Golden Mouth.
Women also participated in the
spreading of saintly deeds by sending their wealthy offerings to benevolent
preachers of God’s good news. When St.
John came to Constantinople
he found there, dedicated women who devoted their lives in the service of God
and the poor. Through participation and council St. John started to direct their activities
and joined efforts towards lessening the peoples suffering. Their famous names
were Nikoreta, Pentadita, Proklia, Vassiana, and Olympias.
Being widowed at an early age, Olympias refused to
marry the King’s relative. This brought upon her persecution. The Emperor took
away her property, under the excuse that she squandered it, but later returnd everything. Olympias
became a deaconess and used her wealth for the purpose of the poor. St. John the Golden Mouth
wrote to her: “From early youth you fed Christ when He was hungry, gave Him
drink when He was thirsty, dressed Him, looked after the forlorn, took care of
the sick, and visited the prisoners.”
The spreading of God’s Word into distant lands was the
main concern of this great and holy preacher. In Constantinople incessantly
resounded his sermons, full of lively and heated inspirations. He strongly
influenced his listeners, moving them to improve their lifestyles and their
works of charity. Frequently, in his
sermons St. John
spoke of love for his fellow man.
However exalting the deeds of St. John Chrysostom, they
did not sooth the hatred of his enemy. With disappointment they observed his
increasing influence upon the people. Empress Eudoxia
took full control over her husband, the weak Arkadius.
She was a women obsessed with greed. Sparing no means to fatten her purse, she
falsely informed, illegally acquired and confiscated property. St. John often had to defend those abused by
her and act in their defense. This extremely offended Eudoxia.
She despised St. John
and did not conceal her hatred of him.
John’s enemies took advantage of his situation.
Confident that the Empress would support them, they started to act assuredly
In the village of Dubom,
suburb of Chalcedon,
enemies convened an illegal council in the year 403 and presented against him
29 points of accusation. In essence, these accusations were merely treated by
the Holy Saint in genuine celebration. All during his lifetime, no matter how
thorough the efforts of his enemies, they could not find a single blemish
against him. Their accusations were trivial and insignificant, mainly resting
upon the offensive words supposedly spoken by St. John against the Empress. The illegal
council invited the Archbishop to present his case, but St. John consistently gave an unemotional
response. He could not recognize the councils legality, where in judgment
presided his daring enemies. Their arrival in Constantinople
was souly for the purpose of passing judgment upon him. Those who came to St. John’s aid were
subjected to beatings and insults. Forty Bishops remained true to St. John, objecting against the illegal actions of the council in Duba and the
legality of the council itself. The decisive action rested in favor of St. John’s enemies. They
rendered judgment to depose and banish the Archbishop. The weak Emperor Arkadius, under the influence of Eudoxia, finally confirmed
When this news spread among the people, they became
alarmed. From all ends of Constantinople they
rushed to the Cathedral of Saint Sophia. The house of the Archbishop was
connected to a gallery and guarded day and night. The deeply loved pastor was
surrounded by a bull work of guards. Only one common desire was shared by the
crowd. “We are asking for a legal counsel, only a legal council can judge the
bishop”. In the city, alarm and anxiety began to spread. Not only did they talk
of banishment and exile but also, of a death sentence. Upset by such talk, the
people filled the churches praying for St.
John or crowded the church steps, if only to see from
a distance the Archbishop or hear the sound of his voice.
In the midst of total confusion, only St. John remained
calm. St. John
told his flock, “Nothing and no one can separate us. We shall only separate
physically but, will remain united in love, even death cannot part us. My
people, even if my body dies, my soul shall live on and will never forget you.
Do not concern yourself with daily events. Show me only your love through your
unwavering faith. I, however, have God’s promise and do not depend solely on my
own strength. I have His Holy Scriptures: my support and my strength and my
peaceful landing. His words are my shield and protection. What words?
“I am with you till the end of time.”
God is with me, whom shall I fear?”
“You alone with your love are holding me back, but I
always pray: God Thy Will be done! As You wish, not as
the wishes of one or the other. He is my , my
immoveable stone, my unwavering cane. What God desires, so shall it be. If it is His
desire to leave me here, I thank Him. Take me from here, again I thank Him.”
The following day, around mid-day, one of the Emperor’s
courtiers delivered St. John
an order to immediately leave the city. “I am obligated to obey the Emperor,”
stated St. John
“and I do not wish one drop of blood to spill on my behalf.” He quickly boarded
the ship, ready to receive him and shortly the darkness of the night coveted
the departure of the Saint from the eyes of his followers.
But, still in the morning confusion began to grow. People filled the churches, pounded the
streets and squares, sending heartfelt prayers to God for their loving pastor
and were indignant towards his enemies.
With the occurrence of a powerful earthquake the night
brought with it a new terror. The tremors were especially severe throughout the
Emperor’s palace. In the middle of the night, Empress Eudoxia
consumed with fright ran to the quarters of the Emperor. “We banished the
righteous one and for this God will punishing us. It is imperative to
immediately return him or we shall all perish.” The Emperor understandably
approved. Eudoxia herself wrote to St. John, a letter
in which she acknowledged her innocence in his banishment. In God’s name she
begged him to return.
Immediately, a courtier was sent to St. John with her letter. After the first
letter was sent a second and a third followed, so impatient was the frightened
Empress. People found out about St. John’s return and in
multitudes flocked the docks of Constantinople
to be joined by numerous boats. Some
hastened to meet the Saint. Others awaited him to extend their greetings at the
pier. By nightfall, the boats enlightened the whole shore with torches and the
Archbishop returned to his flock, surrounded by exuberant shouts of joy.
He did not want to go directly into the city, until it was
announced, before all the people of the unlawfulness of his accusations and
therefore, he stopped at a nearby suburb. The Empress having been informed, sent to ask him persuasively to enter the capitol.
The people with force had to have him enter the Cathedral, where they asked of
him his blessings and a word. In the Cathedral, St. John blessed his congregation, uttered
words of praise to his God, and read the Empress’s letter.
Two months had passed since St. Johns return. Through the persistence of
the vain and powerful Eudoxia, a silver statue was
erected in her honor and placed in the Cathedral Square of Saint Sophia. At the
unveiling of the statue, the Cathedral abounded with noisy amusement of a pagan
sort. Screams, loud songs and music audibly reached the church interrupting its
services. Then, John spoke strongly against such spectacles. The Empress was
informed that in this speech she was offended by St. John. Again Iradiada
dances, again Iradiada is worried, again she demands
the head of John, exclaimed the Saint.
Now the enemies of St.
John newly revitalized with vigor. The Feast of Feasts
Easter was drawing near and not anywhere in Christendom was it so festively
celebrated as in the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Constantinople.
At this time, the Emperor Arkadius ordered to inform
the Saint that he was not to go to the Cathedral. Great Saturday was assigned for the baptism
of more than 3,000 converts in the Cathedral.
arrived there in the morning. The service started and the mysteries of baptism
were being performed, when all of a sudden a band of armed soldiers noisily
stormed the Cathedral and forcefully brought out the Archbishop. The people
started to defend the Archbishop and many were wounded and killed. Converts
were dispersed, many of whom were preparing for baptism. Cries of panic, the
sounds of weapons, the weeping of women mourning their dead and wounded,
engulfed the Cathedral.
St. John was returned to his home. The
newly converted threw themselves at the fences around the baptismal vessels and
even into the bathhouses. Here priests continued to bless the waters and bring
to an end, the interrupted baptismal rite.
Even here the soldiers invaded the baptistery..
By nightfall, people avoided the church and gathered on
the plains outside the city to hear the festive Easter Service. In the morning,
the Emperor having come from the outskirts of the city,
was surprised to see this crowd of people mostly dressed in white, as if they
were enlightened by Holy Baptism. “Who are these people?” he asked. “These are
heretics, shunning the church,” responded those near him. “Well then disperse
them and capture their leaders,” ordered the Emperor and left.
Terrifying retributions followed.
In the Archbishops house, St. John was held in exile. Near the Holy
Feasts of Pentecost, St. John
was sentenced to be banished. Just as the first time, he had to leave the city
incognito. He desired to visit once more the Cathedral of Saint Sophia and
there, say goodbye to the clergy and other friends. The people having found out that this Saintly
man was in the Cathedral, gathered in the square in multitudes waiting for him
to exit by the main door. But the Saint having said his goodbyes to the clergy,
deaconesses and having given them instruction and his blessings, left by the
opposite door and with those who arrested him, went towards the shore.
People waited for him a long time,
finally realizing what had happened. Some of them quickly hastened to the sea
and saw only the ship sailing away. Others started to force their way into the
Cathedral, but were chased away by the guards. Again, they were surrounded by
total confusion. The Cathedral doors were forcefully broken down and the people
rushed in. The swords began again to
flash in quick action and the moaning of the wounded and dying filled the
church once more. In the mean time, a storm gathered in the night igniting the
Cathedral of Saint Sophia. It destroyed
the church, the senate building, rich homes, the
surrounding square and threatened the palace. In the morning, from this vast
Cathedral only a small portion survived.
Here the church valuables were saved from destruction.
The next day the whole city concerned itself with only one
question, “Who was responsible for the fire?” Naturally, St. John’s enemies accused, his followers.
Some were not even ashamed to accuse St.
John himself. He just left Chalcedon and was in enroute to the city of Nicea,
when a messenger sent from Constantinople
reached St. John
and informed him of the fire in the Cathedral. Then the guards rearrested the
two bishops and the clergy who were traveling with St. John into exile. These people, loyal
followers of St. John
were held suspect to what had happened and were lead back to Constantinople.
St. John alone
with his captors continued this difficult journey to Nicea.
Not for long did St.
John rest in Nicea. After a
month he was transferred to a severely remote place of exile in Cucus, a small town in the hills of Armenia. St.
John had to overcome more sufferings and dangers
during his 70 days of travel. But on his journey, he was met with loving
greetings from the people, hermits, and clergy who swarmed his pathways to
receive his blessings. With tears in
their eyes, they exulted: “It would have been better for the sun to covet its
rays, than to have St. John’s
Golden Mouth be silenced.”
Never before, has John’s fame been greater than it was
now, not even exile or the sufferings of the flesh, or any adversities, could
defeat his illuminated soul. Ignited through love and faith, he ascended above
all inward adversities. In one of his letters with full sincerity he therefore
wrote, “There is only one evil - that is sin; only one good - your good deeds. Everything else, what so ever you may call
it, happiness or calamity they are only a smoky mirage and fantasy!
The love and respect shown this exiled great man, the
defense given him by the western bishops, in conjunction with his benevolent
activities, all of these things terrified his enemies. They easily convinced
the Emperor to exile him to an isolated location called Pontus, on the
shores of the Black Sea. Apparently, the executors
were secretly suggested by St. John’s
enemies and fulfilled their commands in the cruelest ways. Not taking into
account the failing health of the Saint, he was lead in the heat of the day and
in heavy rain, hardly being given time to rest. In three month’s they reached
the city of Comanan.
St. John was
fully exhausted. At night St. Vasilisk, who was
buried in Comanan, appeared to St. John saying, “Do not despair Brother
John, tomorrow we will be together”. The next day, St. John asked the guards in vain not to
hasten his departure from Comanan, but the guards who
dragged him further finally were forced to go back. He had no strength to go
any further. Feeling that death was approaching, he took Communion and with
tears in his eyes said, “Glory be to God for
everything!” Thus finished his life fully dedicated to God. He reposed on the fourteenth of September in
the year 407. All Christians came
together to mourn the death of this Great Saint.
Thirty years later after the death of Saint John, Patriarch Porkl
convinced Emperor Theodosius II to transfer St. John’s relics to Constantinople.
The Emperor departed to meet in Chalcedon
the Saint’s relics. Falling to the ground, he prayed to the Saint and asked him
to forgive his parents, the Emperor Arkadius and
Empress Eudoxia. The whole bay of Constantinople
again was enlightened with boats. The people with reverent joy greeted the
relics of the great shepherd. This festivity occurred on the 27th of
January in the year 438 and paved the way to an end to the unrest of the
Rarely did a preacher possess such a profound effect upon
his listeners as did St. John Chrysostom.
Every word emanated from his soul, full of love and reverence and possessed
unreflecting strength. His homilies numbered over 800. In them were interpreted
many chapters of the Holy Scriptures:
The book of the bible, psalms, and prophecies, the Gospels of Matthew
and John and almost on all the Epistles of Apostle Paul. In addition many
discussions on special occasions, for instance: On the destruction of pagan
structures in Antioch;
on the Feast Days of the Martyrs, against false teachings and others. St. John was a reverent
preacher of love, compassion, and charity. All his conversations evolved around
these topics and deeply touched the soul. To St. John Chrysostom we are
indebted for the rite of the Holy Liturgy, which is almost celebrated everyday
of the year. He showed leniency towards the weak human nature and shortened the
Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great. For the exception of some prayers and
Troparions, added thereafter, the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom is performed
as he had originally established it.
The Orthodox highly venerate this
Great Universal Saint, commemorating him on the 14th of September
and the 13th of November. On the 27th of January we
celebrate the transferring of his relics and on the 30th of January
he again is remembered with Saint Basil the Great of Cesaria
and Gregory the Theologian.
Translated from Russian to English
By: Christopher, Nathaniel, and
Return to articles