John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, is one of the great saints of the Eastern Church. He was born about 354 in Antioch, Syria. As a young man, he responded to the call of desert monasticism until his health was impaired. He returned to Antioch after six years, and was ordained a presbyter. In 397, he became Bishop (Patriarch) of Constantinople. Twice exiled, dying in 407 during the second period of banishment, his episcopate was short and tumultuous. Many criticized his ascetical life in the episcopal residence, and he incurred the wrath of the empress Eudoxia, who believed that he had called her a “Jezebel”. Thirty-one years after his death, his remains were brought back to Constantinople and buried on January 27.
John, called “Chrysostom”, which means “golden-mouthed”, was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. People flocked to hear him, and they often dismayed him by applauding his sermons. His eloquence was accompanied by an acute sensitivity to the needs of his people. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care, and as a medium of teaching. He warned that if a presbyter had no talent for preaching the Word, the souls of those in his charge “will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm.”
His sermons provide insights into the liturgy of the Church, and especially into eucharistic practices. He describes the liturgy as a glorious experience, in which all heaven and earth join. His sermons emphasize the importance of lay participation in the Eucharist. “Why do you marvel,” he wrote, “that the 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.” To this day, the principal liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church is entitled, “The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom”.
His treatise, Six Books on the Priesthood, is a classic manual on the presbyteral office and its awesome demands. The priest, he wrote, must be “dignified, but not haughty; awe-inspiring, but kind; affable in his authority; impartial, but courteous; humble, but not servile; strong but gentle….”
- Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, are published at the Lectionary Page.
Another biographical sketch of Saint John Chrysostom may be found here.