St. John Chrysostom is a Doctor of the Church. Together with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian, he is called one of the Three Hierarchs.
Raised by his virtuous widowed mother, John was born in 344/347 in Antioch, Syria. He was baptized around the age of 20. As a young man, he was educated by the pagan Libanus in rhetoric, Greek language and literature. Eventually, he became a lawyer. John also studied theology under Diodore of Tarsus, the founder of the re-constituted School of Antioch. He took orders as a reader (an actual minor order, then) and was tonsured.
Shortly after his baptism, c. 375, John chose to become an anchorite in the desert. For two years, he subjected himself to severe asceticism. He suffered by standing almost exclusively, sleeping rarely, fasting severely, and memorizing the Bible. This type of life permanently damaged his stomach and kidneys. He was so sick, he had to go back to Antioch.
In the 380s, Antioch was not in communion with Alexandria and Rome. Much of this was due to the ongoing argument of the Arian heresy. Back in his hometown, John studied to become a deacon, being ordained in 381. Five years later, he was ordained a priest. Then he began to work to reunite the three Churches.
Preaching at the Golden Church, Antioch’s cathedral, he developed popular support for his very practical homilies. He wrote and spoke plainly, like a lawyer, and presented a common-sense approach to life’s mysteries. His main subjects were Bible analysis, charitable giving, spiritual and temporal needs of the poor and abuse of wealth and personal property. His surname, Chrysostom, meant “golden-mouthed”, thus John Chrysostom meant John the golden-mouthed. Unfortunately, many rich public figures were not happy with his subject matter.
JOHN IS PROMOTED TO CONSTANTINOPLE
In 397, John was nominated for the archbishop of Constantinople, unbeknownst to him. He was so popular in Antioch that he had to leave in secret, fearful that the departure of such a popular figure would cause civil unrest.
He was just as popular in Constantinople, founding hospitals and preaching for up to two hours at a time in the old Hagia Sophia cathedral. However, his reform of the clergy, like deposing practitioners of simony, was unpopular. As in Antioch, he refused to host lavish gatherings, making some think he was cheap. They talked about him behind his back, implying he was deviant, a glutton and a user of others’ money, all of which he preached against. So, in some circles people called him a hypocrite.
Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, was not happy with John’s new position. When four Egyptian monks were disciplined over their support of Origen’s teachings, Theophilus had his chance. The monks went to John for assistance. Theophilus was able to proclaim that John was biased towards Origen’s questionable teachings. In the famous 403 Synod of the Oak, Theophilus accused John of supporting heresy. Eudoxia, the emperor’s wife, backed Theophilus. She most likely did this because John’s sermons on wealth vs Gospel values made her uncomfortable. Despite John’s defense, he was banished. Almost immediately, the people of Constantinople became furious and threatened with riots. So, John was called back.
John hardly had time to breathe before a silver statue of Eudoxia appeared near the cathedral. Among other things, John called it pagan. Theophilus quickly banished John to Cucusus, an isolated village located hundreds of miles away. The response was wild. Riots and burning occurred in Constantinople. The old Hagia Sophia was burned down.
Pope Innocent protested John’s banishment to no avail. Then he sent a delegation to intercede. The men never even entered Constantinople. John wrote letters asking for help and prayers. On hearing this, the Patriarch sent him further abroad to what is now the country of Georgia. But, John never arrived. The stress to his body was too much. He died in Comana Pontica, still in Turkey, on 14 September, 407.
For several decades, John was seen as being in schism with Rome. St. Proclus, the archbishop of Constantinople thirty years later, gave talks explaining John’s theology. By 437, his remains were translated to Constantinople, This meant that he was honorable in the Church.
From St. John Chrysostom : Many artisans get up at night to labor, and soldiers keep vigil as sentries; cannot you do as much to praise God?