It is the 14th of September, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
He was first known as John of Antioch, then John of Constantinople, where he was one of the most popular and vilified preachers of his age, and then, after his death, when his reputation was rehabilitated, he was given the name most know him by now: John the Golden Mouth- or John Chrysostom.
He would become known as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the Orthodox tradition, and he is a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, and his feast day is remembered across traditions.
He was born in 347 in Antioch- then a center of luxury and a budding center for the Christian church- it being both was not lost on John.
His father, a soldier, died when he was young, and he was raised by his mother, Anthusa. I should note, upfront, that separating myth from fact is difficult with John. He was so beloved that the stories told about him were legion. In the 16th century, Martin Luther wrote a tract, “Die Lügend von S. Johanne Chrysostomo”- the word “Lügend” is a play on the word for both legend and lying.
But, according to tradition, his mother was a pious Christian who prayed for her son's conversion. He was a lawyer and trained under a famous pagan and orator in Antioch. Around the age of 20, his mother's prayers were answered when he decided to be baptized. It should be noted that it would be another three years before he would be baptized, as there were strict regulations for catechumens (those being taught the faith in order to be baptized).
He was a zealous convert who wanted to become a monk. His mother, telling him he could not leave her, convinced him to create a monastery-like existence in their home. Upon her death, he moved in amongst the monks in the mountains of Syria. His ascetic lifestyle was reportedly so intense he damaged his kidneys and stomach and would be sickly until his death.
After six years in the mountains, he went back to Antioch, where he was ordained as a lector, then a deacon, and finally a presbyter. His preaching was generally popular, but especially amongst the poor of Antioch. He sold off whatever luxuries the church had and ministered to the many poor and sick in Antioch, then one of the most populous and crowded cities in the West.
His growing popularity was a concern to him- in one of his works, on the Priesthood, he wrote: “I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise," he wrote in one passage. "And if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help being pained and distraught at losing it.”
In Constantinople, with a vacant Bishopric, he was nominated for the position but not told. Nonetheless, the Emperor, wanting the famous preacher for himself, elected John Bishop and then kidnapped him- as he knew the people of Antioch would be furious having their famous preacher taken.
But if Antioch was a center of wealth, Constantinople bested it in not only wealth but licentiousness. His sermons once again were popular, especially with the poor, but the Empress believed she was the target of his sermons against wealth and luxury (something about a kicked dog barks). He was also involved in the disputes between Alexandria and Antioch- being a student of Antiochene exegesis. He had enemies in other camps.
In 403, while he was out of town, a synod was called- the “Synod of the Oak,” in which he was charged with 30 crimes- from improperly selling church property to kidnapping a man. He was banished and refused to defend himself on account that he might become the cause of a riot.
A story, likely a legend, is told that on the night he was deposed, an earthquake struck the city, and the empress brought John back- only to depose him again when his sermons continued to attack the wealthy. Sent into exile, he continued to write sermons and was exiled even further to keep his sermons from coming into the capital- he died on the eastern shore of the Black Sea on this, the 14th of September in 407. St. John Chrysostom was 60 years old.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary (it is Holy Cross day, FYI) and John 3:
3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
3:17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man with golden ears- Chrysosautia (?). He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man with the Golden, well… nothing- I’m a simple man- no jewelry- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.