If you had asked someone from Antioch in the year 400 if they knew John Chrysostom, no one would have known whom you were talking about. After explaining a bit more about whom you were looking for they would likely have said, “Oh, you mean John of Constantinople. Sure, everyone knows him! John of Constantinople did not get the name Chrysostom till at least a hundred years after his death. This man was used incredibly by God.
From the start he was a step ahead of the rest. John was a monk, but before becoming a monk he was a lawyer. He was trained by some of the best in the world. John was trained by the famous orator Libanius. Libanius was a Greek-speaking teacher of Rhetoric at the Sophist school. He was as good as they come. Libanius was once asked who should take his job when he was to retire. Libanius responded, that John Chrysostom should. However, Libanius quickly clarified, “that will not be possible because the Christians have laid claim on him.”
How cool is that? Chrysostom is the type of man that has added so much value that the world is clamoring to get a hold of him. I have often thought this, but never written much about it. The Church should be the one who is leading the charge in the arts and sciences. What if we produced the best work? So much so that the pagan teachers wished that they could be replaced by those who have dedicated their life and their craft to the Lord. Imagine! Well, that was this man John Chrysostom. Make no mistake about it, God was using him uniquely. God had empowered him to preach the gospel with skill and clarity. Chrysostom made it his goal to preach it faithfully.
Chrysostom was so desired that when the position of bishop opened up in Constantinople they had to take John by force to the town. They didn’t do this because John didn’t want to go. No, the people wouldn’t let him go! This was a man who was loved by all.
One of the many things that Chrysostom did was to bring about great reform to the church. For too long the church had gotten sloppy. They were sloppy with regard to their sexuality and their money. Hmmm… Good thing we don’t struggle with those issues anymore.
The priests who were supposed to be living celibate, or sex free, lives decided that wasn’t really for them. So they figured out that they could bring a “spiritual sister” into their home. This woman could stay with him since they weren’t married and that would scratch their itch. This was completely unacceptable to John. He set them straight by ensuring that the spiritual sisters were kicked out of the house and that these priests began living celibate lives.
With regard to the finances, John found that the church was entirely too ornate and wealthy. It wasn’t that the ornateness by itself was an issue, however the ornateness paired with the growing poverty in the streets around the churches made this a horrific tragedy in his mind. The church was spending money on itself while abandoning the needs of the people. John turned to craigslist. He just went off and craigslisted a bunch of stuff the church owned in order to meet the needs of those around him. (okay, not really craigslist… But you know what I mean!)
This made John an incredibly popular man, while at the same time making him an incredibly hated man. John, however, could handle this. John preached a message that sounded much like the script of the movie Blood Diamond. He says this, “The gold bit in your horse, the gold circlet on the wrist of your slave, the gilding on your shoes, mean that you are robbing the orphan and starving the widow. When you have passed away, each passer-by who looks upon your great mansion will say, ‘How many tears did it take to build that mansion; how many orphans were stripped; how many widows wronged; how many laborers deprived of their honest wages?’ Even death itself will not deliver you from your accusers.” WOW!
John preached the word faithfully, from his heart, with incredible skill time and time again from one of the largest churches in all of Christendom, Hagia Sophia. This is one of the reasons that John Chrysostom has left the legacy that he has. Even when he was exiled for preaching the truth no matter what it cost he remained faithful. The emperor Arcadius banished Chrysostom to the smallest town he could find. The goal was to minimize the voice of John Chrysostom. This didn’t stop John. John may not have had a pulpit, but he had a pen. He began to write. Thankfully he did. We have many of his works today because of the writing that took place then.
John Chrysostom on his deathbed traveled to a small church in order to take communion. At this small church John uttered some of the most beautiful words that could have come out of this legends mouth. He said, “In all things, glory to God. Amen.”
John of Constantinople was given the name Chrysostom because it means golden tongue. John’s colleagues and his own teacher wanted him to teach and lead in the market place. John was wanted by everyone and on all sides. However, John didn’t give in. He remained faithful to the calling that God had placed on his life. He preached the word faithfully and with great courage.
I would like to thank John Chrysostom for being an example of humility and also of integrity for the church. I wish that we had learned from you early on.
A great resource to read up on Christian History is a book by Justo L. Gonzalez called, “The Story of Christianity”. You can purchase it at Amazon.com here.
Other Posts in this series:
1. Augustine of Hippo