Nicknamed the “Golden Mouth” for his skills as his generation’s greatest orator, John Chrysostom was one of the early church’s most powerful preachers.
However, Chrysostom died in infamy on this day, September 14, 407, because he employed his considerable skills to call out the hypocrisy, immorality, and sins of excess that plagued the flock God had called him to lead.
But while Chrysostom displayed considerable rhetorical ability from an early age, few would have guessed that he would go on to such prominence.
Who was John Chrysostom?
John Chrysostom’s ministry began when he entered monastic seclusion and took to the ascetic lifestyle with such fervor that his health eventually failed him and he was forced to return to civilization. With the life of a monk no longer an option, he became a priest in Antioch under the leadership of the city’s Archbishop, Flavian.
A rebellion in 388, however, changed the course of Chrysostom’s life after it forced Flavian to make the eight-hundred-mile journey to Constantinople in order to plead for the lives of his city’s people.
The emperor had not shied away from using the violent means at his disposal to put down the uprising, and the archbishop hoped to persuade him to stop before greater harm came to his flock.
In Flavian’s absence, John Chrysostom became a source of spiritual strength and authority for the people of Antioch, calling the people to address the sin in their lives and commit to their faith in a way that resonated with the distressed populace. Even after the archbishop returned with the good news that the emperor had chosen to pardon the city’s remaining leaders and citizens, Chrysostom remained one of its most popular and respected preachers.
His renown eventually grew to the point that he followed Flavian’s path to Constantinople, though under quite different circumstances.
The kidnapping of John Chrysostom
You see, the officials in the Empire’s capital thought that they deserved to have the Empire’s greatest preacher.
So in 398, they kidnapped Chrysostom and installed him as their archbishop. While the move was hardly in accordance with John’s wishes, he deemed it part of God’s providence and accepted the move.
But while his new flock revered his skills as a preacher, they quickly came to abhor the content of his sermons.
The same themes of preaching against wealth, excess, corruption, and sinful hypocrisy that had made him famous in Antioch made him infamous in the far wealthier and more decadent Constantinople.
The government’s attempts to subsidize a similar lifestyle for Chrysostom were used by the preacher to help the poor, build hospitals, and improve the lives of those less fortunate.
Ultimately, after nearly a decade of marveling at his sermons and writings while chafing under the accountability and righteousness they demanded, the city’s leaders—and even some of his fellow bishops—decided that John Chrysostom needed to be silenced.
To that end, they fabricated charges of heresy and, under that false pretense, exiled the great preacher to the eastern shore of the Black Sea. The long and arduous journey left him so weak by the time they reached their destination that he died shortly thereafter.
However, his story does not end with his death.
A “Doctor of the Church”
Roughly thirty-four years later, Emperor Theodosius II would publicly ask forgiveness for his parents’ act in sending Chrysostom into exile.
He was then recognized as a “Doctor of the Church,” a title bestowed upon only three others during this period: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius. Among early Christian leaders, it would be hard to find better company.
As such, his example reminds us that being accepted by those around us is of far less importance than being accepted by God. Moreover, even if we never see the difference such faithfulness makes, we can trust the Lord not to waste our witness.
What kind of witness will you give today?