St. John Chrysostom
St. John Chrysostom was born in 347. He earned a degree in the liberal arts and was baptized at the age of eighteen, in keeping with the custom of adult baptism common to his era. He joined a rustic group of hermits in the hills outside of his hometown in his mid-twenties. The conditions were so physically and psychologically brutal, though, that he left after seven years. He was ordained a priest in 386. His bishop recognized his gifts and put him in charge of the physical and pastoral care of the poor of Antioch, a ministry in which he honed his natural gifts as a preacher. He was so skillful in preaching that, a century after his death, he was given the title of Chrysostom or “golden mouth.” His sermons and letters display a refined understanding of the intricacies of the Holy Trinity and of the Gospels. His beautiful theological and spiritual reflections are referenced numerous times in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In 398 Saint John was consecrated the Archbishop of Constantinople. He began to implement overaggressive reforms as Archbishop. He bluntly criticized women for wearing make-up, Christians for attending races and games on holy days, the imperial court for its extravagances, and the clergy for their laxity and wealth-seeking. Recriminations soon followed. He was falsely charged with treason and other crimes and was exiled in 402. He was reinstated after an earthquake in Constantinople was interpreted as divine punishment for his banishment. But John was exiled a second time shortly thereafter. Like other saints, his time of exile proved fruitful. He wrote numerous letters, specifically to bishops in the Western Empire, including the pope. But also like other exiled popes and bishops, assertions of support were only as sturdy as the paper on which they were written. Practical help never materialized. John died in exile in 407, a victim of cold, rain, a forced march, and lack of food. Within a decade after his death, his reputation was restored by the pope, and his remains were transferred for burial in Constantinople. He was recognized as a Father of the Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1568.
Saint John suffered for his zeal. He was exiled by the civil powers in an age when correct theology was understood as a form of patriotism, and heresy as treason. He crossed the civil powers of his age, did not back down, and paid a severe price for his fidelity. When Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204, they stole John’s relics and carried them back to Rome. In 2004 Pope Saint John Paul II authorized the return of some of John’s remains to the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch in Saint George Church in present-day Istanbul, John’s own episcopal city.