Almighty God, who has given us grace at this time with one accord
to make our common supplications unto thee: and dost promise, that
when two or three are gathered together in thy name thou wilt grant
their requests; fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy
servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this
world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life
A prayer attributed to Saint John Chrysostom
(347 - 407, Archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church)
John was born around 347 A.D. in Antioch. At the time of his
birth, Antioch was the second largest city in the eastern part of the
Roman Empire. He was born into troubled times, marked by religious
struggle. His father, a high-ranking officer in the Syrian army,
died when John was very young, leaving John and his older sister to be
raised by their pious mother.
His mother sent him to the best schools in Antioch, where he was
well-educated in preparation for a career in law. He studied
rhetoric under Libanius, one of the most famous orators of his
time. Libanius was impressed with John's eloquence, and predicted
that he would become a brilliant statesman.
John, however, had other ideas. When he was about 20, he met the
bishop Meletius, who had such a profound effect on John that he gave
up his classical and secular studies in order to devote himself to
an ascetic religious life. He was baptised and left
Antioch for the life of a monk and hermetic in the mountains south
of the city. After several years of theological study, prayer, and
manual labor, the austerity of the monastic way of life life had
almost killed him. He developed a stomach ailment which plagued him
for the rest of his life.
His poor health forced him to return to Antioch, where was ordained as
a priest 386. The beginning of his ministry consisted largely
of pastoral care and spiritual guidance to the
poor of the city, but he soon became well-known for his lengthy and
inspiring sermons. His studies under Libanius had served him well.
It was for his sermons that John earned the title "Chrysostom"
(golden-mouthed). They usually consisted of consecutive explanations
of the Holy Scriptures, which sometimes went on for hours. These
commentaries, many of which still survive in written form today, offer
a great deal of historical knowledge of the culture and mores of
the late 4th and early 5th centuries.
During this time, Chrysostom became well known throughout the
Byzantine Empire, and (to his dismay) was made archbishop of
Constantinople in 398. As archbishop, he became involved in imperial
politics. He was outspoken in his criticism of the excesses of the
extremely wealthy and of corruption amongst the clergy. He used
his money and power to benefit the poor and to build a hospital. As
an archbishop, Chrysostom lived only slightly less strictly as he had
as a monk. He soon gained admiration in Constantinople, as he had in
Unfortunately, his popularity began to upset the Empress Eudoxia,
who saw many of his reforms as a personal attack on her. He also
made enemies in the clergy with his denunciations of their vices and
follies. When it was discovered that he had given asylum to some
monks who had been excommunicated by Theophilus, the Bishop of
Alexandria, he was falsely accused of treason. He was exiled,
but the Empress and the Bishop of Alexandria were forced to back down
and restore him to his post when the people of Constantinople
vigorously protested his banishment.
Two months later, a silver statue of the Empress was unveiled in a
square near the cathedral. Around this time, Chrysostom delivered
another sermon which offended the Empress. She resumed her plotting
to exile Chrysostom. Two attempts were made to kill him, but both of
them failed. Finally, he was arrested on Easter eve, 404. Emperor
Arcadius signed a decree of exile, and on June 24 of the same year,
Chrysostom was once more escorted into exile by imperial soldiers.
This time, his exile was immediately followed by a major
. Once again, he was reinstated. But he continued to
speak out against the excesses of Empire and Church, and was exiled a
third time. This time he died, exhausted, on September 14, 407,
during the course of his enforced travel to Pythius
on foot and in
bad weather. His last words were "Glory be to God
for all things
Thirty years later, his relics were entombed at the Church of the Holy Apostles, where Eudoxia had also been buried. St. John
Chrysostom is the patron saint of Constantinople, epilepsy,
epileptics, Istanbul, lecturers, orators, preachers, and
speakers. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 451.
Some modern readers have claimed that Chrysostom was anti-semitic. This is debatable, and it is beyond my ability to draw a conclusion. It is true that he
wrote a sermon titled "Orations Against the Judaizers,"
which many anti-semitic groups over the years have attempted to use to
justify their actions. The title of the sermon is often mistranslated
as "Orations Against the Jews." While his words are
certainly offensive to modern ears, and he was certainly an irritable
and opinionated man, it is likely Chrysostom was railing not against
Jews in general, but against self-proclaimed Christians who attended Synagogue on Saturday as well as Church on Sunday and
encouraged others to do the same.
Episcopal Book of Common Prayer