Saint John Chrysostom was born around 340 into a military family in Antioch, Turkey. After study under Libanius, the great rhetorician of the day, John lived with monks in Syria for a few years, but poor health brought him back to Antioch where he served the church for five years as a deacon, taking care of the poor.
Ordained a priest in 386, John became an outstanding preacher and bishop; his “golden mouth” (Chrysostom) delighted his hearers with sermons on the gospels and letters of Paul. Appointed bishop of Constantinople, his sermons had the opposite effect on the rulers and churchmen of that city with his attacks on their pomp and luxury. The Empress Eudoxia exiled him from the city in 402 AD.
He returned after a brief absence and resumed his fearless preaching against the city’s powerful political and church elite. Eudoxia finally sent him into exile on the Black Sea after John gave a sermon that began “Again Herodias is raging, again she is perturbed, again she wants to receive the head of John on a dish.” Hardly a way to ingratiate yourself with royalty.
“ Glory be to God for everything. Amen” John said before he died on his way to exile. “If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear. Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are against me, they are as weak as a spider’s web.”
He died on September 14, 407 AD, the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, which we celebrate tomorrow.
We need people today with “golden mouths” to speak to power. In its prayer for his feast, the church thanks God for this bishop made “illustrious by his wonderful eloquence and his example of suffering,” a nice reminder that preaching isn’t just about beautiful words. John died on a feast of the Holy Cross. Preaching can be a dangerous act.