St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom was one of the most prolific writers of the early church, and one of the most influential speakers in his time. He is widely celebrated by Christians who venerate saints, but most especially by Byzantine Christians, who recognize him as one of the three holy hierarchs and celebrate him on three separate feast days.

Lifetime: ~347 to 407
Region: Antioch (modern Turkey)
Patronages: Education; Epilepsy; Lecturers; Constantinople
Iconograpy: Bishop vestments; Gospel book; Dove
Feast Day: September 13 (Western); November 13 (Eastern)

John was born in Antioch, and while it is unknown whether his parents were Christian, his father was a high-ranking officer in the military. His father died when John was still a baby, so he was raised by his mother. Using her influence, she had John tutored by a well-known pagan tutor who specialized in rhetoric and taught John how to speak and read Greek. John eventually became a lawyer, but at some point began to embrace the Christian faith. In fact, John's tutor said of John on his death bed that John would have been his successor had the Christians not "taken him".

Having converted, John began to practice asceticism and to study theology. He was tonsured as a reader and spent his days fasting and memorizing scripture. He became a hermit, but had to give up such extreme asceticism when his poor diet permanently damaged his stomach and kidneys.

After returning to society, John studied for and was ordained as a deacon. A few years later he became a priest and from there his notoriety soared. Over the course of a dozen years, John's preaching made him famous. He spoke passionately with a straightforward understanding of the scriptures that greatly appealed to people. His homilies focused on almsgiving, the needs of the poor, and against the abuse of wealth. So excellent were his talks that he was dubbed the name "Chrysostom", meaning "golden-mouthed" in Greek in celebration of his eloquence. Many of his sermons are able to be read today, translated into English and many other languages. People converted to Christianity in droves after hearing him preach.

Then, without his knowledge, John was nominated to be the next bishop of Constantinople. He didn't want the role, but accepted and relocated to his new See. However, he refused many of the privileges that had come to be associated with the title, such as attending lavish parties with government officials and other among the nobility. He reformed the clergy under his leadership, reducing their pay and privileges. This all made him very popular with the average citizen - but very unpopular with rulers and clergy.

After John took in some exiles who had been accused of heresy by his patriarch, and insulted the emperor's wife by preaching against extravagant dress, the two powers joined forces to try to oust John. They held a synod, found him guilty of heresy, and sentenced him to exile. However, at his arrest an earthquake shook the city, and upon the verdict, masses of people gathered to protest, threatening to burn down the emperor's palace. Fearing riots (and the wrath of God Himself), they quickly rescinded their decree and reappointed John as bishop.

However, it did not last. He gained the ire of the emperor's wife again soon after when a statue of her was built. John compared her to Herodias, the wife of King Herod in the gospels who was the cause of John the Baptist's murder. Again he was exiled, and again the people rioted. This time, the riots led to the cathedral burning to the ground and having to be entirely rebuilt. The cathedral built in place of the old one is the famous Hagia Sophia, one of the most famous cathedrals in the world.

During his exile, John wrote many letters, some to the Pope, some to friendly bishops, and some to the people of Constantinople. To try to diminish his sway, even under banishment, John was exiled even further, but died before he reached his new destination.

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