One of the most beloved saints of the Christian East, the renowned preacher and fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom, will be remembered and celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church on September 13, the day before the anniversary of his death in 407.
Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, who regard the Byzantine archbishop as one of the most important of the early Church Fathers, commemorate him a month later on November 13, the date that he assumed the position of archbishop in the Eastern imperial capital.
Among Christians of the Byzantine tradition, St. John Chrysostom is best known for the liturgical rite traditionally ascribed to him. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches still celebrate the “Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” as their most common form of Eucharistic worship.
In the West, he is numbered among the 33 “Doctors of the Church,” and remembered especially for his extensive and profound teachings on the subject of the Holy Eucharist. Along with St. Joseph, he was named co-patron of the Second Vatican Council by Bl. John XXIII.
Born around 349 in the Syrian city of Antioch, which is today a part of Turkey, John received an education in the classical works of Greek. He was baptized at age 19 or 20 and mentored by the local Bishop Meletius, going on to attend a school of theology in the city.
For a total of six years, John left behind the relative wealth of his family background and lived a strict lifestyle as a monastic hermit, devoting himself entirely to prayer, fasting, and study of the Bible. This regimen permanently damaged his health, however, and he returned to the city to serve in the local church, eventually becoming a deacon and then priest.
After serving as a priest at Antioch for 12 years, from 386 to 397, John was selected for the position of Archbishop of Constantinople, which had become the imperial capital in 330. The city's prestige subjected the Church of Constantinople to frequent intrigues of the wealthy and powerful. Chrysostom, the former hermit, had to be brought to the city by force for his installation as archbishop.
Beginning in 398, he proclaimed the Gospel message in bold and eloquent sermons that earned him the nickname of “Golden Mouth” (the actual meaning of his title “Chrysostomos”). His preaching and witness also earned him the enmity of the Empress Eudoxia, however, and of others in the Church and state who resented his refusal of wealth and social status and his attempts to reform the clergy.
Condemned on false charges after six years at Constantinople, John was driven into exile and died en route to Pontus, along the Black Sea, in 407. The Church has preserved over 900 of St. John Chrysostom's renowned sermons, along with his profound last words: “Glory to God for all things!”
In addition to highlighting Chrysostom's love of the Eucharist and his dedication to preaching, Pope Benedict spoke in 2009 of the saint's care for the social development of the poor --which he said made St. John Chrysostom “one of the great Fathers of the Church's social doctrine”-- and his concern for the Christian family as a “Church in miniature.”
St. John Chrysostom's life and preaching, the Pope taught, were also a witness to the essential unity of the Church: “The faithful in Rome,” he quoted the Greek saint as saying, “consider those in India as members of their own body.”