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May 3, 2004

More Precious Blood Saints

This article is on St. John Chrysostom.

St. John Chrysostom: Patron of preachers

Our Congregation of Missionaries "dedicates itself to the service of the Church through the apostolic and missionary activity of the ministry of the word." [1] This month in our search among the saints in the Precious Blood Family we reach back to the Fourth century to explore the life of the Patron of Preachers, St. John Chrysostom. We see again in him how central to our faith is this devotion to the Blood of Christ.

John was given the name Chrysostom because of his eloquent preaching. The name means "Golden Mouth" in Greek. He was born in Antioch on the Orontes around the year 347 AD. His mother Anthusa was from a well-to-do family of Greek descent. His father Secundus was an army officer of high rank.

John's mother was a Christian; ancient sources vary about his father's acceptance of the faith. His parents gave him a Christian name at birth. In Antioch, John was able to study with the greatest classical teachers of his time. The art of public speaking, oratory, was valued above all others, as the foundation for a career in the imperial service or as a lawyer.

At the completion of his formal studies, at about age 18, John began to practice law. But the life of a young litigator and patron of the theater did not satisfy him. Moved by to the preaching of Meletius, the bishop of Antioch, John became a catechumen. John was baptized at Easter in the year 369 or 370.

John was ordained a deacon in the year 380 or 381. The years John served as a deacon had a lasting influence on his preaching, which is remarkable for its emphasis on justice. John was ordained a presbyter in the year 386. As a presbyter, John preached every Sunday and several times during the week. It is from this period that we have the great collections of his homilies on Matthew, John, most of the Pauline letters and the Letter to the Hebrews. He wrote a series on the Priesthood, and he preached on the Our Father. These writings and homilies fill six volumes of the Ancient Christian Writers series.

He was made patriarch of Constantinople in 398, a burden he was not at all eager to accept. Constantinople was the imperial Eastern capital of the Empire. It was the site of the Second Ecumenical Council, held in 381, and thus had a primacy of honor among the churches. John's preaching was accepted with great enthusiasm by all the people and the Emperor Arcadius and the Empress Eudoxia. John reached out to the Goths, both those living within the Empire and those living beyond the Danube. He had the bible translated into their language.

John's efforts to reform and renew the clergy and his harsh words about the wealth and luxury of the imperial court soon brought him enemies in high places, especially the Empress. In 403, the Empress Eudoxia and the disaffected clergy of Constantinople were able to obtain the collusion of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, who traveled to Constantinople with a retinue of Egyptian bishops. At a secret synod, they convicted John Chrysostom on false charges of immorality and treason. Although he appealed for a general council, John submitted to the sentence of banishment.

The people of Constantinople were outraged and on the verge of insurrection. The night after John was taken away to exile, there was an earthquake, which led the superstitious Empress to ask the Emperor to recall the banished bishop. John was restored in triumph, but he had no allusions of safety. The Empress was more determined than ever to be rid of him when she could get away with it. During the Easter Vigil in 404, John was dragged from the cathedral by armed force. He was sent into exile for a second time, to the village of Cucusus in Armenia. This was dangerous border country, and the climate was very harsh. The bishop of Cucusus welcomed his distinguished colleague. John's friends did what they could to provide for his comfort. Through his many letters, John exerted a wide influence. The Empress was not satisfied. John's letters continued his justice preaching. To punish him further, she succeeded in having him ordered to an even more harsh and remote place of exile, to Pityus in the Caucacus, at the eastern end of the Black Sea. He died on this journey, on September 14, 407. John's body was transferred back to Constantinople on January 27, 438.

Gasparian Echoes

Like Saint Gaspar, John was blessed with an outstanding group of friends at school, including the future Saints Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen, Theodore of Mopsuestia. Like Saint Gaspar in Rome, John Chrysostom worked among the poor of Antioch and Constantinople. Like Saint Gaspar, he was concerned that the clergy lead upstanding lives, so as to draw the people to God. Like Saint Gaspar, he suffered exile.

More than anything else, like St. Gaspar, the Blood of Christ was central to his thinking and his preaching.

Saint Gaspar quotes John Chrysostom in his Reflections on the Archconfraternity of the Most Precious Blood. One of the selections from the Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Precious Blood includes Chrysostom's homage to the Precious Blood. John Chrysostom's homilies are a major source for the Office of Readings; there are 20 selections from his work, including the one for Good Friday. That passage begins: "If we wish to understand the power of Christ's blood..." and then reflects on the Passover. After illuminating the water and blood flowing from Christ's side as signs of baptism and the eucharist, Chrysostom employs a graphic image--"As a mother nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he has given life." In his reflection on the request of James and John to sit at Jesus' right and left, Chrysostom links the cup and the cross. This selection is in the Office of Readings for July 25, the feast of Saint James. [2]

In his treatises on the priesthood, Chrysostom says "When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?" Purple is the color of royalty; we are a royal priesthood.

In the west, we celebrate his feast on September 13, because the 14th is the day we celebrate the Holy Cross. He is also honored on January 27, the day of his posthumous restoration to his cathedral city, and also on November 13 in the East.


[1] Normative Texts, C3

[2] For those with access to the internet, most of John Chrysostom's writings can be found on-line at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library under the heading Early Church Fathers.

Much of the material for this essay was adapted from the writing of Philip Schaff, in the Prolegomena to volume IX of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series I, as found in the Christian Classics internet files at Wheaton College.

Precious Blood Companion Maureen Lahiff served as research assistant for this essay.

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at May 3, 2004 1:29 PM

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Thank you and Maureen for this article. On more than one occasion I have read a selection from St. John Chrysostom as the second reading at our Precious Blood Holy Hour during the golden age of Precious Blood Spirituality at St. Barnabas parish.

On the feast day yesterday, my pastor, Father Leon, noted that when he was in seminary (in Poland), those about to be ordained were warned by their preaching professor that on this feast day, it would be a venial sin for them to preach. Since they could never hope to match the eloquence of this gifted homilist, it would be sinful to presume to do so. Father Leon went on to say that nevertheless, he was going to commit a venial sin in order to say a little about the saint and to comment briefly on the day's readings. He did so (preached - not sinned), in his usual eloquent fashion.

Posted by: Peggy Doherty at September 14, 2004 10:20 AM