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January 27, 2010

Translation of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom (St. Dimitri of Rostov)

Translation From Comana to Constantinople of the Honored Relics of Our Father 
Among the Saints John Chrysostom (Feast Day - January 27)

By St. Dimitri of Rostov

More than thirty years after John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, reposed in the town of Comana, the Most Holy Proclus (the saint's disciple and successor as archbishop) was presiding over the annual service in honor of the great universal teacher. In his homily, delivered in the cathedral of the Imperial City, Proclus extolled the Lord's favorite, saying, "Only if another John were to appear could John fittingly be praised! When the faithful recall his labors, struggles, and discourses, their thirst is slaked, as though by a mighty river overflowing its banks. From John shine rays of God's grace in which one man clearly discerns the sun of the Godhead, another beholds the cleansing of Orthodoxy from heresy, another perceives the deceptiveness of idolatry, another distinguishes truth from error, another is confirmed in faith and virtue, and another observes gleaming heavenly crowns. Oh, hierarch whose memory is like a fragrant breeze! Oh, namesake of grace, whose deeds were truly divine! Oh, golden mouth declaring the word of God! Oh, tongue which spoke of mysteries loftier than the heavens! Oh, teacher proclaiming the gospel more loudly than thunder! Verily like unto John the Forerunner, the preacher of repentance, was this John. One was a herald, the other a trumpet. One was unshakeable, the other invincible. One was a virgin, the other a champion of purity. One baptized in the wilderness, the other lowered his nets in cities. One denounced adultery, the other reproved the avaricious. One was cast into prison, the other was exiled. One was beheaded, the other desired beheading for the truth. Many were John Chrysostom's struggles on earth, many are his crowns in heaven. He now cries out with the Apostle Paul, 'I am a sweet savour of Christ, having cleansed the whole world of the stench of error. In Ephesus I expunged the delusion of Midas, in Phrygia I rendered childless the mother of false gods, in Caesarea I did away with the houses of ill fame, in Syria I abolished the assemblies of the godless, and in Persia I sowed the seed of the word of God. Everywhere I have planted the Orthodox faith. By my teaching I have disseminated the knowledge of God throughout the earth; by my books I have spread the nets of salvation far and wide. With John the Theologian I theologized concerning the Word of the Father; with Peter I laid the foundation of an Orthodox confession; with the fishermen I cast the net of piety into the world.' O John, your life was truly sorrowful, but your death is precious, your sepulcher glorious, and your reward great!"

Their hearts afire with love for Saint John Chrysostom, the people could not wait for Saint Proclus to complete the eulogy, but with a single voice cried to the Patriarch to bring his predecessor's remains from Comana to the Imperial City. The shouts continued for so long that the Most Holy Proclus abandoned all thought of concluding the encomium. Straightway after the dismissal he went to the Emperor Theodosius, son of Arcadius and grandson of Theodosius the Great, and begged him to permit the translation of the honored relics of the holy Chrysostom, saying, "Return, O Emperor, him who by Holy Baptism gave birth to you in the gospel, and who received you in the temple as the Elder Symeon did the Lord. The Church cries to you, 'My beauty has faded, my lips are sealed, my splendor is dimmed! A wild boar has scattered the sheep under the care of Chrysostom's shepherds, and carnivorous beasts have devoured the spiritual offspring of him who served as my tongue. Moved by envy, the foes of my servant have defiled the holy places of his see. As in a forest of trees, with axes they cut down the saint and took him away from me, silencing him in the grave. The heretics said, We will stop the mouth that contradicted us at every turn; we will discredit his arguments, for no longer does anyone dare object to our teachings. How long, Your Majesty, will the foe belittle me, on account of what was done to Chrysostom? Return to me him who clearly reflected my Bridegroom Christ. Return your spiritual father to me, your mother. Do not emulate her who bore you in the flesh: her heart was merciless and her will inclined to evil. Rather, follow holiness of spirit, without which no man shall see the Lord. Eudoxia is no more, but the Church abides forever. I am your eternal mother. Return Chrysostom and make me rejoice, and you will have me as your mediatrix before God. Gain Chrysostom as your intercessor, and prove yourself to be a son of righteousness, made steadfast by the prayers of your father.' "

Proclus won the Emperor's consent, and a large delegation of high-ranking noblemen were sent to Comana with a silver coffer to translate Saint Chrysostom's holy relics. Arriving at the town, they presented to the local Bishop and his flock an imperial decree requiring the surrender of the great spiritual treasure. The townsfolk lamented bitterly, not wishing to relinquish the sacred remains, but did not dare resist Theodosius' command. When, however, the Emperor's men attempted to remove the relics from the grave, they became heavier than a massive rock, and despite all efforts, could not be drawn up. Supposing that the saint wish to remain there, the nobles sent a letter to Theodosius explaining what had happened. After taking counsel with the Most Holy Patriarch Proclus and other godly men, the Emperor realized his mistake in having ordered the transferal without prayer. He decided to write a letter to Saint John as though he were alive, begging forgiveness for his audacity and beseeching him to comfort the flock by returning to his see. The text of the letter, written in the ruler's own hand, was as follows:

"Theodosius the Emperor to my spiritual father Saint John Chrysostom, the teacher of the whole world: Most honored father, considering thy precious body to be lifeless, like the bodies of other dead men, I commanded that it be brought here immediately; but on account of mine unworthiness, matters did not turn out as I had intended. Therefore, I am sending to thee, as to one truly alive, this letter, which I myself have penned, asking with faith that thou fulfill my request and thy people's. Bury mine impudent offense in the abyss of thy wisdom, and forgive me, the penitent, O thou who teachest all men repentance. Return to thy devoted children, bringing us joy. I do not order thee to come, but humbly entreat thee, lest I be put to shame a second time. O most honored father, come of thine own will, that we may lovingly greet thee."

The ruler gave the letter to couriers with instructions that it be placed on Saint John's chest and an All-night Vigil be celebrated. After the service, the nobles easily removed from the tomb the precious relics, which were much lighter than before, and joyfully placed them in the coffer. Covering the grave was a scarf which was taken by a homeless beggar who slept outside churches and whose leg had withered after it was bitten by a snake. When the beggar wrapped the cloth around his shrivelled leg, it became as strong as the other, and he leaped about, praising God.

With candles in hand, the people assembled to venerate the relics one last time, and weeping and lamenting, escorted them as they were taken away. At the docks in Chalcedon the Emperor's men were met by Theodosius, the Senate, the Patriarch and his clergy, and an innumerable multitude of people in boats. The coffer was put on an imperial galley. While the flotilla was returning to Constantinople, God commanded a tempest to arise, and all the vessels were scattered, except the one carrying the honored relics. Although its rudder was lost, the ship sailed directly to the opposite shore, guided not by a human hand, but by the power of God. It reached land at the vineyard of the widow whose defense had cost the holy Chrysostom much grief and resulted in his banishment; thus, even after his death the saint confirmed his zeal for righteousness and denounced injustice. As the galley approached the beach, the sea grew calm, and soon all the boats landed without having sustained the least damage. The relics were unloaded, and the entire population of the Imperial City came out to meet them, chanting hymns, holding candles, and burning incense. First the sacred corpse was taken to the Church of the Holy Apostle Thomas, then to the Church of Holy Peace. The Emperor and Patriarch opened the coffer and found the remains of the blessed one completely incorrupt, unspoiled as a cluster of beautiful, ripe grapes, and emitting a wondrous fragrance. Theodosius removed his purple robe, spread it over the relics, lay his head on the saint's breast, and with tears in his eyes, groaned, "Holy father, forgive the sin committed against thee, and suffer me not to be punished for my mother's hatred and envy. Although the son of thy persecutress, I have done thee no evil. Forgive her offense, that I may escape blame for my kinship with her. I cast the imperial dignity at thy feet and lie helpless, awaiting thine intercession. Pardon the reckless violence of her who wronged thee, for she hath repented of her sin and asketh forgiveness through my lips, saying, 'Remember, father, thine instructive discourses against rancour, and consign my malice to oblivion. I wish to rise from my fall, so extend a helping hand. Thou didst say, If anyone hath slipped, let him rise and be saved. I cannot bear thy displeasure: even my tomb quaketh, giving my bones no rest. I fear consignment to Christ's left hand at the Dread Judgment and tremble, knowing that everlasting punishment awaiteth me. By thy teachings thou hast saved many: let me not remain alone without salvation. Reject me not who crieth unto thee, but avenge thyself on mine enemy the devil, who instructed me to sin against thee as Eve against God. Be not wroth with me, O compassionate one! In thy lifetime thou didst not remember evils done thee; do not remember them now that thou dwellest in heaven. I transgressed against thee in the temporal realm; do thou have mercy on me beyond the grave. My glory hath passed away and is useless to me; wherefore, I beg thy help, O father, for thou abidest in divine light. Before I am condemned at Christ's tribunal, forgive me, who am bereft of any answer for myself.'"

As he spoke these words on behalf of his mother, the Emperor drenched the relics with tears and kissed them reverently. The Most Holy Proclus also kissed the saint tenderly, crying, "Rejoice, O Christ-loving teacher most sweet! I am thy child, nurtured on thy spiritual milk. As I am also thy successor, my sheep are thine. They are still nourished by the pasturage thou hast provided and will follow no shepherd other than thee. Reveal thy presence and speak to us!"

The crowd pressed forward to touch the honored coffer and kept vigil through the night. In the morning the saint's remains were placed on the Emperor's chariot and taken with much ceremony to the great Church of the Holy Apostles. When the reliquary was placed on the bishop's throne, the people exclaimed as with a single voice, "Mount thy cathedra, O father!" Patriarch Proclus and others who were worthy saw Saint John move his lips and heard him pronounce the archpastoral blessing, "Peace be unto all!"

During the celebration of the holy Liturgy, many sick folk were miraculously healed through the relics, and the grave of the Empress Eudoxia ceased quaking. Afterwards, the clergy deposited the saint's body beneath the table of preparation in the sanctuary of the cathedral, glorifying Christ God, Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is praised unto the ages. Amen.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The grace of your words illuminated the universe like a shining beacon. It amassed treasures of munificence in the world. It demonstrated the greatness of humility, teaching us by your own words; therefore, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede to Christ the Logos for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion in the First Tone
The holy and august Church is mystically gladdened today on the translation of thy holy relics. And though she had kept them hid in concealment like precious gold, by thine intercessions she unceasingly granteth, unto them that praise thee, the divine grace of healing, O Father John Chrysostom.