November 13, 2013

Saint John Chrysostom as a Model for our Lives

St. John Chrysostom (Feast Day - November 13)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The divine Chrysostom is one of the most known Saints of the Orthodox Church. He was born in Antioch in 354 from pious parents. His father was the commander Sekoundos and his mother was Anthousa. Very early he was left fatherless and his mother took care to raise him with the sacred laws of the Gospel. In Antioch he studied rhetoric and philosophy. At the age of eighteen he was baptized and studied three years at the Theological School of Antioch. After the death of his mother he retired to the desert, where he remained six years. The first four years of his ascetic life were spent near an elder ascetic and the next two he stayed alone in a cave. His biographer, Palladius of Helenopolis, writes: "Most of the time he spent without sleep, learning Holy Scripture. He did not lay down to sleep for a period of two years, neither night nor day." His breakdown in health from excessive asceticism caused him to return to Antioch, where in 381 he was ordained Deacon then Presbyter. As a Presbyter he served in Antioch until 397, the year in which he was elected and consecrated Archbishop of Constantinople. From this "bastion" he held great battles against the pagans, as well as heretics who were breaking the unity of the Church. He organized missions and philanthropy for Gothia, Scythia, Persia and Phoenicia. Steady and unwavering as he was in the faith and in the struggle against sin and every form of injustice, he was exiled three times and finally reposed in exile in the Caucuses of Armenia on 14 September 407. His memory, due to the Feast of the Cross, which is equivalent to Good Friday, was transferred to November 13th, that he may be celebrated brilliantly and joyfully.

His works are timeless, because they are divinely inspired. When one studies them, they think they have before them a contemporary and timely author. He is an excellent interpreter of Holy Scripture, which is to be interpreted not by anyone, but by the divinely-inspired Holy Fathers of the Church, who as purified and "filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit" are infallible interpreters of Holy Scripture. The sacred hymnographer characterizes him as a "golden trumpet and divinely-inspired organ, a heavenly nous and depth of wisdom".

One could speak for many hours or write whole volumes about the Saint of golden speech. In this short article I will highlight just three points that are related to this explosive and majestic personality:

First, he was a great theologian, but also a true shepherd. As His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos stresses: "He shepherded theologians and theologized shepherds". He is characterized by many as social because he dealt with people and social problems. He was indeed social, precisely because he was a neptic and ascetic. He was constantly praying. His discourses and sermons had a vibrancy and immediacy about them and are very popular because he truly loved people and cared for them; for their spiritual progress, as well their material needs, since people are psychosomatic beings. He sought, however, to heal them of their physical and psychic passions. For example, when he spoke about avarice he urged the rich not to detain the goods of God only for themselves, but to also help the poor. He does not remain only there, though, but he goes deeper trying to heal the one and the other from this terrible passion, because there are poor people who are also avaricious, just like there are rich people who are not.

Second, the center of his life was was a life of worship and from this perspective he struggled to integrate the "reason of his flock". He attached great importance to worship because he believed that when we participate in the Divine Liturgy and commune of the Immaculate Mysteries, we participate in a Paschal Dinner with the disciples of Christ, eating of the same bread and drinking of the same cup, together with all those whose hearts, from all time and all places, burn with love for Christ, and know Him as His disciples knew Him from the "breaking of bread". The Divine Liturgy he wrote is the most known since it is celebrated almost all year long. Of course, over the centuries it has gone through certain changes and some additions, but the prayers are the same as they were recited by the Archbishop of Constantinople himself. He sought to man the Sacred Altar with worthy Priests, and his discourse "On the Priesthood" is unique and deserves to be studied by all the faithful, Clergy and Laity.

Third, that which occupied him especially was the spiritual progress of his flock, as well as the glorification of the Triune God and His Holy Church. He did not receive glory for himself, because he did not deem himself worthy of honor. Besides, he considered it an apostasy and a sin. And things could not have been differently, since he was most humble and by his behavior he taught and showed to all of us the heights of humility. "Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the riches of poverty; it has revealed to us the heights of humility" (Apolytikion).

The "tongue and heart of gold" Saint John, by his life and words urges us to love prayer and the life of worship, in order that our hearts also "burn" with love for Christ, that we may be made worthy to know Him in the "breaking of bread".

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ Ο ΧΡΥΣΟΣΤΟΜΟΣ", November 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.