By Daniel Mawad
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
St John Chrysostom ( 347-407) Feast day November 13
St. John was born to a high ranked military officer who died soon after his birth and was left to be raised by a single mother. By the age of 18 he began his studies in law and oration which were mentored by Libanius who was a pagan philosopher. This is when his brilliance became apparent. St. John’s intellect was so remarkable that when Libanius was on his deathbed, they asked who would succeed him, he replied, “John, if the Christians haven’t stolen him yet”. St. John was then baptised and studied theology under Diodore of Tarsus. His zeal for reading and studying the scriptures was so great that he desired to become a hermit so that he may do this without distraction from the world. But his mother prevented him saying “do not make me a widow for the second time”. So he postponed this till after her death. His asceticism was so severe that he was forced to return to the city to receive treatment for his failing kidneys. As he was grieving for his return to the world, St. John the evangelist and St. Peter appeared to him with scrolls and said to him that his ministry is not only in monasticism, but it is in the Church. His ministry is to preach to the people and to offer them Christ. After this he resumed his ministry as a preacher and delivered sermons so famous that his words still echo till today and he received the title “Chrysostom” which translated to “Golden Mouth”. His sermons are said to have gone for as long as 2 hours. This may seem exhausting for the congregation, but when he would finish his sermons the crowds would applaud and cheer to the extent that he delivered a sermon against their applause.
St. John was focused on being relevant to his congregation. He addressed many social issues in his sermon such as poverty and rebellion against the government. He was so focused on the congregation that he edited the liturgy of St. Basil to be shorter since its length either prevented people from coming, or the attending congregation were restless. This is now referred to as the liturgy of “St. John Chrysostom”, which is prayed today in many Orthodox Churches including the Greek Orthodox Church.
His skills and talents which where develop from his pagan studies and experience in the courtroom as a lawyer proved to be of tremendous value for him as a preacher. St. John offered even pagan philosophy and secular education to God. When one learns of St. John, they cannot but be moved to offer up any and every gift (even ones which are seeming triviality) given to them from God by God (as is prayed in the liturgy). We also learn from St. John the importance of reading the Holy Scriptures, which he refers to constantly as the “medicine cabinet for any ailment”.
I also always entreat you, and do not cease entreating you, not only to pay attention here to what I say, but also when you are at home, to persevere continually in reading the divine Scriptures.
When I have been with each of you in private, I have not stopped giving you the same advice. Do not let anyone say to me those vain words, worthy of heavy condemnation, “I cannot leave the courthouse, I administer the business of the city, I practice a craft, I have a wife, I am raising children, I am in charge of a household, I am a man of the world; reading the Scriptures is not for me, but for those who have been set apart, who have settled on the mountaintops, who keep this way of life continuously.”
What are you saying, man? That attending to the Scriptures is not for you, since you are surrounded by a multitude of cares? Rather it is for you more than for them. They do not need the help of the divine Scriptures as much as those do who are involved in many occupations. The monks, who are released from the clamor of the marketplace and have fixed their huts in the wilderness, who own nothing in common with anyone, but practice wisdom without fear in the calm of the quiet life, as if resting in a harbor, enjoy great security; but we, as if tossing in the midst of the sea, driven by a multitude of sins, always need continuous and ceaseless aid of the Scriptures. They rest far from the battle, and so they do not receive many wounds; but you stand continuously in the front rank, and you receive continual blows. So you need more remedies.
St. John teaches us through his life that we ought to deny our own will for God’s. St. John’s will was extremely noble and pious. He desired to become a hermit, a lifestyle which has no worldly appeal or reward but is rather counterintuitive. But that was St. John’s will, not God’s. When it was revealed to him that he should go into the world and use his gifts to offer Christ to all people, he was obedient.
It seems appropriate to end this with St. John’s most famous homily which was delivered on Easter and is still read till today in many Orthodox Churches on Easter.
Through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos and St. John Chrysostom, may God have mercy upon us and save us.
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.