John was born in Antioch of parents who were well placed, and who encouraged his study of the Greek classics. But the persuasiveness of his friend St Basil turned him towards taking up the Holy Scriptures instead. After his baptism as an adult, he spent a short while as a hermit, and then was ordained priest. He soon became renowned as an author of treatises and books on theology. But his fame as an orator was even greater, earning him the title chrysos-stoma, “golden-mouthed”.
The Emperor Arcadius was determined to bring him to Constantinople, the imperial capital. But so popular was he in Antioch; that he had to do this by stealth, and had John Chrysostom consecrated as bishop of that metropolis. John immediately set about preaching against the wealth and luxury of the imperial court, and showed by example how austere a bishop’s own dwelling ought to be.
No wonder his popularity among the ordinary folk grew by leaps and bounds, while at the same time his enemies, both at the imperial court and in the Church, were irritated by his forthrightness. They prevailed upon the Empress to send him into exile, but such was his popularity with the people, that he was recalled and re-instated in office. However, further attempts were made on Chrysostom’s life, and he was banished again, this time to distant Armenia, where he died shortly after, aged barely 58.
John Chrysostom is honoured by the Eastern Church as one of the Four Great Fathers of the Church. His preaching, his writings and the steadfast quality of his life under persecution are a model to us all.