Sermon: Feast of St John Chrysostom

Today we celebrate the blessed memory of our Father among the saints, John the Golden-mouthed, Archbishop of Constantinople, who is one of the most important figures of the fourth-century Church.

Our late bishop here, Metropolitan Chrysostomos, who would have been celebrating his name day today, used to say that the one thing his father had taught him as a child was how to conquer fear. And it’s true to say that Bishop Chrysostomos was a fearless person.

And if I had to describe the great fathers of the Church with one word – especially the Fathers of the great sees, like St John Chrysostom – it would be with the word ‘fearless’. 

St John Chrysostom suffered bitter exile three times because he dared to publicly admonish the Empress Eudoxia from the pulpit of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, just as his namesake St John the Baptist had done in the time of Herod. However, St John remained fearless in the face of her threats because he knew that she “would have no authority at all against [him] except it were given [her] from above” (John 19:11), and he met each exile and every other difficulty with the simple prayer “Glory to God for everything”, which were the last words uttered by his golden mouth as he died during his third and final exile.

This fearlessness was a fruit of St John’s deep faith, which in turn was a fruit of a life of constant prayer, almsgiving and ascesis. As the Psalm says, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Psalm 117:6, Heb. 13:6). Before becoming Archbishop of Consantinople, St John lived such an ascetic life that he almost died from overexertion and fasting. All that the Empress inflicted on St John was nothing compared to what he had voluntarily endured for the sake of his spiritual progress. And how could his position as Archbishop of Constantinople compare to the place that was waiting for him in the kingdom of the heavens?

And this is why he was given the name Chrysostomos, Golden-mouthed. It was not so much because of his rhetorical ability, but because his words were like “gold which hath been refined by fire” (Rev. 3:18), always truthful and pure, without hypocrisy, refined and proven by the trials of his life. “As silver and gold are tried in a furnace, so are choice hearts with the Lord” (Prov. 27:21).

There is a story, attested to by the relics of the saint, which shows just how deeply his life was joined to the preaching of the apostles. St John wrote commentaries on all the epistles of St Paul, and once as he was writing one of these commentaries, someone came to his cell to see him. He peeked into the cell and could see the Apostle Paul himself speaking into St John’s ear as he was writing his commentary. Even now, if you were to visit the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, you will be able to see the sacred skull of St John Chrysostom with his left ear intact and incorrupt, as a proof of this particular event.

In other words, St John lived out the words of Scripture to such a degree that even his relationship with the authors of Scripture became living and immediate, and all the fearless and golden-mouthed words of the saint came out from this lived-out applied Gospel, which is the common preaching of all the saints, both of the most highly skilled rhetorician and of the simplest monk. Their preaching is convincing and powerful because it is lived-out and without hypocrisy.

In today’s Gospel, it was fear that caused the priest and the Levite to pass over on the other side, rather than helping the man who had fallen among robbers, while the Good Samaritan shows us how “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Let us therefore ask St John Chrysostom to intercede in our behalf, so that our lives also may become a living and fearless proclamation of the Gospel, “in order that the testing of our faith, much more precious than perishing gold, though it is being tested by fire, might be found to praise and honour and glory in the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

Glory be to God for all things. Amen.

Fr Kristian Akselberg