Almighty God, who has given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee: and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy name thou wilt grant their requests; fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

A prayer attributed to Saint John Chrysostom
(347 - 407, Archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church)

John was born around 347 A.D. in Antioch. At the time of his birth, Antioch was the second largest city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. He was born into troubled times, marked by religious struggle. His father, a high-ranking officer in the Syrian army, died when John was very young, leaving John and his older sister to be raised by their pious mother.

His mother sent him to the best schools in Antioch, where he was well-educated in preparation for a career in law. He studied rhetoric under Libanius, one of the most famous orators of his time. Libanius was impressed with John's eloquence, and predicted that he would become a brilliant statesman.

John, however, had other ideas. When he was about 20, he met the bishop Meletius, who had such a profound effect on John that he gave up his classical and secular studies in order to devote himself to an ascetic religious life. He was baptised and left Antioch for the life of a monk and hermetic in the mountains south of the city. After several years of theological study, prayer, and manual labor, the austerity of the monastic way of life life had almost killed him. He developed a stomach ailment which plagued him for the rest of his life.

His poor health forced him to return to Antioch, where was ordained as a priest 386. The beginning of his ministry consisted largely of pastoral care and spiritual guidance to the poor of the city, but he soon became well-known for his lengthy and inspiring sermons. His studies under Libanius had served him well.

It was for his sermons that John earned the title "Chrysostom" (golden-mouthed). They usually consisted of consecutive explanations of the Holy Scriptures, which sometimes went on for hours. These commentaries, many of which still survive in written form today, offer a great deal of historical knowledge of the culture and mores of the late 4th and early 5th centuries.

During this time, Chrysostom became well known throughout the Byzantine Empire, and (to his dismay) was made archbishop of Constantinople in 398. As archbishop, he became involved in imperial politics. He was outspoken in his criticism of the excesses of the extremely wealthy and of corruption amongst the clergy. He used his money and power to benefit the poor and to build a hospital. As an archbishop, Chrysostom lived only slightly less strictly as he had as a monk. He soon gained admiration in Constantinople, as he had in Antioch.

Unfortunately, his popularity began to upset the Empress Eudoxia, who saw many of his reforms as a personal attack on her. He also made enemies in the clergy with his denunciations of their vices and follies. When it was discovered that he had given asylum to some monks who had been excommunicated by Theophilus, the Bishop of Alexandria, he was falsely accused of treason. He was exiled, but the Empress and the Bishop of Alexandria were forced to back down and restore him to his post when the people of Constantinople vigorously protested his banishment.

Two months later, a silver statue of the Empress was unveiled in a square near the cathedral. Around this time, Chrysostom delivered another sermon which offended the Empress. She resumed her plotting to exile Chrysostom. Two attempts were made to kill him, but both of them failed. Finally, he was arrested on Easter eve, 404. Emperor Arcadius signed a decree of exile, and on June 24 of the same year, Chrysostom was once more escorted into exile by imperial soldiers.

This time, his exile was immediately followed by a major earthquake. Once again, he was reinstated. But he continued to speak out against the excesses of Empire and Church, and was exiled a third time. This time he died, exhausted, on September 14, 407, during the course of his enforced travel to Pythius on foot and in bad weather. His last words were "Glory be to God for all things!"

Thirty years later, his relics were entombed at the Church of the Holy Apostles, where Eudoxia had also been buried. St. John Chrysostom is the patron saint of Constantinople, epilepsy, epileptics, Istanbul, lecturers, orators, preachers, and speakers. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 451.

Some modern readers have claimed that Chrysostom was anti-semitic. This is debatable, and it is beyond my ability to draw a conclusion. It is true that he wrote a sermon titled "Orations Against the Judaizers," which many anti-semitic groups over the years have attempted to use to justify their actions. The title of the sermon is often mistranslated as "Orations Against the Jews." While his words are certainly offensive to modern ears, and he was certainly an irritable and opinionated man, it is likely Chrysostom was railing not against Jews in general, but against self-proclaimed Christians who attended Synagogue on Saturday as well as Church on Sunday and encouraged others to do the same.
Episcopal Book of Common Prayer

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