St. John Chrysostom

St. John ChrysostomFaced with injustice, illness or significant loss people are often angry and resentful, sad and withdrawn. St. John Chrysostom, instead, displayed resilience and good temper, forbearance of his persecutors and gratitude to friends.

Here we continue Blessed Newman’s sketch of this holy fourth century bishop, Patriarch of Constantinople. After arriving at his place of exile, surviving a life threatening illness in his travel “he soon rallied, and began to colour every thing about him with his own sweet, cheerful, thankful temper. In two days he had recovered his equanimity.”

He was welcomed by Adelphius, the Bishop of Cucusus, and people from Antioch traveled to greet him. One friend traveled to where he was with the intention of staying near him.

Considering the exertion on his behalf by friends at Constantinople he begged them not to attempt to gain from government his transference to any other place, unless it was near the imperial city. Travel was the worst penance for him; he feared traveling more than banishment.

When Olympias wrote relating her failure to have him moved, he replied that she should not worry because he was fine: “Does my present loneliness distress you? On the contrary, what can be more pleasant than my sojourn here? I have quiet, calm, much leisure, excellent health.” The local bishop and Dioscorus, a wealthy friend, were making life pleasant for him by providing for all his material needs.

Chrysostom was grateful to his friends and benefactors. To Carterius, the Bishop of Caesarea, he wrote: “I can never forget what you did for me in Cæsarea, in quelling those furious and senseless tumults, and striving to the utmost, as far as your powers extended, to place me in security. I give this out publicly wherever I go, feeling the liveliest gratitude to you, my most worshipful lord, for so great solicitude towards me.”

He wrote to Hymnetius, the physician who took care of him in Caesarea, to thank him and told that he spoke of him to others. To others from Caesarea he wrote likewise, with deep fondness and gratitude. There was hardly a word against his enemies in his many private letters and he even wrote graciously to Eventhius, a priest who turned against him.

Friends sent him presents and other objects he might need but he returned many of them, thanking his friends and asking that they be not upset. He had plenty and would ask them in time of need.

Our protagonist lived especially from the affection of friends. To one who was unable to visit he wrote: “That warm and true charity of yours, so vigorous, so constant, suffices to make me very happy.” He explained that he would never forget her charity towards him or the matters she had confided in him. Newman comments “No one could live in his friends more intimately than St. John Chrysostom; he had not a monk’s spirit of detachment in such severity as to be indifferent to the presence, the hand-writing, the doings, the welfare, soul and body, of those who were children of the same grace with him, and heirs of the same promise.” The very same could be said of Newman in his dealings with friends.

Perhaps the worst suffering he experienced was his separation from friends. In a letter to Olympias he expressed the pain of such separation. With a reference to St. Paul’s feeling for the absence of Titus at Troas he wrote: “Those who have the grace of charity are not content to be united in soul only, they seek for the personal presence of him they love.”

Another reason for wishing news from friends was the severe persecution they faced. A number of bishops who were his friends were scourged and exiled. Some laymen were tortured and even killed. Women, including Olympias, despite her high birth and connections, were fined and exiled. He sought through his influence the release from prison of some and encouraged the others in their imprisonment.

From exile he wrote to his clergy correcting them and exhorting them, and at the same time sought the conversion of the inhabitants of Cucusus and surrounding areas. He also wrote letters to many bishops and to Pope Innocent to whom Chrysostom’s friends also appealed against the schismatic party in Constantinople. He held no resentment towards his persecutors and thought that his triumph was near.

The saintly bishop put his trust in God and urged others to do likewise. He wrote: “I do not despair of happier times, considering that He is at the helm of the universe who overcomes the storm, not by human skill, but by His fiat. If He does not do so at once, this is because it is His rule to take this course; and, when evils have increased and reached their fullness, and a change is despaired of by the many, then to work His marvellous and strange work, manifesting that power which is His prerogative, while exercising withal the endurance of the afflicted. Never be cast down, then; for one thing alone is fearful, that is, sin.”

With this strong trust in God and spirit of forgiveness for evildoers, Chrysostom endured the exile from his diocese. Far from home he did what he could for his diocese through his prayer and letters, and especially through his suffering with Christ on their behalf. During this painful period his friends sustained him with their prayers, affection and material help.

The life of St. John Chrysostom is a shining example of reliance on God and a Christian’s temper in adversity. It is a tribute to the depth of human and supernatural friendship. And an invitation to examine our reaction to injustice and suffering at the hands of others.

Note: Today, September 13 we celebrate the feast of St. John Chrysostom who died on the coast of the Black Sea on September 14, 407. The next and last short essay, concluding Newman’s sketch of his life and death, will follow in a week.


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