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|Fr. Vitali Borovoi, Archimandrite Sergi (Saveliev) and Fr. Georgi Kochetkov|
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Tomorrow we will be brightly celebrating the memory of St. John Chrisostom, or rather the memory of carrying over his relics in 438 AD from the town of Komana, his burial place, to Constantinople, where he used to serve at the cathedra.
Every one of us can constantly hear the name of John Chrisostom during the church worship, every one of us knows that this is a renowned prelate, a great preacher, a prayer for all the offended. Every one knows that we now serve the liturgy of St. John Chrisostom. But along with that how surprisingly little do we know about his real life, not the life described in the pious lives of the saints, but the one that was in history, and such as it was.
Saint John Chrisostom was born in Antioch, which is in the contemporary Syria. Antioch does not exist today, only ruins remain where in that time flourished a richer cultural city, one of the centres of then Greeko-Roman world. He was born in a very rich, cultural, and prosperous, yet Christian family and already from his early days had been brought up by his pious mother Anphusa. Early he lost his father. He received an excellent education for that time: he was taught by Libanius - the most renowned philosopher of that time, who, however, was no Christian, but a conscious pagan, a pertinacious pagan. But it was one of the greatest philosophers of that time. And Christians, such as Basil the Great and John Chrisostom did not hesitate at all to be students of that pagan because from him they took his knowledge, his wisdom, not sharing though his convictions. John Chrisostom was one of the Libanius's favourite students. Libanius even wished him to be his successor at the cathedra, but John preferred to become a lawyer after the completion of the school. He was a young, talented, bright lawyer. A lawyer who, speaking in the modern language, could have made a wonderful career. But John with all his heart desired to serve the Church. It was the time when many intelligent and cultural people devoted themselves to the Church's service. And John Chrisostom began his serving in the order of a reader. In 370 AD he was ordained by St. Meletios of Antioch to be a reader. Definitely, the then reader was not quite the same as he is today. Our today's readers only read in the church, and at that time they not only read in the church the Holy Scriptures (yes, not only liturgical texts, but the Holy Scripture as well), but were obliged to interpret them to people and under the guidance of a bishop or a presbyter explain them the meaning of the Scriptures passage they had read. For ten years John Chrisostom had been a reader. But his soul strove for the exploits of monasticism. For six years, being already a reader, John Chrisostom was in a communal monastery i.e. a monastery living in accordance with the rule of communal life where everything belonged to all, where brothers lived as one man, in obedience, fasting, prayer, and labour. Two years he spent in a wilderness in solitude. And for those two years through severe ascetic feats and hardships his health was terribly sapped that he suffered then all his life ever since.
He was called from that seclusion by St. Meletios in 380 AD, after his ten years long service as a reader, and ordained to be a deacon. The then deacons were also not the same as today. Today's deacons only participate in worship a special way: recite the ektenia and invite to prayer. But in that time deacons were also the closest helpers of bishops and presbyters in managing the community's affairs. Every parish was a community back then. And the community supported all the poor, sick, aged, orphans, people who could not earn their own bread and sustain themselves. And one of the deacon's responsibilities was to run all that: visit those in need, help them, organize hospitals, almshouses, orphanages, houses for the aged people, i.e. work at helping the needy. For six years did John Chrisostom serve the Church in the order of deacon, bringing help and comfort to all the poor. And after that in 386 AD St. Meletios ordained him to be a priest.
For ten years John Chrisostom had been a priest in Antioch and became famous as a preacher and great theologian, teacher, father, and patron of his people. In that time a great disturbance of the Antioch's dwellers had happened and the government called up the army to destroy the city. But John Chrisostom did not leave his flock. Not only in the church, but also in the streets, squares, and market places he walked, preaching, comforting, and instructing citizens, sharing the fate of his faithful. And in the end, through his influence and strength, he could manage to quiet the people and to avert that great trouble, that disaster. The glory of John Chrisostom (though he was not called Chrisostom in that time yet) spread out over the whole empire. And when in the capital, in Constantinople, bishop Nectarius had passed away, then in the emperor's palace the powerful ruler of that time Evtropius who headed the government of emperor Arcadias, had had an idea of calling to that cathedra John from Antioch. But everyone knew that John was very modest and would not wish to be a bishop in the capital as it was going against his character. Then there were sent soldiers who kidnapped and arrested him, and convoyed him down to the capital where he was made a bishop, or, as we would say today, a patriarch of Constantinople.
For six years John Chrisostom stayed the bishop in the capital. In the course of those six years simple people loved him with their very sincere, very hearty love. But during the same six years all the rich, all the powers that be, aristocrats, and all the clergy, I have to say it openly, began to hate him. For he unmasked their dissolute, licentious, splendourous, sinful life.
He was a brave unmasker. If, dear brothers and sisters, we read now some of John Chrisostom's sermons you would see how bravely he exposed the powers that be, the powers of the propertied, especially of the rich. He spoke right to their faces that anyone rich is a wolf, for the Lord created the earth and all its good for all nations, for every single man or woman. And he who for first time in history had taken a thing or fenced a plot of land and said: 'this is my thing, this is my land', he, according to John Chrisostom, was the most dreadful criminal
Also bishops and hierarchs from the same patriarchate of Constantinople and neighbouring: of Alexandria, Antioch, started hating him, for he did not give splendourous dinners, did not invite them for splendourous repasts where all the food though being lenten, nevertheless, was very rich, and where they had gotten used to eat and drink and keep pious discussions. He required from the clergy, i.e. from presbyters (priests), deacons, readers, and monks a true life, a true exploit, a true serving to the Church. He spent all money, all the church's possession not on nonsensical adornments, not on rich liturgical cloths, not on decorating churches with marble and gold, he spent them on building hospitals, refuges for the homeless, orphans, aged people, ill and weak, for the needy. And then, dear brothers and sisters, they rose against John Chrisostom, those two great powers of the then world and, properly saying, of today's world as well: the powers that be, the rich, noble, and the clergy, especially hierarchs.
You will not find it, of course, in John Chrisostom's biography. There it is said that the empress was against him. Yes, indeed empress Evdoxia was also against him, but it had not been her anger that played the key role, for John Chrisostom was exiled not after the civil authorities resolution, but according to the verdict of the church's court, i.e. his brothers - archbishops, priests, deacons. They assembled, they judged him, they ascribed him various iniquities that he never committed. They could not forgive him his holy life and the fact that he was a true hierarch, a true archbishop, a true pastor, and called them to be such. And then John Chrisostom, according to the resolution of the church's court, had been stripped of his order and cathedra, and the civil power, of course, sent him into exile.
But they did not succeed in it for the first time. For it happened that when John Chrisostom had been taken away to the shore opposite to Constantinople an earthquake occurred in the city. The people, seeing God's anger in it, arose and the authorities became scared, all bishops who judged him scattered, and John Chrisostom returned to his place with triumph. When people met him, he walked into the temple of the Holy Apostles, - the then major temple of Constantinople, - and said there his famous sermon that is preserved up until today, and it begins and ends with the words: "Glory to our God for all. For all that was good and for all that was bad, glory to our God!"
But not long was John Chrisostom a bishop again, only for six months. His enemies: the bishop of Alexandria (in today's words - the patriarch), Theothil; other metropolitans - Sevirian of Gavala, Antioch of Ptolemiada, and his own metropolitans - Paul of Heraclia and others again had risen against him, again started accusing him and convicted him once more. And then civil authorities for the second time exiled John Chrisostom. And it happened that in exile, a very short exile because soon he died, the bishops of all the places he was sent to were so scared even to let him in that everyone of them tried John Chrisostom to be taken somewhere even further away. And so he was carried through whole Minor Asia, the contemporary Turkey, brought him to the final place of his exile called Kukuz that is in the today's Armenia. But they were scared of holding him even there because the people of Constantinople were very loyal to him and adored him, and loved him. Therefore he was taken further to the contemporary Georgia and having not reached the place ordered him for residence, in Komana, in the temple of St. Basilisk (near Poti, Pitsunda, Novy Aphon) in 407 AD he died.
Soon the glory of St. John Chrisostom spread all over the world. His enemies were ashamed and actually it happened that they justified him themselves. And then it was decided to carry his relics with solemnity over to Constantinople where a capital's bishop was supposed to be buried. And in 438, 30 years since his death, emperor Theodosius, the son of Evdoxia, who was baptised by John Chrisostom, whom John Chrisostom often held upon his laps, gave order to solemnly transport the relics of John Chrisostom. He was met already as far from Constantinople as in Khalkidon, - by the emperor, senate, government, and other authorities of that world...
Dear brothers and sisters, here we all time speak about John Chrisostom. But we should not only speak about him; we should also try to imitate his life. First of all, our hierarchs, our clergy, - we, priests, deacons, monks, readers. Here is the example that John Chrisosotom gave us: how to serve the Church not only during the worship, but how to serve the Church, serving the people of God, preaching the word at every opportunity. For John Chrisostom was not only a great theologian and a great preacher, but a great missionary as well. He was sending people, missionaries to preach the word of God in Arabia, in the far away Syria, in Asia, in Africa and he himself preached the word of God not only to his Constantinople flock. Near Constantinople there was a settlement of Germanic tribes, the Goths, who were Aryans, heretics. And for the sake of preaching to them John Chrisostom had learnt the Goths' language and came there, to those people, and served there, and preached in their language.
Dear brothers and sisters, the way to the revival of our church, the way to that our church again would have had influence among the people, again would enjoy the people's love, this way is shown to us by John Chrisostom. This is the way of prayer, the way of exploit, the way of theology, but along with that, this is the way of preaching the word of God, in time and in timelessness, at any occasion, at any opportunity, and the way of serving the people, serving one's neightbour that this serving would be the true serving God.
Let us, dear brothers and sisters, pray that through the prayers of St. John Chrisostom God gave us strengths to be His faithful witnesses, as such a faithful witness was Saint John Chrisostom himself!
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