Saint John Chrysostom is one of the giants of early Christian leadership and teaching, essentially the Eastern Greek-speaking counterpart to the Western Latin-speaking Augustine of Hippo. John was born in 349, after Christianity was legalized, and he lived through the last imperial persecution under the last pagan Emperor, Julian the Apostate. Thus John’s generation saw a transition from the greatest Saints being martyrs to being ascetics, confessors, and teachers of the faith.
As an ascetic, John was happy living as a monk. He desired a simple life, away from the temptations of power and prestige, and (serving as a model for many bishops across the world after) he continued to live as a monk even after his consecration as a bishop. His preaching often carried strong messages about communion with Christ and holy living – two of the subjects nearest to the heart of the monastic life. He was especially supportive of monks, the poor, and the sick, and chastised those who attempted to use their church office or preaching abilities for personal gain.
As a confessor, John was unwavering and steadfast in the faith even in the face of persecution. Near the end of his life he faced tremendous pressure from the royal family of Constantinople (also called New Rome) which eventually resulted in his exile where he died in the year 407. He did not play favorites with the powerful, he showed mercy to the persecuted, and he lived what he preached.
As a teacher of the faith, John was known as a great preacher even as a Deacon in the 380’s and 90’s. He is remembered as John Chrysostom (‘o chrysos tomos – the golden-mouthed) to this day. His sermons stirred souls, converted pagans, offended the prideful, interpreted the Scriptures simply, and continue their influence today – especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He also wrote or edited a Eucharistic liturgy, a form of which remains the standard rite to this day in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and elements of which have even influenced Anglican liturgy since the Reformation. He was so well-respected that he was elected to be the next Archbishop of Constantinople (without his knowledge!) in 397, where he served as the de facto Patriarch of the Church throughout the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
Many of his writings survive to this day, almost as numerous as those of St. Augustine of Hippo. John Chrysostom is commemorated on several days throughout the year in various traditions, but the primary day is September 13th, when he died in exile.