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St John Chrysostom: The Golden Trumpet

St John Chrysostom is celebrated in the Orthodox Church three times a year. His repose is on September 14 but since that is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Feast was moved to November 13th. In addition, Chrysostom is celebrated on January 27th and again on the Feast of the Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs (Jan 30th), along with St Basil and St Gregory the Theologian. 
 
On the 27th of January, the Church celebrates the transfer of his relics from Comana to Constantinople. St John was en route to Abkhazia on the Black Sea where he was to be held in exile, when his health failed him. It was in Comana where he died in the year 407 AD. He was exiled by the Empress Eudoxia because of his bold condemnations of the corruptions of those ruling Constantinople. 
 
There was a widow of a disgraced dignitary who was stripped of her last possessions along with her children by the Empress Eudoxia. St John opposed such actions and came to the defense of the widow and her children. For this, the Empress held a strong grudge against Chrysostom. In addition, there was a sermon that Chrysostom gave on vain women and allies to the Empress told her that St John had her in mind. 
 
Consequently, a court was convened by hierarchs who were previously condemned by Chrysostom. They decided to depose St John and have him executed, yet the Emperor opposed such extreme measure, instead ordering him to be exiled.
 
There was a riot of supporters of St John and miraculously an earthquake suddenly occurred in Constantinople. This occurrence frightened Eudoxia and she beseeched the Emperor to have St John brought back to the City. 
 
However, two months later another council was convened to banish Chrysostom in exile. This sparked another sudden yet tragic occurrence: a church was burnt to ashes from a fire and so was the Senate building. Furthermore, barbaric incursion soon followed and the Empress died. Even the pagan barbarians regarded these events as punishment from God for these unjust actions against St John. 
 
Despite being in exile and suffering many hardships en route to Abkhazia, St John never ceased to preach the Word of God. He wrote hundreds of letters to bishops throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. St John continued to console those who were suffering and gave guidance and enlightenment to his followers. 
 
The exilic journey of Chrysostom from Constantinople to Abkhazia is reminiscent of St Ignatius of Antioch. The latter journeyed from Antioch to Rome where he was martyred. En route to Rome, St Ignatius wrote seven epistles to several different churches that he passed through. He was an early Church Father of the 2nd Century. What is amazing about both these great Fathers is that up until their last breath, they never ceased to preach about Christ.
 
St John is indeed a white martyr, meaning he was not executed, thus, spilling his blood for the Faith. Nevertheless, he was persecuted for adhering to the teachings of Christ, hence, imitating Him. Yet, there are some who believe that since Chrysostom died from the rigors of his journey in exile, perhaps that qualifies him as a true martyr. However, that has not yet been officially established by the Orthodox Church
 
The holy relics of St John Chrysostom were finally delivered back to Constantinople in the year 438 AD. However, when those sent by the Emperor tried to lift the coffer containing the relics, they were not able. The reason was that the Emperor gave an edict instead of a prayer to bring them back. So, the Emperor wrote a letter to St John asking for his forgiveness. This letter was read over the grave of Chrysostom. It was at that very moment that the men were able to lift the coffer and return the relics back to Constantinople. 
 
The relics were placed in the Church of Άγια Ειρήνη (Holy Peace). When Patriarch Proclus opened the coffer, St John’s body was incorrupt. The Emperor, Theodosius the Younger, asked the Saint for forgiveness for his mother, the Empress Eudoxia. The coffer was then taken back to the Church of the Holy Apostles where a great miracle occurred. As the Patriarch and the rest of the clergy were standing by the coffer, St John opened his mouth and said: Peace be to all. Many of the sick were healed at his tomb.  It was an injustice for St John to have been exiled from Constantinople in the first place. Yet, it was God’s will that his holy relics be brought back to the City where they remain until this day.
 
In total, Chrysostom wrote 1447 sermons and 240 epistles. In addition, he wrote commentaries on several books of both the Old and New Testament. Other works include: Six Discourses on the Priesthood and A Comparison of the Monk with the Emperor. St John is also the author of the Divine Liturgy we use most often in the Orthodox Church. His name means “golden-mouth” for his splendid preaching and inspired teachings. Many of St John’s works were pastoral in content and he was very much a pastor who nurtured his flock.
 
A major work of Chrysostom was the correct understanding of the Original Sin and purpose of baptism. Among the several Latin Fathers who discussed this topic, St Augustine of Hippo claimed that humankind inherits the guilt of the Original Sin. This was his argument for infant baptism. He taught that infants should be baptized as early as possible in order to wash away the guilt of the Original Sin. 
 
However, the Orthodox Church has a different position. Saint John Chrysostom argued that the purpose of baptism was not to wash away the Original Sin but rather to be joined to Christ. Our baptism is our first death where we die to sin and rise with Christ. When the priest holds up an infant just before immersion, it signifies Christ on the Cross, the immersion into the water signifies His descent into Hades and His three days in the tomb. When the priest raises the infant from the font it signifies His Resurrection. 
 
Orthodoxy teaches that humankind does not inherit the guilt of Original Sin but rather the consequence of it which is death. We inherit our fallen nature and sin because we are mortal. Again, this is a consequence of the Original Sin committed by our ancestors, Adam and Eve. The differences in theology are based on the interpretation of Romans 5:12. 
 
The Vulgate used by the Roman Catholic Church translates the Latin into English as: Wherefore, even as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned. The Greek text translated into English, correctly states: Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death passed to all men, in that all have sinned. Thus, it is because of death why mankind sins. “In whom” in the former translation implicates that somehow all have sinned in Adam- i.e. they inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin. 
 
Chrysostom correctly understands Έφ’ ώ πάντες ήμαρτον to mean “in that” and not “in whom” (in quo) which the Latin translation of the Vulgate would imply. Also, in Homily 10 on Romans, Chrysostom never uses the term Original Sin. Instead, he uses the terms: the sin of the one, the disobedience of the one, the transgression of the one, the transgression, the transgression of Adam, the sin of the disobedience of Adam and the sin which he [Adam] introduced
 
Another great work of Chrysostom is his Paschal Homily that we hear every year at the Paschal Liturgy. This homily expresses the love Christ has for mankind, welcoming everyone to His Feast. He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour…the calf is fatted, let no one go away hungry. 
 
Let us joyfully sing the praises of Chrysostom, the golden trumpet, the divinely-inspired organ, the inexhaustible sea of doctrine, the pillar of the Church, the heavenly mind, the abyss of wisdom, the gilded vase. He pours forth sweet streams of dogma like honey for the refreshment of the world. (Stichera from Vespers of Feast)
 
O, St John Chrysostom, intercede for us all!
 
-John Athanasatos 

 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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