by Timothy Braun
You know you have the gift of preaching when everyone calls you golden-mouth.
John of Antioch was the most renowned orator of his generation and is still considered by many to be the foremost preacher in the early centuries of church history. So eloquent were his sermons that people called him chrysostom, which is Greek for “golden-mouthed.”
Personally, I’m also rather fond of Johnny Golden-mouth because, like myself, he had a short, tidy beard and… how shall I say this… a, um, “hereditary tonsure.”
John’s father died while he was young and he was raised by his mother. He received a good education and was trained as a rhetorician. However, upon completing his education John retreated for a time into a monastic lifestyle. He submitted himself to various forms of asceticism, eventually even to the point where he damaged his body so badly that he needed to return to Antioch.
At this point John began participating in his local congregation. His gifts as a reader and speaker were soon noticed and, after being both a rector and deacon, was made a priest. John’s sermons quickly became famous. He would most often preach through the books of the Bible and his speaking was in high demand.
“Do you not know what great result the cross has achieved? It has abolished death, has extinguished sin, has made Hades useless, has undone the power of the devil, and is it not worth trusting for the health of the body? It has raised up the whole world, and do you not take courage in it?”
Yet for all the fame attributed to him, it became a point of frustration for him. While people would come from miles around to hear his eloquent teachings, it infuriated him that people would yet walk away unchanged.
“Hearing profits nothing unless it is accompanied by practice,” he would exclaim. Or, “What is the use of exhortation or advice, when you do everything merely by the force of habit, and do not become a whit more zealous in consequence of my teaching?”
He once blasted his congregation for not attending church services because the summer heat was too hot. “I am ashamed of them, believe me: for such excuses are womanish!”
He was, indeed, a fiery personality. He was constantly railing against the wealthy for neglecting the poor and calling for reformation within church leadership. Predictably, he was hailed as a hero among the masses while making more than a few enemies amongst those he challenged.
John’s fame and reputation spread so widely that, very much against his will (some even call it a kidnapping), he was consecrated as Archbishop of Constantinople. Even with this appointment, John continued to live an ascetic life, giving the vast majority of his income to the poor and to the setting up of hospitals. He continued to preach against affluence knowing full-well that members of the royal household were part of his congregation.
Unfortunately, John’s enemies united against him and in 403 AD, he was deposed and banished. He was briefly reinstated but eventually exiled. He died on the shores of the Black Sea in 407. After his enemies died John Chrysostom was posthumously pardoned and made a “Doctor of the Church.” Today he remains one of the legendary preachers in church history and a central figure in the Eastern Church. Remarkably, approximately 600 of his sermons and 200 of his letters still survive today!
In honour of this Bearded Gospel Man I leave you with the manliest quote I could muster:
For this name Man, we do not define according as they who are without define it, but as the Divine Scripture has bidden us. For a man is not merely whosoever has hands and feet of a man, nor whosoever is rational only, but whosoever practices piety and virtue with boldness.
Let us go forth as True Men, boldly living lives of piety and virtue!
Chrysostom, John (2013-03-25). The Selected Writings of John Chrysostom. Fig. Kindle Edition.
131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Mark Galli & Ted Olson, ed)