Bearded Gospel History: Josiah Henson

JOSIAH GRAPHIC (1)

by Aaron Alford

Born into slavery in 1789, Josiah Henson grew up witnessing human cruelty at its worst, and the fact that he grew up to become a truly remarkable Bearded Gospel Man is a miracle in itself.

When he was still a very young boy, little Josiah had an image etched in his memory which would stay with him the rest of his life: his father coming home close to death, his back mangled, blood streaming down his face. A slave owner had sexually assaulted Josiah’s mother, and when his father came to her defence, he was severely punished for laying hands on a white man. His ear was cut off and he received one hundred lashes, all of this done to the delight of a watching crowd.

Years later his father was sold, taken from his pleading family, and Josiah never saw him again. Such transactions were commonplace, and rarely was any thought given to keeping a family together. Husbands were routinely taken from their wives, mothers from their children. The threat of your family being separated at your owner’s convenience was constant. When Josiah was still a young man, his family was torn apart for a second time when his brothers and sisters were sold at an auction, one by one, as he and his horrified mother looked on. Josiah was sold, taken from his mother’s trembling hands. It was only after his mother desperately pleaded with her new owner that he eventually purchased little Josiah some time later, reuniting mother and son.

Josiah grew to be an invaluable asset to his new owner, showing great leadership and frugality as a foreman on the plantation. As horrific as the conditions of slavery were, Josiah, at first, refused to attempt an outright escape. He was proud of his position and achievements, which to some degree blinded him to his truly desperate situation. Besides, it was all he’d ever known. Ill-treated and despised as he was, longing for true freedom, he was convinced he could purchase it for himself rather than become a fugitive slave. Adding to this was the fear of what happened to fugitive slaves who were caught.

It was during this time that Josiah heard the gospel for the first time. John McKenny was a baker and part-time preacher who was known as an “upright, benevolent Christian” who despised slavery and who refused to use slave labour in any of his business dealings. One Sunday, Josiah heard this man preach, and was overwhelmed by the message given. Josiah later wrote of this event:

The divine character of Jesus Christ, his tender love for mankind, his forgiving spirit, his compassion for the outcast and despised, his cruel crucifixion and glorious ascension, were all depicted, and some of the points were dwelt on with great power; great, at least, to me, who then heard of these things for the first time in my life. Again and again did the preacher reiterate the words “for every man.” These glad tidings, this salvation, were not for the benefit of a select few only. They were for the slave as well as the master, the poor as well as the rich, for the persecuted, the distressed, the heavy-laden, the captive; for me among the rest, a poor, despised, abused creature, deemed of others fit for nothing but unrequited toil—but mental and bodily degradation. O, the blessedness and sweetness of feeling that I was loved!

Though still a slave, Josiah’s inner life was transformed. “Swallowed up in the beauty of the divine love, I loved my enemies, and prayed for them that did despitefully use and entreat me,” he later wrote. Led by this divine love, Josiah himself, while still a slave, became an ordained Methodist minister at the age of 22.

He wed a woman named Nancy, and they began a family. Still convinced that he could obtain his freedom through “legitimate” means, Josiah eventually struck a bargain with his owner to purchase his freedom for $450 dollars. Josiah had been able to put the first $350 down, and a contract was written that he would purchase his freedom when he had paid the last $100. But when he at last raised the hundred dollars, he realized a treachery. The legal note had been changed: a zero added to the 100. His freedom would now cost him not 450 dollars, but a thousand dollars (over $24,000 in 2015 rates).

It was then Josiah realized he would not obtain his freedom by any legal means. It would be years, however, before he and his family had an opportunity for escape. At last, as Josiah was facing being sold and separated from Nancy and his four children, he arranged an escape plan. Facing a harrowing journey that threatened his family with starvation and capture, Josiah and his family traveled from the Southern U.S., up through the Northern states, and eventually Canada.

In many stories of slavery and escape, this would be the happy ending. For Josiah Henson, however, it was just the beginning. Father Henson saw that many slaves who had escaped to Canada did not know how to begin a life of true freedom for themselves, and found themselves in living situations which were subservient and economically servile. So he began to teach trades and life skills to the community in which he found himself.

He would eventually return to the United States to assist other fugitive slaves in finding their freedom. He began a trade in high quality Canadian Black Walnut lumber, hiring and training many former slaves, and finding great success in exporting it to Great Britain. Throughout this time he continued to preach the gospel and work tirelessly as an abolitionist. In 1865, at the age of 76, he lived to see slavery abolished in the United States. Seventeen years later, at the age of 93 (an age he would never have reached had he remained a slave), Father Josiah Henson passed away peacefully in Dresdon, Ontario, Canada in 1883.

Father Henson is inspiring example of what it means to not only help people find freedom, but to equip people for freedom. So often we are content with an illusion of freedom rather than freedom itself, substituting grace for law and dynamic action and risk-taking for a comfortable (if constricting) status quo. Josiah settled for none of this. He risked his life not only for his own freedom but for the freedom of others. In his freedom he sacrificed what could have been a content and relatively easy life for the service of others. He traded the oppression of slavery for the freedom of servanthood. Thank-you, Father Henson, for your living witness to this truth. It is for this kind of freedom that Christ has set us free.

For Father Henson’s full story, I highly recommend reading his autobiography. It is a truly exciting tale, and contains fascinating insights into a remarkable time of history. “Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life / Truth Stranger Than Fiction” is available as a free ebook or pdf download from many sites, including this one: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/49129 

Bearded Gospel History: Saint Denis

by Aaron Alford

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A good preacher can preach a sermon right off the top of his head. A great preacher can preach a sermon with the top of his head right off.

I would like to introduce you to just such a preacher: Saint Denis. This Bearded Gospel Man would hardly let something as inconsequential as decapitation keep him from preaching a message of repentance. (John the Baptist. What an amateur!)

Born in Italy some time in the third century AD, Denis was a missionary bishop. He was sent along with two companions (one a priest and the other a deacon) to evangelize Gaul (modern France), then part of the Roman Empire. The gospel had taken root there, and the Church of Gaul had even enjoyed a level of comfort and privilege for a time. But times changed with the rise of Emperor Decius. Decius saw himself as a reformer of the glorious Roman religion and its political system, and sought to completely exterminate Christianity from the Roman Empire. He wanted citizens faithful to gods and country. A Christian’s loyalties, however, were first and foremost to one God and his Kingdom. This was simply incompatible with Decius’s ideal of patriotism.

While the average Christian was given an opportunity to renounce their religion, priests and bishops were simply executed. This persecution, preceded as it was with a time of relative ease, took a great toll on the Church, and many recanted. The Church of Gaul was dwindling and suffering.

Along with his missionary brothers, Denis bravely went forth, eventually arriving in Paris. These friends powerfully communicated the Gospel in word and deed, and many came to believe in the Christ whom Denis preached. The love and fearlessness these friends displayed was bringing new life to the Church of Gaul.

But these conversions did not sit well with the local pagan priests, and soon Denis and his friends found themselves in the clutches of the Roman authorities. By some accounts the three were scourged, racked, and thrown to wild animals. Surviving these ordeals, still true to their King and his Kingdom, Denis and his friends at last faced the Roman sword.

One can only imagine what was going through Denis’s mind as he watched his friends meet their death. True as he was to the Kingdom he preached, he may well have been praying for the repentance and salvation of his executioners. Perhaps he was thinking, “This would be a perfect time for a sermon!” Odds are this was exactly what he was thinking, for it seems that mere decapitation could not keep him from preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Legend says that when the soldier’s blade separated his head from his body, Denis calmly picked up his head and started preaching. He then walked down from the hill of his execution, proclaiming a message of repentance to everyone who would listen. Needless to say, getting people’s attention was not a problem. Finally, after about a six-mile sermon, Denis set down his head and died.

Regardless of how historically precise this account of his martyrdom may be, there is no doubt Denis was a passionate preacher with a deep and abiding love for Christ. At a crucial time when the Church had suffered the double blows of comfort and persecution, Denis revived and reinvigorated the Church through his faithful proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom. So here’s to Saint Denis, a Bearded Gospel Man who stands heads above the rest.

Bearded Gospel History: Saint Patrick

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by Aaron Alford

 

There is very little one can say about Saint Patrick that has not already been said, but it simply wouldn’t be right to let this special day go by without mentioning something about this unique and compelling figure of Christianity. For a brief and interesting biography of Patrick, I recommend this article by writer Jonathan Rogers: http://www.rabbitroom.com/2013/03/on-the-greatness-of-saint-patrick/

What I can talk about is what Patrick represents to me personally, and why I find him so fascinating. Patrick’s was a life lived in absolute love and service to Christ and to the people around him. 

He was sent to be a missionary in a culture that was defined by its paganism. He was not afraid of the world in which he found himself, however, and instead looked for signs of life, of the movement of the Holy Spirit, within it. He celebrated what was good and true, and with great love and care (and sound doctrine), introduced people to the source of that goodness and truth: Jesus Christ. 

He had a profound awareness of the spiritual realities around him, of God’s immense and unseen workings in the world. He had a sense of Christ’s breath in the breeze, of God’s immediacy in his created world, and of Christ’s presence in the people he was called to serve. He looked with overwhelming love upon the people whom God had made, a people that most of the world (including Christians) had written off as beyond hope or redemption. This was what motivated him to return as a missionary to the very people who had enslaved him. He knew that he need not fear any person, spiritual force, or even the culture of paganism in which he found himself, because Christ’s love was all around him. With Christ’s own love, he loved people.

When I am tempted to despair of Christ’s presence in my life, of his Holy Spirit being at work in the world around me, I need only to remember the incredible prayer of St. Patrick. Here I am reminded of his ever-present help, and his ever-present love. May we carry that same love and confidence into the world in which we find ourselves.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude. 

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

Good King Wenceslaus and the True Meaning of Boxing Day

by Aaron Alford

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Much has been made in the media about this supposed “War on Boxing Day,” and it’s time someone addressed it!

Okay.  No one has mentioned anything at all about a war on Boxing Day, and most people in the United States have never even heard of it. Still, I feel we need to be reminded of just what the true meaning of this oft-neglected kid-brother of Christmas really is. Let’s keep the box in Boxing Day!

If you haven’t heard of it, Boxing Day is celebrated in Britain and Canada (The Proprietor’s home and native land) and most Commonwealth countries.  For us Canadians, Boxing Day is kind of like the Canadian Black Friday.  (However, Canadian retailers started doing Black Friday sales a couple of years ago, too, so I suppose it’s kind of like Black Friday II: Electric Boogaloo.) It’s the day for big sales and super deals on all your electronic/useless crap needs.  But this wasn’t always the case. Boxing Day used to have much more meaning than that.

Boxing Day has its origins in a practice that used to take place in Britain, in which employers of servants and other tradesmen would give gifts to their employees, often in the form of a box full of presents and bonuses for them to take to their families. The name may also refer to a box traditionally placed at the back of a church on Christmas day to collect offerings for the poor.  In either case, these gifts for servants and for the poor were given on the day immediately following Christmas, which also happens to be the feast day of the first martyr of the Christian Church: Saint Stephen.

And here’s where Good Duke Wenceslaus comes in.

Yes that’s right, “Duke”.

Wenceslaus, you see, was a Bohemian Duke who lived in the early 10th century.  He was a good man, a Gospel man if you will, who was famous for his Christian devotion and especially for his charity to the poor.

A chronicler of Wenceslaus’ life wrote this about him:

“But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you…. (N)o one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”

Unfortunately, not everyone around the young duke was such a fan, and his own brother conspired against him. He was assassinated at about the age of 30.

These stories and legends about Wenceslaus endured, however. So renowned was he for his love and compassion that his example gave rise to the medieval concept of the “rex justus” or “righteous king”.  It was Emperor Otto the First who later conferred on Wenceslaus the title of “king”, several years after Wenceslaus’ death. These stories later inspired Anglican priest and hymn writer John Mason Neale to write what is technically not a Christmas carol, but a St. Stephen’s Day hymn in 1853.

You’re familiar with the tale he tells, in which the Good King looks out on the snow covered land on “the Feast of Stephen”, or Boxing Day.  When he sees a peasant gathering wood, he sets out to bring the poor man a feast of choice meat and fine wine.  His servant travels with him, but in the blustering cold and wind, the servant becomes faint.  He finds his strength, however, when Wenceslaus tells him to walk in his footsteps in the snow.  The ground itself seems to warm with the footprints of the saint.

And here we come to the true meaning of Boxing Day.

On Christmas day, we celebrate the birth of the eternal and omnipotent God taking flesh and becoming an utterly helpless child. On St. Stephen’s Day, we remember the first martyr of the Church Christ founded. It is interesting to note that young Stephen was himself a deacon of the Church, and his primary role involved distributing the goods of the Church to widows and orphans. It would seem that the day after Christmas was meant to be a day to, in one way or another, remember the poor and the “least of these”. We see that in the examples of Stephen and Wenceslaus. Just as the Christ Child forsook the riches of heaven to bless us, we are reminded to forsake our own riches to bless those around us. As we walk in the footprints of saints such as these, who themselves tried to follow the footsteps of Christ, we find warmth in the ground on which they trod.

So maybe it’s time to reclaim the righteous origins of Boxing Day.  Where are the poor among you?  Who is facing difficulty today? Who is facing hardship in “gathering winter fuel”?  Perhaps we can find a box of blessing for them, and, like Wenceslaus the righteous king, we may ourselves find blessing.

*Special thanks to my friend Sam Tweedle for the title and inspiration behind this piece!

Bearded Gospel History: Saint Nicholas

by Aaron Alford

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If you ever find yourself being pickled in a cask, jolly old Saint Nicholas is a good man to have in your corner.  If you find yourself attempting to deny the divinity of Christ at a Church council, not so much.  But more on these things later.

Today Bearded Gospel Men celebrates one of the most famous figures in bearded Gospel history, Saint Nicholas of Myra.  With his feast day falling on December 6, and his long association with being a protector of children, it’s easy to see how he became so closely associated with the Christmas season.

There are not a lot of clear, hard facts known about the life of Nicholas, but we do know that he died on December 6, in 345 or 352 AD, and that he was bishop of Myra, a city in what is now Turkey. We can, however, get a general picture of who he was and what he was like from the stories and legends that made him famous.

Nicholas was born as the only son to a wealthy Christian family, and his parents died in an epidemic while he was still quite young.  Nicholas, seeking to live out the gospel’s invitation to “sell everything you own and give to the poor”, held his inheritance lightly. The earliest story of his care for children and for the poor comes in the tale of an impoverished man and his three daughters.  Having nothing as a dowry for his daughters to be considered eligible for marriage, the three young women were destined for a life of slavery or prostitution.  The story goes, however, that as each daughter reached the age for marriage, young Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through their window.  (In some versions of the story, these bags of gold land in the girls’ shoes or stockings, or were tossed down the family’s chimney.)

Another somewhat horrific legend is told of three boys being murdered by a butcher and their bodies pickled in a cask to cure. Nicholas, by the Holy Spirit, learns of the butcher’s deeds, and through his intercession the children are brought back to life.  Yet another story is told of an unjust governor who had taken a bribe and sentenced three young men to death. As Bishop, Nicholas intervened, stayed the hands of the executioner, then proceeded to rebuke the governor until he admitted his crime!

Nicholas also knew the hardship of suffering for his faith, and, along with hundreds of other Christian clergy, was exiled and thrown in prison under the persecution of Diocletian.  It was not until Constantine came to power that Nicholas and the other Church leaders were released.

After his release, Nicholas is said to have been present at the Council of Nicaea.  There he is said to have confronted Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, with a dramatic slap to the face.  Unfortunately, this story can’t be confirmed, but if Nicholas was as passionate as the other stories about him infer, it is easy to imagine his passion for truth igniting him in such a way. After all, even saints are only human!

The journey of the historical Saint Nicholas to the modern Santa Claus is an interesting one with a lot of fascinating connections to our modern Christmas traditions and images, not the least of which being his red bishop’s vestments and long white beard. But what has made Nicholas’s life and the stories around him truly endure is his passion for the truth, and his great love for the poor, the weak, and the innocent — particularly children.

When I hear the story of the poor man and his three daughters, I’m reminded of families living in strikingly similar situations today.  I’m especially reminded of impoverished Burmese families I met when I spent time in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.  Many of these families face a similar kind of desperation, and their children face the same danger of being sold into slavery and prostitution.  Thankfully there are a lot of modern Saint Nicks working to help these families, though the need is still great.

To get to the real heart of the historical Saint Nicholas, one needs only to look to the heart of the God he served. Who is weak or vulnerable in my world? Whose cause deserves justice? Whose stocking could use a visit from Saint Nicholas, and what can I do to bless them?

As we walk out these days leading up to Christmas, may each sidewalk Santa we see be a reminder to us of the real Saint Nick. May we be reminded to live out the love of the One who for love’s sake became poor.

A good source of info about St. Nicholas and his relationship with the Christmas season can be found here: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/

Bearded Gospel History: Misquoting Francis

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“Preach the Gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words.”

These are the famous words of Saint Francis of Assisi.  Unfortunately, he never said them.

Saint Francis, arguably the church’s most famous saint, is also its most misunderstood.  He is embraced by some as a vaguely pantheist animal lover, and appreciated by others as a completely non-threatening hippy Jesus-follower who liked to hang around bird baths.  But both of these miss by a wide margin who Francis really was.

Francis was born into a well-to-do cloth merchant’s family in Assisi, Italy in 1182.  Dancing and drinking and generally carousing into the wee hours of the morning, in his younger days Francis was famous for being the city’s most enthusiastic party goer.  He was a respected citizen of Assisi, and when the city went to war against neighbouring Perugia, Francis enthusiastically enlisted.  But his first day of battle did not bode well for him.  He was captured, and taken as a prisoner of war.  For over a year, Francis rotted away in a dank cell, breathing in sickness and disease.

Eventually his family ransomed him and brought him home.  There he would remain for another year, recovering from his illness.  Slowly he recovered, but he would never again be completely whole and healthy, and sickness would return to him from time to time for the rest of his days.

The fourth Crusade was set to begin, and Francis insisted he was well enough to fight.  He set out to join a company of men in southern Italy.  He was only a day’s journey from Assisi, however, when he turned back.  The people of Assisi whispered of supposed visions from God which had cut short his journey south.  Most began to conclude that his imprisonment and sickness had taken more than his health: it had also taken his mind!  To his father’s consternation, he no longer attended the parties over which he had once been crowned king.  Instead he spent his days riding the plains beneath the town, and was even known to visit the leper hospice.  He stopped wearing the trendy clothing so readily available to him, and began to wear a field worker’s robe.  The people’s suspicions about his mental health were confirmed when he began to talk of hearing Jesus speak to him in the ruins of old San Damiano chapel.  He said that Jesus had told him to rebuild his church.

Francis had taken this quite literally, and set out to rebuild the ruined walls of the house of worship.  And, as any good young son on a mission from God would do, he began by selling his father’s stuff. His father became so enraged that he actually locked him in a tiny stone closet for several days, eventually dragging Francis before the bishop, demanding justice.  This he received in a form he never could have imagined.  His son returned to him every cent he had taken, and with the money he returned his clothes, and his sonship.  Francis stood naked, declaring that from that day forward, his Father in Heaven would be enough.

Francis would spend the rest of his life discovering the depths of that relationship with his Father, of learning simple trust in His providence.  From this place of profound confidence in the immense Love of his Heavenly Father, Francis began a revolution.

Soon some of his closest, formerly party-going friends, began to join him in his simple life of poverty and service to the lowest and the forgotten.  The movement continued to grow, eventually inspiring thousands to embrace a life of poverty and simplicity.  They spent their days becoming one with lepers and beggars, serving them, and creating friendship.

It’s interesting that so often Francis is seen with little sparrows on his shoulders.  Sparrows are small, and often go unnoticed when compared with lovely little hummingbirds or soaring eagles.  They are dressed plainly in brown feathers, and receive their sustenance, quite literally, off the crumbs from our table.  They do not reap or sow, but their Father in Heaven knows their needs, and sends them our leftover donuts and Big Mac buns.  For this reason they have come to represent the poor, and whenever you see an image of Francis with a sparrow on his finger, it’s saying less about his communion with animals than it is about his communion with the lowly.  It speaks of his humility.

And here, perhaps, is where that non-quote from Francis comes.  The closest actual quote to something like that famous one goes something like this: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our preaching is our walking.”  You see, Francis actually spent quite a lot of time preaching.  In fact, if he couldn’t find people to preach to, he preached to the birds, exhorting them to praise their Father in Heaven.  (They liked very much to hear him preach.  He was one of them.)

What made Francis’s preaching so unique, however, was the authority by which he spoke.  It’s one thing for a wealthy man to tell you to live simply and trust your Father, but quite another for a poor man to do so.  Francis, in his poverty, experienced the Love of his Heavenly Father in such profundity that everything in his life, from his walking and his serving to his preaching, flowed from that deep well of trust.

Francis, the former party goer and respected soldier, became a bearded beggar.  He traded the wealth of his earthly father for the riches of his Heavenly Father.  The Gospel was not for him merely a matter of words, but of trust, of simplicity, and deep joy.

Truly, he preached the Gospel at all times.  May we trust our Father enough to do the same.

Bearded Gospel History: St. John Chrysostom (347?-407)

by Timothy Braun

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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!

Sources:

Chrysostom, John (2013-03-25). The Selected Writings of John Chrysostom. Fig. Kindle Edition.

131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Mark Galli & Ted Olson, ed)