John Chrysostom: Part 2: The Bishop of Constantinople


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Saint John Chrysostom (Hagios Ioannis Chrysostomos) of Antioch. An early Byzantine mosaic from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The mosaic is approximately 1,000 years old.
Saint John Chrysostom (Hagios Ioannis Chrysostomos) of Antioch. An early Byzantine mosaic from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The mosaic is approximately 1,000 years old.

 

On September 27, 397, Nectarius, Bishop of Constantinople, died. There was a general rivalry in the capital for the vacant see.

After some months, to the great disappointment of the rival factions, Emperor Arcadius, at the suggestion of his minister Eutropius, asked the Prefect of Antioch to send John Chrysostom to Constantinople without the knowledge of the people of Antioch, due to fears that the departure of such a popular figure would cause civil unrest.

John Chrysostom was hurried to the capital. On February 26, 398 Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria ordained John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople in the presence of a great assembly of bishops.

The life in Constantinople was more turbulent than what John Chrysostom  had at Antioch. As Archbishop of Constantinople, he refused to host lavish social gatherings. This made him popular with the common people, but unpopular with the wealthy citizens. He became unpopular with the clergy for his reforms of the clergy. He told visiting regional preachers to return to the churches they were serving, without any payout.

Here is an excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509). In this homily, he warns against adorning Church buildings at the expense of caring for the suffering members of the Church:

Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body and made it so by his words, also said: “You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.” What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet, but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too.

A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made, but not give a cup of water?

What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs?

What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food, but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry?

What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floors and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison.

Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused of not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.

In 399, through the intervention of John Chrysostom and the influence of the emperor Theodosius I, Flavian was acknowledged as the sole legitimate bishop of Antioch.

Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, wanted to bring Constantinople under his jurisdiction. He opposed John’s appointment as Bishop of Constantinople, even though he had ordained him under duress instead of securing the appointment for Isidore, his own candidate. At that time, Theophilus had disciplined four Egyptian monks, known as “the Tall Brothers,” over their support of Origen’s teachings.

Origen (184/185 – 253/254) was a scholar and an early Christian theologian. He was a prolific writer in many branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, philosophical theology, preaching, and spirituality. Some of his reputed teachings, such as the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatastasis), and the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, later became controversial among Christian theologians.

The Tall Brothers fled to Constantinople and were welcomed by John Chrysostom. Theophilus accused John of being too partial to the teaching of Origen.

John Chrysostom made another enemy in Aelia Eudoxia, the Empress consort of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius. Eudoxia assumed that his denunciations of extravagance in feminine dress were aimed at herself.

In 403 AD, Theophilus Eudoxia, and other of enemies of John Chrysostom held a synod (the Synod of the Oak) to charge John Chrysostom. They used his connection to the four Egyptian monks who espoused the teachings of Origen against him. Eventually, this resulted in the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople.

The people rioted over the deposition and banishment of John Chrysostom. Also, on the night of his arrest, there was an earthquake.  A frightened Aelia Eudoxia considered it as a sign of God’s anger. She beseeched Arcadius to reinstate John Chrysostom as Bishop of Constantinople.

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John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia, in a 19th-century painting by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).
John Chrysostom confronting Aelia Eudoxia, in a 19th-century painting by Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921).

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However, peace between John Chrysostom and Eudoxia was short-lived. A silver statue of Eudoxia was erected in the Augustaion, near his cathedral. John Chrysostom denounced the dedication ceremonies. He spoke against her in harsh terms alluding to the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist:

Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John’s head in a charger.

Once again, John Chrysostom was banished, this time to the Caucasus, a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas.

John Chrysostom wrote an appeal for help to three churchmen: Innocent I,  the Bishop of Rome (Pope);  Venerius, the Bishop of Milan; and Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia.

Pope Innocent protested against the banishment of John Chrysostom from Constantinople to the Caucasus. With the help of the western emperor Honorius, the Pope attempted to intervene, but the enemies of John Chrysostom thwarted his efforts. In 405, Pope Innocent sent a delegation to intercede on behalf of John. But the delegation never reached Constantinople.

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Next → Part  3: The Second Banishment and Death

← Previous: Part 1- Where Can You Find God?

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