Reflection on St John Chrysostom on the anniversary of his death: Fr Mark Woodruff

Over the last year or so, the Society has gained a new friend. Alongside the amazing work of our close partners Aid to the Church in Need in support the persecuted and rebuilding Church across the Christian East and indeed globally, another charity has begun to work in Great Britain, FACE – Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East. There is more than enough work to do to sustain and develop the Eastern Churches in this historical moment, and the two charities are complementary. FACE is the newly established and resourced UK operation of Oeuvre d’Orient, founded in the 19th century in Paris to raise awareness and promote study on behalf of the Catholic Eastern Churches and to assist with their development, both in their historic homelands and in their modern-day expansion across the world – much like our Society.

Fr Mark Woodruff, our Chairman, is acting as an adviser to FACE given the close relationship of its work with the Society’s in different spheres. FACE has set up a monthly online prayer group for its work and in September, Fr Mark was asked to provide a reflection on the Society’s patron, St John Chrysostom. St John died on 14th September, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In the Latin Church, he is venerated on the 13th September, and in the Byzantine Eastern Churches he is commemorated on November 13th.

Here is the link to the Reflection on the resources page of FACE. Below is Fr Mark’s full text.

READING – Ephesians 4.1-7, 11-13

I, Paul, the prisoner in the
Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been
called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one
another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the
bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the
one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father
of all, Who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace
according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts He gave were that some
would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building
up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of
the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full
stature of Christ

REFLECTION – by Father Mark
Woodruff, Chairman of the Society of St John Chrysostom

At first sight, St Paul’s address
to the new Christians of Ephesus on the western coast of what is now Turkey is
about our faith in the Persons of the Holy Trinity and the gifts with which our
baptism has equipped us to serve the building up of all humanity into the body
of Christ. So indeed it is. But look again, and St Paul is saying that this
first comes out of a lived experience of adversity (his imprisonment),
sacrifice of self (humility), endurance (patience, and bearing with others) and
redemption that take what is amiss and converts it permanently into good (love marked
by forgiveness, and God’s calling that makes good on hope), because the body
into which we are baptised is that of the Father’s Son nailed to the Cross,
which He endured to bring our salvation into effect.

St John is a second St Paul. His
eloquence and spiritual imagination flow through abundant writings. 1687
letters and sermons reveal a lively mind, beautifully communicating from his
direct encounter with Christ, and faith distilled through adversity for His
sake. His preaching gained him the title ‘Chrysostomos’, the Golden Mouth, not
only because what he said warmed people’s hearts and convinced their belief and
discipleship, but because it rang true coming from John. What Paul said of
himself, is true of Chrysostom too: “In my flesh I am filling up what is
lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.”
How did this life take shape?

He was born in the third city of
the eastern Roman empire, Antioch, in around 345. An outstanding literary,
philosophy and rhetoric scholar with a successful public career ahead of him, in
374 he chose instead to live for God in the severely ascetical life of monk. It
was not until 386 that he was ordained priest, when his exceptional oratorical
skills were revealed in the straightforward practicality, vivid imagery and convincing
moral appeal of his sermons, as well as the rich insight of his commentaries on
the Scriptures. Having brought about the reconciliation of the sees of Antioch
and Alexandria with old Rome after a loss of communion for seven decades, in
397 he was the outstanding candidate to be the new Archbishop of new Rome, the
capital of the Christian Roman Empire, Constantinople. The people of Antioch
did not wish to lose him, so to evade opposition to his election, he left in
secret to be consecrated away from the public eye.

Immediately, the consequence of
faithful preaching “in season and out of season” in Constantinople began. While
his inspiring illustrations of the Scriptures and his clear preaching, applying
Christ and faith to real life, endeared him to the people, he inevitably showed
up the lax lifestyles and the moral injustices of the rich and powerful. The
empress Eudoxia flattered herself that these barbs were aimed above all at her.
A synod was trumped up to depose him for supposed unorthodox teaching. Her
husband the emperor Arcadius then exiled him in 403 to Pontus on the Black Sea
coast. The people of Constantinople were in uproar. An earthquake frightened
Eudoxia to thinking it too was all about her. Promising amendment, she begged the
emperor for St John’s recall to appease God. Yet within months she would erect
a silver statue of herself outside the Great Church of Hagia Sophia. The Golden-Mouthed
John, whose triumphant return made his words more potent than ever, kept
speaking vividly about the contrast between the life in Christ shown in the
Scriptures and the moral shortcomings of those in power in a supposedly
Christian empire, this time singling out Eudoxia. The following June he was
banished inland, to the remote edge of the province of Cilicia. There were
riots in Constantinople, and the first Hagia Sophia was burned down. St John continued
to teach his people by letters. He was also able to correspond with Pope
Innocent I in old Rome, who sent a delegation to the emperor to convene a
Council to reinstate the patriarch of new Rome. Chrysostom’s powerful enemies,
however, convinced Arcadius that the archbishop had insulted the emperor by
contacting the pope, and now posed a threat. So in 407 St John was banished to
even more remote exile in Pityus, a port on the eastern edge of the Black Sea.
310 guards ensured no one prevented his removal once and for all. The journey
was harsh because of the terrain and the elements, some of the soldiers were
cruel, and Chrysostom, now about 60, was weak, not having enjoyed strong health
since the extreme ascesticism of his time as a hermit. He did not make it
beyond Cumana in Pontus, not far from where he had been exiled four years
earlier, and he died on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14th
September, saying, “Glory be to God in all things”.

Thus, like St Paul, a “prisoner
in the Lord,” by the public humiliation and the physical afflictions he endured,
he was indeed in his flesh “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions
for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”. Eudoxia and Arcadius failed to
silence him or put the Church in its place. Instead, his faithful confession of
Christ despite persecution, was “Christ’s gift” of an apostle and a teacher,
who “built … up the body of Christ” towards our even deeper “knowledge of the
Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

In the Orthodox Church St John
Chrysostom is revered as one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, along with St Basil
the Great of Caesarea and St Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus. In the Latin
Church they are venerated as three of the Greek Doctors of the Universal Church,
on account of their decisive and compelling teaching on Christ and the Trinity,
that remains formative of the faith and worship of the Church in East and West
to this day. Indeed the form of the Eucharist most often celebrated in the Eastern
Orthodox and the Greek Catholic Churches is the Divine Liturgy of St John
Chrysostom, believed to have been abbreviated under his influence for the
practical purpose of the greater engagement and spiritual enrichment of the

His feast in the West is kept on
the day before his death on the 13th September, and in the East it
is transferred two months later to 13th November. He is the patron
of the city of Constantinople where its Christians are today reduced to several
thousands, pressed on all sides by an almost entirely Turkish Muslim population
and government, yet determined, “with patience” like St Paul’s, to preserve the
living roots of Byzantine Christianity for 260 million Orthodox worldwide.
(Byzantium is the older name for the city of Constantinople). He is also the
patron of Christian educators, lecturers and preachers that “lead a life worthy
of the calling to which you have been called.”


Troparion for November 13 in the
Byzantine Rite

Grace shone forth from your mouth
like a fiery beacon and enlightened the universe, bestowing on the world not
the treasures of greed, but rather showing us the heights of humility. As you
teach us by your words, O John the Golden-Mouthed, our father, intercede with
the Word, Christ our God, for the salvation of our souls.

Kontakion for November 13 in
the Byzantine Rite

From heaven you received divine
grace; your lips have taught us all to worship the Triune God, O blessed John
Chrysostom. It is fitting that we prause you, for you are a teacher, clarifying
all things Divine.

Collect for September 13 from
the Roman Missal

O God, strength of those who hope
in You, Who willed that the Bishop Saint John Chrysostom should be illustrious
by his wonderful eloquence and his experience of suffering: grant us, we pray,
that, instructed by his teachings, we may be strengthened by his invincible
patience. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.