Early Church Fathers: St. John Chrysostom



Life of St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom was born about 300 years after the time of Christ in the city of Antioch in the land of Syria. (Locate Antioch of Syria on your maps.) His parents, Secounthos and Anthousa, were very rich. They became Christians before John was born, and John was baptized when he was very young. Secounthos died when John was a boy, and Anthousa taught him carefully about Christ Jesus and the Christian life.

When he became a young man, John went to Athens to study in the university there. In Athens, he soon became known for his wonderful preaching. He became famous all through the land. In face, his name “Chrysostom” is not his last name at all but means “Golden-Tongued” and was given to him because of his wonderful speaking. One day, John was telling men who believed in other gods about the Lord Jesus. One of these men, Anthemios, fell down to the ground shaking after denying the true God. John prayed for Anthemios and he was healed. Anthemios and many others of the learned men then became Christians and were baptized.

When John finished his schooling, he returned to Antioch and became a monk. During this time, many people who were sick came to him for prayer and were healed. Some farmers even came to him because they were afraid of a lion which killed many people. John told them to pray to God and gave them a wooden cross to place on the road. The next morning, the lion was found dead in front of the cross. St. John lived in the monastery for four years, performing many miracles and serving as an example of Christian life. He then left the monastery to live alone in the desert a life of prayer. For three years he lived in a cave and studied the Bible. But, John became ill and had to go back to Antioch at the age of 41. He was ordained a deacon and served the Patriarch, St. Meletios, for five years.

When Patriarch Meletios died, the new patriarch, Flavianos, saw a vision telling him to take John to Constantinople and there ordain him a priest. The next day, they left Antioch for Constantinople. As the patriarch was ordaining John, a white dove appeared and sat on John’s head, showing the blessing of the Holy Spirit. (What other time did the Holy Spirit appear as a dove?) John went back to Antioch as a priest. Then, a terrible riot occurred in Antioch; the people were angry about the Roman taxes and even killed some Roman officials. Would the Emperor punish the city? As soon as order was restored, the Patriarch of Antioch traveled to Rome to plead for his city. John was left in charge. He preached some of his greatest sermons during that Lenten season. Do you remember the sermon read every Pascha? John became a well-known figure in Antioch, a tall, skinny man with a long beard. He was priest there for 18 years.

Then, the Patriarch of Constantinople died and John was named patriarch. He had to be sneaked away from Antioch in a carriage because the people loved him so much they did not want him to go. During John’s time as Patriarch of Constantinople, John continued to preach the Word of God with great wisdom. He also wrote many books of sermons and interpretations, composed hymns, and gave us the Divine Liturgy still celebrated today. But, John did not just preach. He lived the life of a Christian by example, often helping in the hospitals and prisons. The Church even had its own court system over which John had to be wise judge and untangle complicated family disputes, church quarrels, and injustices.

But, John was never afraid to speak out against those who did not live the way of Christ. Because of this, he made many enemies, including the emperor’s wife, Eudoxia, whom he criticized for her greedy and selfish way of life. Finally, she brought a list of lies against John to the bishops and had John sent away. The people tried to stop this and attacked the palace; hundreds of Christians were killed by the empress’s army. Then an earthquake struck the city and the palace was itself damaged. John’s boat returned in triumph. But John continued to preach in his usual way and the empress finally had a secret council called with only her supporters present. John was exiled to Armenia – taken there under military guard. As John was unjustly removed from the city, the beloved church of Hagia Sophia was destroyed by fire, along with the Senate building. John spent his last four years as a simple priest in the village of Cacussus. Then the Emperor decided to move the preacher even farther away. John was now 63 years – sick and exhausted. The journey lasted 3 months. At last, the bishop could walk no further and received Holy Communion and passed away peacefully in a small town along the way.


The Liturgy

            To this day, on most Sundays, we celebrate the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The Orthodox Church has maintained its liturgical uniformity throughout many historical shifts and in many languages and cultures. Here is a constant for all Orthodox, no matter where they travel. There is a specific organization to the liturgy; in the early days, when did the catecumens have to leave?


1.   Review the liturgy; see if the students can get the sequence correct from memory:

  • Litany: Here we pray for the whole world.  Who else do we pray for? (travelers, prisoners, leaders of our country, bishops, priests, deacons, rain and sun, food to eat, and we especially remember Mary the Theotokos) What do we respond? (Lord have mercy. Grant it, O Lord.)
  • Hymns of worship: 1st and 2nd antiphons, troparia and kontakia, Trisagion -- review these words.  Try singing the antiphons we use each Sunday.
  • Epistle and Gospel: Here we hear God’s word from the Bible.  The priest carries out the Gospel and tells us to pay attention to God’s word.
  • Cherubic Hymn: God makes us His special guests, along with the seraphim and cherubim, His angels in heaven.  The priest uses incense as he prays, reminding us that the prayers go up to God the same way the smoke rises. The priest carries the chalice and discos in the Great Entrance, while praying for us all.
  • Creed: We all recite the creed –review the writing of the creed by the Fathers of the Church in Nicaea under Constantine the Great.
  • Preparation for Communion: Review the story of the Last Supper.  Here the priest prays for the bread and wine to become the true body and blood of Jesus-a great Mystery.
  • The Megalynarion: We honor Mary the Theotokos with a special hymn.
  • The Lord’s Prayer: Jesus gave us this prayer himself.
  • Holy Communion: We receive the body and blood of Christ.
  • Benediction: The priest blesses us and dismisses us. We all venerate the Cross.


2. As the Church became more organized, certain articles of worship became commonly 

used. Review them below:


Sanctuary (altar) at the eastern end of the church, why?

                        Iconostasis: icon screen

                        Corporal with Antimins: Altar covering used only during communion and

                                    containing relics of the saints

                        Seven-branched candelabra

                        Tabernacle (or Ark), where are kept the Communion for the sick and for the

                                    Presanctified liturgy

                        Gospel Book

                        Sacramental Fans, representing the Seraphim

                        Table of Oblation, where the priest prepares the Holy Gifts

                        Diskos (or Paten): a plate for the bread

                        Star Cover: to support the veil so it does not touch the bread

                        Chalice: cup for the wine

                        Spoon and Sponge and Spear: the spear is used to cut the pieces from the

                        Prosphora, the spoon to give Communion, and the Sponge to clean

                        Veils: Covering for chalice and paten

                        Censer, for incense



Play a Liturgy learning game: Pictionary.  Write the name of each article of worship on a small slip of paper. Student will draw a slip of paper and try to draw the object on the board while other students guess what he is drawing.


Primstav: Add St. John Chrysostom on November 13.


Close with Prayer.