St. John of Antioch has more than one identity. What could you learn from that?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source: Catholic.net


          Many of us can remember that, as children, we each had more than one name.  There was the name that your Mom called you when she was particularly perturbed.  There was the name that your teachers called you, which usually included the middle name that you wished no one knew.  Some of us had a confirmation name.  But the name that we took the most pride in was the one that our friends gave us, our nickname.  Now people are people and cultures are cultures and the stature of this identity, given by one’s peers, was no different in the fourth century.

       John of Antioch (347-407) did his best to please his widowed Mother who literally begged him to not “make her a widow again” by departing to become a desert hermit. By the age of 20 he had become totally enamored of scripture and applied his classical studies skills, based in law and rhetoric, to become a scripture scholar.  He remained in his Mom’s home and did his best to live a life of silence and fasting but by the age of about 25 he could no longer deny the call to a solitary contemplative life.  He then moved to a cave about four miles outside of Antioch . 

       Fortunately, for us, the austere life of a hermit took a toll on his health and he had to give up that life-style.  As they say, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.  Upon his return, initially, he received ordination as a lector which, in the Eastern Church, was preparatory to the deaconate. He then became a monk and eventually a priest. He was then appointed Archbishop of Constantinople and worked tirelessly to pastor his people until his death.  Even in that service, things did not seem to smooth out for him.  He annoyed the ruling royalty and because of his unabashed criticism of the glaring wealth of empress Eudoxia, some bishops and the other nobles, he was twice exiled. First he was sent to Armenia, and then to Pythius on the eastern shore of the Black Sea . This second expulsion resulted in his death because of his already compromised health. 

       The teaching authority of the Church lies in the bishops.  Despite his ill health and disappointment at not being able to pursue religious life the way he wanted to, John fulfilled his duties with lavish generosity.  He preached ceaselessly, founded homes for the sick and needy, managed the nascent and troubled Church at Ephesus and worked at reforming a clergy run amok.  He even had the guts to defrock unrepentant clerics. He made as many enemies as friends.   He accomplished all this while running afoul of the ruling class and being shuttled back and forth from exile to exile.  But more than his boundless energy and tenacious spirit, he had a “way” with Scripture.  In the shadow of the mega scholarship and allegorical Scripture interpretation of Clement and Origen who were teaching and preaching at the same time, he had a brashly different view. He clearly saw Scripture as a power and tool to comment on and guide everyday life. Topics of his homilies included: the marketplace, the marriage bed, the sports arena, cooking, investments and cosmetics.  He was so loved by his people that their furor at the empress, after his first exile, is what forced her to bring him back.  But one of his most precious accolades was the nickname given to him by his hearers, “Chrysostom”: meaning Golden Mouth.  If you are a preacher, teacher, public speaker or someone who simply loves Scripture, be sure to celebrate John Chrysostom on September 13. His homilies are still widely available today.  Ask for his intercession and maybe you’ll wind up golden too! 

  Check out this sample from his homily: “To Parents”.  Remember that this was written abound 400 C.E.;

 “Never say that the reading of Scripture is the business of monks.  Am I making a monk of him? (your child) No. There is no need for him to become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian.  For it is altogether necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source--but especially for children.  For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are added bad examples derived from the pagan myths, where they are made acquainted with heroes so admired, who are slaves of their passions, and cowards with regard to death--as, for example, Achilles, when he relents, when he dies for his concubine when another gets drunk, and many other things of the sort.  He (your child) requires therefore the remedies against these things.”

 Copyright© 2008 by Kathryn M. Cunningham, all rights reserved.


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