For 15 centuries, this day in church history has belonged to John Chrysostom, who died on September 14, 407 at age 60. His powerful sermons gave him the reputation as the greatest orator in Christian history. Indeed, the name Chrysostom means “Golden Mouthed.”
John was born in Antioch, Syria. His father, a high-ranking Roman officer, died shortly after John’s birth. His mother Anthusa devoted herself to raising John in the nurture of the Lord. She placed him in the finest schools; and under the well-known orator Libanius, John mastered the art of rhetoric.
John became a lawyer, well known for powerful speaking. His legal studies led him to reexamine Christianity’s beliefs, and he became so impressed with Scripture that he resigned the law, was baptized, and wanted to join a monastery. When his mother persuaded him to remain home and comfort her in her old age, John turned his home into a personal monastery, eating simply, making few purchases, and spending much time in study.
After his mother’s death, Chrysostom studied and worked quietly as a monk for six years, followed by two more Elijah-like years in a hermit’s cave. Then he began preaching. His messages were practical, powerful, and sprinkled with humor. He effectively led his listeners through the Bible in exegetical fashion. His oratory was so powerful that his audiences frequently burst into spontaneous applause, a practice he disliked.
In 398 John was elected patriarch of Constantinople, but when John’s plainspoken messages riled priests and politicians there, he was banished to a remote spot on the Black Sea. “The doctrine of Christ did not begin with me,” he told saddened parishioners, “and it shall not die with me.” His forced departure caused a riot in Constantinople, and on the night of the riot, a powerful earthquake shook the city. The public officials immediately sent for him and he returned in triumph. But John’s blunt, biblical sermons continued to rankle the authorities, and he was again deposed and entered a period of ministry through letters and epistles before dying on this date in the year 407, his last words being, “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”
Ezekiel, I am sending you to the people of Israel. They are just like their ancestors who rebelled against me and refused to stop. They are stubborn and hardheaded. But I, the Lord God, have chosen you to tell them what I say. Those rebels may not even listen, but at least they will know that a prophet has come to them. (Ezekiel 2:3-5)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 14.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1321 – Dante Alighieri, author of the greatest epic of medieval Christianity, The Divine Comedy; died.
1741 – George Frederick Handel completed the oratorio The Messiah. Which he began only twenty-four days earlier. The manuscript is remarkably free of errors considering its length, the speed with which it was composed, and his own infirmity—he had already suffered a stroke.
1814 – Francis Scott Key, an Episcopalian layman and cofounder of the American Sunday School Union, is inspired to write the song that becomes America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” when he sees that Fort McHenry has not struck its colors after a night of heavy bombardment by British ships during the war of 1812.