To the Eastern Church, Saint John is known as Great Hierarch and Ecumenical Teacher, to the West, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church. To all, he is Chrystosom, meaning “golden-mouthed,” the great preacher.
Saint John was born c. 349 in the ancient Greek city of Antioch, near what is now Antakya, Turkey. His father, a high-ranking military officer, died shortly after his son’s birth. He was raised by his mother, Anthusa, sometimes referred to as a pagan but known to many as a devout Christian. Anthusa had many influential contacts, and John studied under Libanius, a gifted teacher from whom he learned skills in rhetoric as well as a great love for Greek language and literature. John then turned to the study of theology, was baptized, and tonsured as a reader (considered the first step in becoming a priest.)
In about the year 375, Saint John became a hermit and lived a life of extreme asceticism. It is said he spent the next two years continually standing with little sleep and committed the Bible to memory. His health deteriorated as a result of such practices, and of necessity, he returned to Antioch, his body permanently weakened.
Here is the progression of St. John’s rise (and fall) through the church hierarchy after his return to Antioch:
• Ordained as a deacon in 381
• Ordained as a presbyter (priest) in 386
• Appointed against his will as Archbishop of Constantinople in 397
• Banished from his archbishopric in 403
• Exiled to the town of Cucusus in Cappadocia 404 to 407
• Sent into further exile in 407 and died during the journey
St. John was a highly educated man from a wealthy background who preferred a modest life. He emphasized care for the poor and used his considerable rhetorical skills to admonish excess found in the Church and the secular world.
He was beloved by the common folk for his deep and uncompromising understanding of scripture. His speech was eloquent and beautiful in its simplicity. Accusations of aloofness, tactlessness, and lack of political skill, were counterbalanced by his honesty, courage and sensitive heart.