The Last Words of St. John Chrysostom
St. John Chrysostom reposed in the Lord 1600 years ago. He died from
exhaustion in a small, out-of-the-way village called Comana.
Earlier that day he had collapsed, out of breath, while stumbling between
two armed guards. They had been hiking on a long twisting path in the wilderness.
The sixty-year-old St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, had been
exiled out of his cathedral, his city and his home by a jealous gang of
politicians. He was forced to march the whole way, from the civilized
neighborhood of Constantinople for hundreds of
rocky miles into the wilds of bandits, enemies, severe weather and unfriendly
During that long march, he remembered years before when he had prayed
outside entire nights in the wintry cold. He had been a fervent monastic in his
early twenties. But he had ruined his health with severe fastings and vigils.
Now, after walking for hundreds of miles, his "body of cobwebs" had
reached its limit: the spirit was willing, but the flesh had become all too
Now, while he was being prodded by his cruel imperial guards over the miles,
he remembered his many enemies in Constantinople.
He thought of the rich and the powerful whom he challenged from the great
pulpit of Hagia Sophia. He had told them that God had given them riches to
provide for the poor, and that God had made them powerful to protect the weak.
Some of them heard his message with an open heart. Others only thought of
revenge, and how they could rid the city of this voice of conscience.
He thought of the clergy of Constantinople,
some of whom were corrupt. He remembered how he put a stop to the ridiculous
parties that were held at such enormous expense. He remembered how he told the
monastics to stay in the monasteries and priests to stay in their parishes,
instead of traveling to the big city to play at politics and win fame and
riches. He remembered how his many reforms made him many enemies.
He thought, too, of the Empress Eudoxia, wife of the Emperor Arcadius. It
was Eudoxia who had welcomed him with open arms when he first arrived in Constantinople that February in the year 398, only nine
years ago. She even presented the gift of new silver candlesticks to the
cathedral soon after he came.
But then she heard of his sermons on the vanity of materialism and luxury,
and she took personal offense. She did not like it when he said that "In the
matter of piety, poverty serves us better than wealth, and work better than
idleness." She did not like it at all when he said that the beggars in the
streets should be treated like Holy Altars, with the same dignity and care.
She, and all of John's enemies, did not like his earnestness, his
conservatism, his unyielding dedication to the Gospel of Christ, and his
uncompromising moralism. He preached against sin in vivid terms. He made
everyone uncomfortable, especially the cultured and the cognoscenti. He
condemned the pornographic theater of the day. He warned his people against sex
outside of marriage. He hated gambling and conspicuous consumption. He
frequently preached on the danger of damnation and hell, and he even said that
the fear of hell is a necessary motivation for purity and repentance.
He preached mightily on repentance. On one hand, he was stern and
frightening: "Repentance consists in no longer doing the same things. For he
who reverts to the same sins is like a dog returning to its vomit, and like the
person who cards wool into the fire, or pours water into a container full of
But on the other hand, he spoke of healing and promise: "Enter into the
Church and wash away your sins. For here there is a hospital and not a court of
law. Do not be ashamed again to enter the Church; be ashamed when you sin, but
not when you repent."
He thought of repentance much as he approached the moment of his repose. He
remembered those years, long ago, when he was just a newly-ordained priest in
his hometown of Antioch,
under the omophorion of Bishop Flavian. There was a crisis in the city, just
one year into his priesthood. The people had been protesting a tax increase
earlier that year, and in a riot they tore down the statues of the Emperor and
The Emperor was not amused, and the city braced itself for his anger and
revenge. The frail eighty-year-old Bishop Flavian traveled to Constantinople to
plead mercy for the city of Antioch.
The young priest John remained to preach to the people.
stricken by dire threat: "There is silence in the streets," John said, "huge
with terror and utter loneliness everywhere." It was Great Lent in the year 387
while the people waited, forlorn, for the old bishop to return from his journey
of eight hundred miles in the mountains and snow.
And then St. John Chrysostom preached the Gospel. He preached about God's
mercy, and how there were things far worse than death or slavery. He reminded
them that in this emergency, they were being shown that this is the way things
really are for human life: a man or woman is always living one moment away from
eternity, when he is always making the choice for heaven or hell.
John called them to repent and come to the grace of Jesus Christ in the
Orthodox Church. He called them to partake of the Eucharist while they still
had the chance. He called them to make peace with their spouses and children,
parents and friends, while they were still alive, before it was too late.
During that crisis and for the rest of his life, his preaching was charged
with the electricity of the Bible. His long sermons journeyed verse by verse
through entire books of the Bible, and brought the mysteries and doctrines of
the Faith down to the plain understanding of everyman. The Bible told people in
every land and time just where they were, who they were and Who made them, and
to Whom they had to answer at Judgment Day. The Bible, and this Orthodox
Preacher, made things clear for this emergency, and for every emergency. Even
now, when the poor are getting poorer (or more indebted and indentured) and the
days are getting longer.
He set the Bible firmly in the prayers he wrote for his people. In
repentance, his prayers called to mind St.
Paul who had been a persecutor, the harlot who bathed
the feet of Jesus with tears and the publican who prayed for mercy. In the
Divine Liturgy that is celebrated every Sunday except Lent, the Bible is
quoted, word for word, nearly one hundred times. Whatever man says that the
Orthodox Church is not Biblical does not know Orthodoxy ... and he does not know
St. John Chrysostom.
He remembered telling them, in that memorable Great Lent of the year 387:
"Strip yourselves, for it is the season of wrestling. Clothe yourselves, for we
are engaged in a fierce warfare with devils. Whet your sickles which are
blunted with long stuffing and gluttony, and then sharpen them with fasting and
And many, many of the people did just that. By the time Bishop Flavian returned
with good news, many had come back to God. Many repented. Many believed. Many
homes were renewed. Many marriages were restored. Many friendships were
regained. In Antioch and in Constantinople, and all over the world, many, many
ran into the Church and turned away from their selfishness, and turned to the
Cross of Christ, all because of this one St. John, whose mouth was golden.
Many came, and they still come, because this Orthodox Preacher once said,
when the night is ever the darkest, "Let everyone who loves God rejoice in this
festival of light ... for He welcomes the last to come no less than the first ...
Enter then all of you into the joy of your Master ... Christ is risen and life
Many came and repented, because John the Golden-Mouthed Preacher of the
Bible, and Patriarch of Constantinople, showed them the glory of the Risen
Christ, and the splendor of the Trinity.
John remembered all these things, and he knew that his time was ending. He
was not afraid. Even as a young monk he was never afraid of the night, because
for him it was never dark. In one of his many sermons on the Psalms, he said
that "... it is during the night that all the plants respire, and it is then also
that the soul of man is more penetrated with the dews falling from Heaven ...
night heals the wounds of our soul and calms our griefs."
He was exhausted, and his body was broken by exposure to the wind and rain,
the rocks and thorns, strong enemies and a weak body. But he wasn't
brokenhearted, and he was not bitter. He was not depressed or hopeless.
He remembered all these things: his enemies, his disappointments and
defeats, his last long journey into the wild lands, and the beatings and
lashings of his two imperial guards.
He forgave them, every one, for each and every hurt and trespass. In this
world, you can forgive, but you don't forget. But every time you remember is
one more instance in the infinite count of seventy times seven.
John remembered and forgave them all, just as his own Lord forgave his every
sin on the Cross.
His body was fading, but he was still on fire for the Lord. His soul was
even brighter with the flame of Divine Love, and the glory of God's grace.
On fire and not in darkness, in strength and not weakness, and in the
greatest sermon of his lifetime, St. John Chrysostom the Golden-Mouthed,
whispered out his last words: "Glory to God for all things!"
Only a man who had given his heart solely to
the Lord Jesus, who had sacrificed his everything to the Holy Trinity, who had
soared to the heights of the Church and earthly power, who had it all taken
away and spent his last years on dusty, forgotten roads ... only such a man could
say such things, giving God all the glory, Who gave this last sermon such
golden, eternal wings.
+METROPOLITAN NICHOLAS OF AMISSOS
(A Homily On The 1600th Anniversary Of The Repose Of St. John Chrysostom-November 26,2007)