HOMILY for St John Chrysostom
In an age, and particularly at this time, perhaps, when we are enundated by words – by political spin, politically-correct jargon, advertising slogans, and professionally-managed speeches – we can, perhaps, become wary of words and eloquence. The worth of fine words and orations that promise so much is more like pyrite, fool’s gold, than true gold. So, we look for integrity in the speaker – can he live as he preaches, and deliver what he promises?
Hence today we honour a 4th-century bishop of Constantinople who was not only hailed as chrysostom, the golden-mouthed one, because of his eloquence and great sermons, but more importantly he lived a life of integrity and steadfastness to Christ. Thus, we hail him as a saint. For as Christ says in today’s Gospel: “the good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good… for out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45).
For beautiful words and clever thoughts are not what brings one closer to the Lord but rather a life lived in obedience to his Word, in conformity with the one who is Good. As we would say, “actions speak louder than words”. So, the integrity of St John’s life is shown in “the experience of suffering” he endured for preaching the truth, and for his “invincible patience” in exercising his duties as a bishop, as today’s Collect says.
So, as Patriarch of Constantinople, the corrupt and lavish imperial capital of the Byzantine empire, St John called on the courtiers and the rich to turn from vanity and ambition and to have a care for the poor. He also reformed the clergy and reprimanded them for their moral laxity, and he disciplined the monks who wandered the streets and made a nuisance of themselves. As bishop, he lived an austere and simple life, and fed the homeless and cared for the sick. But his sermons won him enemies among the powerful and rich – both in the Church and in the court. In particular the Empress Eudoxia was disturbed by his moral exhortations, and so she conspired to have him deposed as bishop, and finally exiled. Despite attempts by the Pope to save him, St John was exiled on a long march to the furthest end of the empire where he finally died of exhaustion in 407, a martyr for preaching and teaching the truth.
But St John never relented, never sought the expedience of keeping his mouth shut even in the face of such formidable opposition. Why? Because his heart was filled with Christ’s Word – this was the good treasure of his heart – and from this abundance he spoke. It was an abundance of love for the salvation of souls that moved him to rebuke clergy and courtiers for their immorality; an abundance of love for the poor that moved him to speak up for the vulnerable and forgotten destitute, but above all, an abundance of love for Jesus Christ and his will. Hence in one of his most famous sermons, St John Chrysostom says: “Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honour Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honour he desires, not in the honour we think best”. Or as Our Lord says in today’s Gospel: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46).
So, let us do as Jesus tells us. We do this today by celebrating the Eucharist which he tells us to do in memory of him. As we do so, and receive Communion worthily, we are filled with the abundance of his grace, a great treasure is laid in our hearts. As it did for St John Chrysostom, so too may this grace transform our hearts that it may produce good – both in deed and in word – making us more like Christ who alone is Good.