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St. John Chrysostom

Feast day: September 13

John, whose surname "Chrysostom" occurs for the first time in the "Constitution" of Pope Vigilius in the year 553. He is generally considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit. His natural gifts, as well as exterior circumstances, helped him to become what he was.

At age 20 St. John Chrysostom met Bishop Meletius who inspired him to devote himself to an ascetic and religious life. He studied Holy Scriptures and frequented the sermons of Meletius. About three years later he received Holy Baptism and was ordained lector. But the young cleric, seized by the desire of a more perfect life, soon afterwards entered one of the ascetic societies near Antioch, which was under the spiritual direction of Carterius and especially of the famous Diodorus, later Bishop of Tarsus. Prayer, manual labor and the study of Holy Scripture were his chief occupations, and we may safely suppose that his first literary works date from this time, for nearly all his earlier writings deal with ascetic and monastic subjects. Four years later, Chrysostom resolved to live as an anchorite in one of the caves near Antioch. He remained there two years, but then as his health was quite ruined by indiscreet watchings and fastings in the frost and cold, he prudently returned to Antioch to regain his health, and resumed his office as lector in the church.

Probably in the beginning of 381 Meletius made him deacon, just before his own departure to Constantinople, where he died as president of the Second Ecumenical Council. The successor of Meletius was Flavian. Ties of sympathy and friendship connected Chrysostom with his new bishop. As deacon he had to assist at the liturgical functions, to look after the sick and poor, and was probably charged also in some degree with teaching catechumens. At the same time he continued his literary work, and we may suppose that he composed his most famous book, "On the Priesthood", towards the end of this period, or at latest in the beginning of his priesthood.

In the year 386 Chrysostom was ordained priest by Flavian, and from that dates his real importance in ecclesiastical history. His chief task during the next twelve years was that of preaching, which he had to exercise either instead of or with Bishop Flavian. But no doubt the larger part of the popular religious instruction and education devolved upon him. The earliest notable occasion which showed his power of speaking and his great authority was the Lent of 387, when he delivered his sermons "On the Statues". The people of Antioch, excited by the levy of new taxes, had thrown down the statues of Emperor Theodosius. In the panic and fear of punishment which followed, Chrysostom delivered a series of twenty or twenty-one (the nineteenth is probably not authentic) sermons, full of vigor, consolatory, exhortative, tranquilizing, until Flavian, the bishop, brought back from Constantinople the emperor's pardon. But the usual preaching of Chrysostom consisted in consecutive explanations of Holy Scripture.

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