Every year on November 13, Orthodox Christians around the world commemorate the memory of Saint John “Chrysostom”—the “Golden Mouth”—an early Church father and archbishop of Constantinople.
St. John was born around the year 344 in the city of Antioch (Syria), only a few years after the Emperor St. Constantine the Great had made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire. At this time in history, Antioch—a place Christianized centuries before by the apostles Peter and Paul—was a crossroads of both Greek and Near Eastern culture, religion, and language. He was raised in a wealthy, Christian family, though his father died while he was only an infant. Baptized as an adult and entering into the priesthood soon after, John eventually became an influential and beloved priest in Antioch.
That all changed when Patriarch Nectarius reposed in the year 397. John was essentially dragged to Constaninople and made his replacement, much to the dismay of the Antiochian faithful. While the commoners of Constantinople came to love this faithful servant of the Lord, rival bishops—not to mention the Empress Eudoxia—did not. In fact, it’s likely that a particular homily (or sermon) against wealth during his time in the Great City lead to both his exile and eventual death outside the comfortable confines of the empire. St. John reposed in the year 407, with his last words: “Glory to God for all things.”
Speaking of those living a life of luxury, St. John was famous for his homilies on wealth and poverty. In his seven sermons on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Chrysostom paints a picture of Christian charity that is unmatched.
As Catherine Roth notes in her introduction to its translation:
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man enabled St John to treat several of his favorite themes. First of all, there is the age-old question, why do we see righteous people suffering while sinners live in prosperity? From this there follows the moral question, hat does God expect of us, rich and poor? In more general terms, how do we attain salvation? The first four sermons treat the text of the parable verse by verse and discuss these questions along the way.
As the Golden Mouthed preacher unpacks the wisdom of Christ in this parable, he stops to reinforce just how important the words of Holy Scripture truly are (p. 60):
Reading the Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention. Look: how much one parable has helped us! How much better it has made our souls!
John Chrysostom is known to us Orthodox Christians as one of the three Great and Holy Hierarchs (along with Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian). There is also the Divine Liturgy (and particularly its Eucharistic prayers and Anaphora) of his namesake that we still celebrate in the Orthodox Church to this day.
In my mind, there’s no question that the best English translation of Chrysostom’s words on this subject can be found in the Popular Patristics Series from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. The volume On Wealth and Poverty is available both for individual download and as part of a collection of ten other volumes—on sale during the month of November for 20% off.
If you want to go further in your study and appreciation of Scripture, don’t miss the Orthodox Library Builder, along with the new Logos 6 Feature Crossgrade—the two best ways for an Orthodox Christian (or anyone interested in learning more about the Orthodox faith) to get started with Logos 6 today.