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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Alexander Schmemann

2. The Triumph Of Christianity (27 pages)













From Schmemann's A History of the Orthodox Church
Page 27

St. John Chrysostom.

One name must still be mentioned, that of St.
John Chrysostom. The real situation of Church life in those decades is best sensed in his life and writings, and one may also discern in them all the depth and difficulty of the process that had begun. A presbyter of Antioch famed for his eloquence, John was made bishop of Constantinople in 398 and devoted himself zealously to his pastoral duties, the first of which was preaching. His central concern was the Christian life of his flock in its variety and everyday reality. Before him was a world that had accepted Christianity but was still so close to paganism, so deeply poisoned by sin and ignorance, that it did not take the faith itself too seriously. People crowded into the churches, but outside church walls — and indeed, sometimes within them — were moral irresponsibility, hatred, and injustice.

Chrysostom was more than a great preacher; he built houses and shelters for the poor, exposed the rich, and attacked luxury.
His social indignation was derived directly from the Gospel — all evil, he claimed, proceeds from “these cold words: mine and thine.” All men are equal, all have the same needs and the same rights. “Put God in the place of your slaves; you grant them freedom in your wills. But free Christ from hunger, from the want of prison, from nakedness.” Everything was to be renewed by Christianity: the family, society, and the concept of religion. Chrysostom was not afraid to expose moral corruption even in the palace, and this was the beginning of his way of the cross.

Condemned by false brothers and sent away by the emperor, he died on his way to a remote place of exile. Byzantium seems never to have rendered to any other of its saints such love, such honor, and such faithfulness. Modern concepts of social justice, political equality, and the general duty of organized help to the poor came much later. Chrysostom’s life, however, was a constant reminder to Byzantium of the ultimate source of all social inspiration, because of the now almost forgotten reverence he paid to poverty as the image of Christ Himself.


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