‘Strip yourself of worldly cares, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe yourself with the spiritual armour, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. … Sharpen your sickle, which you have blunted through gluttony – sharpen it by fasting.’ (Homily 3 On the Statues).
St John Chrysostom (AD c.347-407) was a truly committed Christian warrior for Christ. The above words were written to his congregation in order to remind them to look beyond the difficulties of their day-to-day struggles, and to realise their heavenly destiny. There was a very turbulent period of social and civil unrest, in which he had been called upon to quieten the public fighting. Even though he was only a presbyter at the time, he had acquired the honourable reputation of being a gifted teacher who could inspire and lead the church congregation. At this particular time, his congregation was facing severe civil punishment because they had been involved in a mass riot culminating in the destruction of the statues of the Emperor and Empress. When he addressed the people, St John turned the people’s gaze to look beyond their discontent and to focus on deeper issues. His words helped them to realise that their rebellion had been misdirected because they had been motived by material concerns, and they had forgotten their Lord’s example. He reminded them of their Christian calling, and to remember their Lord’s sacrifice for them. If they were called upon to choose between living and dying, he advocated that they remember the example of their holy forefathers and martyrs, who embraced death rather than betray their Lord and their Faith.
St John Chrysostom faced many challenges in his own life. He readily embraced any sacrifice with the strength derived from his personal relationship with God. When he was given the position of Archbishop of Constantinople, he was severely tested by people in high places who were jealous of his integrity. Many loved him, but others violently hated him because he had taken his vocation of priesthood seriously, and was beyond corruption. Like St John the Baptist, he spoke out against injustice and corrupt authority, and this resulted in his recurrent banishment and exile. Twice he farewelled his loyal bishops and gave himself up to the guards having delivered his departing sermon. He did not agitate for mass rebellion on his behalf, even though he knew that he had right on his side. The extreme hardships he faced in exile led to his untimely death, and yet as he was dying he continued to glorify his Maker, as he had done a whole lifetime. He expired with the following verse of prayer on his lips: ‘Glory be to God for all things’!