Here's a homily I wrote on John Chrysostom for my Anglicanism class, I know his day is Jan 27, but here it is now.
Morning Prayer Homily on St. John Chrysostom.
Readings: Psalm 49: 1-8, Jeremiah 1:4-10, Luke 21:12-15
Today we remember Saint John Chrysostom. It should be noted that Chrysostom, “the Golden-Mouthed” was an appellation given to John after his death, though he undoubtedly earned the title during his earthly life.
John Chrysostom was born in 347, in Constantinople. His mother, a widow since John’s early childhood, insured him an excellent education at the feet of the great orator Libanius and he received the finest theological education under Diodore of Tarsus, the leader of the Antiochene School. John was a good boy too. He took care of his ailing mother, forestalling his desire to live as a monk. At home he followed a strict rule of life and later became a hermit for eight years under the Pachomian Rule, one of the earliest monastic rules that has carried tremendous influence for monasticism and Christian life up to today. John was so austere in his asceticism that he had to leave his hermit life because his health had debilitated.
John was a fiercely devout man whose tongue may have been more fire than gold, and he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386 by Bishop Flavian. Flavian rightly discerned a fire for Christ in John and appointed him to the ministry of preacher. Starting in 386, John preached every Sunday and in some seasons every day, for 12 years. Scores of his sermons still survive; many are full commentaries, sometimes an entire sermon will consist of John’s meditation on but one verse. For example, John spent three, one hour sermons, exegeting and meditating on John 1:1.
What is startling about John’s sermons is how pastoral they are; John never shies from asking questions of the text and of Our Lord. But these questions are all to the service of the growth and strength of the gathered faithful.
John also opposed the allegorical interpretation of scripture, which was so favored in the Alexandrian school of hermeneutics. Instead, John, along with his Antiochene teachers, interpreted the Holy Scriptures, historically, or as we say today in much misunderstood and maligned language, literally.
Today’s readings, Jeremiah and Luke, give a perfect model of the life of St. John Chrysostom. By all accounts John lived the injunction from God to “not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” When John was made Patriarch of Constantinople in 396, very much against his wishes, he set about to reform the infamous city and garnered the ill-favor of Empress Eudoxia who took his reforms personally. John was brought up on charges of Origenism, which was trumped up, considering his distaste of the allegorical method of biblical interpretation. It seems also that the Golden-Mouth was also exceedingly tactless in his comments about the Empress which guaranteed his banishment, thus thrusting John into the literal living out of Luke 21, “they will arrest you and persecute you…you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.” Banishment wasn’t enough for the powers that be though, and when John did not perish soon enough he was further banished to a harsher area, where he was executed by forced march. His last action in this life was to receive Christ in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
And there is the rub. We cannot metaphorically live the gospel. It will not do to allegorically proclaim Christ crucified and risen. While our interpretations of Holy Scripture can and should bear our most literal, historical and, yes, even allegorical scrutiny, it is impossible to live the life of Christ in any way but literally. There is no life, no risk, to be found in the purely cerebral, cogitation of Christ. Obedience is not to be found among the metaphors. “Follow me” is not a figure of speech. The living out of Christ, crucified, and raised, can only be truly lived when done literally.