Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fr Georges Massouh on St John Chrysostom

Arabic original here.

Golden Mouth, Golden Heart

Saint John Chrysostom (d. 404), whose feast is today, is the greatest preacher that the Church has seen in her history and for this reason, he was given the nickname "Golden-Mouth". He was born and raised in Syrian Antioch on the Orontes and excelled in his studies. It is noteworthy that he did them with Libanius, one of the greatest teachers of rhetoric of the age. He became patriarch of Constantinople, the capital of the empire, but did not hesitate to denounce the extravagance and opulence of the rich and the corruption of the bishops who flattered the emperor at the expense of speaking the truth and bearing witness to Christ.

However, we could add another name for John's personality, the "golden-hearted". He realized that Christianity is based on two things that complete each other: the mind and the heart. Or, expressed in other terms, the harmony between knowledge and daily behavior, which includes worship. "Here you have the meaning of our love for Christ that requires us to do everything out of love for God."

John's prayers did not remain at the level of rhetoric and eloquence, but rather he lifted them up to the level of life. John's fame was not limited to preaching, but rather he practiced on the ground what his golden tongue pronounced. He was not intoxicated by the beauty of his language and his rhetorical style, but rather he remained conscious that he was responsible for the life he preached to his people and his flock. Preaching through practice is incomparably more important that merely preaching with words. People trust deeds more than they trust words.

John was certain that the best way to evangelize in his age, when Christians and pagans mingled, is to preach through practice, not with wonders, miracles, and words. He says, "When the Gospel had not yet spread, miracles inspired wonder, and rightly so. But now there is no need for wonder at life." In this context he also says, "The Holy Scriptures were not given so that we would keep them in books, but so that we might engrave them, through reading and contemplation, on our hearts. The Law must be written on tablets of flesh, on our hearts."

John was the best model for people, especially in obeying the commandment to love, Christ's only commandment to His disciples. He loved the poor, not only in word but also in deed, and the story of his life tells us that he sold the patriarchate's possessions and distributed them to the poor. In one of his sermons he says, "However much you have fasted, however much you have slept on the ground, however much you have tasted ashes and shed tears, you have done nothing if you have not been of use to others."

John did not find a connection to Christ only through prayer, fasting and worship, but rather he found Him in every poor and needy person. He did not search for Christ in the heights and heavens, but rather he found Him in the huts of the marginalized in Constantinople, where extreme wealth was side by side with utter poverty. Christ is still alive in every person who needs the love of his fellow man. Indeed, every needy person is himself Christ.

John appears to be addressing us today, the children of this rebellious country, when he says, "Have a room to which Christ may come... Let the most faithful of your servants be the one entrusted with this office, and let him bring in the maimed, the beggars, and the homeless... Receive them in the upper part of your house, but if you won't do this, though it be below, though but where your mules are housed and your servants, there receive Christ."

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