Mid week Reflection and Prayer – John Chrysostom, The Golden Mouth

This week Rev Derek Akker draws our attention to John Chrysostom, a Saint whose words are just as relevant today as they were 1600 years ago.  Although 1600 years ago, certain criticisms were not taken lightly…. John Chrysostom (349 – 407) was a Bishop, Doctor of the Church and an Early Church Father.   He was given the name Chrysostomos, meaning “golden mouthed,” after his death.

The Golden Mouth

I remember a holiday in Crete in the late 1980’s. We were staying at a small fishing village about 6 miles (10km) from Agios Nikolaos. The tavernas owner had seen my prayer book and thought I was a priest. Trying to explain I was still training got no where so I was ‘Papa’ for the remainder of the holiday. I was also introduced to Bishop Andreas. During our stay we attended the small Orthodox church where Bishop Andreas presided. It was a special feast day for Maria, the Taverna’s owner and she had baked bread, which was to be blessed (not consecrated) during the service. It was the first time I had experienced a full Orthodox service. Three hours later we adjourned to the Taverna. The local custom seemed to have a different approach to church attendance, some would arrive in time to hear the Gospel then adjourn to a bar returning just before the administration of Holy Communion.

The bread that had been blessed was brought to us at the pool side and shared amongst the guests. It was different to normal bread and very dry and did provoke some discussion. It was appreciated and seen by the guests as a lovely gesture.

Why am I telling this story? Well it was my introduction to the Divine Liturgy of St Chrysostom, although I was unaware of this fact at the time. A few weeks later, however, I attended, with fellow ordinands, a Greek Orthodox church in Manchester as part of our training. It was explained that the liturgy was one of the stable pieces of liturgy within the Greek Orthodox Church that has barely changed over the centuries. We followed part of the service, which was in Greek, but we had the text in English. There was a beauty and a rhythm to the liturgy and it was possible to enter into the worship.

John was noted for his ability to apply scripture to everyday circumstances, teaching people how to bring the Gospel in to all that they did. His preaching did get him into serious trouble with Empress Eudoxia as the gap between the rich ruling class and the poor was often a feature of his preaching. He also had to tackle the issue of an undisciplined clergy who lived in luxury, which I image did not make him popular amongst some clergy.

In spite of the threats made against him by the Empress he kept to his convictions which led to two periods of exile. The latter one proved fatal, he was forced to walk a tortuous journey, those guarding him showed little concern, and he died before reaching Pontus. (Pontus is located in the modern day eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey)

His practical sensibility has given his words an enduring quality and are still an inspiration to people today, some 1600 years after his death.

To get a sense of his “golden mouth” and his ability to apply the Gospel to everyday life, here are some quotes and later prayers from Saint John Chrysostom:

“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.”

“No matter how just your words may be, you ruin everything when you speak with anger.”

“Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.”

“The saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to brute beasts…Surely we ought to show them (animals) great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but, above all, because they are of the same origin as ourselves.”

“Admit the sin to annul it. This requires neither labour nor a circuit of words, nor monetary expenditure, nor anything else whatsoever such as these. Say one word, think carefully about the sin and say, ‘I have sinned.’”

Let us reflect on the quotations above:

Let us sit comfortably and relax as we pray:

O Lord, enlighten my heart that evil desires have darkened.
O Lord, send down Thy grace to help me, that I may glorify Thy name.
O Lord Jesus Christ, write me in the book of life and grant unto me a good end.
O Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace.
O Lord, quicken in me a good thought.
O Lord, give me tears and remembrance of death, and contrition.
O Lord, implant in me the root of all good: Thy fear in my heart.
O Lord, grant that I may love Thee from all my soul and mind, and in everything do Thy will.  Amen.

Our time of prayer continues with a compilation of prayers by St John Chrysostom, in modern English. Slowly take in the words, there is no rush, come back to them and read them again if necessary.

God of inconceivable power,
incomprehensible glory,
immeasurable mercy,
unspeakable kindness,
look on us in your tender love
and show your rich mercy and compassion
to us and those who pray with us.

We remember
where we dwell
and every other city and country,
and all the faithful who dwell in them.
Remember, O Lord,
all who travel,
all who labour under sickness or slavery.
Remember them, and give them health and safety.
Remember, O Lord, all in your Holy Church
who bring forth good fruit,
who are rich in good works and remember the poor.

Lord our God,
of might inconceivable,
of glory incomprehensible,
of mercy immeasurable,
of goodness unspeakable;
grant that we may live our life here
without trouble and in security,
and enjoy eternal life
by the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory and might
together with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Take care, keep safe and be kind to yourself and others