On Sunday (14th September) we celebrate our patron saint, St John Chrysostom. An energetic and courageous church leader Chrysostom was also an outstanding speaker. His eloquence earned him the nickname ‘Chrysostom’ – Golden Mouth. Fr Ian offers a reflection for our patronal festival.
Constantinople at the end of the fourth century, the city where Chrysostom was bishop, was a busy multicultural city. People from all over the Byzantine empire and beyond flooded to it. People of differing cultures, faiths and outlooks jostled along side each other. It was also a city where often the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer.
Walking in our parish in Manchester I often reflect how twenty first century Manchester has many similarities to the city in which St John Chrysostom led the church. His words and example challenge us today. Chrysostom firmly held that the modern city could be inspired by Christian values. Some of his words and teachings are very much of his time, for example we can be rather aghast at some of comments on women or the Jews. Nevertheless, his preaching on practical aspects of Christianity, and above all on social justice, speaks to us in our time.
Chrysostom taught that it is not enough to give alms, to help the poor one at a time, it is also necessary to challenge structures and institutions in society, to create a new structure, a new model for society. Of course he was also a man of action as well as word and his fierce denunciation of the ruling powers for their greed led to his exile and untimely death.
Here are some of Chrysostom’s words on social justice for us to reflect on today:
“Do you wish to honor the Body of the Saviour? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honour it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. He who said, “This is my body,” and made it so by his word, is the same who said, ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me.’ “
“When we teach children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love … we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.”
“Mules bear fortunes and Christ dies of hunger at your gate.”
“ If you have two shirts in your wardrobe, one belongs to you; the other belongs to the man who has no shirt.”
“I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth.”