St John Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth)

Almighty God, who has given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee: and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy name thou wilt grant their requests; fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as maybe most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen

When the final version of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was published, it was expected that the Prayer of St Chrysostom would be said at every service of Matins as a climax to the Intercessions, which generally consisted of prayer for the monarch, a prayer for the royal family, a prayer for the clergy and people, and this final prayer which summed everything up. And so beautifully!

John Chrysostom was born in 347AD and, after a first class education, he became a monk and a hermit to boot, which nearly brought about his death through the austerities that he suffered. After eight years he went home to Antioch and was eventually ordained priest in 386. The ministry which he pursued was very much in pastoral care and spiritual guidance to the poor of the city, but he soon gained a reputations for sermons, especially on Paul’s Epistles and St Matthew’s and St John’s Gospels.

When he was personally chosen as Archbishop of Constantinople in 397 by the Emperor Arcadius, he began a wholesale reform of church institutions, including his own household spending, which was redistributed among the poor and the hospitals of the city. It was not an easy road to popularity! Indeed he upset the Empress, who took many of his reforms as a personal attack on her. She managed to recruit the Archbishop of Alexandria to her side, who then called a Council of Bishops at Chalcedon, which condemned Chrysostom on a variety of false charges.

Chrysostom was exiled, but his exile was immediately followed by a major earthquake in Constantinople. He was reinstated! He immediately began to speak out again. He was exiled again, despite the support of the ordinary people, the Pope and many Bishops. Eventually his poor health got the beter of him and he died in the course of his enforced travel in the midst of bad weather and on foot. He was simply exhausted.

St John Chrysostom is surely a man for today, and would not be out of place amongst the liberation theologians of Latin America and other parts of the Third World. He must have been an uncomfortable person to have around, especially in the corridors of power, but his simple faith in a Scripture which he firmly believed related directly to everyday life in the fourth century, continues to be an inspiration and if he was outrageous in his criticism of those in power, a voice or two which went halfway down his path might be welcome today!

The prayer above may or may not be by Chrysostom, but it does express in beautifully simple terms a faith in a living God who answers the prayer of a faithful community however small and beleaguered it may be.

Andrew Deuchar

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 15th September 2001