Saint John was born in the year 347 in Antioch to Greek parents from Syria and his father was a high-ranking military officer. Unfortunately, very quickly after his birth, his father passed away leaving his mother to raise Saint John alone. He was baptized in either the year 368 or 373 and began a formal education under the pagan teacher Libanius. Libanius taught him the skills of a career in rhetoric, learning classical Greek and other classical histories.
Eventually, he found the pagan teachings lacking the substance he desired and began to study theology under Diodore of Tarsus. After several years of study, he voluntarily began life in the desert as a hermit, barely eating or sleeping and committing the entirety of scripture to memory. Eventually this lifestyle took a toll physically and forced him to return to Antioch where he was ordained a deacon in 381 by Saint Meletius of Antioch.
In Saint Meletius he found a father figure, as the bishop treated him like a long lost son, guiding him in the faith. When Meletius died, he withdrew due to the power struggle that ensured between followers of Meletius and Flavian I of Antioch. In 387, the people of the town had destroyed several statues of Emperor Theodosius and the threat of reprisal from the Emperor was high. John preached over twenty homilies to the people showing them the error of their ways and the city was spared from consequences. This oratory skill quickly made him extremely popular in the town with his Homilies being very practical and stressed giving to the poor. In one such Homily he preached:
Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: "This is my body" is the same who said: "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food", and "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me"... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well
In secret, the eunuch Eutropius nominated Saint John for the Archbishop of Constantinople. In 397, Saint John found out the news : he had been elected the Archbishop. In Constantinople he became loved by the people and hated by the wealthy and clergy as he refused to host social gatherings and quickly set to reform the clergy. Saint John also made an enemy with Aelia, the wife of Emperor Aradius. When a silver statue of her was erected near his cathedral, John denounced the ceremonies as pagan and would write:
"Again Herodias raves; again she is troubled; she dances again; and again desires to receive John's head in a charger"
John was forced in exile and wrote letters to Pope Innocent I, Venerius the Bishop of Milan and to Chromatius, the Bishop of Aquileia. All three protested and wrote letters to Constantinople but were not successful in their protests. Because he continued to hold sway over the city of Constantinople and it's court, the emperor forced John to move from Cucusus to Pityus in modern Georgia. He died at Comana Pontica on his way there in September 407. His last words were:
"Glory be to God for all things".
While he was venerated after death, he remained a controversial figure in Constantinople. Eventually, Saint Procius the Patriarch of Constantinople was able to reach a homily in the Church of Hagia Sophia praising John:
"O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint"
In 438, largely due to Saint Proclus' homilies, the emperor granted permission for Saint John's relics to be brought back to Constantinople and enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Orthodox Church venerates him as one of the Three Hierachs and the Catholic Church conferred upon him the title of "Doctor of the Church". The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions him in 18 sections.
In future articles we will dive into his deep theological writings and teachings and explore his most famous homilies.