I’ve decided to start a series of posts based on key events in church history that happened ‘today’. So, on this day (January 27) in 398, John Chrysostom (“Golden Mouth”) was consecrated as the bishop in Constantinople. Widely regarded as the preeminent preacher of his age (indeed, considered by many to be one of the greatest preachers the church has ever known), Chrysostom was well known for his harsh polemics against the crass materialism of his day, eventually being exiled twice for his strong criticisms of the emperor’s wife. Somewhat less well known among us Protestants, Chrysostom was also a remarkable theologian and exegete and is regarded as one of the Doctors of the Church among Roman Catholics and, along with Basisl the Great and Gregory Nazianzus, one of the Three Holy Hierarchs in the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Here is Chrysostom on a key difference between the monastic and priestly life:
If anyone admires a solitary life and the avoidance of crowded society, I quite admit that it is a paradigm of patient endurance, but not sufficient proof of all-round spiritual prowess….We need not, then, give lavish or excessive admiration to the monk because, by keeping himself to himself, he avoids agitation and does not commit many serious sins; for he has nothing to goad and excite his soul. But if a man has devoted himself to the whole community and has been forced to endure the sins of all, and still remains firm and unwavering, piloting his soul through the tempest as in a calm, he is the one who deserves everyone’s praise and admiration, for he has given proof enough of his own prowess. (On the Priesthood 5.5).
That seemed like a worthwhile reminder for those of us who maybe spend too much time locked up with our books. Although we are not monks, we can tend toward living semi-isolated lifestyles (at least while we are in school) that can abstract us from the everyday realities of ministry. Chrysostom does well to remind us that rather than being a mark of greater spirituality, it is those who regularly face the difficulties of ministry in a sinful world that deserve our highest regard.