John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father in the Christian Church.
He is known for his ‘eloquence in preaching and public speaking’, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his “ascetic sensibilities”.
The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches honor him as a saint . And it is clear from some of the pictures of him that one major practise he used was ‘fasting’ – starvation. In effect, he was an anorexic.
John was born in Antioch in 349 to Greco-Syrian parents. He studied theology under Diodore of Tarsus.
He lived with extreme asceticism and became a hermit in about 375; he spent the next two years “continually standing, scarcely sleeping, and committing the Bible to memory”. So we can add sleep deprivation, extreme exhaustion and befuddling to his list of practises.
And it looks as though through starvation he had plenty of hallucinations, if nothing else.
As a consequence of these practices, his stomach and kidneys were permanently damaged and poor health forced him to return to Antioch.
Much of the rest of his life was spent as a standard theologian in constant battle with the rest of the political machinery of the established church, but this very short time spent punishing himself appears to have produced some results – albeit entirely negative – as extreme levels of fasting - anorexia - tends to do.
Once he became an archbishop, no more experiences came. It may be worth mentioning that the experiences did not appear to have had any lost lasting positive effect either.
During his first two years as a presbyter in Antioch (386-387), John denounced Jews and Judaizing Christians using the uncompromising rhetorical form known as the psogos (Greek: blame).
One of the main purposes for these attacks was to prevent the perceived erosion of Chrysostom's flock.
It appears that on the shabbats and Jewish festivals, synagogues were full of Christians, especially women, who loved the solemnity of the Jewish liturgy, enjoyed listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and ‘applauded famous preachers in accordance with the contemporary custom’. Instead of asking himself what was wrong with his practises he chose to condemn other people’s.
He also ‘rejected the contemporary trend for allegory’, which given that the Bible is mostly allegory and symbolism was not terribly helpful. To him we owe the literalisation of the Bible, which was not exactly a helpful direction.
John Chrysostom died in the city of Comana in the year 407.
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