In my last article, I described three aspects of what it means to be a Christian man: proper appearance, proper conduct, and proper obedience. The first item, proper appearance, is relatively straightforward: do your best to look like a man and not like a woman or child. That article contained helpful guidelines from the Scriptures and the Saints. The last item, proper obedience, is significantly more complicated; it takes a great degree of discernment and an entire lifetime to truly cultivate.
Thus today I’ve decided to elaborate on that article’s second point – proper conduct – as exemplified by the great St. John Chrysostom. If you’ve never heard of St. John Chrysostom before, he was an Orthodox hermit and priest before being ordained Patriarch of Constantinople in 387. The title “Chrysostom” means “the golden-mouthed,” and he was granted this nickname due to the power and popularity of his sermons. If it helps, you can think of him as the Orthodox version of an ancient Byzantine Billy Graham. Everyone knew of him and many traveled just to hear him speak. When he was eventually exiled, so many people in the city revolted that the royal and ecclesiastical powers were all but forced to bring him back. More on that soon.
Just to give you an idea of his enduring popularity – more than 1,600 years after he fell asleep in the Lord – St. John is venerated with a Feast Day every year in the Orthodox Church. One of his famous homilies is read every Pascha (what Orthodox Christians call Easter), and the Divine Liturgy service he helped formulate is celebrated in nearly every Orthodox Church nearly every Sunday of the year. Every Orthodox Christian knows who he is and respects his influence on the faith. Please keep this in mind as you continue reading; there are no Orthodox priests who are unaware of St. John, and he is lauded everywhere for his zeal and oratory. One of his disciples, the future St. Proclus, even saw the Apostle Paul whispering into St. John’s ear as he wrote. He is widely regarded as the single greatest interpreter of St. Paul’s Epistles, and what Proclus saw just confirmed what many others suspected: that the glorified St. Paul himself was helping to guide the mighty pen of St. John.
As to his character, there can be no question that he put Christ before all else. He put Truth before worldly favors, before wealth, before power, and even before his own well-being. For that reason, such men are peak examples to me of what a Christian man’s conduct ought to resemble. To begin with…despite the high ecclesiastical status he ended up attaining…St. John never sought that kind of power or influence. Like many other Orthodox Saints who were eventually made bishops, St. John’s ordination was somewhat against his will; he did not even know he’d been nominated when he was informed of his elevation to such high office. Many of our greatest bishops would have preferred to remain in their monasteries, unknown to the world and devoted solely to prayer and fasting. Yet when God spoke through the Church and charged them with a higher position, they had the humility and obedience to accept. After all, “to everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
On top of the humility which he demonstrated so well, St. John was known for preaching against luxury and worldliness. His sermons against female immodesty were so sharp, in fact, that Empress Eudoxia found them personally insulting. Rather than be convicted of her immoral way of life, turning her heart to repentance and her soul to God, Eudoxia instead had St. John exiled from Constantinople. But the people were so infuriated they threatened to burn down the royal palace…and there was even an earthquake in the city the night of his arrest. The Empress took it as a sign of God’s wrath, and had him brought back almost immediately.
But a short while later, a silver statue of Eudoxia was erected near the Hagia Sophia cathedral. As annoyed by idolatry as he was by immodesty, St. John denounced both the statue and its subject with the following words: “Again Herodias rages; again she is confounded; again she demands the head of John on a charger.” He was hardly exaggerating; the Empress this time exiled him to the Caucasus region of modern-day Georgia, where she assumed his influence would lessen. Much to her chagrin, he continued to write popular letters from abroad, so she exiled him even further away. He died en route to the Black Sea, praising God the entire time.
Before his death, back in 401, St. John was also rumored to have led a charge against the pagan Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. It resulted in the total destruction of the building, leading St. Cyril of Alexandria to refer to St. John as “the destroyer of the demons and overthrower of the Temple of Diana.” How great would it be for modern bishops to authorize the recapture of territory and buildings from pagans and satanists? I can think of many young men who would drop everything to volunteer.
Compare this great truth-teller, wrecking demonic “temples” and holding the powerful to account, with the man who currently sits on the throne St. John once occupied. It is a cause of enormous division and pain in the Orthodox world to see such a powerful bishop lavish praise on the enemies of God and man. Were Patriarch Bartholomew writing such words during the life of St. John Chrysostom, there is little doubt he would become a subject of the great Saint’s homilies. I suspect St. John would have called Bartholomew exactly what he is, sparing no well-deserved vitriol regardless of the consequences.
This leads me to ask…What is the point of praising champions like St. John Chrysostom if we’re unwilling to be bold ourselves? Modern hierarchs in America love to celebrate him as a lover of God and Truth, yet how many would excommunicate us for repeating just a fraction of the things he said about Jews? Worse still, Churches around this nation shut down when the government and its propaganda arm, the media, told them there was a “pandemic” which – if not for said government and its propaganda – none of us would know “exists.” Yet there was a near-total blackout on spiritual discernment and, when we needed them most, many of our hierarchs simply followed the secular world’s dictates and left their flocks banned from Church on the 2020 celebration of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. To these men, I ask – why do you venerate our Saints and champions if you won’t mold your character to match theirs? Is the purpose of veneration to give empty lip service to our great leaders, or is it to help us follow in their footsteps?
Thank God that elsewhere around the world, God has uplifted powerful hierarchs who speak Truth to power and do not fear criticism or blowback. Thank God that even in such difficult and divisive times, the entire flock is not left without shepherds! Thank God that there are still serious, discerning bishops who fear God – not man – and take their vocations seriously enough to study the propaganda before asking “how high?” when the world says “jump!” Such men understand that the Saints are not “dead letters” for us to examine from afar, praising their deeds while shying away from the courage and zeal that produced them. Instead, they are glorified and raised up by God as examples of those who have run the race to completion. And speaking of examples, here are some choice thoughts from God-fearing bishops around the Orthodox ecumene:
Metropolitan Longhin of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: “I don’t believe in ‘medicine’ that didn’t go through all the proper laboratory methods of control and testing. I have acted correctly, I didn’t believe and now they have brought a 2nd dose, a 3rd dose, and a 4th dose! And they keep bringing them, what – so that I could eventually receive the devil into myself? I won’t receive it.”
Metropolitan Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church: “We will not accept Churches being shut down or being forced to take a rapid test in order to worship our Christ. Those who rule us must now realize that this is the Greece of our Saints. The Greeks gave their blood so that the name of the Triune God may be glorified. Enough of this mockery, we cannot have the commissioners at the door waiting for rapid tests. A little while ago they said one thing and yesterday they come to tell us another. We can no longer live with this suffering, this mockery, this lie.”
Archbishop Marchel of the Moldovan Orthodox Church: “Run away from it, don’t receive it, because the vaccine is the endpoint of the Satanist globalists for whom they invented the coronavirus, attributing to it much more terrible characteristics than they really are. Protect Christians from the vaccine and explain to them what its danger is. The vaccine proposed by the globalists and also claimed with their money, to not seem to you to be an alms. It is the trap that deprives us of freedom as a holy gift received from God.”
Bishop Spyridon of the Georgian Orthodox Church: “If a murderer, a maniac, brings you medicine, would you drink it? I do not trust [the vaccine], I will not bring home the medicine made by them. I am personally convinced that this is the devil’s trap – These people will not give you any treatment!”
Metropolitan Evgeny of the Russian Orthodox Church: “We understand that there are technologies today, when under the guise of vaccinations they can add something else: under the guise of food they can give poison, under the guise of medicine they can poison or kill a person. Under the guise of vaccination, they can do things we do not desire.”
Similar sentiments can be found in the thoughts of many God-fearing hierarchs around the world (and a big shout out to the excellent “Orthodox Central” Telegram channel for compiling so many of these great quotes). These are men who love Truth, who care about their flocks, who take the Holy Tradition and mindset of the Church Fathers seriously. They are men who venerate Saints like the great John Chrysostom with boldness, with purpose, and with power. They understand that we are called to conform our lives and minds to the Truth, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). For it is not in vain that the Apostle Paul exhorted us: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). When we imitate the Saints, we imitate Christ; we become mature in the image and likeness of God, which is both the beginning and the end of man.
Therefore, brethren, let us seek to tread upon the well-worn path to glorification. Let us pursue and speak Truth, knowing God will validate our efforts, even if the world rejects us for it. Let us refuse to compromise with the wicked or be attached to worldly honors, but let us instead cling to Jesus Christ Himself. Let our wealth, our comfort, our stations in life mean nothing compared to the joy of a God-pleasing heart. Let us reject fear of what men may call us and follow the commandments of God; for if we don’t, then how can we say that we love Him?
I’d like to summarize today’s article with a great quote from another Saint, the eminent Russian Tikhon of Zadonsk: “Many Christians desire to be with Christ the Lord when He is glorified, but they do not wish to be with Him in dishonor and reproach, nor to carry their cross. They entreat Him that they may come into His Kingdom, but they do not wish to suffer in the world, and thereby they show that their heart is not right and that they do not truly love Christ. And to tell the truth, they love themselves more than Christ.”
Let us pray every day for God to strengthen our hearts and minds that we may all avoid falling into such sin. And let us praise God for raising up His champions – those who pass along what was given them by the Saints, guiding our footsteps and illuminating the Way.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Michael Witcoff is a Jewish convert to Orthodox Christianity and the best-selling author of On The Masons And Their Lies. He also wrote Theopoetica, a book of classical Christian poetry, and runs the Brother Augustine ministry on YouTube, Telegram, and Gab.