Forgiveness: A Lesson from the Early Church

A mosaic of John Chrysostom from the Hagia Sophia
(image: Wikimedia Commons)

Lately, I’ve been enamored with the writings of John Chrysostom, a Christian monk and bishop from the 4th and 5th Centuries.  While I’ve enjoyed many of his sermons, I knew very little about his life.  Tammy to the rescue!  Tammy is currently taking a course on the early Church, so she let me borrow her notes on John’s life, and there I found a story that fascinates me…

In 397 AD, John became the bishop of Constantinople, and given his preaching style (in which he did not hesitate to call out sins), he soon ran afoul of the authorities.  In particular, he often spoke out against Eutropius, a political leader who specialized in manipulating the royal family to his advantage.  Angered by John’s criticisms, Eutropius used his political clout against the bishop, turning the royal family (and their vast armies) against John.  Though the bishop faced overwhelming odds, he stood his ground.  Ever the persuasive speaker, John delivered such an effective sermon against Eutropius that the tide of public opinion turned back on the politician.  Eutropius would eventually find himself out of power, out of allies, and being chased down by a mob.

This is where things get interesting.  As Eutropius fled from the mob, there was one person who came to his aid: John.  The bishop he had once attacked, opened the doors of his church, allowed Eutropius inside, and would not let anyone harm him.

How many of us would face down a mob for a rival?  How many of us could publicly disagree with someone (to the point of being persecuted by them) but still help them in a time of need?  John models amazing forgiveness in this story and reminds us that, even though Christians can still stand up for ourselves, we are called to love and serve even those who hate us.

Grace and Peace,
Tom

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