St. John, who since the sixth century has been called Chrysostom or golden mouthed, was born in Antioch of a noble Christian family between 344 and 354 AD. He was brought up by his widowed mother and received the best education which Antioch could offer. He studied philosophy under Andragathius, rhetoric under the celebrated Libanius, and theology under Diodore of Tarsus. He became a monk by 375 and lived in a mountain community not far from Antioch. He nearly ruined his health through austerities and the damp conditions of his cave hermitage. He returned to Antioch in 381, was ordained deacon by Bishop Meletius, and served the local church until his ordination as priest in 386 by Bishop Flavian, the successor of Meletius. He then became the bishop's special assistant, particularly for the temporal care and spiritual instruction of the numerous Christian poor of the city.
St. John soon distinguished himself a preacher and commentator on the Epistles of St. Paul and the Gospels of Matthew and John (386-397). He insisted in the Antiochene tradition on the literal meaning of Holy Scripture and its practical application to the problems of the time. Hence much of his work has relevance today also.
In 397, after the death of Archbishop Nectarius of Constantinople, Emperor Arcadius wished St. John to be chosen in his place. An envoy was sent to secretly detach John from Antioch, for fear of popular opposition. Theophilus, Archbishop of Alexandria consecrated him on February 398. John was the somewhat unwilling recipient of episcopal consecration at the hands of the at least equally unwilling Theophilus.
As Metropolitan of Constantinople, John immediately set about a much needed reform of the court, clergy and laity. He reduced the customary spending of his own household in favour of the poor and hospitals. He enacted severe discipline for the clergy and attacked the behaviour, the clothes, and the make-up of the women at court. He also criticised those Christians who had been to the races on Good Friday and to the games in the stadium on Holy Saturday.
In 401 AD, at a synod in Ephesius, he deposed six bishops, with the result that all forces opposed to him, at home and abroad, consolidated in a united effort to destroy him. The Empress Eudoxia regarded his drive for moral reform as a personal attack on herself. Meanwhile Theophilus made common cause with the empress and organised a cabal of 36 bishops, which assembled at Chalcedon in 403, as the Synod of the Oak. The synod condemned St. John unheard. He was charged on a series of more or less false charges, was also accused of treason for calling Eudoxia 'Jezebel', was dropped from his see, and asked for his banishment. Arcadius exiled John to Bithynia, but an earthquake in Constantinople terrified him and he recalled John the next day. John resumed his plain speaking, which again enraged Eudoxia; Theophilus intrigued against him with appeals to an Arian council of Antioch, and John was again banished, this time for resuming the duties of a see from which he had been 'lawfully deposed'. This took place on June 9, 404 AD; although his own people and many bishops supported him, he was exiled, first to Curusus in Armenia, where he remained three years, and then to Pontus, where he was killed by enforced travel in bad weather, on foot and in spite of repeated pleas of exhaustion. He died on September 14, 407 AD. Thirty-one years later his body was taken back to Constantinople and reburied in the church of the Apostles.