Letters from a Lonely Exile
On June 20, 404, Archbishop John Chrysostom left Constantinople under military escort, never to return.
He was exiled to the backwater town of Cucusus, in the mountains of Armenia. Separation from friends and raids from Isaurians (tribes from mountainous southern Turkey) continually plagued his last years—as did the climate and his poor health: “During the last two months I have been no better than one dead… In spite of endless contrivances, I could not shake off the pernicious effects of the cold… I underwent extreme sufferings, perpetual vomiting … loss of appetite, and constant sleeplessness.”
Three years of these severe hardships would end with death, yet Chrysostom remained faithful to Christ. He also remained a source of encouragement to friends and followers. To paraphrase Chrysostom himself, the gold of his life undergirded the currency of his words.
What spiritual principles supported him during these last, brutal years in exile? Some answers can be gleaned from correspondence with his friend Olympias, a deaconess of the church in Constantinople who was exiled for her friendship with John. John also wrote and sent to Olympias a short book on the subject of God’s providence. This book and these letters show us how spiritual theory and practice intersected in Chrysostom’s life.
Strength from Disciplines
One scholar has noted that we learn much from the simple formula at the beginning of his letters: “To my Lady, the most reverend and divinely favored deaconess Olympias, I John, bishop, send greeting in the Lord.” Even in exile, with their ecclesiastical connection formally broken, they continued to exchange greetings using their ranks within the church.
Within the church, they had celebrated the Eucharist, prayed and fasted, ...