In the spring of 388, a rebellion erupted in Antioch over the announcement of increased taxes. Statues of the emperor and his recently deceased wife were desecrated. Officials of the empire then began punishing city leaders, killing some, for the uprising. While Archbishop Flavian rushed to the capital in Constantinople 800 miles away to beg for clemency, John preached to a city in turmoil:
“Improve yourselves now truly, not as when during one of the numerous earthquakes or in famine or drought or in similar visitations you leave off your sinning for three or four days and then begin the old life again. . . . Stop evil slandering, harbor no enmities, and give up the wicked custom of frivolous cursing and swearing. If you do this, you will surely be delivered from the present distress and attain eternal happiness.”
After eight weeks, on the day before Easter, Flavian returned with the good news of the emperor’s pardon.
John preached through many of Paul’s letters (“I like all the saints,” he said, “but St. Paul the most of all—that vessel of election, the trumpet of heaven”), the Gospels of Matthew and of John, and the Book of Genesis. Changed lives were his goal, and he denounced sins from abortion to prostitution and from gluttony to swearing.
He encouraged his congregation not only to attend the divine service regularly but also to feed themselves on God’s written Word. In a sermon on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, he said, “Reading the Scripture is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation.”
His applications could be forceful. About people’s love of horse racing, he complained, “My sermons are applauded merely from custom, then everyone runs off to [horse racing] again and gives much more applause to the jockeys, showing indeed unrestrained passion for them! There they put their heads together with great attention, and say with mutual rivalry, ‘This horse did not run well, this one stumbled,’ and one holds to this jockey and another to that. No one thinks any more of my sermons, nor of the holy and awesome mysteries that are accomplished here.”
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