Chrysostom (c. 347–407) Exiled, Forced to Walk Until He Drops

Chrysostom preaches to Aelia Eudoxia, by Jean-Paul Laurens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Forced against his will to become archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom soon alienated the empress and emperor by his stern, and often tactless, rebukes of their pride and pleasures. For instance, on different occasions he likened the empress to both Jezebel and Herodias, two of the most wicked women in the Bible. As a consequence, he was sent into a harsh exile. When his influence did not wane in exile, he was moved further and further from the eastern capital of the Roman Emperor and the recent scene of his labor and conflicts.

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Finally the emperor determined to shut his mouth once for all. Robert Wheler Bush describes the method chosen and its result.

Chrysostom’s forced march as described in Robert Wheler Bush’s Life and Times of Chrysostom

Pityus was selected as being the most windswept and inhospitable place in the limits of the Roman empire, at the base of Mount Caucasus, and, therefore, as the most likely to bring his existence to a close, even on the supposition that the long and fatiguing three-months’ journey did not, before his arrival, extinguish his frail life.

Such was the murderous design that received the emperor’s approval. Two praetorian guards of notorious ferocity were picked out to execute this deadly commission. No pity was to be shown to their feeble prisoner. They were ordered to accomplish the journey with remorseless expedition. No consideration for the health or comfort of their victim was for a moment to be entertained. Promotion, it was hinted, might be expected if their cruel treatment brought about his death on the journey. He was not to be allowed any conveyance; the journey must be performed on foot. The solace of a hot bath was not to be permitted to the sufferer. No towns, at which comforts could be procured, were to be selected as places for a halt; poor and miserable villages were to be chosen in preference, or they were to spend the night at unsheltered places in the open country. He was to receive no letters; and all communication with strangers or passers-by was to be sternly prevented.

One of the guards was disposed to relent a little in his conduct towards him; but the time of that sad and dreadful journey must have been terrible indeed to the toil-worn and ague-stricken sufferer. His body was scorched by the heat of the glaring sun, so that, as Palladius has remarked, it resembled a ripe apple ready to fall from the tree.

He reached Comana in Pontus, but it was evident that he could advance with safety no farther on the road. His unrelenting escort, however, hurried him through the town without any halt, till, at about five or six miles beyond Comana, they reached a chapel, with some residences attached to it, which had been erected over the tomb of Basilicus, a martyred bishop of Comana, who had died for the faith of Christ in the reign of Maximin. Here a halt for the night was made. We are told that, during sleep, Chrysostom beheld the martyred bishop standing near him, and telling him to “be of good cheer, for tomorrow they should be together.” A similar vision, it is reported, was previously seen by the priest of the chapel, who was bidden to “prepare a place for our brother John.”

In the morning, Chrysostom earnestly pleaded for a short rest. His entreaty, however, was fruitless. He was urged forward once more on his sad journey; but they had not advanced more than four miles on their way, when a very violent access of fever came upon him, and they were reluctantly forced to go back to Comana. When Chrysostom reached the chapel, he was supported to the communion table, and having been attired, according to his request, with the white robe of baptism, he gave away the clothes which he had worn to those who were standing near him. He then received the holy communion, uttered a last prayer, which he concluded with his usual doxology, “Glory to God for all things. Amen”—and peacefully fell asleep in Jesus, on September 14th, 407, in the sixtieth year of his age, or, according to others, the eighth month of his fifty-second year. It was the third year and third month of his exile, and the tenth year of his archbishopric.