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Saint John Chrysostom and the "Schism" of the Johannites

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

By Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos

Church of Greece


St. John Chrysostom founds his ecclesiology, that is, his teaching about the Church, on the Apostle Paul, who defines the Church as “the Body of Christ” which has Christ Himself as its singular Head. This image of the Church as the Body of Christ emphasizes two of its fundamental attributes, which are inseparably connected as “unity in truth.” Whatever and whoever disputes or attacks the ecclesiastical unity and the truth that it expresses cannot remain a member of the Church, but is cast out from the Body. Thus we can understand the intensity with which John Chrysostom, and all the Fathers of the ages, are clear opponents of heresy and schism, and reference them with the harshest of words.

Fr. Anastasios Gotsopoulos, Church of Greece

Indeed, heresy alters and ultimately destroys ecclesiastical truth, while schism attacks ecclesiastical unity. Of course, both situations lead their inspirers and their adherents out of the Church, to perdition. St. Chrysostom’s phrase “to make a schism in the Church is no less an evil than to fall into heresy” [2] is characteristic and suggests that an attack on Church unity is a most serious ecclesiastical crime. Indeed, to emphasize the gravity of schism he goes so far as to say that “nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church… not even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin” [3]; not even the blood of martyrdom can wash out the sin of schism!

A. The Synod of the Oak, the exile, and the martyrdom of Chrysostom.

John Chrysostom was appointed Archbishop of Constantinople in 398 AD before Emperor Arcadius and his wife Eudoxia. A character upright and consistent in the Christian life, strict with himself, a lover of holiness, an incomparable preacher of the evangelical word, an uncompromising champion of the weak, “against the powerful of his time, he played the role of a Nathan before David, of an Elijah before Jezebel, of an Isaiah against the priests of Baal” [4]. His preaching in the Cathedral of the Divine Wisdom [Hagia Sophia] roused the common people who expressed their joy and gratitude for their good Shepherd with enthusiastic applause and expressions of great love. However, while the common people were pleased with their Archbishop, his presence on the throne of Constantinople quickly became unbearable for the corrupt political and ecclesiastical establishment of Constantinople. For the palace of the thoughtless Arcadius, but also for the dynamic and guileful Eudoxia, the Archbishop was dangerous. He was equally dangerous for a portion of the clergy, and especially for the bishops who had gained the prelacy through transactions (simony) and continued to live lives of luxury and immorality. To understand the extent of the corruption of the clergy [5], we note that Chrysostom deposed thirteen bishops and seventy presbyters in a span of less than six years, while he wrote the monumental expression, “For henceforth I have no one to fear so much as the bishops, save a few!” [6]

Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople

Thus, the Palace and a portion of wretched bishops, the “corrupt assembly” [7], united against the Archbishop and “watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Luke 22:6 And the opportunity [8] was granted in September 403 AD: Theophilus of Alexandria, a harsh and unhesitating man full of wrath towards Chrysostom, gathered with a group of 29 Egyptian bishops in Constantinople, and with the assent of the Palace, he cooperated with the enemy bishops there and they held a Synod of 45 bishops at the Oak (a suburb of Chalcedon, across from Constantinople). The false indictment against Chrysostom was comprised of 29 charges (from violence, theft, immorality, contempt for ecclesiastical order to rebellion and political treason)! The result was predetermined: John, the Archbishop of Constantinople, was deposed and by imperial order, sent into exile secretly from the people [9], who strongly expressed their disapproval. A few days later, and while John was in exile in Nicomedia, a powerful earthquake in Constantinople frightened the empress Eudoxia, who regarded it as a divine punishment for the unjust judgment against the Archbishop. Repentant, she immediately sent imperial envoys and requested him to return to Constantinople.

On November 13, 403, the exiled Archbishop returns to his throne after a grand reception intended for him by the entire people in the Bosporus Strait. But Chrysostom remains… the same! He cannot be silent in the face of the Palace’s contempt for evangelical law and he continues his predictive, critical preaching. The expected result: after a few months, “again Herodias rages, again she is troubled”… Eudoxia could not tolerate him anymore. In her vile act, the known enemy bishops of the Saint again cooperate in a synod in Constantinople (January 404) [10]: they accused him of being arbitrarily restored to the throne, even though he was deposed. The punishment due for this offense was the confirmation of his deposition and excommunication. Because of the strong reaction of the people the execution of the punishment was deferred for a few months. The Archbishop was confined to the Archdiocese building. But on the day of Holy Saturday 404 AD, he decided to go to the church to participate in the Vigil of the Resurrection and the Baptism ceremony of about 3,000 catechumens! An imperial detachment interrupted the Service, seized the Archbishop, and dispersed the Catechumens to be Baptized, who along with the priests and deacons sought refuge in the public baths to complete the Baptism! [11]

Finally, on June 20, 404 AD, an imperial military detachment seized the Archbishop to lead him into exile, to Cucusus of Lesser Armenia, 800 kilometers away from Constantinople. He remained in Cucusus for about three years in very difficult circumstances. But the renown of the exiled Holy Archbishop reached neighboring Antioch in Syria (about 170 kilometers), with the result being multitudes of faithful people traveling from the megalopolis (“the Athens of the East”) to visit him [12]. This situation enraged the city’s Archbishop, Porphyrius, a declared enemy of Chrysostom, who, in agreement with Atticus of Constantinople and Theophilus of Alexandria, addressed the new Emperor Arcadius and succeeded to exile him to the extremes of the Empire, to Pityus in the Caucasus (present-day Georgia), to a barbarous and idolatrous territory. However, being shaken from his health hardships, he fell asleep in Comana of Pontus [13], on the way to his new place of exile, on September 14, 407 AD, at the age of 60. He was Archbishop of Constantinople for 9 years and 7 months, out of which 3 years and 3 months were in exile! From this short description of the persecution and death of John, Archbishop of Constantinople, certain questions arise that are related to the critical question of the Saint’s attitude against schisms that distress the Church.

B. Did St. John Chrysostom accept the synodal decisions that deposed him? Did he accept his successor on the throne of Constantinople as a canonical bishop?

Surely not! Never did John Chrysostom accept nor willingly enforce the synodal decisions of the Synod of the Oak (September 403) and the Council of Constantinople (January 404). And after his second conviction, until his death, he considered himself the canonical Archbishop of Constantinople and as long as conditions allowed, that is how he conducted himself until his death, because for John, those councils were not based on ecclesiastical order and tradition, and therefore, were not true, and it was not possible for their decisions to be valid and applied by the faithful. Consequently, he remained the sole canonical Archbishop of Constantinople.

Everything that Chrysostom writes about his successor Arsakios (June 26, 404 to November 11, 405) is characteristic: “For I have also heard about that babbler, of Arsakios, whom the queen seated on the throne, that he persecuted all the brethren who did not want to have communion with him; many of whom died in prison for my sake. For he has the appearance of a sheep but he is a wolf, on the one hand he has the appearance of a bishop, but on the other hand he is an adulterer; for as a woman who has relations with another man while her husband is alive is an adulteress; in this way he is an adulterer, not of the flesh but of the spirit; for while I was alive, he snatched the throne of the Church from me” [14].

He characterizes his successor, Arsakios, Archbishop of Constantinople as a “babbler” (rambler), a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and an “adulterer”. Indeed he does not even recognize him as an actual bishop noting that “indeed he has the appearance of a bishop” but in reality “he is an adulterer.” Also, from this letter of Chrysostom to Bishop Kyriakos, who also was exiled for refusing communion with the new Archbishop Arsakios, we are informed that Arsakios unleashed persecution with imprisonments and death against the faithful who did not enter into ecclesiastical communion with him. And moreover, it is worth pointing out that until his falling asleep, as much as the difficult conditions of exile allowed, [15] the holy Chrysostom operated as a canonical archpriest, contrary to the synodal “deposition” and “excommunication.” In an indicative manner, we cite:

1. Despite the grave illnesses, the dangers of robbers and barbarians, the cold, the wilderness, the Saint did not neglect to care for his spiritual children in Constantinople, who suffered because of his ecclesiastical and political persecutors. Comparatively, his love for his young fellow citizens in exile was displayed multiple times. As preserved by the Saint’s biographer, Bishop Palladius of Helenopolis, from the offerings sent by the faithful of Constantinople, but also from those from Antioch who visited him, “indeed the blessed John, living in Cucusus for a year, fed great numbers of the poor of Armenia… (for at that time a great famine overtook that country)” [16].

Fossati brothers restoring the Holy Icon in Hagia Sophia in 1870

Martyrius, the bishop of Antioch, relates characteristically that, “dwelling in the wilderness, he who had small and meager possessions indeed redeemed a myriad of souls from barbarian hands. And he who had abundant suffering and gracious words extricated them from the snares of the devil; he nourished others who were starving and fleeing from war with the flour of the holy widow; and he planted monasteries in lands cultivated with murder and robbery, wherefore entire small communities as well as the entire city of Antioch migrated to him” [17] (Even though John was in the wilderness with little money, he ransomed many captives from the barbarians, while with his rich speech, he freed many people from demonic traps. He fed others with provisions sent to him by the deaconess Olympias (“the holy widow”). And he formed monasteries in areas accustomed to murder and robbery and in fact, all of Antioch moved close to him).

2. Saint John showed particular care in the catechesis of the people in the regions where he was exiled: “Not insignificantly did he shine in virtues... for he roused, as from sleep of ignorance, those greatly muddled by unbelief, with the ray of his speech that reached every surrounding area” [18] and “guiding many toward blameless faith, teaching, baptizing, ordaining, and working miracles”[19].

3. John’s concern for the evangelism of the people was not limited only to the area where he lived, but as the actual Archbishop of Constantinople it extended to the entire Empire. During the initial days of his exile, he was temporarily in Nicaea, and awaiting the imperial decree to inform him of his place of exile, he displayed particular interest in missionary work in Phoenicia [20] (Lebanon), sending letters and seeking appropriate clergy for this work, whom he found and dispatched [21]. He also displayed the same interest in the progress of the Church of the Goths (Crimea) [22], while he tried to cultivate the interest of Bishop Maruthas, a declared enemy of his, in the evangelism of the Persians [23]. He was also concerned with Salamis in Cyprus, which was in danger from a spiritual point of view as “it was besieged by the heresy of Marcionism” [24]. And all of this pastoral care from a “defrocked”, “anathematized”, and exiled, but with an ecumenical conscience and pastoral sensitivity, Archbishop of Constantinople…

4. Noteworthy is the action of John in Arabissus, as described for us by St. Symeon Metaphrastes: In that region lived many idolaters, who upon hearing Chrysostom’s preaching about the person of the Lord, “challenged” him, that they would be baptized if he could heal a paralyzed fellow citizen of theirs. Chrysostom prayed, and in the name of Christ, healed the paralytic.

The result was that many idolaters in the region believed in Christ and were baptized. The Archbishop did not stop, but progressed furthermore and operating as a canonical bishop, undertook the complete organization of the “newly established Church” which he founded: he ordains seven bishops, several presbyters and deacons, he translates the Psalter and the New Testament, he gives them the Divine Liturgy, he continues catechesis, he defines formal worship (psalmody and prayers). Within a short time, he achieves not only numerical growth of the newly established Church, but also progress in its compliance with the evangelical orders (“Then with the ordination of seven bishops together with capable presbyters and deacons the believers increase, since some of them were thoroughly fluent in the speech of the Greeks (they knew the Greek language), and as far as the language used in the Psalms of David and the entire New Testament, he translated it into the Greek language for them. And indeed he teaches the model of bloodless sacrifice, and as the New Testament also teaches. And then he introduces the rules of psalmody and prayer. And after some time the boundaries of this new Church increase, but also his application of Christ’s commandments is not minor. And he confesses God’s grace and he rejoices in spirit, he places healing hands on the sick, and he grants them the best endowment of all)” [25]. Leo VI the Wise also concisely refers to this action of the “deposed” Archbishop: “Through one person, he draws in the entire country (it is vast but also innumerable), he baptizes, he teaches piety, and ultimately appointed an entire order of the priesthood there” [26].

C. Did the faithful accept the synodal decisions that deposed him? Did they accept his successor as a canonical bishop and have ecclesiastical and liturgical communion with him?

Surely not! The faithful people of Constantinople from the first moment did not accept the deposition and exile of their shepherd. Despite cruel and harsh persecutions, a large component of the faithful did not have ecclesiastical communion and did not recognize as their shepherds the intrusive “successors” of Chrysostom, Arsakios (June 26, 404 to November 11, 405) and Attikos (March 406 to October 10, 425), because in their consciences, Chrysostom remained their Archbishop. The people who remained faithful to Chrysostom and did not commemorate, that is they did not have ecclesiastical communion [27] with the Archbishop’s successors, were contemptuously called “Johannites” by those in power and were regarded as “schismatics” by the state Church. However, they comprise a glorious army in the life of our Church. It was expected, then, that the “schism” of the Johannites would render many saints, with the most glorious being Saint Olympias the Deaconess.

St. Atticus of Constantinople: He Served as One of the Seven Accusers of St. John Chrysostom at the Synod of the Oak (Palladius, Vita John Chrysos. 11)

The love of the people and their efforts to protect their Archbishop from the fury of his enemies are moving. It reached the point where they were even willing to shed their own blood for the sake of their Father. During his first, brief exile, after the Synod of the Oak, John, so that no blood would be shed, obeyed the imperial representation and at night, secretly from the people, surrendered to the imperial detachment for exile. The next day, Archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria and his attendants entered Constantinople as victors and ecclesiastical conquerors. However, the people of Constantinople were informed of the exile of their shepherd and protested vigorously. When Theophilus “wanted to enter the church of the Archdiocese, he was driven out by the faithful. His Alexandrian attendants drew their weapons and a battle ensued. The resistance of the people was active. The Church and the baptistery were filled with corpses, and the baptismal font, as they say, overflowed with human blood. As the clash began, the officials sent an army to reinforce it. There were battles everywhere. Every Church changed into a fortress, where the people fortified themselves, and the soldiers attacked, striking with bars and arrows. Blood flowed on the altars, and shouted curses replaced the hymn of compassion... The soldiers attacked the monks. They slaughtered them in groups inside their churches, searching their cells... and along the roads they pursued with sword in hand anyone who managed to escape” [28].

During the second and definitive exile, and even after the death of the Saint the persecutions suffered by the faithful of Constantinople from the state Church were terrible and spread throughout the entire eastern part of the Empire. The triumvirate of Patriarchs (Archbishops) of the East: Arsakios of Constantinople (and subsequently Attikos), Theophilus of Alexandria and Porphyrius of Antioch [29], could not tolerate hearing the name of the exiled Archbishop John anywhere. Even the staying of Chrysostom in Cucusus (the place of his exile) near Antioch and the Antiochians going to Cucusus to meet with the great exiled one increased the envy of his enemies and they planned his transfer to another desolate place, as already mentioned.

However, the persecutions against the character of Chrysostom continued even after his death, against the Johannites, who did not yield to the pressures, and continued to not commemorate the bishops who accepted the deposition of John. His intruding successor, “seeing that no bishops in the East communed with him, neither did the people of the city follow him because of his iniquitous and lawless manner, prepares… copies (that is, of imperial resolutions), forcing on those who do not commune with him” [30] punishments of confiscation of property, removal from office, fines, and exile to any who do not have ecclesiastical communion with him, and also with Theophilus of Alexandria and Porphyrius of Antioch.

The descriptions [31] by the biographer of Chrysostom, Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis, regarding what the bishops and the rest of the clergy who remained faithful to their Archbishop endured, remind us of the martyrology of Roman times. Such hatred, such mania was shown against them by the triumvirate of Patriarchs of the East [32]. Saint John properly notes regarding the bishops who persecuted his spiritual children: “Let none of these things cause you to stumble, now that a wicked priest has come into being, more savage than any wolf, leaping upon the flock, demonstrating excessive cruelty of the rulers and those in power” [33].

Return of the Holy Relics of Saint John Chrysostom to Constantinople

And yet, the Johannites remained faithful to their Father for as long as he lived, but also after his death they continued to be detached ecclesiastically from those who did not commemorate him as a canonical Archbishop. It was only when, thirty years after the death of Chrysostom, his disciple Proclus ascended the throne of Constantinople and wrote his name in the Diptychs that the Johannites restored communion with the Church of Constantinople and demanded the return of the Holy Relics of the Saint to Constantinople (438 AD).

Our entire ecclesiastical tradition regarding the “schism” of the Johannites is summarized by St. Symeon Metaphrastes, when he writes about the Johannites: “And those bishops and also priests who were in communion with him (John) simply, because of their zeal for Christ, were hated by the assembly of the wicked, indeed they were all handed confiscations, exiles, deaths, and a variety of punishments... Therefore when it was seen that the prisons were indeed filled, they were condemned to dwell in distant continents and islands, before many and difficult tortures were done to them” [34]. For St. Symeon, those bishops and priests who communed with Chrysostom and of course did not commune with the enemy bishops, did not commemorate them, and for this reason suffered confiscations, exiles, deaths, and various punishments. They did it because of their “zeal for Christ” and because of this “zeal” “they were hated by the assembly of the wicked”! That is, the state church of that time that persecuted Chrysostom and those who communed with him was, according to St. Symeon, an “assembly of the wicked”!

D. What stance did Chrysostom take towards the faithful who refused ecclesiastical communion with his successors?

But let us look at what stance the holy Chrysostom held towards the faithful who did not commemorate his successors and had stopped all ecclesiastical and liturgical communion with them. We are reminded that the holy Father himself was exceptionally strict with those who divided the Church, stating about schism that, “nothing so provokes God’s anger as the division of the Church… not even the blood of martyrdom can wash out this sin” [35].

In line with this ecclesiological position of his, John, a little while before he surrendered to the imperial guard that would send him into exile, during his moving separation from his close collaborators (bishops and deaconesses), asked the deaconesses to recognize and to enter into ecclesiastical communion with his successor (“bow your heads to him as you did to John”). This, however, would be done with the following presuppositions: a) he would be ordained not according to his will (“bringing ordination upon him unwillingly”), b) he would not pursue the occupation of the throne (“no doubt in this matter”) and c) he would have the consent of all (“with the consent of all”): “Whosoever is brought to ordination unwillingly, not doubting the matter, with the consent of all, bow your heads to him as you did to John. For it is not possible for the Church to exist without a bishop” [36]. Naturally none of the presuppositions that Chrysostom set were fulfilled personally by his successors, and for this reason, all of his close collaborators, as we have already seen, denied any ecclesiastical communion with them and, of course, did not commemorate them as their bishops and shepherds. And for this reason, Archbishop John not only did not reprove them but, on the contrary, evoking people from the Old and also the New Testament with the oratorical ability that characterized him, he congratulated them, he praised them, and encouraged them in this struggle.

For the holy Chrysostom, the struggle of the Johannites was not only about his personal justification and restoration to his throne, nor was it only about the Church of Constantinople, but about the ecumenical Church and its sacred laws [37]. Writing to the bishops, presbyters, and deacons imprisoned in Chalcedon, he notes: “Therefore, I indeed entreat your love... to show even more readiness and concern every day for the Churches of the world, that the proper reform may take place” [38]. In another one of his letters, he uses “this good sweat and struggle, toil, pain, and danger you have endured for the Churches situated in the world” [39].

He even reaches the point to note that those who fought against the ecclesiastical state that prevailed after his expulsion are “righteous ten thousand times” and must be “counted in the choir of martyrs,” “they will stand with the martyrs, with the Apostles, with the brave and exalted men, shining by their achievements, by their sufferings, by their crowns, by their prizes, by their great boldness” [40]!

It is worth looking at how the pen of Chrysostom refers to the Johannite men, women, and children: “Expecting so many slaughters… putting off those holding the entire world... they present themselves as being influenced by the ancestral laws and decrees of the Church, and showing a boldness in their words and matters and dying every day, both men, women and children, how can they not be righteous ten thousand times and counted in the choir of martyrs?... sparing themselves nothing, they understand how great a reward they will receive, not for one, not for two, and not for three days, but for their entire lives, standing in line, thrown abuses, insults, mistreatments, and false accusations. For this is not a small thing... for many have even surrendered their property... indeed, their homelands, and moreover, they put out their very lives... speaking boldly to the rulers, despising torments, laughing at threats, showing how much virtue they have” [41].

A little further down, he distinguishes the ecclesiastical and state persecutors with their sacred victims: “Consider how many judgments they will give in that dreadful court then, how many will they lead to punishment, they indeed who brought upon themselves the troubles of the entire world, overthrowing so many churches, warring greatly against peace, laying down a myriad of stumbling blocks everywhere? But rather than them, those who suffered, the very ones who suffered will stand with the martyrs, with the Apostles, with the brave and exalted men, shining by their achievements, by their sufferings, by their crowns, by their prizes, by their great boldness... For indeed they were plotted against, they have the world as their lovers, they are praised, they are marveled, they are proclaimed, they are crowned, by those aware, those not aware, those who learn from them by their deeds and their renown, the myriad who suffer with them, those who strive with them, those who pray for the virtue of all of them” [42].

With particular enthusiasm, he writes to the deaconess Pentadia, who suffered greatly, about the victory she won over the enemies: “Rejoice and be glad, for such a desired victory, and easily silencing such beasts, and blocking their shameless language, flowing out of their furious mouths. For such truth with which you fought, and for which are often slain… Rejoice and be glad (for I will not cease to continually say these words), be courageous and mighty, and laugh at every plot they bring upon you” [43].

In another letter of his to the same deaconess Pentadia, he asks her to not leave the City but to remain there and continue to fight in order to also encourage the other faithful with her courageous example: “Indeed I bless your crowns, and which I now bind upon you, having chosen to suffer all with courage for the sake of the truth. And for this reason, defending God, you have much vehemence with you. For until death, they say, strive for the truth, and the Lord will fight for you. And the very thing has come to pass. For having run this good race for so long, I have won many prizes from above; therefore, I indeed am glad because of this. But since I have learned that you intend to depart from the region and intend to be removed from there, I implore you in honesty, neither have in mind nor plan such a thing. Firstly, indeed, for this reason, you indeed are a support of the city there, and a wide harbor, and a staff, and a secure wall for the oppressed. Neither cast away such a great trade of your hands, nor such great previous gain, such great treasures collected every day from its presence there. For both those who see and those who hear of your achievements gain a great amount. For you know how great a reward this brings for you. Firstly, indeed, which I said, for this reason we implore you to remain there; for in fact you have tried to give a great benefit, which is provided by your presence there” [44].

The letters that he addresses to the clergy who are imprisoned for his sake are moving: “Blessed are you, both in your imprisonment and in your will, with which you bear the shackles, showing apostolic valor nevertheless; and when you were scourged, and driven away, and shackled, you endured these things with great pleasure. And not only did you endure with great pleasure, but you also were doing your own work while being in chains, and taking care of the entire world. Therefore, I indeed implore that your love not ease henceforth, but the greater the pain becomes from which you suffer, the more display both your eagerness and everyday concern for the churches of the world, so that appropriate reform can take place, and do not yield to the paucity of you, and do not become weaker when surrounded from all sides. For through suffering, you obtain greater boldness from God, and it is obvious that you will have more strength” [45].

To other clergy who were also imprisoned for the same reason, he writes: “Blessed and thrice blessed are you, and many more times for these, for the noble sweat and struggles, the labors, and the toils, and the dangers, which you have endured for the sake of the Churches set in the world, for this reason indeed becoming radiant on earth and radiant in heaven. And therefore all people who have understanding proclaim you, and crown you, astonished by your vigor, courage, endurance, steadfastness. And the benevolent God, who always sets the reward for toil much more beyond what is necessary, has rewarded the good so much. In this way, those who bravely strive for peace in the whole world will be rewarded by God. For this reason, we also do not cease to bless you, perpetually reveling in your memory, carrying you about in our minds, even if we are being persecuted a great distance from your path” [46].

Chrysostom praises, encourages, and urges the faithful clergy and laity to continue their struggle against the morbid ecclesiastical situation that followed his exile because he considered this struggle of theirs as the sole hope for the restoration of canonical order in the Church of Constantinople: “Therefore, use your willingness at the right time, both for yourselves and for others, if this is possible. Be diligent both to do and to say these things, so that you are able to keep calm the raging waters. For indeed this will especially be the case, the greater your diligence” [47].

In his letter to Bishop Theodosius, he entreats him to continue the very struggle that he himself is taking part in, honoring and protecting the Churches, and turning away with the proper courage those who created troubles in the world and shocked the Churches. The holy Father views this courageous attitude as the beginning of deliverance from misfortune, this will be the security for the Churches, this will help in the elimination of suffering, when the wise break all ecclesiastical communion with “those who have injected so many disturbances:” “We entreat you, just as you also did before, putting yourselves and the security of the Churches in order, and as you do now, turn away both those that have injected so many disturbances into the entire world, and those that disorder the Churches, with the courage that befits you. For this is the beginning of the deliverance from suffering, this is the security of the Churches, this is the correction of the evil, when you who are sound turn away, and have nothing to do with them” [48].

E. In Conclusion: Is the holy Chrysostom a defender of schism?

Surely not! However, how is it possible for him to urge the faithful who revered him to remain far away from their bishops, to not have any liturgical communion with them, and to not commemorate them as their canonical shepherds? As we briefly observed, the holy Chrysostom never accepted the decisions of the Synods of the Oak and Constantinople which deposed and exiled him. And he kept the same attitude as a part of the faithful people of Constantinople and denied ecclesiastical communion with his successors. Thus, the “schism” of the Johannites was created in Constantinople. And yet, instead of reproaching the faithful for their “schismatic” behavior, John praises them especially and encourages them to continue it! But, how is it possible for the par excellence defender of the canonical order, the ardent preacher of ecclesiastical unity, and a strong enemy of schism, to praise and essentially encourage the “schism” of his spiritual children?

It must be particularly noted that John Chrysostom does not approach ecclesiastical unity superficially, with legal terms and external criteria, but purely in a holy, spiritual manner. He is not concerned with an external, false unity that is not based on a solid foundation and is not imbued with the Spirit of God. A scholar of the holy Father and expresser of the Chrysostom ethos, Protopresbyter Fr. Theodoros Zisis, properly intimates, referring to Chrysostom’s interpretation of Paul’s “one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4) [49]: “The authoritative interpreter of Paul believes, ... that rightly the Apostle after ‘one body,’ also placed ‘one Spirit,’ to show that… it is not enough for one to be integrated into the Church, into the ‘one body’, one also needs to possess the spirit of the Church, and this applies… not to heretics... but to those Orthodox who belong to the body of the Church, but do not possess the spirit of the Church and are friends to the heretics” [50].

For John Chrysostom, the absence of the Spirit of Truth in an ecclesiastical body breaks its essential unity, even when the rest of the external elements that form it are fulfilled, and consequently, renders this ecclesiastical body not the Body of Christ but a schismatic group. In this case, the faithful have a duty, according to their position and their abilities, to resist as fighters against this schismatic group. On the contrary, in critical and extraordinary moments in the life of the Church, it has been observed that wherever there is pain, agony, and a struggle for faithfulness to the ecclesiastical order and tradition, there, even when it appears externally that a schismatic situation exists, rests the Spirit of Truth, there Christ is, and there His Church is revealed. So it is not about schism, but about the holy Church of Christ! This is what the Johannites showed us...

In other words, for John, those who despise and act contrary to the canonical order and tradition of our Church are in schism, even when, with the allowance or backing of the state authority, they have high positions in the Hierarchy and are recognized as ecclesiastical leaders. On the contrary, those who obey, respect, honor, and fight for the canonical order and tradition of our Church are not schismatics but canonical members of the Church worthy of honor and respect, even if they are few in number or are in disagreement and do not ecclesiastically commune with the bishops who occupy the thrones, who are essentially “pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers” (15th Canon of the First-Second Synod).

Therefore, the successors of Chrysostom, Arsakios and Attikos, with conscious violation of the law and contempt for the ecclesiastical order, were led to schism, which the Johannites strived to eliminate with great personal cost. The attitude of the forty bishops who stood by Chrysostom’s side is absolutely clear. With an opinion consistent with John’s, they responded to the Synod of the Oak and particularly to Theophilus of Alexandria: “Do not abolish the matters of the Church, and do not split the Church, for which God came down in the flesh” [51]. That is, whoever commits transgressions, based on the holy canons, commits an act of schism.

John Chrysostom also repeats this and speaks precisely, noting: “For there are two kinds of separation from the body of the Church; the one, when we wax cold in love, the other, when we dare commit things unworthy of our belonging to that body; for in either way we cut ourselves off from the fullness of Christ” [52]. The holy Father says that it is not a question of separation from the Body but a “separation from the body of the Church,” which is perpetrated in two ways: In the first case, we have a schism when love cools and we separate. In the second case, schism is created by those who dare to commit transgressions against the Body of Christ, the Church. In the second case, the one who acts in such a way separates himself from the Body, “we cut ourselves off from the fullness of Christ.” More precisely, for the holy Father, we do not have a splitting of the Church, because its unity remains undisturbed, but a breaking off “from the body of the Church” of those who dare to show impiety towards the holy Body of the Church.

Route of the Second Exile of Saint Chrysostom (404-407 AD)

In other words, unity with the Church cannot be unconditional. A fundamental prerequisite for ecclesiastical unity to be based on a solid foundation is truth, that is, faithfulness to the ecclesiastical tradition and order. Whoever scorns the truth “splits the Church” or more precisely, is broken off from the Church, he creates the schism and he is responsible for it. The 15th Canon of the First-Second Synod under Photius the Great came to precisely encompass this ecclesiology, which permeates our entire ecclesiastical tradition, with canonical authority: Justifying why those clergy — even before a synodal conviction — who discontinue communion and do not commemorate (that is, wall off) the bishop who publicly proclaims heresy should not be punished but on the contrary, “shall be deemed worthy to enjoy the honor which befits them among Orthodox Christians,” it declares that they do not create a schism by discontinuing ecclesiastical communion, but on the contrary, they took care to save the Church from schisms: “they have not sundered the union of the Church with any schism, but have been sedulous to rescue the Church from schisms and divisions” since “they have defied, not Bishops, but pseudo-bishops and pseudo-teachers.”

Essentially, in the case of the Johannites, the timeless and ever critical question was raised: Who ultimately has the ecclesiastical spirit? The one who conforms to lawlessness and impiety, and slavishly submits to serving not the truth, but various purposes usually for his own benefit, or the one who fights for the truth and strives with humility and the fear of God, sometimes even paying an increased personal cost?

In 438 AD, 30 years after the death of the Great Father, the Church both formally restored Archbishop John of Constantinople, and justified the spirit, the ethos, and the struggles of the Johannites, condemning in this manner all the lawlessness, wretchedness, impiety, and high-handed acts committed upon the ecclesiastical Body by those powerful, for a time, ecclesiastical and state factors, the real schismatics.



[1]. This article is dedicated to our Shepherd, His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostom of Patras, who is celebrating his name day today. Through the fervent intercession of the venerable Chrysostomos, may the Lord God grant him to serve the Church “rightly dividing the word of Truth.”

[2]. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians, 11, 5, PG 20, 712.

[3]. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians, 4, PG 20, 706.

[4]. A. Thierry, Saint John Chrysostom, the Great Martyr after the Persecutions, translated by Th. Sougakas-V. Tatsis, published by "Christian Hope," Thessaloniki 2003, p. 38.

[5]. For detailed analysis, see A. Thierry, pp. 36-56, 69-97.

[6]. John Chrysostom, "Letter 14 to Olympias," 4, PG 52, 617.

[7]. Saint Neophytos the Recluse, "Encomium on our great Hierarch and Father, divine Chrysostom...," Writings, published by Holy Monastery of St. Neophytos of Paphos, Volume III, p. 395.

[8]. For detailed analysis, see A. Theirry, pp. 100-160.

[9]. For analysis regarding the Synod of the Oak, see A. Thierry, pp. 161-181, F. Papadopoulos, Saint John Chrysostom, Volume I, pp. 58-73.

[10]. Palladius of Helenopolis, "Historical Dialogue on the Life and Rule of the Blessed John, Bishop of Constantinople, Chrysostom," PG 47, 30-31, A. THIERRY, pp. 204-223.

[11]. For a more detailed analysis, see A. Thierry, pp. 224-234.

[12]. Palladius, "Dialogue," EPE 68, 158: The enemies of the Saint, "for having seen the Antiochians moving from Antioch to Armenia and from there back to Antioch, singing John's delightful philosophy, were praying even to cut short their lives, tormented as they were by the scourges of narrated events (for such is the venomous envy)."

[13]. DOR. DBAR, The Place of Death of Saint John Chrysostom, Thessaloniki 2003, available at BookReader/id/37196?lang=el#page/1/mode/2up

[14]. John Chrysostom, Epistle 125, "To Bishop Kyriakos and those with Him in Exile," PG 52, 685, EPE 38, 240; 242.

[15]. John Chrysostom, Letter 120, "Theodora," EPE 38, 218: "We have been exhausted, spent, suffered countless deaths. These things, those who have taken up the pen can report with even more precision, and they briefly intersected our lives. We were unable to speak even a little to those before whom we appeared, overwhelmed by continuous fevers, compelled to travel day and night, enduring the heat while besieged, deteriorating from sleeplessness, and perishing from lack of necessities. For even those who work metals and those who dwell in prisons have endured less hardship and suffering than we. Finally, with great effort, I reached Caesarea as if transitioning from a storm to calm waters and entering a harbor. Yet, this harbor also failed to recover me from the evils caused by the storm. Thus, just as before, time worked against us. Nevertheless, upon arriving in Caesarea, I was somewhat refreshed by drinking clean water, receiving bread that was not moldy or stale, and finding a bath like never before. For now, I am confined to bed. I could say more about these things, but so as not to overwhelm your understanding, I will stop here, adding only this: if you continue to reproach us who love you, claiming that, having so many admirers and being clothed with so much power, we did not attain what the condemned usually do, to be settled in a place more comfortable and closer, know that even the banishment of our bodies and the fear of the Isaurians, who besieged everything, did not bring us even this small and humble favor. Glory to God, even for this. For we do not cease to glorify Him in all things. May His name be blessed forever."

[16]. Palladius, "Dialogue," EPE 68, 156.

[17]. Martyrios of Antioch, PG 47, XLIII.

[18]. Palladius, "Dialogue," EPE 68, 156.

[19]. Saint Neophytos the Recluse, "Encomium on our great Hierarch and Father, divine Chrysostom...," Writings, published by Holy Monastery of St. Neophytus of Paphos, Volume III, p. 400.

[20]. A. Thierry, pp. 281-284, 366-370.

[21]. The psychological intensity with which he writes to the Elder Constantine, urging him to take on the apostolic mission to Phoenicia, is moving, especially when we consider the difficult position in which Chrysostom found himself, awaiting the decision regarding his place of exile (John Chrysostom, "To Constantine the Elder," PG 52, 732-733).

[22]. A. Thierry, pp. 370-373.

[23]. A. Thierry, pp. 373-377.

[24]. John Chrysostom, "To Constantine the Elder," PG 52, 732-733.

[25]. Saint Symeon Metaphrastes, "On the Life of John Chrysostom," PG 114, 1193.

[26]. Leo III, "Eulogistic Discourse on the Great Priest of God... John Chrysostom," PG 107, 288.

[27]. Sozomen, "Ecclesiastical History" 8, 23, PG 67, 1573D-1576A: "For it was no longer tolerable for him and those with him to commune or pray together, being aware of the plans of John against them. As for themselves, they gathered in the churches in the outskirts of the city, as has been said, and reported the matter to the emperor. The commander of the troops, along with the soldiers, was ordered to enter and disperse the assembly. While striking the multitude with clubs and stones, he forced them to flee. But those who were more remarkable and zealous supporters of John, he confined within a fortress... When a great disturbance and wailing spread throughout the city, they did not desist from their concern for John even then."

[28]. A. Thierry, pp. 189-190.

[29]. For the character and rise of Porphyrius to the throne of Antioch, see A.Thierry, pp. 311-315.

[30]. Palladius, "Dialogue," EPE 68, 154-156: Two imperial "decrees" were issued. One for the bishops and one for the laity: "The decree against the bishops included this threat: 'If anyone does not commune with the bishops Theophilos, Porphyrios, and Attikos, let him be expelled from the Church and let his personal property be confiscated.' From here, those who were burdened by the weight of their affairs and unwillingly participated (those who were pressured by their great wealth to participate without their consent), the poorer and the weaker in faith, enticed by the promise of certain gifts, joined in the communion (the poorest and weakest were enticed by gifts to adhere to the true faith). Others, looking beyond the perishable status, possessions, and reputation, and enduring bodily distress and suffering, preserved the nobility of their souls by fleeing (some, disregarding their lineage, wealth, perishable reputation, and bodily suffering, preserved their dignity and fled far away to avoid communion)... Some were in Rome, others in the mountains, and still others were preserved in the retreats of the ascetics, sheltered from the maliciousness of the Jews. The decree against the laity contained: 'Those in positions of honor shall be removed from their prestigious positions (they lost their honor), soldiers shall lose their belts (they were deprived of their weaponry), and the rest of the population and artisans shall be fined heavily in gold and subjected to exile (the citizens and craftsmen paid fines and were exiled).' Yet, even these things were done while the fervent prayers of the noble were being performed outdoors with great suffering, with a love for the Savior (despite all this, the liturgical services were conducted outdoors with great hardship due to their love for the Savior)."

[31]. Palladius, "Dialogue," EPE 68, 267-275.

[32]. See also A. Thierry, pp. 239-240, 263-274, 316-317, 389-391.

[33]. John Chrysostom, "To Those Scandalized by the Recent Difficulties and the Persecution and Corruption of the People and Many Priests," EPE 33, 612.

[34]. Saint Symeon Metaphrastes, "On the Life of John Chrysostom," PG 114, 1193-1196.

[35]. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians, 4, EPE 20, 708.

[36]. Palladius, "Dialogue," PG 47, 35.

[37]. John Chrysostom, "To Those Scandalized by the Troubles that Have Occurred, and by the Persecution and Distress of the People and Many Priests," EPE 33, 608: "Appearing to be in accordance with the patristic laws and the customs of the Church."

[38]. John Chrysostom, Letter 174, "To the Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons Confined in Chalcedon," EPE 38, 324-325.

[39]. John Chrysostom, Letter 148, "To the Bishops Kyriakos, Demetrios, Palladius, Eulysios," EPE 38, 288.

[40]. John Chrysostom, "To Those Scandalized by the Troubles that Have Occurred, and by the Persecution and Distress of the People and Many Priests," EPE 33, 632.

[41]. John Chrysostom, "To Those Scandalized by the Troubles that Have Occurred, and by the Persecution and Distress of the People and Many Priests," EPE 33, 608-610.

[42]. John Chrysostom, "To Those Scandalized by the Troubles that Have Occurred, and by the Persecution and Distress of the People and Many Priests," EPE 33, 630-632.

[43]. John Chrysostom, Letter 94, "To the Deacon Pentadios," EPE 38, 168.

[44]. John Chrysostom, Letter 94, "To the Deacon Pentadios," EPE 38, 186.

[45]. John Chrysostom, Letter 174, "To the Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons Imprisoned in Chalcedon," EPE 38, 324-325.

[46]. John Chrysostom, Letter 148, "To Kyriakos, Demetrios, Palladios, Eulysios, Bishops," EPE 38, 288-289.

[47]. John Chrysostom, Letter 174, "To the Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons Imprisoned in Chalcedon," EPE 38, 324-325.

[48]. John Chrysostom, Letter 89, "To Theodosios, Bishop of Skutari," EPE 38, 158-160.

[49]. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians, 11, 1, EPE 20, 686: "One Spirit, he said it well, showing that from the one body there will be one Spirit, or that there is indeed one body but not one Spirit; as if one were a friend of heretics."

[50]. Fr. Theodore Zisis, "Contemporary Ecclesiological Considerations Based on St. John Chrysostom," Chrysostomika, Studies and Articles, Patristic Series 9, published by To Palimpseston, p. 323.

[51]. Palladius, "Dialogues," PG 47, 28.

[52]. John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians, 4, EPE 20, 706.

[53]. Original Greek Article: Protopresbyter Anastasios Gotsopoulos, "Ο Άγιος Ιωάννης Χρυσόστομος και το «σχίσμα» των Ιωαννιτών," Enromiosini, accessed August 21st, 2023,


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