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E02567: John Chrysostom delivers a homily On the Holy Martyrs during a festival at Antioch, held on 2 August, after the feast of the *Maccabean Martyrs (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303); the celebration concerns unnamed martyrs of the countryside near Antioch. John refers to the power of relics, which is not diminished by their partition. Written in Greek at Antioch (Syria), 386/397.

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posted on 2017-03-14, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, On the Holy Martyrs (CPG 4357; BHG 1186)

1. This and the previous day are feasts of martyrs, the celebrations of whom are preferable to the shows of the hippodrome. This is a festival of martyrs in the countryside which, although it speaks another language, shares the same faith with the city. As Christ used to teach at both cities and villages, the bishop [Flavianos of Antioch] has now gone to teach in the countryside. One day earlier, the whole countryside came to the city for the feast of the Maccabees, and it is the right thing that the city now should join the countryside for this festival. The shrines of the martyrs in both city and country provide opportunities for mingling between the communities. The countryside is even richer than the city in its shrines, because it enjoys fewer opportunities of teaching than the city. The martyrs provide a constantly present, silent practical exemplar of virtue and perseverance, which can often be more efficient than any sermon.

[……] Ἀλλ’ ὅπερ ἔφην ἀρχόμενος, χθὲς μαρτύρων ἡμέρα, καὶ σήμερον μαρτύρων ἡμέρα, οὐχὶ τῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν, ἀλλὰ τῶν ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ· μᾶλλον δὲ κἀκεῖνοι παρ’ ἡμῖν. Πόλις μὲν γὰρ καὶ χώρα ἐν τοῖς βιωτικοῖς πράγμασιν ἀλλήλων διεστήκασι, κατὰ δὲ τὸν τῆς εὐσεβείας λόγον κοινωνοῦσι καὶ ἥνωνται. Μὴ γάρ μοι τὴν βάρβαρον αὐτῶν φωνὴν ἴδῃς, ἀλλὰ τὴν φιλοσοφοῦσαν αὐτῶν διάνοιαν. Τί γάρ μοι ὄφελος τῆς ὁμοφωνίας, ὅταν τὰ τῆς γνώμης ᾖ διῃρημένα; τί δέ μοι βλάβος τῆς ἑτεροφωνίας, ὅταν τὰ τῆς πίστεως ᾖ συνημμένα; Κατὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦτον οὐδὲν οὔτε χώρα πόλεως εὐτελεστέρα· ἐν γὰρ τῷ κεφαλαίῳ τῶν ἀγαθῶν τὴν ἰσοτιμίαν ἔχουσι. Διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ὁ Κύριος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς οὐχὶ ταῖς πόλεσι μὲν ἐνδιέτριβε, τὰς δὲ χώρας ἠφίει κενὰς καὶ ἐρήμους, ἀλλὰ διεπορεύετο κατὰ πόλεις καὶ κώμας, κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν. Τοῦτον καὶ ὁ κοινὸς ἡμῶν ποιμὴν καὶ διδάσκαλος μιμησάμενος, ἀφῆκεν ἡμᾶς καὶ πρὸς ἐκείνους ἔδραμε· μᾶλλον δὲ οὐκ ἀφῆκεν ἡμᾶς πρὸς ἐκείνους ἀπελθών· πρὸς γὰρ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς τοὺς ἡμετέρους ἀπῆλθε. Καὶ καθάπερ τῆς ἑορτῆς τῶν Μακκαβαίων ἐπιτελουμένης, πᾶσα ἡ χώρα εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἐξεχύθη· οὕτω τῆς ἑορτῆς τῶν ἐκεῖ μαρτύρων ἀγομένης, νῦν τὴν πόλιν ἅπασαν πρὸς ἐκείνους μεταστῆναι ἐχρῆν. Διὰ γὰρ τοῦτο οὐκ ἐν πόλεσι μόνον κατεφύτευσε μάρτυρας ὁ Θεὸς, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς χώρας αὐτῆς, ἵνα ἐκ τῆς τῶν ἑορτῶν ὑποθέσεως πρόφασιν ἔχωμεν ἀναγκαίαν τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐπιμιξίας, καὶ πλείους ἐπὶ τῆς χώρας ἢ ἐπὶ τῆς πόλεως. Τῷ γὰρ ὑστεροῦντι τὴν περισσοτέραν τιμὴν ἔδωκεν ὁ Θεός· ἀσθενέστερον γάρ ἐστιν ἐκεῖνο τὸ μέρος· διὰ τοῦτο πλείονος ἀπήλαυσε τῆς θεραπείας. Οἱ μὲν γὰρ τὰς πόλεις οἰκοῦντες συνεχοῦς ἀπολαύουσι διδασκαλίας, οἱ δὲ ἐν ἀγροικίᾳ ζῶντες, οὐ τοσαύτης μετέχουσιν ἀφθονίας. Τὴν πενίαν τοίνυν τῶν διδασκόντων ἐν τῇ δαψιλείᾳ τῶν μαρτύρων παραμυθούμενος ὁ Θεὸς, ᾠκονόμησε πλείους παρ’ ἐκείνοις ταφῆναι μάρτυρας. Οὐκ ἀκούουσι διδασκάλων γλώττης ἐκεῖνοι διηνεκῶς, ἀλλὰ μαρτύρων φωνῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ τάφου διαλεγομένης αὐτοῖς καὶ μείζονα ἰσχὺν ἐχούσης. Καὶ ἵνα μάθητε, ὅτι μείζονα ἰσχὺν ἔχουσι μάρτυρες καὶ σιωπῶντες ἡμῶν τῶν φθεγγομένων, πολλοὶ πολλάκις διαλεγόμενοι πολλοῖς περὶ ἀρετῆς οὐδὲν ἤνυσαν· ἕτεροι δὲ σιγῶντες μέγιστα κατώρθωσαν διὰ τὴν τοῦ βίου λαμπρότητα […]

‘But, as I said in the beginning, yesterday was a martyrs’ day, and today is a martyrs’ day too – not of those in our city, but those of the countryside. Yet the latter are also ours. For, although city and country differ from one another in the affairs of life, they share and unite together in the cause of piety. I pray, do not focus on their barbarous tongue, but on the wisdom of their mind. For what use is there in speaking the same language, when our beliefs are apart? And what harm is there in having different languages, when our faith is in accord? In this sense, the countryside is by no means inferior to the city, for they stand in equality with regard to the chief of goods. It was for this reason that even our Lord Jesus Christ did not spend his time in the cities, leaving the rural areas void and deserted, but he roamed cities and villages, declaring the gospel and healing every illness and every infirmity. It was imitating Him that our common shepherd and teacher [= Bishop Flavianos of Antioch] has left us and went off to them. Yet, by visiting them, he has not left us at all, for he is visiting our own brethren. Indeed, just as, when we were celebrating the feast of the Maccabees, all the countryside poured into the city, even so now that the festival of the local martyrs is being celebrated there, the whole city should have gone off to them. For it is precisely for this purpose that God has planted martyrs not only in cities, but also in the countryside, namely that we might have, through the business of the festivals, a compelling motive for mingling with one another. And indeed, there are more of them [martyrs] in the countryside than in the city, because God has granted more to those who are in greater need. That part is indeed weaker, and therefore has enjoyed greater attention. Those namely who live in the cities enjoy constant teaching, but those who live in rural society do not share in such great bounty. Thus, compensating the scarcity of teachers with the abundance of martyrs, God has provided for a greater number of martyrs to be buried in their regions. These people may not hear the teacher’s tongue all the time, but they listen to the voice of the martyrs talking to them from the tomb and having an even greater power. And in order that you may understand that, though silent, the martyrs have greater power than us who speak, [let me tell you that] in several instances, a multitude of people lecturing the multitudes about virtue have achieved nothing, but others, although silent, have achieved major successes by the splendour of their life.’

2. For the purpose of this exemplar, God has given us the bodies of the martyrs. They have achieved their victory long ago, but have not been granted the resurrection yet. There is no harm for them from that, but a great benefit is in store for the people, because the tombs and bodies of the saints are a constant source of consolation for everyone. Unlike worldly treasures, the relics of the saints cause no risk for those who find them, while their power and value are increased rather than diminished, when divided and distributed.

μεγίστη γὰρ ὄντως παράκλησις καὶ παραμυθία ἀπὸ τῶν τάφων τῶν ἁγίων τούτων πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις προσγίνεται. Καὶ τῶν λεγομένων ὑμεῖς μάρτυρες. Πολλάκις γοῦν ἡμῶν ἀπειλούντων, κολακευόντων, φοβούντων, προτρεπόντων, οὐ τοσαύτην ἐδέξασθε προθυμίαν εἰς εὐχὴν, οὐδὲ διηγέρθητε· εἰς δὲ μαρτύριον ἀπελθόντες, οὐδενὸς συμβουλεύοντος, τὸν τάφον μόνον ἰδόντες, τῶν ἁγίων πολλὰς ἐξεχέατε δακρύων πηγὰς, καὶ διεθερμάνθητε ἐν ταῖς εὐχαῖς. Καίτοι γε ἄφωνος ὁ μάρτυς κεῖται ἐν πολλῇ τῇ σιγῇ. Τί ποτ’ οὖν ἐστι τὸ κεντοῦν τὸ συνειδὸς, καὶ ποιοῦν ὥσπερ ἐκ πηγῆς ἀναβλύζειν τοὺς τῶν δακρύων κρουνούς; Αὐτὴ τοῦ μάρτυρος ἡ φαντασία, καὶ τῶν κατορθωθέντων πάντων ἡ μνήμη.

‘For indeed the greatest comfort and consolation comes to all people from these saints’ tombs. And you are witnesses to what I am saying. For although we have threatened, flattered, terrified, or urged you several times, you have not developed such an eagerness for prayer, nor were you so excited. But when you go to a shrine of martyrs (martyrion), without anyone urging you, at the mere sighting of the tomb of the saints, you pour out copious fountains of tears and become fervent in your prayers. And yet the martyr lies there voiceless, in profound silence. What is it, then, that pricks your conscience and causes the torrents of tears to well up as from a spring? It is the very evocation of the martyr and the memory of all his feats.’

3. We should, therefore, frequent their tombs and reproduce their torments and trials in our life, by judging and tormenting our own conscience for our sins. There follows a contemplation on penance.

4. Chrysostom urges his audience to return home after the service, in order to preserve the teaching of penance in their mind, avoiding meaningless contacts and idle talk.

Text: Migne 1862, 645-654. Summary and translation: Efthymios Rizos


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Maccabean Brothers, 2nd-century BC Jewish martyrs in Antioch : S00303 Anonymous martyrs : S00060 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030

Saint Name in Source

Μακκαβαῖοι Στέφανος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Peasants Foreigners (including Barbarians)

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Division of relics


John of Antioch, bishop of Constantinople, who came to be known as Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), was born in 344/354 in Antioch on the Orontes where he studied under Libanius. He joined the Nicene Christian community of Antioch, led by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and was ordained priest by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos in 386. Acquiring a great reputation as a preacher, John was appointed as bishop of Constantinople in 397. Clashing with the bishop of Alexandria Theophilos and the empress Eudoxia in 403/404, Chrysostom was deposed and banished to Cucusus in Cappadocia and died in Comana of Pontus in 407. On the manuscript tradition of this text (11 manuscripts), see:


The reference in this text to the bishop’s visitation to a rural shrine confirms that it belongs to the period prior to Chrysostom’s own episcopate, while he was a priest in Antioch. The occasion of this homily was a festival celebrated one day after the Maccabean martyrs, namely on 2 August. Mayer proposes that the sermon may date from 386, 390–1, or 396–7 (Mayer 2003, 115-117). The text attests to the popularity of the feast of the Maccabees among people from the Syriac speaking countryside, who visited the city in order to participate in the celebration at their shrine in the quarter of Kerateion on 1 August. One day later, the bishop of Antioch, Flavianos, leaves the city in order to join a rural community in the festivities of an unnamed shrine. Chrysostom presents the cult of the martyrs as the central expression of Christian life in the villages. The urban Christianity of Antioch is described as more intellectual, centring on services led by the clergy, with frequent preaching, while the Christianity of the countryside focuses on the devotion to the shrines of the saints who, in the absence of skilled preachers, provide a silent exemplar of virtue. The author admits that even in Antioch itself the feasts of the martyrs are more popular than the services of regular worship. While the bishop has gone to the countryside for the rural festival, Chrysostom and his urban congregation stay in town and gather at a shrine in the necropolis of Antioch – possibly the Koimeterion. It seems that the service was held in the memory of the same martyrs, for those who could not follow the bishop to the Syriac speaking countryside. Chrysostom’s references to the language difference suggest that it was an issue in the life of the Christian community: although the villagers had come to Antioch for the festivities of the Maccabees, many Antiochenes preferred to stay in the city rather than go to the rural shrine and mingle with the Syriac speakers of the village. The saints of the celebration are not named. The only concrete reference to a martyr’s story made by Chrysostom is a brief mention of the vision of Stephen the First Martyr, towards the end of section 1. Interestingly, the Martyrologium Hieronymianum records an Antiochene celebration, associated with Stephen the First Martyr, precisely on 2 August: IN ANTIOCHIA Natale reliquiarum protomartyris Stephani apostli et diac(oni) qui hierusolimis est lapidatus. et ex reuelatione Luciani episcopi corpuscolum eius hierusolimis est translatu(m). It is, therefore, just possible that this celebration was also associated with a local feast dedicated to Stephen.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca, 50 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862), 645-654. Translation: Leemans, J. (ed.), 'Let Us Die That We May Live' : Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria (c. AD 350-AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003), 115-126 (W. Mayer). Further reading: Downey, G., Ancient Antioch (Princeton, 1961). Drobner, H.R., The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 327-337, esp. 334-335. Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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