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E02634: John Chrysostom delivers an encomium On the Holy Martyrs during a festival held after Pentecost for a group of martyrs who were burned on an iron ladder/grill. Written in Greek at Antioch (Syria) or Constantinople, 386/407.

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posted on 2017-03-30, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, On the Holy Martyrs (CPG 4365, BHG 1188)


1. This is a festival for a group of martyrs, which follows less than seven days after Pentecost. The martyrs do not differ from angels, except by name, since both of them are immortal and live in heaven. Their works are the same. If there is something good about the existence of death, it is that it has given us the possibility of martyrdom. God has turned the doom of humanity, caused by the Devil through death, into a blessing. These martyrs resemble a dancing party by their joyful haste towards martyrdom, and a military squadron by the bravery of their perseverance. Their martyrdom resembles a war of two camps fighting one another, as the martyrs enter the contest with their bare bodies, and the tyrants with their weapons. With their hands bound, the martyrs are beaten and skinned from all sides. Next, they are bound on a stake and suffer more torments, and, after that, they are placed on an iron ladder (klimax) and roasted over burning coals.

2. This ladder should remind us of Jacob’s ladder, though here we have martyrs instead of angels. Martyrdom is an exemplar of perseverance for us common people, who are unable to bear even a simple fever. The angels marvel at the blood flowing from the bodies of the martyrs, while the demons are horrified. The martyrdoms of the saints are the natural sequel to the death of Christ. What follows is the even more wondrous condition of the heavenly life prepared by God for those who love him, and no one loves him more than the martyrs. The angels welcome them with admiration, just like people admire foreign athletes when they visit their towns. They venerate God, and are treated by Him as friends, not servants. We must yearn for martyrdom and prepare ourselves for it, by fighting our own passions.

3. The method of achieving this is by looking at the rewards that follow, rather than the suffering involved in, actions like charity, fasting, and vigils. When lying in our beds, we should keep in mind the iron ladder of the martyrs. We should adorn the walls of our heart with the pictures of the saints’ martyrdom, just like people adorn their houses with paintings of flowers.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

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

Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul 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

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Angels


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. This text survives in 124 manuscripts, on which see:


The opening phrase of this sermon informs us that it was given almost one week after Pentecost, and, since the bulk of the text refers generally to the state of the martyrs, the Byzantine scribes erroneously associated this homily with the festival of All Saints, which the Byzantine Church celebrated on the Sunday which follows Pentecost, hence the text appears under the title Encomium on all the saints who have been martyred throughout the world. From our text, however, it appears that Chrysostom gave this sermon on the festival of a particular group of martyrs who suffered three sets of torments, being beaten and skinned, being bound to a stake and beaten, and being grilled on an iron ‘ladder’. The time and venue of the homily are unknown, and the identification of the martyrs is difficult. The Syriac and Hieronymian martyrologies mention a number of martyrs for Antioch (Aphrodisius and Serapion on 14 May; Octavius and Zosimus on 1 June; Sosistratus, Hesperius, and Glycerius on 8 June; Theodotus and Eustathius on 19 June) and Byzantium (Hesychius and companions on 19 May) in late May and June, when this homily was delivered. The story alluded to by Chrysostom may refer to one of these feasts, but, as their hagiographies have not survived, the identification is impossible to confirm. An aspect of special interest in this sermon is Chrysostom’s contemplations about the relationship between angels and martyrs, and the condition of the latter in heaven.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca 50 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862), 705-712. Translation: Mayer, W., St John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints: Select Homilies and Letters Introduced, Translated, and Annotated (Popular Patristics Series; New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2006), 217-226.. 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. Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

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