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Gathering Clouds A Tale Of The Days Of St Chrysostom by Frederic William Farrar


Contenti nel fuoco. -- Dante, Inf. i.115.

The melancholy journey began on July 4, 404, and its hardships nearly produced the effect so ardently desired by the Empress and her priestly abettors -- the precipitation of the martyrdom of him who had become their enemy because he told them the truth.

Not that the indomitable spirit of the Patriarch succumbed even for a day. With wise heroism he determined -- accused, banished, loaded with calumnies as he was -- to render every service to the Church of God which was still in any way possible to him. Uncertain of his destiny, he occupied himself with ardent efforts to further his missionary enterprises in Phoenicia and other countries. At Nicæa lived a hermit who, in the ignoble perversion of the religious ideal, had walled himself up in a mountain cavern, where he had sworn to die. Chrysostom visited him, bade him to cancel his immoral oath and redeem his sterile life by taking his staff, going to the good priest Constantius at Antioch, and offering himself as a missionary to overthrow the Phoenician idols. He also occupied his leisure by writing letters of consolation, which breathed the undaunted spirit and holy resignation of St. Paul, to alleviate the sorrows of Philip, of Olympias, and his other friends.

Then the escort started. No sooner had they plunged into the black district of Burnt-Phrygia than Chrysostom was attacked with chronic fever, caused partly by fatigue, partly by the impossibility of procuring the daily bath which was essential for his feeble health, partly by the foul water and black, malodorous bread which was often the only nourishment which they could procure. For their orders were to avoid the towns on their route, perhaps because the Court was afraid of the effect of public demonstrations in the Patriarch's favour. As long as they were in the Diocese of Pessinus, of which the bishop, Demetrius, was his friend, they were not liable to molestation; but when they entered the diocese of Leontius of Ancyra, that bad ecclesiastic, untouched by the misfortunes of his innocent superior, harassed him with menaces which hinted even at murder. When they had struggled through this region into Cappadocia, the population flocked out of the towns and villages in throngs to honour him; but here again he was subject to the villainies of Pharetrius, Bishop of Cæsarea, whose cruelty was rendered more atrocious by his execrable hypocrisy. This man sent a message of unctuous affection to the Patriarch, saying how much he longed to embrace him, and how he had assembled multitudes of monks and nuns to do him honour. The miserable opportunist wanted to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds; he did not wish to offend his clergy, who honoured John, and still less did he care to embroil himself with the Empress. A lodging was provided at the extremity of the city; but Pharetrius was maddened with spite when he heard how the inhabitants surrounded the exile with marks of pity and of honour. He was worn out with forced travels night and day. Two physicians showed him special kindness, and ill as he was, he greatly needed their care. One of them even volunteered to accompany him to Cucusus, and, if possible, to save him from dying of sufferings which, as he wrote to the deaconess Theodora, were more severe than those of felons condemned to chains or to the mines. An additional torture was the absence of letters from Tigrius, or Philip, or Olympias. Happily for him he did not know, and never fully knew -- such was the sacred tenderness of their reticence -- the causes which had made it impossible for them to write.

Meanwhile Bishop Pharetrius was driven into ferocity by mingled jealousy and alarm. It was intolerable to him to see the illustrious exile treated by the great men of the city with an honour which they never deigned to show to his miserable self; and he was afraid lest the enemies of Chrysostom should take him to task for his hospitality, niggard, ungracious, and uncharitable as it had been. Like all base natures, he betook himself to plots. Chrysostom had still one hundred and twenty-eight miles to travel, and was too ill to brave the perils of the mountain roads; but just when the escort was on the point of starting the journey was impeded by an alarm that the Isaurians were ravaging the country. All the inhabitants of Cæsarea, even the old men and the boys, were impressed to defend the walls of the city. Seizing the opportunity, Pharetrius sent hordes of monks, armed with stones and clubs, to surround the lodging of Chrysostom, with threats that they would burn him and his escort alive unless they instantly departed. They even went so far in their holy brutality as to beat many of the Prætorian soldiers, who were too few to resist them; the præfect of the city was appealed to, but his intervention failed to repress the monkish hordes. Pharetrius would not even permit a respite of two days. At last the officer of the escort said to Chrysostom, We must at all costs start; the Pagan brigands are less dangerous than these monks.' It was burning noon, and Chrysostom was hurried into his litter. One of the weeping presbyters who witnessed his forced departure came to him, and said, Your life here is no longer safe. The Isaurians themselves would treat you better than these wretches!'

At this crisis a lady named Seleucia offered to the sick and suffering martyr the shelter of her villa, which was five miles distant. He gratefully accepted the offer, and Seleucia armed her slaves to repel the possibility of a midnight attack. Pharetrius sent her a fierce menace if she did not dismiss her guest; but the brave lady persisted in her work of kindness. A second and more threatening mandate terrified her. Chrysostom was awaked at midnight, his effects were hastily huddled together, he was told that the Isaurians were at hand, and that the servants of Seleucia had fled and hidden themselves. He found his mule harnessed and the escort ready. The night was wild and starless. He ordered that torches should be lit; but the presbyter Evethius, who had accompanied him from Cæsarea, bade that they should be extinguished, lest they should attract the barbarians. The guide led them through rocky and desert mountain paths. The mule stumbled at every step. At last it fell, and Chrysostom was flung to the ground, terribly shaken and half-dead. Evethius thought that he had expired; but he revived, and as he could ride no longer, the presbyter seized his hand, and dragged him along over the stones in an agony of pain. They escaped the Isaurians -- if Isaurians there were, and if the whole alarm had not been due to a scoundrelly invention. All the next day they continued their bleak course over torrents and rough rocks, and at last, on the seventieth day after they had left Constantinople, they arrived at Cucusus. But that night of terror and anguish remained deeply graven on the Patriarch's memory. 'Light sorrows speak; great griefs are dumb.' He told his miseries to no one except Olympias, and begged her not to talk of them. From Cucusus he wrote to her, and said, I am safe at present from the Isaurians; they have retired into their own domains. I am safer here than at Cæsarea, for, with few exceptions, I fear no one so much as the bishops.'

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