Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Chrysostom and Olympias

Pope Sicirius was elected and issued several letters decreeing rules governing religious discipline, including decisions on baptism, consecration, ordination, penance, and continence. His decretal of 386 was the first to institute a requirement of celibacy for priests.  Meanwhile Jerome and the women following the ascetic way of life of the desert monks settled near the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, where they erected four monasteries and a hospice for pilgrims.  Marcella, the church leader who had first gathered them in her home on the Aventine Hill in Rome, remained behind. 

Olympias the Younger was born in Antioch in 368 CE to the brother of her namesake Olympias the Elder.  Her parents died when she was very young and she inherited a large fortune that was placed under the Christian protection of Gregory and Theodosia of Nazianzus. At the age of sixteen Olympias the Younger married the Praetorian Prefect of Constantinople who died just two years later leaving her a childless widow.  She took this to be a sign that God wanted her to follow the ascetic way of life of her aunt.

In 396 CE John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople ordained Olympias to the diaconate and she used her fortune to build a large convent next to the Hagia Sophia.  Three of her relatives and a large number of women entered the convent as soon as it was opened.  Olympias employed her vast financial resources in building hospitals and orphanages throughout Greece, Asia Minor and Syria. When Chrysostum urged her to be more cautious in the administration of her property, outraged clergy began to plot against him.

Olympias befriended a hermit monk who persuaded her to support the pilgrims in the Nitrian desert, while Chrysostom tried to reconcile Constantinople with Rome and Alexandria.  In his popular homilies Chrysostom pointed to Olympias as a model Christian piety and an example for the people to follow.  Though his eloquence earned him great respect among the laity, the elite members of the clergy were offended by his insinuations about the need for reform and plotted to destroy him.