John Chrysostom (349-407)
As Bishop of Constantinople (though he was first a lawyer, then a monk turned preacher), John fearlessly spoke out against the injustices that had begun to overtake the church. Since the time of Constantine, who declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire in the early 4th century, large sectors of the church traded the simple, profound faith of common people for a national religion marked by pomp, politics and decadence. John, seeing the dangers this posed to the gospel, would have none of it.
Despite holding a position in the largest church in the empire, regularly preaching before the most powerful of political figures, John spoke boldly against the gross abuses in the church, particularly those which exploited and neglected the poor:
"How think you that you obey Christ's commandments, when you spend your time collecting interest, piling up loans, buying slaves like livestock, and merging business with business?...And that is not all. Upon all this you heap injustice, taking possession of lands and houses, and multiplying poverty and hunger."
"The gold bit on your horse, the gold circlet on the wrist of your slave, the gilding on your shoes, mean that you are robbing the orphan and starving the widow. When you have passed away, each passer-by who looks upon your great mansion will say, 'How many tears did it take to build that mansion; how many orphans were stripped; how many widows wronged; how many laborers deprived of their honest wages?' Even death itself will not deliver you from your accusers."
John's forthright words led him to several terms of exile (though the people always demanded he be returned to Constantinople), and brought about persecution, banishment, and torture for his friends and followers. Even in exile, he wrote against the actions of the Emperor (whose influence over the church was immense). John's death came on the journey to his final place of exile, when the soldiers escorting him pushed him beyond the limits of his failing health. Kneeling before the altar in a small roadside chapel, John's final sermon was this:
"In all things, glory to God. Amen."
Props go to John today, for using great influence and a gift for preaching to ruffle the feathers of the complacent, and to give a voice to those who would otherwise never be heard.
(For some more not-too-dense reading on early church history, check out Justo L. Gonzalez' "The Story of Christianity", Vol. 1.)