John, later named Chrysostom (“Golden Mouth”), was born in Antioch during the reign of emperor Constans which fell in the years 340-350. He was trained in rhetoric by the renowned pagan Libanios. In 371 John was appointed as an official reader in the Antioch church by bishop Meletios and having soon thereafter learned of plans for him to be ordained to the priesthood felt utterly unworthy and retreated to the Syrian mountainside where he resided as an ascetic monk from 372 to 376. His life as a monk was cut short when, due to the affect of the extreme diet upon his health, he was forced to return to Antioch where he served as a reader until his ordination to the deaconate around 380. John was ordained to the priesthood around 386 by Flavian who soon became bishop of Antioch. He served as priest at the Golden Church for about ten years, making a lasting impression with his rhetorical skills, until he was secretly stolen away to Constantinople in October 397 to fill the recently abandoned chair of bishop. Theophilos of Alexandria presided over John’s ordination to the bishopric; he had a somewhat sinister motive, however, originally desiring to have his own friend Isidore appointed; instead the praetorian prefect of the palace “convinced” Theophilos that John was the better candidate. After gaining numerous enemies due to his harsh and swift reform efforts in his first year as bishop John developed lasting acquaintances which would later tie him to the Origenist camp: Olympias, Melenia and Rufinus (translated Origen’s works into Latin), Palladius, Herakleides, etc.
The antagonist to John’s efforts was Arkadios. He was born around the year 363 to the powerful Emperor Theodosius I who would later call the first Council of Constantinople to deal the final blow to Arianism. Arkadios was proclaimed Augustus by his father Theodosius I in 383. He succeeded his father, who died in Milan in 395, as the regent of the Eastern Empire. His brother Honorios had been appointed Augustus in 393 at the age of ten and became regent of the Western Empire in 395. Arkadios, although a decent man, lacked the personality and intelligence of good leadership which his father had possessed. He left ecclesial matters to the bishops; he usually kept himself with political matters (signing documents of banishment, maintaining social order, etc.). Truly he was guided by stronger personalities. His wife Eudoxia, who seemed to direct his decisions on many occasions, eventually portrayed herself as co-regent of the east. Although Arkadios maintained his authority to call councils he left the decisions of the councils to the presiding bishops, of whom Theophilos of Alexandria caused the most strife for John.