The Memory of our Venerable Father JOHN the RUSSIAN, Confessor and Wonderworker
Our holy father John was born in a village in Little Russia, and grew up in piety and love of the holy virtues. Reaching adulthood at the time of the Russo-Turkish war (1710), he enrolled in the Tsar’s army. Captured by the Tatars, he was sold to a Turkish cavalry officer, who took him home to Prokopion in Cappadocia. Unlike many of his companions in captivity, who abjured Christianity, Saint John resisted both the suggestions and blows of his master, saying that no suffering could separate him from the love of Christ. He added: You are the master of my body, but not of my soul. If you leave me free to carry out my religious obligations, I will obey your orders with alacrity. It is a pleasure to me to sleep in this corner of your stable, thinking of Christ, who considered the manger in Bethlehem to be a royal bed; I will endure without complaint your blows, as the Lord endured those of the soldiers. I am ready to endure the greatest and most terrible torments if you want to submit me to them, but I shall never deny Christ.’ These words, so full of Christian fervour, along with his chaste and humble behaviour, completely changed the heart and feelings of the Turkish officer towards him. He stopped tyrannizing over him and did not require him to deny his faith. Given the task of looking after the horses, John lived in a dark corner of the stable and, when his master rode out into the village, he had to follow him on foot like a slave. The blessed man, however, accepted this degrading state with gratitude, and glorified God for having thus delivered him from apostasy. Barefoot summer and winter, clad in rags and taking snatches of rest on the straw or the dunghill, like righteous Job, John did not in any way abate his exercises of devotion, and he spent whole nights in prayer, kneeling on the forecourt of the neighbouring church of St George. He accepted without a murmur the insults and mockery of the other slaves, and willingly put himself at their service.
These sacrifices and striving in virtue were not without beneficial effects for his master, who became the richest and most respected man in his town. Having decided to make a pilgrimage to Mecca—obligatory for all devout Muslims—he reached the holy city after a long and difficult journey. Several weeks after his departure, his wife invited their kinsfolk and friends to a great dinner, so that the guests could express their hopes for her husband’s safe return. When John went into the room to serve a large pilaf, the mistress of the house exclaimed: ‘How its master would rejoice if he were here to eat this dish with us while it is so appetizing!’ John withdrew a few moments in silent prayer, and then asked his mistress to give him a full dish of the pilaf, to send to his master in Mecca. While all the guests were mocking him, the mistress of the house smilingly gave him a dish of the rice. John went to the stable and raised the following prayer to God: May He who, in former times, sent the Prophet Habakkuk to Babylon, to carry food to the Prophet Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. I4:33ff), give ear also to my prayer and bring this dish to my master!’ He then returned to the banqueting hall and announced that the dish had arrived at its destination. Everyone present burst out laughing, and accused him of being secretly full to repletion. However, when the master returned from his journey, bringing with him the empty dish bearing his initials, and told how he had found it full of a delicious pilaf one evening when he returned to his tent, everyone in the house was stupefied and, invoking Allah, began to accord honour and great respect to the Christian slave. They offered to give him his freedom and a more worthy chamber, but Saint John refused, saying that he preferred to remain in the dark corner of the stable, where he could the better glorify God. He thus lived a devout life for several years. When he fell ill, he asked that a priest bring him Holy Communion. But the priest, afraid to take the Sacrament into a Muslim house, hid it in an apple and gave it to the Saint. Thus Saint John received the reserved Gifts of eternal life, and fell asleep in peace, to obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God, on 27 May 1730.
Three years later, an elderly priest and some other Christians several times saw, at night, a pillar of fire that descended from heaven onto the Saint’s tomb. They opened it and found there his incorrupt body, giving off a sweet fragrance. They then took it with great rejoicing to the Church of St George, and placed it in a reliquary under the altar. From then on, the precious relics worked a great number of miracles for the Christians of Cappadocia and even for the Muslims. During the sacking of the village by the troops of Osman Pasha, the relics were burned by the Turkish soldiers. But they remained untouched, and the Saint appeared in the midst of the flames, threatening the infidel soldiers. The terrified Turks abandoned all their spoils and fled from the village. On another occasion, the Saint appeared, to hold up with his own hands the roof of the Greek school that was collapsing, thus saving the twenty children who were inside.
At the time of the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor (1922), the Christians of Prokopion took these holy relics with them to Greece, to the village of Neo-Prokopion on the island of Euboea as their greatest treasure. Saint John has, since then, been venerated as a limitless source of healing and blessing by all who draw near to him with faith.
Some Miracles of Saint John
The Saint performed many wonders even after his blessed repose. A descendent of the Agha told many of the following miracle: “My children would not live except for a short time, and would die while yet infants. Their unfortunate mother, after she had lost hope in the wisdom of medicine, fled without my knowledge to the relics of the slave John, so that be might grant her a little child which would not die while yet young, so that we also might rejoice to see it as a young man or even a young girl …. In truth the righteous John heard the supplication of my wife. God granted us a strong little boy whom we called, as you know, Kole Guvan Oglu (that is, “Son of the Slave John”), and he lives through the power of God and the prayers of John even until today.”
Several times St. John has appeared in dreams and visions warning of impending dangers. Once he warned some Greek school children that the roof was about to fall; they had time enough to jump underneath their desks and when the roof fell, its beams came down upon the desks without striking even one of the children.
More recently we have heard about the miraculous healings of two severe cases of meningitis – one a 19 year old shepherd boy in southern Greece and the other a 3-year old boy in London.
Today a part of the right hand of St. John is enshrined in a special silver reliquary in the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, where many people come to venerate it and to ask the prayers of this simple Confessor of the Christian faith, knowing that the Lord – Who resisteth the proud – hears speedily the prayers of the meek.
Troparion, Tone IV
He that hath called thee from earth unto the heavenly abodes doth even after thy death keep thy body unharmed, O righteous one; for thou wast carried off as a prisoner into Asia wherein also, O John, thou didst win Christ as thy friend. Wherefore do thou beseech him that our souls be saved.
Through the prayers of Thy saints, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us. Amen.