The Holy Confessor John the Russian
Commemorated on May 27
The Holy Confessor John the Russian was born towards the end of the XVII Century in Little Russia and was raised in piety and love for the Church of God. Upon attaining the age of maturity he was called up into military service, and he served as a simple soldier in the army of Peter I and took part in the Russo-Turkish War. During the time of the Prutsk Campaign of 1711 he together with other soldiers was taken captive by the Tatars, who handed him over to the commander of the Turkish cavalry, who took his Russian captive home with him to Asia Minor, to the village of Prokopia (in Turkish, Urkiul). The Turks tried to convert the captive Christian soldiers to Mahometanism: some with threats and allurements, while others that were more stoically hardy, they beat and tortured. Saint John was not swayed by the promise of earthly blessings and he bravely endured the ferocity, the humiliations and beatings. His master tortured him often in the hope, that his slave would accept Mahometanism. But Saint John resolutely resisted the will of his master and he answered: "Neither by threats, nor with promises of riches and delights wilt thou be able to turn me away from my holy faith. I was born a Christian, and a Christian I shalt die". The bold words and firm faith of the confessor, his fearlessness and righteous life, finally humbled the fierce heart of the master. He ceased to torment and revile the captive, and no more urged him towards a renunciation of Christianity, but had him only instead take care of the cattle and keep up the stable, in a corner of which was the bed-cot of Saint John.
From morning until late evening the saint of God served his Turkish master, judiciously fulfilling all his commands. In the winter cold and summer hear, half naked and bare of foot he did his duty. Other slaves frequently mocked him, in seeing his zeal. Righteous John never became angry with them, on the contrary, as occasions arose he helped them in their servitude and comforted them in their misfortune. Such sincere kindness of heart of the saint had its effect on the souls of both the master and the slaves. The master began to confide in Righteous John so much, and to esteem him for his integrity and decency, that he offered him to live as though free and to resettle, wheresoever he desired. But the ascetic suggested that he should remain in the vicinity of the horse-stable, where each night he could without hindrance asceticise in solitary prayer, strengthening people in goodness and love for God. Sometimes he left his quiet shelter and under cover of night he went to the church of the GreatMartyr George, where on the portico he prayed fervently on bended knees. And in this church on feastdays he communed the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
During this while Righteous John continued as before to serve his master, and despite his own poverty, he always helped the needy and the sick and shared with them his meagre food.
Towards the end of his difficult and ascetic life Saint John became infirm, and sensing the nearness of his end, he summoned the priest, so as to receive the final blessing for the departure of the soul. The priest, fearing to go with the Holy Gifts to the house of the Turkish commander, enclosed the Holy Gifts in an apple and so without problem gave them to Righteous John. Having glorified the Lord, he communed the Holy Mysteries of Christ and then expired to God. The righteous end of the holy Confessor John the Russian occurred on 27 May 1730. When they reported to the master that his servant John had died, he summoned the priests and gave over to them the body of Saint John, and they gave him burial befitting a Christian. At the funeral there gathered almost all the Christian inhabitants of Prokopia, and they accompanied the body of the saint to the Christian cemetery.
Three and an half years later the priest was miraculously informed in a dream, that the relics of Saint John had remained incorrupt. Soon the relics of the saint were transferred to the church of the holy GreatMartyr George and placed in a special reliquary. The new saint of God began to be glorified by innumerable miracles of grace, accounts of which spread to the remote cities and villages. Christian believers from various places came to Prokopia to venerate the holy relics of Saint John the Russian and they received through his prayers graced healings. The new saint came to be venerated not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Armenians, and even Turks, recoursing with prayerful petition to the Russian saint: "Servant of God, disregard us not in thine mercy".
In the year 1881 part of the relics of Saint John were transferred to the Russian monastery of the holy GreatMartyr Panteleimon by the monks of Holy Mount Athos, after they were miraculously saved by the saint of God during the time of a dangerous journey. Through the means of both this monastery and the inhabitants of Prokopia, in 1886 there was started construction of a new church, since the church of the holy GreatMartyr George, where the relics of Saint John were situated, – had become decrepit.
On 15 August 1898 the new church in the name of Saint John the Russian was consecrated by the Caesarea metropolitan John, with the blessing of the oecumenical patriarch Constantine V.
In 1924 the inhabitants of Caesarea Prokopia, having resettled to the Island of Eubeia, took with them also part of the relics of Saint John the Russian. For several decades the relics were situated in the church of the holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Constantine and Helen at New Prokopia on Eubeia, but in 1951 they were transferred into a new church in the name of Saint John the Russian. Thousands of pilgrims flocked here from all the corners of Greece, particularly on the day of his memory, 27 May. Righteous John the Russian is widely venerated on Holy Mount Athos, particularly in the Russian Panteleimonov monastery.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.