The Monk John Kukuzel
Commemorated on October 1
The Monk John
Kukuzel, a native of Dirrachia (Bulgaria), in childhood was left orphaned
["kukuzel'" per another source indicates "raised on beans",
reflecting his great poverty as an orphan]. Endowed with a very fine voice, he
entered the Constantinople court school, where for his talent he found favour
with the emperor John Comnenos (1118-1143) and became a chief court singer. But
the enticements of the imperial court bothered the pious youth. Not wanting to
remain amidst the sumptuousness and luxury, and to evade a marriage prepared
for him by the emperor, young John began to seek out ways to quit the capital
and hide away in an outlying wilderness. By the will of God he met up with an
Athonite elder – an hegumen, who had come to Constantinople on monastic
business. John revealed to him his intent, and with his blessing, he went off
with him to the Holy Mountain. There he was accepted, tonsured into monasticism
and entrusted to tend a monastic flock. Walking away with the flock to far-off
wilderness places of the Holy Mountain, the youth without hindrance could give
himself over in solitude to prayer, contemplation of God and the singing of
Divine hymns. The angelic beauty of his voice charmed even the animals, which
gathered about the shepherd and listened as though entranced. Out of modesty
and humility, the youthful singer did not reveal to the brethren about his
gift. But one time the moving pastoral song touched a certain wilderness
dweller, and he informed the hegumen about the wondrous singer. Young John
revealed, that formerly he had been a singer at court, and he tearfully
implored the hegumen to let him remain at his former pastoral obedience.
Fearing that there might be the displeasure of the emperor, who eventually
might find his favourite and make him return from the Holy Mountain, the
hegumen himself journeyed off to Constantinople, where he told the emperor
everything about what had become of his former subject, and he besought him not
to hinder the youthful monk from the salvific path chosen by him.
John Kukuzel thereafter on Sundays and feastdays sang in the cathedral on the right kleros-choir. For his singing the monk was granted a great mercy by the Mother of God Herself. One time after an akathist, sung before an icon of the Mother of God, She Herself appeared in a subtle dream and said to him: "Sing, and do not cease to sing. I for this shalt not forsake thee". With these words She placed into John's hand a golden coin and became invisible. This coin was hung beneathe the icon, and from that time from the coin and icon there began to occur miracles. This icon, named the "Kukuzelisa", is located even now in the Lavra monastery of Saint Athanasias. Its remembrance is made twice, on 1 October and on the 10th Friday after Pascha.
The Mother of God afterwards another time appeared to Saint John and healed him from a grievous problem with his legs, caused by the long standing in church. The remaining days of Saint John were spent in intense ascetic efforts. Foreseeing the hour of his death, he took his leave of the brethren, and in his last wishes bidding them to bury him in the Archangel church built by him. Church singers reverence Saint John Kukuzel as their own especial patron-saint.
An experienced singer, the Monk John Kukuzel also toiled much in the discipline of church singing, and he rightfully gained for himself the title of both "magister" ["master-teacher"] and "regent" ["overseer"]: he himself improved on and compiled melody for church stikhera-verses, tropars and kondaks and for every church service; he reworked texts of song, and wrote his own tropars. In manuscripts are known also his compostions: "A Book, by the Will of God Encompassing All the Order of Progression of Church Services, Compiled by Magister Master John Kukuzel". – "Progression of Services, Compiled by Magister John Kukuzel, From the Beginning of Great Vespers through to the Finish of Divine Liturgy". – "Science of Song and Singing Signs with all the Legitimate Hand-Placement and with all the Arrangements of Song", – and also more otherwise.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.