St. John the Russian, the New Confessor of Prokopion Evia
Commemorated on May 27
“God is wonderful in His Saints;” ( Psalm: 67,35)
“The just man is wise even in his youth. For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that which is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age (Wisdom Solomon 4:8,9).”
St. John was born in the Southern part of Russia, in the Ukraine, to pious Orthodox parents. He was still a young man when he was conscripted by the Russian army to fight in a war against the Turks. Sharing the unhappy fate of many other Russian soldiers, the Saint was captured and sold as a slave to a Turkish cavalry commander from the village of Procopi (modern-day Urgup) near Caesarea in Asia Minor.
The blessed John was assigned to work in the stable where he was also told to sleep. Recalling the lowly Bethlehem cave and the manger where the Savior of the world first laid His head, the Saint rejoiced in his rude dwelling place. In his humility he regarded his dark corner of the stable as a little paradise where he could freely offer prayer and praise to the true God.
He ate very sparingly and spent long hours in prayer with the Psalms of David continually on his lips. Sometimes St John left the stable at night and went to the church of the Great Martyr George, where he kept vigil in the narthex. On Saturdays and Feast days, he received the Holy Mysteries of Christ.
St John brought a blessing to his master simply by living in his household. The cavalry officer became rich, and was soon one of the most powerful men in Prokopion. The Aga understood the cause of his new prosperity and did not shrink from telling it to his fellow citizens.
Once, the Aga made a pilgrimage to Mecca a city most sacred to the Muslims. While he was away, his wife invited friends and relatives for a meal and to pray for the Aga’s safe return from such an arduous journey. While they were getting ready to eat the mistress turned to John, who was serving the guests and said, “How much pleasure your master would have if he were here now and ate this pilaf with us!” The pilaf, a common grain dish of the Middle East, was a favorite of the Aga. Wishing the best for his master and firmly believing in the almighty power of God, John asked for a plate full of pilaf from his mistress, saying that he would send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed but the mistress asked the cook to comply with the youth’s request thinking that he would take it to some poor Christian family as was his custom.
Those who are familiar with the Gospel should not be astonished at what happened next for did not the Lord say that faith as small as a mustard seed is enough to move mountains? Strong in his faith, the blessed one returned with the plate of pilaf to the stable and he petitioned the Lord to help him fulfill his pledge to deliver the pilaf to his master in Mecca. In answer to his prayer the plate of pilaf disappeared. What amazed the entire household of Aga when he returned from Mecca was bringing with him the copper plate which had held the pilaf. The Aga had been equally astonished to discover the steaming plate of pilaf in his locked room when he returned from the Mosque in Mecca. Still greater was his confusion when he realized that the copper plate was engraved with his initials just as all the vessels in his house. “For the sake of Allah, I cannot understand how it was brought to Mecca and who brought it!” When his wife told him of John’s request, they both recognized the strange occurrence to be a miracle of God and henceforth all considered John as a righteous man who had found favor with God.*
Once again the Aga and his wife tried to persuade the blessed one to change his dwelling place but the Saint preferred to remain amongst the animals willingly fulfilling his duties and continuing steadfast in his ascetic struggles.
After a few years, he became ill. Foreseeing his end, he called for a priest and asked to receive Holy Communion. Fearing the fanaticism of the Turks, the priest did not want to bring Holy Communion to the stable. He received wisdom from above and did the following thing. He hollowed out an apple and lined the cavity with beeswax. He placed the Holy Communion inside it and was thus able to safely bring Holy Communion to the Saint. Upon receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord, the blessed one surrendered his holy soul into the hands of God whom he loved so much. He reposed on the 27th day of May, 1730 having spent some forty years in this temporal vale of sin and sorrow.
Three and a half years later the priest was miraculously informed in a dream that the relics of St John had remained incorrupt. Soon the relics of the saint were transferred to the church of the holy Great Martyr George and placed in a special reliquary. The new saint of God began to be glorified by countless miracles of grace, accounts of which spread to the remote cities and villages. Christian believers from various places came to Prokopion to venerate the holy relics of St John the Russian and they received healing through his prayers. The new saint came to be venerated not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Armenians, and even Turks, who prayed to the Russian saint, “Servant of God, in your mercy, do not disdain us.” His relics were brought from the village of Prokopion to Euboea by refugees from Ürgüp in Cappadocia, after the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922-24.
*(Compare the story of Habakkuk, who miraculously brought a dish of pottage to Daniel in the lions’ den [Dan. 14:33-39], in the Septuagint).
Troparion of St. John the Russian (Tone 4)
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.
The place where the Saint John the Russian lived and prayed