St. John the Russian, the New Confessor of Prokopion of Euboia
Commemorated on May 27
“God is wonderful in His Saints;” ( Psalm: 67,35)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Roman 8: 35-37).
St. John the Russian was about forty years old at the time of his repose.The date of his falling asleep was May 27, 1730. Because he was beloved by God, the Lord brought John quickly near his throne that he might suffer no more torment in this sinful world, and that he might rejoice in the tents of the righteous where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but the untroubled sound of those that keep festival and cry unceasingly, “O Lord, glory to thee!”
We should recall the Prophet King Solomon’s words on the death of a righteous man, “He pleased God, and was beloved of him: so that living among sinners he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. For the bewitching of wickedness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind. He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time: for his soul pleased the Lord; therefore, hasted he to take him away from among the wicked. This the people saw, and understood not, neither laid they up this in their minds, that his grace and mercy is with his saints, and that he hath respect unto his chosen (Wisdom 4:10-15).”
Thrice-blessed therefore is the man who has treasured these words in the depths of his heart, hearkening to them until his last breath, conforming to them, and walking always according to them. Blessed and thrice-blessed therefore was the holy John, whose memory we celebrate today with great compunction and spiritual joy. He knew few letters and neither did he know the evils of the world. He lived far from complex systems of humanistic rationalism, remaining simple, poor in spirit, and therefore full of faith. The Holy Spirit dwelled in his heart. Within a disdained and tyrannized body, within a quiet and ragged slave, there burned the mystical spark of faith.
“The people saw, and understood not, neither laid they up this in their minds.” For the carnal men around him were inwardly dark like extinguished lanterns, beholding the saint, they understood nothing because they saw only with bodily eyes, not having-wretched as they were-spiritual eyes for seeing the holy mystery of his life. They, with earthly pride, considered him insane for preferring to sleep with animals, for avoiding men, for fasting, for dressing in rags, for silently en-during abuses and insults, and for not lifting his eyes to the face of a woman. Who of the clever of this world would have surmised that this “insane” person, this fool for Christ, was the wisest of the wise because he possessed that foolishness in Christ that makes manifest the revelation of great and terrible mysteries to him who possesses such foolishness and bestows upon him the great hope of immortality?
As we celebrate the feast of the righteous John the Russian with psalms and hymns, we are assured that the saint is at this moment among us living and crying out, “Rejoice” in the midst of glory and effulgence. Where are those who saddened and despised our holy John? Where are the mighty of the earth? Where is the Muslim master of this slave who was yet free? Where are the fearsome Jannisaries? Where are the Tartars who bound him and beat him and sold him like an animal? They are dispelled like morning mist and “their bones are scattered in hades,” according to David, the Prophet-King. The tombstone of oblivion has covered them.
In Jerusalem on high, the dwelling of the First-born where there are found the blessed souls of the saints who endured privation in this world as to pass through “the narrow and afflicted way that leadeth unto life,” there rejoices also the humble John whom we celebrate today, brother to animals, new Job, and second Lazarus.
In the other life, those who grieved the saint and those who indulged their passions are groaning. Behold what the Prophet King Solomon says concerning the righteous man and his persecutors, when they open their eyes after death, then shall the righteous man stand in great boldness before the face of such as have afflicted him, and made no account of his labors. When they see it, they shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the strangeness of his salvation, so far beyond all that they looked for. And they repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit shall say within themselves, “This was he, who we held sometimes in derision, and a proverb of reproach; we fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour. Now is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us, and the sun of righteousness rose not upon us. We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction: yea, we have gone through deserts, where there lay no way, but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it. What hath pride profited us, or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and as a post hasted by, and as a ship that passes over the waves of the water, which when it gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found, neither the pathway of the keel in the waves! Even so we in like manner, as soon as we were born, began to draw to our end, and had our wickedness. For the hope of the ungodly is like dust that is blown away with the wind, like a thin froth that is driven away with the storm, like as the smoke which is dispersed here and there with a tem-pest, and passes away as the remembrance of a guest that tarries but a day (Wisdom 5:1-14).”
These things will the lawless say in the other world where the right-judging Lord shall judge man. They will receive no benefit from their change of heart after death for in hades there is no repentance. Saint John the Russian reposed in the Lord and received the recompense of the labors and toils that he endured for Christ, whom he loved more than all corrupt and fleeting things so that now, wearing a crown in heaven, he rejoices with the choirs of the saints and beholds in glory the Prize-bestower, our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and dominion and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.
(Based on a Life of the Saint by Photios Kontoglou.)
Apolytikion 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.
Megalynaria of the Saint John the Russian
The bright star from Prokopion, that noetically shines on all, the boast of the righteous, and glory of Cappadocia , the divine John we honor in hymns.
Entreat for peace from God, calmness of spirits, patience until the end, salvation of souls, to us through your intercessions, to those who praise your wondrous deeds with longing.