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Remembering St. John of Damascus, December 4


The year was 676 in Damascus, Syria, when the renowned writer and church poet John Mansour was born. He later became known as St. John Damascene or St. John of Damascus.

St. John’s father, Sergius, died in 726 and St. John was appointed to take his father’s position as counselor to the caliph (civil and religious leader in a Moslem state). During the time he was in office, Leo the Isaurian, the Greek emperor, prohibited the veneration of icons. St. John wrote convincingly against Leo the Isaurian, as well as the iconoclasts (people who destroyed religious images/icons). The emperor tried punishing St. John with physical force, but it didn’t work. So he next tried punishing him with a different strategy.

The emperor had the scribes learn St. John’s handwriting, and had them write a letter of treason, claiming to overthrow the caliph, and the city of Damascus. They sent the letter to Abdul Malek, who was the caliph at the time. St. John was immediately punished. The caliph ordered St. John’s right hand to be cut off and hung in the marketplace.

Later in the night St. John went to the market place and recovered his hand. He placed it in front of an icon of the Virgin Mary and prayed, promising he would write hymns for Orthodoxy if he was healed. That night while St. John was sleeping, the Virgin appeared to him saying, “Thy hand is now whole; sorrow no more.” John awoke with great joy and astonishment seeing that his cut-off hand was back in its place. It had became whole with only a little scar.

The caliph received the news of the miracle. Through careful investigation, he proclaimed he was guilty of accusing St. John unjustly, and offered St. John great honors. But St. John did not accept any honor given to him. Instead he asked to have a replica of his hand made from silver and for it to be hung by the icon of the Virgin Mary. Thus the icon received the name “Three-handed”.

St. John went on to write many hymns and books which are still used in church services today. He later retired to the monastery of St. Sabbas, right outside Jerusalem. Since St. John was so renowned, none of the monks wanted to teach him. An elderly monk finally agreed to only if, for the sake of humility, St. John agreed to no longer write. St. John agreed and began to live as an ordinary monk.

A few years later, St. John’s friend’s father died and he asked St. John to write a prayer for him. The prayers and hymns he wrote are still used in funerals today.

The elderly monk heard of this and became angry and wanted to expel St. John from the monastery. The brethren went against this, so the elderly monk agreed to forgive St. John under the condition that he clean the filthy places of the monastery. So St. John humble-heartedly did.

After this the Mother of God appeared to the elderly monk in his sleep and said, “Do not stop up my wellspring any longer. Grant it to flow unto the glory of God.” The elderly man woke up and realized it was pleasing to God that St. John dedicate himself to writing.

From that time on, no one kept St. John from writing. After several years of uninterrupted labor he enriched the church with many hymns and prayers that are still used in the church services today.

The righteous St. John of Damascus became a bishop and died at the age of 104. His memory is celebrated on December 4.

St. John of Damascus by Jenna Misleh.