Historical Biography: Saint John Of Russia

Lesser known Saint John has become a popular miracle-worker attracting prayers and pilgrims to the church housing his unspoiled and fragrant body.

No less dramatic than Saint John the Baptist, whose head was served on a plate at King Herode's command, and no less sympathetic than Saint John the Evangelist, Jesus' favorite disciple, the Saint John of Russia has recently become the receptor of many prayers from people in pain and need.

Born in the Ukraine in the late 17th century, he served in the Czar's army in the wars again the Ottomans. There he was captured and taken to Anatolia, where he was sold as a slave.

Condemned to a life of servitude and humiliation, young John endured harsh torture and tribulation from his cruel masters. He was beaten, kicked, spat at, and his hair and scalp were scorched. His tormentors tried to persuade him to abandon his faith in the Christian God.

His endurance and serenity impressed his captors. When being beaten and flogged he recited Paul's words:

"Who may part me from the love of my Christ? Sorrow or grieve or oppression or poverty or slavery? I have confidence, faith and love in my Lord, Jesus Christ the only Son of my God and no affliction will part me from His Love."

When forced to sleep and eat with the animals, John remembered how his Lord was born in the manger of Bethlehem. When whipped and humiliated he remembered how Jesus was beaten and crucified by His captors.

It is said that while he was in captivity, God wished to reduce his suffering by allowing him to perform a miracle. When John's master was away on pilgrimage to Mecca, an angel carried a warm plate of food on a bronze plate from his estate in Anatolia, where John was kept. On his return, the master showed the bronze plate with his emblem to the other landowners. The miracle, combined with the admirable endurance displayed by the Saint, earned the Saint their respect and their appreciation.

On his death in 1730, the Russian refugee was buried with reverence by Turks, Greeks and Armenians alike.

Three years later, the same priest that gave John his last communion, moments before his death, saw a vision of the Saint telling him that his dead body had been preserved unspoiled by time, and it should be removed from the grave. God had chosen to preserve the body as a blessing for people of all times.

Against the priests initial hesitations, a column of light shown on the grave of the Saint and lead the people to its exhumation. The body was not only intact, but it smelled of a sweet fragrance - a miraculous emanation that remains with the body until today.

When the Pasha Osman tried to burn the sacred body, the Saint was seen to rise and move in the flames. The Pasha's people fled in terror, and the body was later discovered under the ashes, unharmed and fragrant.

It was preserved at this state in Cappadoceia in Anatolia until the 1920s. It was venerated by Greeks, Armenians, Protestants and Muslims, and it performed miracles of healing that made his church a site of pilgrimage for all the people of Anatolia.

In 1922 with the Greek-Turkish war and the wave of nationalism and ethnic cleansing that swept Turkey, it was carried to Greece by refugees during the exchange of populations. It was housed at a church dedicated to the Saint's name.

Remaining largely forgotten and ignored, Saint John's fame was revived in the 1970s, when he resumed his miraculous works of healing. Children with congenital deformities and diseases are the most common beneficiaries of the Saint's grace.

In 1970 a child was born to a family in Istiaia, Greece, living in extreme poverty. The boy's legs were horribly bent and his feet attached to his back. The doctors surgically separated the boy's legs from the rest of his body, but there was no hope of the boy being able to walk. There was no neural network in the lower half of his body.

While the child grew his family spent what little money they had with the hope of finding a treatment for the boy's disability. When the only thing left to them was a small lamb, a vision of Saint John the Russian lead the family in a pilgrimage. Carrying the animal on his back and the boy on his arms, the desolate father took his family on a march of 80 miles through the wilderness leading to the church housing the coffin with the Saint's body.

Tying the lamb to the holly coffin, the father dedicated his last belonging to the Saint, praying for his son's recovery. After the ceremony of veneration and prayer to the miracle-working Saint, the family slept outside, in front of the church's door.

Soon after midnight the father wakes the handicapped child. His wife, stirred by the noise, asks what he wants of the child at this time. Ignoring her, he goes on and asks the child for a drink of water. The healed child rises to bring his father water from the fountain outside the church.

This was one of the first in a sequence of miracles that made the saint rise again in popularity and make pilgrims flock to his church today with their gifts and wishes. Among them, every year in autumn a young man brings a living lamb in his arms, offering to the Saint that turned his life from a condemnation to a blessing.

In 1974, in France, a devastated mother prays at a monastery of the Virgin Mary. A Russian visitor approaches the mother having heard her pray for her child born with a rare, congenital disease of the pituitary gland. He tells her of his compatriot Saint, whose miraculous body remains intact in Greece. He shows her a small icon of the Saint.

Back at the hospital, the stranger makes the sign of the cross on the infant's forehead with the small image of the Saint. The child writhes and turns. It's covered with sweat. The mother touches her lips on its brow - the fever is gone. The child, whose death had been predicted as imminent and inevitable, continues to grow normally.

Since then many incidents of wondrous healing and recovery have been attributed to the young Saint, and his miraculous body. His small church is now brimming with offerings of wax statues, silver vessels and icons of the Saint. He continues to perform miracles for those who pray to him and he attracts a large crowd of pilgrims every year.

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