June 2, 2009

Holy Great Martyr John the New of Suceava (+ 1330)

Saint John the New of Suceava (Feast Day - June 2 and June 24)


You gave a little blood, O blessed John,
And you purchased the kingdom of heaven.

Saint John was from the city of Trebizond. He was a merchant, devout and firm in his Orthodoxy, and generous to the poor.

On a trading trip to Cetatea Alba, then part of Moldova but now Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyy in the Ukraine, he got to know a Venetian merchant named Reiz whilst they were sailing on the Black Sea. They discussed the Christian faith many times and, seeing that John always defeated his arguments, the Venetian decided to take revenge when they arrived in Cetatea Alba.

On arriving in Cetatea Alba, Reiz spread a rumor that John, despite being raised Christian, was interested in the Muslim faith. Cetatea Alba at that time had been conquered by Muslim Tartars, and when their ruler heard the rumor he called for John. He was taken before the ruler and asked if it was true that he wished to deny the Christian faith and become a Muslim. He responded that he would never give up his faith in the true God in order to worship the inventions of men. This response offended the Tartar ruler, who ordered John to renounce his faith on pain of torture.

The Saint prayed secretly, calling on the help of Him Who said, "When they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what you shall speak, neither do you premeditate; but whatsoever will be given you in that hour, speak that, for it is not you that speaks, but the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13:11). And the Lord gave him the courage and understanding to counter all the claims of the impious and firmly confess himself a Christian. After this, the Saint was so fiercely beaten with rods that his entire body was lacerated, and the flesh came off in pieces. The holy Martyr thanked God for being found worthy to shed his blood for Him and thereby wash away his sins.

Scenes from the life of St. John the New (Voronet Monastery, Romania)

Afterwards they put him in chains and dragged him away to prison. In the morning the city ruler ordered the Saint brought forth again. The Martyr came before him with a bright and cheerful face. The intrepid martyr absolutely refused to deny Christ, denouncing the governor as a tool of Satan. Then they beat him again with rods, so that all his insides were laid bare.

The gathering crowd could not bear this horrible spectacle and they began to shout angrily, denouncing the governor for tormenting a defenseless man. The governor, having the beating stopped, gave orders to tie the Great Martyr to the tail of a wild horse to drag him by the legs through the streets of the city. Residents of the Jewish quarter particularly scoffed at the Martyr and threw stones at him. Finally, someone took a sword and cut off his head.

The Martyrdom of St. John the New

John's body with his severed head lay there until evening, and none of the Christians dared to take him away. By night a luminous pillar was seen over him, and a multitude of burning lamps. Three light-bearing men sang Psalms and censed the body of the Saint. One of the Jews, thinking that these were Christians coming to take up the remains of the Martyr, grabbed a bow and tried to shoot an arrow at them, but he was restrained by the invisible power of God, and became rigid.

In the morning the vision vanished, but the archer continued to stand motionless. Having told the gathering inhabitants of the city about the vision and what was done to him by the command of God, he was freed from his invisible bonds. Having learned about the occurrence, the ruler gave permission to bury the body of the Martyr in the local church. There is some question about the year of the Saint's martyrdom. Some say it was as early as 1330, other sources say 1402, while yet another 1492. The year was probably 1330 and John was only about 30 years old.

The archer who tried to fire at the angels over St. John's martyred body

On hearing of his death, Reiz resolved to dig up the body of the Martyr and steal it as a further act of revenge, but the Orthodox priest in the city had a dream in which John informed him of this crime and asked him to bring his body to the Orthodox Church. This was the first miracle of the Great Martyr. For years his relics were kept in Cetatea Alba, where they became famous for healings and other miracles, but eventually Prince Alexander the Good heard of the Martyr's relics and, at the urging of Metropolitan Joseph Musat of Moldova, arranged to have them brought to his capital, Suceava, on June 24, 1402. John's incorrupt relics have been kept at the monastery bearing his name in that city until the present.

In 1685 the relics of Saint John were taken by the Polish King Jan Sobieski to Stryy in Ukraine. They were later transferred to the Basilian Monastery in Zhovkva, also in Halychyna. The Austrian Emperor Joseph II returned them to Suceava in 1783. The Monastery that bears his name was the site of huge pilgrimages on the day commemorating his martyrdom. Many people came from Bukovyna.

Saint John the New is one of the most venerated saints in Moldova, and many miracles are associated with his relics. For the Akathist and Paraklesis of St. John the New (in Romanian), along with his life, miracles and numerous icons of him, see: http://sfantulioancelnou.8k.ro/index.html

The translation of the relics of St. John the New

You governed your life well on earth, working charity and incessantly praying with tears, you who suffered contests with courage, rebuking the Persian unbelief. Therefore you made yourself strong for the Church and are the boast for the Christians, O John, you shall ever be remembered.