December 3, 2010

Saint John the Hesychast and Sabbaite (+ 558)

St. John the Hesychast (Feast Day - December 3)
By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

John was a native of Nicopolis in Armenia and was the son of Encratius and Euphemia.

He was tonsured a monk at the age of eighteen and lived a strict and resolute life of asceticism, cleansing his heart by his many tears, fasting and prayer.

After ten years, he was appointed bishop of Colonia. By his example, he attracted his brother Pergamius and his uncle Theodore - both distinguished men at the imperial courts of Emperors Zeno and Justinian - to a God-pleasing life. Seeing the malice and intrigues of this world and his inability to put matters right, he abandoned his episcopal throne.

He disguised himself as a simple monk and went to the Monastery of St. Savva the Sanctified near Jerusalem. There he remained unknown for many years, conscientiously and capably completing every task that the abbot ordered him to do. For this, St. Savva recommended to Patriarch Elias that he ordain him a presbyter. When the patriarch wanted to ordain John, he confessed that he already possessed the rank of bishop. Then St. John closed himself in a cell and spent years and years in silence and prayer. Afterward he spent nine years in the wilderness feeding himself only on wild vegetables, and then he returned to the monastery.

He turned the faithful away from the heresy of Origen and contributed greatly to the condemnation and elimination of this heresy. He clearly discerned the spiritual world and healed people from sickness. Having conquered himself, he easily conquered demons.

Great in humility, might and divine wisdom, this servant of God entered peacefully into rest in the year 558 at the age of 104.

A Further Reflection

God hears the prayers of the righteous and fulfills them, sometimes immediately and completely, and at other times only later, at the appropriate time and according to the needs of the Church. In other words, in fulfilling the prayers of the righteous man, God has in mind either the man's salvation or the good of the whole Church.

St. John the Hesychast prayed to God to reveal to him how the soul separates from the body at death. While still at prayer, he was taken outside himself and had the following vision: A good man died in front of a church in Bethlehem, and angels took his soul from his body and carried it to heaven with sweet singing. Coming to himself out of his ecstasy, John immediately set out on the road from the Monastery of St. Savva the Sanctified to Bethlehem. When he reached Bethlehem, he saw the dead body of the man exactly as he had seen it in his vision.

When the great St. Savva the Sanctified died, John grieved and wept. Savva appeared to him in a vision and said: "Do not grieve, Father John, for even though I am separated from you in the body, nevertheless I am with you in the spirit." Then John begged him: "Father, pray to the Lord to take me with you." To this Savva replied: "For now, this cannot be. A great trial has yet to befall the Lavra, and God wants you to remain in the body to comfort and strengthen the faithful against the heretics." At first, John did not know what kind of heretics the holy father had spoken of, but he found out later, when the heresy of Origen began to shake the Church of God.

Saint John the Hesychast

John the Hesychast, God's laborer,
Walked through the wilderness as a lonely hermit,
Until someone cried out: "The barbarians are coming!
Behold how the dust rises up on the road!
They are near, very near; rise up, rise!"
"Let them be near, but God is nearer!"
John said to him, and did not move.
And when misfortune sought to overtake him,
A lion appeared, sent by God,
And began to fiercely roar at the enemy.
The horde fled; John did not move.
He competed with the severe wilderness,
He competed with her in stillness,
And in dryness and solitude.

"Pascha is coming, how shall we greet it?
What shall we eat on the feast, Father?"
The disciple asked. And John said to him:
"To every creature, God gives food."
When the Radiant Feast of Christ dawned,
An angel suddenly appeared as a man before the saint;
Bread, wine and honey he brought.
The disciple, when he beheld the miracle,
Wept at his lack of faith,
And glorified God and God's saint.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
You are a guide of Orthodoxy, a teacher of piety and modesty, a luminary of the world, the God inspired pride of monastics. O wise John, you have enlightened everyone by your teachings. You are the harp of the Spirit. Intercede to Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.