March 5, 2015

Holy New Martyr John of Bulgaria (+ 1784)

St. John the Bulgarian (Feast Day - March 5)

The holy New Martyr John was born in Bulgaria in 1775. Since fanatical Muslims believed that they would be assured of an eternal “paradise” where they would enjoy beautiful virgins and an abundance of food if they could force Christians to deny Christ and follow Mohammed, they spared no effort to convert Christians through flattery or by threats of death.

When John was still a boy, he fell in with Muslim companions. Through various ways, he was led to renounce Christ and to follow Islam. He came to his senses when he was about sixteen, and was stricken with grief at his denial of Christ. He fled to Mount Athos to the Great Lavra. Here he spent his time in repentence under the guidance of an Elder.

He lived a monastic life of great strictness for three years, yet his conscience continued to trouble him. With the blessing of his Elder, he decided to travel to Constantinople to wipe out his apostasy by confessing Christ in a public way and by shedding his blood.

The young monk dressed himself as a Turk, which a Christian was not permitted to do. Arriving in Constantinople, he went directly to the Church of Hagia Sophia, which had been turned into a mosque. Right in front of the Muslims, he made the Sign of the Cross and began to recite Christian prayers. Then he said in a loud voice that he had been born a Christian, but had fallen into error and renounced Christ. Now, he declared, he wished to renounce the false religion of Mohammed in order to follow Christ once more.

The Turks fell into a frenzied rage when they heard his words. They seized him and began to torture him in various ways. “Renounce Christ,” they said, “and return to the Muslim faith, or you will be killed.”

Saint John replied, “Without Christ, there is no salvation.”

The furious Hagarenes dragged the Saint out to the courtyard to behead him. In this manner, Saint John received the crown of martyrdom in 1784 at the age of nineteen.