April 20, 2015

Saint John of Ioannina as a Model for our Lives

St. John the Tailor of Ioannina (Feast Day - April 18 and Bright Tuesday)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Neomartyr John was born in Ioannina from pious parents, who raised him "in the education and admonition of the Lord". He practiced the profession of tailor and the income he received from his work he distributed in three equal parts. The first part he gave to his parents, the second he gave in alms, and the third he held for his own livelihood. After the repose of his parents he moved to Constantinople, when Patriarch Jeremiah I (1525-1545) was Ecumenical Patriarch, who hailed from Ioannina.

Saint John was a virtuous young man, gifted in body and soul with many gifts which caused the envy of some Turks, who pressed him to deny his faith and become a Muslim. John asked the blessing of his spiritual father to proceed towards martyrdom, because he understood that the time had come for him to give his confession for Christ and to seal it with his blood, but his spiritual father advised him to wait. Eventually, he was convinced it was God's will for John and he gave his blessing. Meanwhile the Turks, who had not ceased for a moment to disturb and pressure him to convert, slandered him saying that once in Trikala he denied Christ. John told them that such a thing never happened, nor will it happen ever in the future. Then they angrily arrested him and dragged him before the judge, before whom he confessed once again his faith in Christ and therefore was tortured fiercely and thrown in prison. Inside the prison, he was full of inner peace, praying and praising God with hymns, and because he continued to remain firm and steadfast in his faith he was condemned to death.

The Patriarch of Constantinople was able to postpone the execution, but later they called for him again to deny his faith and he, burning with love for Christ, began to chant before them "Christ Is Risen". Then they lit a fire and burned him alive, but they did not manage to push him in, because he jumped in by himself. While he was burning, the executioner beheaded him and in this way he gave his holy soul into the hands of Christ, Whom he loved so much. Whatever survived of his sacred relics was collected by Christian and preserved in the Patriarchal Church.

It was not long before the Neomartyr John became famous for his many miracles, which God performed through his prayers.

His life and conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the sacred hymnographer addresses Saint John by saying, among other things, the following: "with the zeal of the martyrs you contested, through the fire you were perfected in the struggle." Indeed, the New Martyrs did not fall short in their zeal and courage as that of the old Martyrs, but like them they proceeded towards their martyrdom with the same courage and the same love for Christ, since they had the same way of life. In fact, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite says that the New Martyrs not only did not fall short of the old Martyrs, but we could even say they were superior to them, because the former "struggled in a time of polytheism and idolatry, which is an obvious impiety, and hardly requires a rational mind, while these struggled against another faith of a one person monotheism, which is a hidden impiety that can easily cheat the mind. These is why these Martyrs are new according to time, but according to martyrdom they are old; they are last in the succession of generations, but the first to be crowned." Saint Nikodemos then emphasizes that the Orthodox Church is the continuation of the Early Church, having the same faith and the same doctrines as it had then, with nothing different. This is why we have holy relics, since they continuously show throughout the ages the saints and martyrs. He concludes by saying: "these [the New Martyrs] are children of the Eastern Church, holding her doctrines... and these are holy and pleasing to God just as the Eastern Church who gave them spiritual birth, therefore, is holy and pleasing to God and the bearer of the divine grace of the Holy Spirit."

Second, when the heart of a person is burning, or rather inflamed, with the fire of the Holy Spirit, which does not burn but cools, then a person does not calculate labors and sacrifices, not even their life, which they offer as a first-fruit and sacrifice to the Holy Triune God, but also for the sake of others, who are animated images of God. The greater the love the greater the pain, but this pain softens and sweetens when accompanied by thanksgiving and glorification of the name of the Triune God. True love can achieve the impossible, and is able even to move mountains. Otherwise a bunch of excuses are given, which in reality reveal spiritual poverty and nakedness.

They who are inflamed with the fire of divine love, despise the fire of ephemeral pleasures and sensual respite and the multitude of temptations, and with the Grace of the Risen Christ they have the ability to not only exceed the daily difficulties of life, but even death, and for this reason they experience in this life "eternal divine life in the Light" and are truly happy to be alive.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Νεομάρτυρας Ιωάννης ο εξ Ιωαννίνων", April 2009. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.