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May 12, 2015

Holy New Martyr John the Wallachian (+ 1662)

St. John of Romania (Feast Day - May 12)

Saint John was born into a poor family in Oltenia during the time of Prince Matthew Basarab (1632-1654), who was a prolific builder of churches (46 churches plus many restorations). His nephew Constantin Serban (1654-1658) succeeded him, followed by Mihnea III Radu (1658-1659). The latter took power with the help of the Turks.

Wallachia was a tributary principality to the Ottoman Empire for about 200 years already and many princes used to gain the throne by offering large sums of money to the Sultan. Mihnea probably took his throne through the same method, but shortly after he didn't want to accept the heavy taxes imposed on the country by the Turks. So he made an alliance with the prince of Transylvania George Rakoczy II and the prince of Moldova Constantin Serban (the former ruler in Wallachia) against the Ottomans. Shortly after, in 1658 he ordered the killing of a squadron of 2000 Turkish soldiers, and attacked and destroyed some ports and bridges at the Danube. His attack was coordinated with similar rebellions in Moldova and Transylvania. In the spring of 1659 the Turks invaded Moldova and Transylvania. Mihnea reported some small victories against the invaders but finally fled in Transylvania where he died from poisoning on April 6th. On their way back, the Turks crossed Wallachia in the valley of Jiu and took a lot of prisoners. Among the prisoners was Saint John.

Thus in 1659, when John was fifteen years old, a band of Turks seized him with many young people as slaves. The Turks sorted the slaves once they had crossed the Danube, and John became the property of a soldier who found John to be handsome. The captives endured hunger, thirst, beatings, and fell prey to the shameful sexual desires of their masters.

One day the soldier who owned him tried to force John into a lustful act, but he resisted. He even tried to tie John to a tree in order to rape him, but the young man escaped and struck the soldier, killing him. John fled, but other soldiers bound John with chains and brought him to Constantinople. The journey took several months, and the Turks subjected him to torture along the way.

The soldiers led John to the Grand Vizier, who decided to give him to the wife of the soldier he killed, so that she would decide what to do with him. The widow decided to keep him because of his handsome look. The next two years and a half he remained as a slave in her house and she tried to seduce him, but he resisted, even though she promised that she will take him as her husband and give him a good status, as long as he would accept to convert to Islam. He refused her offer and the woman decided finally to send him to prison and put him on trial for the murder he committed.

In the prison he prayed unceasingly to Christ, in order to strengthen him to keep his faith during the tortures. Even here the widow came daily in order to persuade him, but he did not accept to renounce the faith of his ancestors. The courageous youth told her, “I would rather die for Christ than become a Turk and marry you.”

Finally, John was taken out of the prison and brought to a place called Parmak-Kapi, near Bezesteni, the great bazaar of the merchants, in the Galata quarter of Constantinople. There he was hanged on 12 May 1662, being younger than 18, and by this means John received the crown of martyrdom. It is not known what happened to his relics.


His life was written by a scholar of the Ecumenical Patriachate, named John Karyophylis, and printed in Venice in 1799 by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite. The Life of the Saint was introduced into the Greek Menologion in 1843 on the day of his death, May 12th. The same happened three years later, in 1846, in the Romanian Menologies.

In spite of being Romanian, Saint John remained largely unknown compared to the more important Saints celebrated on May 12th, Epiphanius of Salamis and Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople. Only in 1950, during a meeting of the Romanian Synod, was it decided that his commemoration become more known, hence his own liturgical service was composed, and five years later (1955) he was officially proclaimed among the other national saints.

Today the Church of the pious Romanians spiritually celebrates and shouts joyfully: Come, lovers of martyrs, to celebrate the annual memory of the struggles of the new martyr John. He was raised among us by God's will and blossomed wonderfully in the imperial city of Constantine, bringing to the Lord rich and welcomed fruit, through his martyrdom. And now he prays without ceasing in heaven, to save our souls.