November 4, 2016

Saint Ioannikios the Great of Olympus (+ 845)

St. Ioannikios the Great (Feast Day - November 4)


The earth received the words of Ioannikios,
Planting the Word of God on the earth.
On the fourth Ioannikios poured forth a sign.

Saint Ioannikios (Joannicius) the Great was a man who truly believed in Christ and followed Him. Both in this life and the next, he was and is a light guiding those who strive to center their life in Christ and follow Him with all their heart as well as those seeking Christ. He performed and performs countless miracles and continues to pray for us all.

In 741 Ioannikios was born in Bithynia (Asia Minor) to Myritikis and Anastaso who were pious peasants. When he was old enough, he was given the task of shepherding. It became his practice to make the sign of the cross over the animals and withdraw to a solitary place to pray. Even though he prayed at great length, the animals did not stray and were always safe. Although he was never taught to read and write, he heard the Word of God and strove to keep His commandments.

Ioannikios grew into a strong, handsome young man, and at nineteen was conscripted into the Roman army to serve in the regiment that guarded the palace of Leo IV and Constantine VI. He continued to keep God’s commandments and to pray and fast without notice. As a soldier, he excelled and was well liked by his companions. In his early years in the army, he was persuaded to side with the emperor and became an iconoclast (one who opposes icons).

Returning from a military campaign, he and his fellow soldiers were walking by Mount Olympus when a clairvoyant monk who was led by the Holy Spirit came out and spoke to Ioannikios, calling him by name and telling him that all his labors to live a virtuous life were in vain since he did not follow the Orthodox Faith by his disdaining to venerate the icon of Christ. From that time on, Ioannikios repented of his error, and venerated the icons of Christ and the saints. For the next six years, he spent more time in prayer, fasted more, and slept on the floor even though he was quartered in the palace.

Then, the Bulgarians invaded Thrace. The emperor rode out with his forces, Ioannikios among them, to engage the Bulgarians in battle and drive them back. During this battle Ioannikios was bestowed with God-given valor, fought bravely, delivered his company of soldiers from being cut off by the Bulgarians, and freed a captured Greek nobleman. All this and more were observed by the emperor himself who, at the end of the war, wanted to decorate Ioannikios with military honors and rich gifts.

Returning home from this war, Ioannikios once again passed Mount Olympus, remembered what had been said to him six years earlier, and resolved to forsake all and follow Christ in the monastic life. Returning to the palace, he obtained permission to retire from his military duties and graciously refused the honors of the emperor. After twenty-five years as a soldier for an earthly emperor, he put on “the armor of Christ”, sought a monastery where he could pray and fast, and fought interior battles against self and exterior ones against the evil one.

He started at the Monastery at Augaron, went to Outotla, and on to Antidion, learning the monastic life and how to read and write, as well as memorizing the Psalms. However, he was drawn by the Holy Spirit to the ever greater solitude of an anchorite and withdrew into the depths of a forested mountain which he named Trichalikos. During his sojourn on this mountain, two prophesying monks gave him a garment made from goats hair, which they also wore, and instructed him as to how to live the anchoritic life, and prophesied that at the end of his fifty years as a monastic, he would be beset upon by temptations and maltreatment from envious men. Be that as it may, he would not suffer, because the evil that these envious men sought to bring upon him would return upon their own heads. This, indeed, happened.

Word came to the Abbot Gregory of Augaron that Ioannikios was living without shelter on this mountain. Whereupon he had a hut built for him. As time passed, many came to seek spiritual advice from him, thus, giving him no peace. Once again Ioannikios left in search of a place of silent stillness where he could devote his time to prayer and fasting without interruption. Each time he found a place, he was sought out and had to find another until he found a mountain near the Hellespont (the Dardanelles). There he hiked into the deep forest of the mountain and dug a pit for himself. Ioannikios asked a local shepherd to bring him some bread once a month, and in return, he would pray for his soul. There he abode in solitude for many years.

One day he decided that he would travel to Ephesus and pray at the Church of Saint John the Theologian. On his journey he ran into one of his old army buddies who recognized him and embraced him with great camaraderie. Following a general conversation, his friend left to bring other soldiers to meet him and reminisce their valorous deeds in battle. While he was gone, Ioannikios slipped away. Continuing toward the Kountouria mountains, he entered a small roadside chapel where a man and his wife were praying. Startled at his wild-like appearance, he calmed their fears and asked where the road he was on led. They informed him that it led to a river swollen with winter’s runoff. Ioannikios followed the road to the river, slept till midnight, prayed, and walked over the river to the other side. When he arrived at the Church of Saint John the Theologian, the doors opened for him of their own accord. Whereupon he entered, prayed and venerated the relics and icon of Saint John. The doors closed upon his departure.

Journeying homeward, he came upon two nuns, a mother and daughter. He overheard the mother encouraging her daughter to remain steadfast and not to allow herself to be overcome with the carnal passion that assailed her. Spying the holy man, the mother implored him to pray over her daughter, and to help her if he could. Ioannikios instructed the daughter to put her hand on his neck and then, with tears, fervently prayed God to release her from this burning passion and asked that it come upon him. The daughter was straightway released of her affliction and returned to the monastery with her mother. On the other hand, Ioannikios suffered so greatly from the attacks of carnal passion that he sought out a viper to bite him so that he might die. The viper ran from him, but Ioannikios continued to provoke it until it suddenly died. Upon the death of the viper, this passion left him.

After living twelve years in the wilderness, the Holy Spirit instructed him to go to the Monastery of Eriste and ask the Abbot Stephen to tonsure him and cloth him as a monk. This the abbot did the morning after Ioannikios’ arrival. After this, he continued his anchoritic life in different places of silent solitude and endured even greater struggles with the evil one. Eventually, Ioannikios came to dwell on Mount Olympus.

While living there, it happened that a virtuous, young, beautiful girl of noble birth, Irene by name, was being escorted to Constantinople to become the bride of the emperor. As they were walking by Mount Olympus, Irene begged her bodyguards to allow her to receive a blessing from Ioannikios, a holy man of whom she had heard much. As she approached, he recognized that this young girl was spiritually advanced and instructed her to rejoice and go to the Monastery of Chrysovalantou in the city for there she was needed to become a shepherdess of virgins. Irene fell to his feet in acknowledgement of his holiness. Ioannikios gave her much needed spiritual advice to strengthen and guide her in the task that God had chosen for her. Arriving in Constantinople, she rejoiced upon hearing that another girl had been chosen to be the emperor-to-be Michael’s bride. The young woman became the greatly renowned Saint Irene Chrysovalantou.

The prayer, which is still used today, that Ioannikios used and is most noted for is, “The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protector. O Holy Trinity, glory to thee.” He would say this together with the thirty Psalms he memorized.

Numerous are the miracles and other accounts of Saint Ioannikios the Great. Twice he miraculously freed some of his countrymen from prison. Toward the end of his life, he was only visible to those whom the Holy Spirit chose to see him. Many were healed by his prayers. Demons were cast out. As the end of his life drew near, he went to the Monastery of Antidion and there reposed in peace, at the old age of one hundred and four.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe. O our holy father Ioannikios, pray to Christ our God to save our souls.

Another Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
Thou didst abandon earthly glory and wast illumined by the light of God's inspiration. Wherefore thou didst shine on earth like a fadeless star. For thou wast found worthy to hear the divine voice like Moses and wast also like the Angels and a treasury of grace, O holy Father Ioannikios.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
We have come together today to honour thy memory, and implore thee to obtain mercy for us from the Lord, O holy Father Ioannikios.