April 27, 2017

Saint John the Confessor, Abbot of Katharon Monastery

St. John the Confessor of Katharon (Feast Day - April 27)


You were cleansed of your passions O blessed John,
Like Katharon Monastery over which you presided.

Blessed John is said to have been from Irenopolis, which was one of the ten cities of Isaurian Decapolis in Asia Minor, though in his synaxarion the Decapolis he is associated with is the one in Coele-Syria. He was born around 778 to pious Christian parents whose names were Theodore and Gregoria. At nine years old he was aflame with longing for God and entered a monastery where he was tonsured a monk. Being diligent in his work, humility and obedience, he was loved by his teacher and elder, and together they attended the Seventh Ecumenical Synod in 787 at Nicaea. From there he went with his elder to Constantinople, where his elder became abbot of the Dalmatian Monastery. John in turn received the great schema and was ordained a priest, then sent by Emperor Nikephoros I (802-811) to be the abbot of Katharon Monastery. Having pastored the flock of Christ there for over ten years in a God-pleasing and apostolic manner, for this reason he was loved by all people.

When a universal trial befell the Church of Christ through the Iconoclasts, God revealed beforehand concerning this trial to blessed John. Therefore he gathered together the brotherhood of the monastery, and made things clear to them of what was coming. Then he said to them to be watchful and careful, lest the devil steal them away, by denying the veneration of the revered and holy icons, for they would not see him again in this present life. As he said these things, soldiers were arriving at the monastery sent by the iconoclast emperor Leo V the Armenian (813-820). They scattered the monks and distributed among themselves the belongings of the monastery. Then they bound Abbot John in iron chains and carried him off to Byzantium, while each was allowed to plunder what he liked of the monastery.

Standing before the emperor in the palace, John did not hesitate to call him a sinner and unbeliever as well as other unflattering names. This enraged the emperor and he had the Saint beaten with ox hides. The Saint rejoiced for being accounted worthy to be beaten for Christ. Then he was imprisoned in one of the dependencies of his monastery for three months, and from there was exiled to a fortress called Pentadaktylon in the region of Lampe in Phrygia. There he was imprisoned for eighteen months with his feet bound in chains. Then he was brought back to Constantinople and presented naked before the emperor. Having engaged in a debate regarding holy icons with the tyrant, he was then sent to the unworthy Patriarch Theodotus I (815-821) who left him for a long time to die of hunger and thirst. Brought before the emperor once again, he was then sent away to the fortress of Kriotauros in the theme of Boukellarioi, where he was imprisoned in a narrow and dark cell for two years. From all this mistreatment, he became utterly parched, but he remained steadfast with gratitude.

When Michael II (820-829) came to the throne after the slaughter of Emperor Leo, he recalled all those who had been sent into exile. Thus the Saint was recalled from exile and went to Chalcedon, since he was not allowed in Constantinople. When Emperor Theophilos (829-842) came to the throne, the Saint desired to enter Constantinople to be with the other fathers there, presumably of his monastery. He was captured and sent to the unworthy Patriarch John VII Grammatikos, who had the Saint undergo various trials. Then the patriarch had him banished to the island of Aphousia in the Sea of Marmara. After two and half years there he reposed in the Lord on April 27th around 835, after telling those with him three days beforehand.*


* Saint John is also mentioned several times in the letters and catechetical orations of Saint Theodore the Studite. From the letters of Theodore the Studite to Bishop Ignatios of Miletus and Bishop Michael of Synada from 816-818, we can conclude that John firmly adhered to icon veneration. However, in one of his catechetical orations dating to the reign of Emperor Michael II, Theodore blames some unnamed ὁ Καθαρηνός (the man from Katharon) for apostatizing from his confessorship, because he went back to his monastery, which Theodore blames on his attachment "to transient and corruptible things." If this is indeed John of Katharon, and it seems it may have been, then we can assume he repented shortly after his apostasy and moment of weakness, since he was once again exiled. Read more about this in the article "Did St. John, the Abbot of the ton Katharon Monastery, Join the Iconoclasts under Leo V the Armenian?".