August 3, 2018

Saint John the Confessor, Abbot of Pantelleria Monastery


You were called O blessed John,
To be seen as a worthy house of divine grace.

We know almost nothing about the venerable John with certainty, except that he was a Confessor and Abbot of Pantelleria Monastery, otherwise known as the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner. He seems to have founded this monastery, which has been identified with the island of Pantelleria off western Sicily. We have a typikon of this monastery in Slavonic, which is deemed to be the work of "Our Holy Father John the Priest, Abbot of Pantelleria." A steep hill rose from the sea to an extinct volcanic crater where John found a cave in what had become a typical Pantelleria garden. With another monk called Basil, there he founded a monastery where the Rule of Saint John was written, the one that was later adopted in Russia, which is why it has only come down to us in Slavonic.

We do not know when John lived, nor when the monastery was established, nor when the typikon was drafted. In the Life of Euthymios of Sardis we are informed that Euthymios of Sardis, Theophylaktos of Nicomedia and Eudoxios of Amorion were exiled to the island by Emperor Nikephoros I (802-811). We are also informed in the Annales Fuldenses that in 806 Spanish Arabs raided the island, and sixty monks were taken prisoners. These references, together with the fact that the typikon has no reference to the monastic reform of Theodore the Studite (+ 826), its affinity to Pachomian monasticism, John's title of "Confessor" in the Synaxarion of Constantinople which was probably given to him during the first phase of Iconoclasm, and the final Arabic occupation of Pantelleria between 836 and 864, all indicate that John lived at the monastery some time in either the late eighth century or early ninth century. Others suggest he was originally an Egyptian monk who moved West due to the Arab invasion of Egypt in the seventh century. His successor was his disciple Basil.