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April 29, 2020

Saint John Kaloktenes the New Merciful, Metropolitan of Thebes

On the 29th of April we commemorate our Holy Father John the Metropolitan of Thebes and leader of all Boeotia who is called Kaloktenes and the New Merciful.


Like the Archangel you spoke with the Virgin,
And heard her say Rejoice to you, John.
The New Merciful had mercy on the poor,
Receiving his wages though having no wealth.
On the twenty-ninth the New Merciful John,
Received a peaceful lot.

Saint John Kaloktenes lived in the twelfth century, and was born to noble and virtuous parents in Constantinople, his father's name being Constantine and mother's name being Maria. His birth was the fruit of prayer, as John's parents were sterile for many years. This resulted in John being a lover of prayer from early childhood. Growing up he was an excellent student. Because of his great love for the Mother of God, he was made worthy one day to hear her voice as he read the Salutation, "Rejoice, bride unwedded," to which he heard her voice say to him, "Rejoice you as well, protector of Thebes."

At the age of twelve his father handed him over to the Great Domestikos of the Roman Court, who was the head of the military, in order to be trained for the military. However, his inclination towards the Church rather than towards the army, along with the influence of his mother, but also the prayer that his parents had made before he was born, forced the Great Domestikos to enlist him in the office of a hieromonk.

One day the Metropolitan of Thebes in Boeotia, due to his great sorrow during the days of oppression under the Normans, died. The new Metropolitan that was elected in Constantinople to replace him also died while traveling to Thebes. The Patriarchate had not taken seriously the situation in Thebes under the Norman occupiers. However, under the pressure of the Thebans, Patriarch Luke Chrysoberges chose John, who lived as a monk in a monastery of Constantinople, and was suitable for the position. Being chosen as the protector of Thebes by the Mother of God herself, he could not refuse his election. This election made the Thebans happy and gave them hope and strength.

This was a difficult assignment, as the city of Thebes and its see were at the time in considerable decline. A flourishing center of the Roman silk industry and seat of the governor of the Theme of Hellas, the city had suffered after the Norman sack of 1147, when the silk weavers had been carried off to southern Italy. All five suffragan bishoprics of the Metropolis — Kanala, Zaratova, Kaistorion, Trichia, and Platana — had been left vacant, leading to a worrisome decline in the religious sentiments of the local population. Therefore in 1169 Kaloktenes appointed bishops to these sees, provoking the displeasure of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180), as Kaloktenes had neglected informing the patriarchal synod. The synod at first declared Kaloktenes' appointments as uncanonical, but Kaloktenes' staunch and passionate defense of the necessity of his actions was eventually rewarded, as the synod relented and confirmed his appointments

Saint John was a man of spirit and action. Not only did he comfort the poor Christians of his province with almsgiving, but he fought and gave impetus to social and economic life as well. He found the city and the area devastated, so his hard work began immediately. And indeed, with his entry into the city, the Saint immediately began to work towards its well being. There were many obstacles. On the one hand, the Normans had literally wiped out all wealth from the region, and on the other hand, about 2,000 Jews, who had meanwhile arrived, were trying to alter the minds of the Thebans by offering them jobs and money. The absence of material goods and the erosion of the Christian faith were two fronts against which the Saint had to fight.

The construction of the Church of the Theotokos with money from his paternal property, his paternal teaching, and his constant alms and help made many Jews and Armenians embrace the Orthodox Christian faith, and the faithful have since given him the name of the "New Merciful".

Apart from these, the Saint did many public works in the city. The diversion of the river Isminos offered fertility and strength to the plain of Thebes, but also to the suburbs, Pyri and Agios Theodoros, putting into operation twenty watermills and establishing aqueducts with over twenty arches from 3 to 6 meters high and 3.2 meters wide, which survived until the early 20th century, thus securing the local irrigation. This river was later named Agiannis, in honor of the Saint. At the point of diversion, the Thebans later built a temple in honor of the Saint, the ruins of which survive to this day. Metropolitan John also built bridges, making it easier for people to cross. It became known as the Ioanniada. He founded a Hospice for the Elderly, a Hospice for the Poor, Hospitals and Schools, which were very useful at this critical time. Just as a Minister of the Environment, the Saint, by transporting water to the city, took care of the planting of special mulberries suitable for sericulture. He personally supervised all the projects on a daily basis. The Parthenon (a School for Women) was a groundbreaking work where females learned letters and the arts. With their handicrafts, they helped the needy. "He did not leave the ship to the discretion of the winds and the storm, but as a skillful navigator he guarded it from any dangerous course, lest it crash on the rocks," notes his biography.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Saint at that difficult time not only saved the city from total destruction, such that even its foundations would not be found today, but he also raised it to a place of reputation and made it a major industrial and commercial center. That is why the Thebans, while the Saint was still alive, had declared him their patron and protector.

He took part in the Synod of Constantinople in 1166 during the reign of Emperor Manuel Komnenos. From the minutes of this Synod, the theological teaching of the Saint is preserved, proving the great theological training and the deep faith of the Saint. He also participated in the Synod of Constantinople in 1170 that condemned John Eirenikos.

After his peaceful repose some time between 1182 and 1193 and the recognition of his sainthood, a temple was built to house his sacred relics. The ruins of this church have survived, and towards the end of the twentieth century a new church was built over its foundation. There are rumors that his sacred relics are somewhere in Italy. Until today, the memory of the infrastructure works of the Saint is preserved between the inhabitants of Thebes, and the surrounding area.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
As an intermediary of the Lord, and with desire of soul, you redirected the streams, and with a laborious life, you consumed the flesh; you hastened, O hierarch, John of Boeotia, having become a friend of Christ, to take pity on the poor, wherefore you were called blessed, the New Merciful.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
The rudder of the Church of God O wise one, you skillfully managed over the waves, managing blessed John the dizzying squall that came against you, and the violent tempest of heresies, wherefore I cry out to you: Rejoice, all-compassionate Father.

The beauty of Hierarchs, and the helper and protector from dangers, rejoice in the rejoice, from the Theotokos, which you received John, the boast of Thebes.