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A Saint's Journey: How St. John Found His Home Among Us

A Miracle in Minsk: Saint John Chooses Home

Saint John the Russian

On the left of the main door of the Church of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God there hangs the holy image of the righteous John the Russian. A vigil lamp burns next to it unceasingly. Eugenia, a nun on obedience in the church, wipes the glass and venerates the image, which has a particle of the saint’s relic.

“So you are going to write about Saint John the Russian? That is splendid. Perhaps people will know about him, and more will approach the icon,” she says. “I became acquainted with this saint more than twenty years ago. And then his relics arrived to us by the will of God. Thus, the saint entered my life, and now he is right beside me.”

Icon of Saint John the Russian with a relic at Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk

Icon of Saint John the Russian with a relic at Saint Elisabeth Convent in Minsk

And here is how Saint John came into the life of our monastery. As known from his life story, he was originally from Little Russia. He was born at the end of the 17th century into a devout Orthodox family. In his youth, he became a soldier under Peter I. During the unsuccessful Russo-Turkish war, he was captured by the Tatars, who sold him to the chief of the Turkish cavalry, Aga. Aga then took him to his village in Prokopi in Asia Minor.

Agi's House in Ürgüp (Prokopi), Turkey, modern view

Agi's House in Ürgüp (Prokopi), Turkey, modern view

Christian soldiers captured by the Turks, who were Muslims, were pressured to convert to Islam. The future saint was beaten, thrown into manure, and had his scalp burnt, yet John the Russian responded, “Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ.” His firm faith and resilience impressed his master. He stopped tormenting the captive and ordered him to look after the livestock and maintain the stable. In a corner of this stable, Saint John the Russian lived and served diligently.

Seeing his righteous life, the master offered John the Russian the freedom to live wherever he wished. However, the ascetic chose to remain in the stable, where he could pray peacefully every night. Sometimes at night, the saint would come in front of the church of Saint George the Great Martyr, where he would kneel on the porch and pray fervently. It was also in this church that he received communion during festivals.

Cave Church of St. George, where Saint John the Russian prayed

Cave Church of St. George, where Saint John the Russian prayed

After the righteous man’s demise, his master called the priests, who took his body and buried it according to Christian rites. Nearly all Christians living in Prokopi attended the funeral. Three and a half years later, the incorrupt relics of Saint John the Russian were miraculously discovered — a priest was informed about this in a dream. Soon after, his relics were transferred to the church of Saint George the Great Martyr and placed in a shrine. Today, the relics of the righteous John the Russian are housed in a church dedicated to him in Prokopi on the Greek island of Euboea. They ended up there during a historical population exchange: after a devastating defeat of the Greeks in a war with the Turks, all Greek residents had to leave Turkey in exchange for Turkish residents of Greece. Returning to their homeland, the Greeks took the saint’s relics with them on a ship. A church was built on the island in honour of Saint John the Russian, and since then, his relics have remained there undivided.

Church of Saint John the Russian in Euboea, Greece

Church of Saint John the Russian in Euboea, Greece

Usually, saints’ relics rest in vestments, and occasionally these covers can be changed. During a change of vestments, one or several particles typically separate. A particle “given” by Saint John in 1937 was the largest. In 1992, Father Ioannis, the rector of the church, was invited to visit Russia. As he was readying himself for his journey, he prepared the 1937 particle as a gift for Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All of Russia and had a precious casket made for it. However, having left Moscow, he left the casket with the particle in the church due to unforeseen circumstances and did not remember about it until more than twenty years later when a brother and sister from our monastery’s sisterhood, spouses Sergei and Irina, who visited a children’s home in Novinki, came to the island.

Icon of Saint John the Russian

Icon of Saint John the Russian

“We have known about Saint John the Russian for a long time”, Irina shares. “We have read a lot about him and his miracles and felt a deep connection to him. We travelled to the island every year. When we were once again preparing for our pilgrimage, our monastery asked us to take a letter from the orphanage children requesting, if possible, a relic particle. We went, and everything miraculously fell into place.”

Irina mentioned that when they arrived at the saint’s shrine and were reading the Akathist hymn by his relics, they noticed the words stating that he had never given his relics to anyone. “You know, I am afraid to proceed,” she told her husband. Nevertheless, the couple mustered their courage and approached the abbot, Father Ioannis, with their request. The abbot warmly welcomed them. The guests spoke about the monastery, and the children’s orphanage, and showed him the letter and photographs of the children. Father Ioannis was deeply moved by their ministry and said he would think about it. A couple of days later, he remembered those very relics that had not been handed over to the Patriarch: “Saint John the Russian wants to go to the children.”

orthodox music

Sergei and Irina brought the relics back to Minsk and ordered a beautifully crafted casket in the shape of a hand from the Convent’s non-ferrous metals workshop. A particle of the relics was separated and placed in the shrine of an icon specially painted for the church of the Reigning icon of the Mother of God, while another particle was kept in a casket at the orphanage. When Divine Liturgy is served in the orphanage the casket is opened at the end of the service, and one can venerate it.

Priest Valery Zakharov with the reliquary of Saint John

Priest Valery Zakharov with the reliquary of Saint John the Russian

Thus, in such a wonderful way, the saint came to us,” says Nun Eugenia. “John the Russian himself chooses who to go to. And we have a children’s orphanage and people with mental disabilities. The soul of a person, having suffered, cries out to the Lord. Perhaps it was for the prayers of these ill people that the saint came.”

Righteous John the Russian became the patron of those living in the care homes supported by our monastery. A charitable foundation in his name was established. In Ostroshitsky Gorodok, plans are underway to build a church in his honour; a cross has already been erected on the construction site.

Cross at the construction site of the church dedicated to Saint John the Russian

Cross at the construction site of the church dedicated to Saint John the Russian at Ostroshitsky Gorodok

“I have been on Euboea Island three times,” shares Sister Tatiana Zhedik, a sister of mercy. “John the Russian and Nectarios of Aegina are saints with whom we have a connection at the facility, and we decided to visit them. We first went to Saint Nectarios on Aegina, then Euboea Island in Prokopi. Prokopi has few tourist attractions — no sea, coast, or cultural monuments. There is a mountain road, a pine forest, and a village with just a few streets, the church of Saint John the Russian — and that is all. But this village has a special atmosphere. It is so warm and peaceful there that you do not want to leave. As we were walking down the street, we saw a flower shop and decided to buy flowers for the saint. And the first question from the seller was: ‘Are you taking these to John the Russian? Would you like them arranged?’”

Sister of Mercy Tatiana Zhedik on Euboea Island

Sister of Mercy Tatiana Zhedik on Euboea Island

“The first time we visited the island was on weekdays, but the church is always open from early morning until late evening. And people always go to the saint. In Prokopi, there is a little restaurant locals call “Yanis’s”. It has a very simple decor, but always a large flow of visitors. As you enter the restaurant, you immediately see a huge icon of Righteous John the Russian, depicted full-length against a backdrop of Turkish mountains. It turned out that Yanis’s ancestors were those very settlers who travelled with Saint John the Russian’s relics on a ship to Greece. They were heading into uncertainty: this part of Greece always has harsh winters, and mountainous slippery roads that are impassable in winter. Initially, they slept in tents but stayed with John the Russian out of love for him. They built homes, and raised families, and now their descendant Yanis owns this restaurant next to the church and feeds all the people who come here. This saint accompanies their entire lineage. The restaurant thrives. The food is always delicious and there are always many people. And Yanis is ‘John’ in Greek. On this island, many children are named John.”

Icon of St. John the Russian in "At Yanis" restaurant on Island Euboea

Icon of St. John the Russian in "At Yanis" restaurant on Island Euboea

“The second time we arrived on the island was on the day of the translation of the saint’s relics — traditionally commemorated on the last Sunday of September,” continues Sister Tatiana. “On that day, many guests and pilgrims arrive, and an all-night vigil is held — a festive night service followed by a procession with the relics. After the night service, everyone was preparing for the procession, and we were standing on the street behind a small fence, no longer going inside. We did not know anyone and nobody knew us. Their command of English was poor, and we did not speak Greek. We managed to communicate in a very basic way, using gestures. Then the church elder approached us with the banners, saw Sister Olga in her headscarf and long skirt, evidently realised that she was Russian, and said, ‘Hold this,’ handing her a banner with the image of Saint Seraphim of Sarov. He gestured for me to join her and handed me a cross. He also gave another banner to a Serbian lady. He showed us where to stand, and only the orchestra was in front of us, with all the guests and clergy behind.”

Sisters of Mercy Tatiana and Olga during the Procession on Euboea Island

Sisters of Mercy Tatiana and Olga during the Procession on Euboea Island

“John the Russian wanted his Russian guests, probably the only Russians at that festival, to be with him in this way. We were struck. And for a while, we did not even want to tell anyone about it; we wanted to keep it in our hearts as a precious miracle…”

“During one of my visits to the island of Euboea, I noticed a fresco in the church depicting a ship and asked the iconographer Dimitris about the story it represented,” continues Sister Tatiana Zhedik. “He explained that the ship, which was carrying Greek settlers from Turkey along with the relics of the saint, unexpectedly stopped near the island of Rhodes, turned in the opposite direction, and remained immobile until the relics of Saint John were moved from the hold to the prayer room — a special cabin adorned with icons where a lamp burned continuously. Only after this was the ship able to continue its journey. This fresco in the church commemorates that miracle.”

Shrine with relics of Saint John the Russian

Shrine with relics of Saint John the Russian

“At the relics of the saint, many miracles and healings occur; he aids in childbirth, and people bring sick children and individuals with addictions to him.”

“Last year, there were severe wildfires across Greece, and Euboea was greatly affected. The fire approached Prokopi, and all women and children were evacuated. The ruling bishop called Father Nicholas, the rector of the Church of Saint John the Russian and blessed him to lead a procession with the icon around the town. As soon as the procession concluded, a downpour began (although there had been no rain on the island for over a month and it was not forecasted), which stopped the fire.”

Brethren and sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent

Brethren and sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent during Cross Procession in Ostroshitsky Gorodok

“There was another memorable incident. A fellow sister and I travelled to an orphanage to sing the Akathist to Saint John the Russian. I could have said that I was tired, but she always went along like a little soldier, always saying how much she loved to serve. It was then that she met a young man from Serbia. When he first flew to meet her, he coincidentally booked his flight for 9 June — the feast day of the righteous John the Russian. This was a significant sign. The sister sang at the festive Divine Liturgy at the Ostroshitsky Gorodok orphanage and then went to the airport to meet her future husband.

The cross procession
The cross procession

The Cross Procession in Ostroshitsky Gorodok on the feast day of Saint John the Russian

On June 9, the feast day of Saint John the Russian, the Sisters of Mercy, together with their priest, travel to the orphanage in Ostroshitsky Gorodok. They bring a reliquary with relics and an icon. After the Divine Liturgy, which is most often held outdoors, there is a procession around the orphanage followed by festive treats. In the life of Saint John the Russian, there is an episode where his master Agi went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. During this time, his wife hosted a feast serving his favourite dish — pilaf. John served at the feast. The mistress said to him, “How pleased your master would have been if he could have enjoyed the pilaf with us!” Then John asked her for a dish filled with pilaf and promised to send it to Mecca. The guests just laughed at him. Meanwhile, John went with the dish to the stable, prayed fervently to the Lord, and the dish disappeared. No one believed him; they thought he had simply eaten the pilaf. But when Agi returned home, he recounted how he once entered his always-locked room and saw on the table a dish with pilaf, which even bore his family’s engraving.

“In memory of this event, we decided to treat all the residents of the orphanage to pilaf,” explains Sister Tatiana. “We ordered pilaf for 700 people from a restaurant, and the owners prepared it for the glory of God and did not charge us. The military unit provided a field kitchen free of charge and also young soldiers who heated the pilaf and served tea to the residents. It was so heartwarming to see these young men, just 18 years old, serving food to the residents.

Feast of St. John the Russian
Feast of St. John the Russian
Feast of St. John the Russian
Feast of St. John the Russian

Feast of St. John the Russian at Ostroshitsky Gorodok

“The residents of the orphanage, like Saint John the Russian who was held captive, find their freedom restricted in many ways. I think that is why there is such a connection between them. Although freedom is a relative concept. You can be free in your actions but still be a slave to your passions. For us, Saint John the Russian is an example of freedom in Christ: physically he was restricted in everything, lived in a stable, and was alone among strangers, but for him, such a life was true freedom, the ultimate union with God. He is also an example of loyalty to Christ. Back then, people were forced to renounce Christ, and now, in our time, there are no overt persecutions, but internal enemies lead people away from the true confession of faith, from the purity of Orthodoxy.

With the saints, you maintain a connection in Christ. I always ask Saint John the Russian that I remain pure in faith, and keep loyalty to Orthodoxy. I ask for help with everyday needs. Friendship with the saints is the best kind of friendship. If you maintain a spiritual connection with them and especially share in their service, they protect you, just as Saint John the Russian protects the family of Yanis. And I believe they will intercede for us in the life to come.”

Nun Vasilisa (Starenkaya) with an icon of Saint John the Russian

Nun Vasilisa (Starenkaya) with an icon of Saint John the Russian

“When you befriend the saints, they hear you better,” explains Anastasia Parkhomchik, a sister of mercy. “I became friends with Saint John the Russian when I visited an orphanage to sing Akathists. Subsequently, my work required me to write about his miracles, and about how our brothers and sisters travelled to Turkey to search for the stables where he served and the place where he was buried. Now, in Aga’s house, nearly all the master’s quarters have turned into ruins. At the same time, the semi-basement floor of the building — the stable where John laboured and prayed — remains remarkably preserved. The Turks also venerate the saint, despite being Muslims, and they call him ‘Aziz Yohannes’ in Turkish. In the stables, there are icons, candles, and lamps brought by pilgrims. I have experienced Saint John’s clear assistance on several occasions. When you sincerely ask for the saints’ help, the answer comes.”

Turkey, stables where Saint John the Russian served, modern view

Turkey, stables where Saint John the Russian served, modern view

“Righteous John the Russian regularly assists us, I always feel it,” says Sister Irina. “And the ailing children realise this and pray to him. We have brought them both his cap and his belt — these relics are distributed after the re-dressing of his holy remains. Our children love it when we put on the cap and tie the belt around them! It helps them. They eagerly await 9 June — the feast day of the saint. They know there will be a Divine Liturgy and the now traditional serving of pilaf. They are also very much looking forward to the construction of a church dedicated to Saint John the Russian on the orphanage grounds, which has already been blessed by Metropolitan Veniamin, so that the saint may always be near them.”

Prepared by Olga Demidyuk

Photographs from Tatiana Zhedik's archive

June 05, 2024
Views: 1296
Ratings: 5/5
Votes: 12

Lucia

Bellissima storia di un Santo Meraviglioso, felice di fare la sua conoscenza, lo aggiungo volentieri alla mia lista di Santi Ortodossi che prego pur essendo cattolica. Devo al Signore Gesù Cristo gratitudine immensa per avermi fatto conoscere e gustare la bellezza della Chiesa Ortodossa, quando partecipo alla Divina Liturgia è come entrare in Paradiso! Dio vi benedica sempre

faure

Trés heureux de connaître la vie de Saint Jean le Russe , que Dieu dans son infinie bonté prend soin des femmes et hommes de notre planètes .

Grâce à Jesus Christ .

Seraphima Berquist

I would love to have your recipe for pilaf.
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