The hymn of the Saint: The One, Who called you from earth to serve in His Heavenly Monasteries, preserves your body unaltered even after death, O Holy one. You had come from Asia as a prisoner and then you became close to Christ, O John. Thus, implore Him for the salvation of our souls.
A Saint’s hymn (in Greek Apolytikion) usually summarizes the life, works and words that best describe the sacred attributes of a holy figure of the Church. In the context of a very few lines, the hymn of Saint John the Russian captures the most significant elements of his life and the continuous miracle of the preservation of his body. Saint John the Russian is one of the few Saints whose body has been unaffected by corruption, time and decay. Theologically, Saints who have been granted that grace are a manifestation of the divine grace that has been transmitted even through a human body, relics or even clothing of holy figures. That was the case in with the woman in the Bible with the flow of blood received healing just by touching an inanimate garment of the Lord (Mk. 5: 24-34) as well as when even the shadow of Saint Peter and the other Apostles would heal the sick (Acts 5: 15). Also, an uncorrupted body manifests that God has the power to keep even material things unaffected by time; and off course, we have to take care of the spiritual needs of our immaterial soul, which is eternal.
From the 1700’s till this day, every faithful person can venerate the body of Saint John the Russian. Currently, his sacred relic is located at the village of Prokopion in the island of Evia. In a gorgeous Church, amidst the towering trees of the forest surrounding the village, the pilgrim will see icons of the Saint, some of which dated since the 1700’s and the 1800’s. Also, the relic of the Saint can be venerated and one can take holy water, holy myrrh or a piece of a vestment that was blessed in the relic. The Metropolitan of Karystos and Skyros, His Eminence Serapheim, has explained in one of his sermons that the correct term that describes the vestments of Saint John is actually relic. Since the clothing is touching his body for many decades, it receives the miraculous grace that was imparted to the Saint by the Lord. Therefore, we honor them as a relic, since it shares the grace and power of Saint John’s uncorrupted body. The myrrh and the ointment it produces are also miraculous and many witnesses testify how the Saint saved them from terminal illnesses and diseases.
The vestments of the Saint change only when he reveals in a vision that it is a time for this to happen. So far, they have been changed in 1936, 1959, 1977 and 2006. The Church of Saint Demetrios in Merrick was blessed to receive the monastic hat, the belt and different articles from the relics of Saint John the Russian. They are now positioned in the altar table and they are liturgized during every service. The altar table, according to the ancient tradition of first century Christianity, is not merely a table, but a tomb of a Saint. The first Christians implemented tombs of martyrs for the sanctification of the sacred gifts, the Bread and Wine, to become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ: the Eucharist. We continue the same tradition and the altars of most Orthodox Churches include relics of Saints. This way, the Church of Heaven (Church triumphant) and the Church of earth (Church militant) are praying united for the salvation of mankind.
Saint John the Russian was born in Ukrane, the year 1690. He was captured by the Ottoman Turks and taken hostage. He was sold as a slave to Omer Agha, who lived at the village Prokopion, in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He was beaten and tortured severely. They pressured him to change his faith and become Muslim. Saint John remained a faithful Christian and endured all adversities. When he was tortured, he thanked Christ for allowing him the honor to receive punishment similar to His. He loved sleeping in a stable with animals. He said that since they are good enough for baby Jesus in Bethlehem, they are great for him. He considered all these humiliations as a blessing and an opportunity to cultivate his faith, his humility and his love for God.
Saint John the Russian lived a monastic life and performed miracles. He became famous even among the Turks for his holiness. His “master”, Omer Agha, asked him to live in his house with him; he denied. He wanted to continue praying in the solitude of the stables, fasting with simple foods and having all night vigils; he had no earthly possessions and lived a strict ascetic life. The last day of his life, he asked the priest to offer the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was May 27, 1730.
3 years after his burial, the priest who offered him Communion had a dream. The Saint told him in his sleep that his body is still uncorrupted in the grave. He asked Fr. Theodoros Papadopoulos, the priest who had the dream, to take the body out of the grave for people to venerate it. The next day, the body was found in the grave as it was revealed in the dream. It produced a heavenly ointment and it was perfectly preserved. Thousands of people, Christian and Muslim, congregated to venerate it in the Church of Saint George, next to the stable where the Saint used to live. The ruins of the Church and even the ruins of the stable exist to this day in Cappadocea, Turkey. They were carved in the soft-rock and one can still see even icons on the walls and the place where Saint John the Russian was tied in chains. Sultan Imbraem of Egypt attempted to burn the body of Saint John. He could not accept that Christianity has miracles that even Muslim people acknowledged. However, the furnace did not affect the body of the Saint. Just like the Three Children in the Old Testament, the fire produced only a dew that protected the Saint from further vandalism of the fanatics. The soldiers run away is awe; some of them confessed Christ to be their Savior and they were immediately executed. They became Martyrs of the Church, baptized in their own bath of martyrdom.
In September of 1924, the Greeks were forced out of Cappadocea. They were not allowed to take the relic of Saint John with them. IBut they had a plan in mind. It took a lot of courage to go into the Church of Saint George and cover the body in carpets. Fr. Haralambos Averkiadis and the rest of the Greeks from Prokopion came to Greece, risking their lives in order to bring with them what was most important to them: not personal belongings, but the relic of Saint John. In October of 1924, Fr. Vasilios Destounis brought the relic in the island of Evia. The homeless Greeks who lost everything they had because of the ethnic cleansing in Turkey, came and lived in tents in the village of the (new) Prokopion (or Prokopi) in Evia. They seemed to take power and courage from the one person who knew about being homeless and mistreated. They looked to their own Saint for strength and inspiration.This year, thousands of pilgrims from all over Greece came to the humble and scenic village of Prokopi. Many of them walk (instead of taking their car) from Halkida to Prokopi, to simulate how the body was transferred there in 1924. There is a continuous line of thousands of people for the whole distance of approximately 40 miles. Countless of miracles happened and these people and many more will be there again next year for the feast of Saint John on May 27.
Economos Nikiforos Fakinos (Also from Evia)