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Saint John of Damascus

Saint John of Damascus
  • Century: 7th & 8th Century
  • Patronage: Doctor of Christian Art
  • Feast Day: December 4th

St. John Damascene was born into a prominent family known as Mansour – “The Victorious one” in Damascus.  Not much is known that is authentic of his life.  What we do know of him is by the account of John of Jerusalem, written 200 years after his death.   It is believed that when Damascus fell into the hands of the Arabs, the ancestors of John were the only ones who remained faithful to Christianity.  They commanded the respect of the conqueror, and were placed in judicial offices of trust and dignity, to administer Christian law.  

His father, besides his honorable rank, had created great wealth.  He accredited this to his devotion to release Christian slaves, giving them their freedom.  Peter II baptized St. John immediately on his birth; he was the Bishop of Damascus.  His father was determined to devote John’s life to studying, rather than the habits of war that was popular among the youth of his times.  The Saracen pirates of the seashore neighboring to Damascus swept the Mediterranean and brought in Christian captives from all quarters.  A Monk named Cosmas had the misfortune to fall into the hands of these rebels.  

He was set apart for death, when his executioners, most likely Christian Slaves, fell at his feet and begged his intercession with the Redeemer.  The Saracens asked Cosmas who he was, and he told them he was not a Priest, but a simple monk.  John’s father was surprised at the humility of Cosmas.  Cosmas answered, “It is not for the loss of my life, but of my learning that I weep”.  St. John’s father thinking he would make a valuable tutor for his son bought his life from the Saracen governor.  He gave him his freedom, and placed his son under him to be tutored.  After he taught John all he could, he retired to the monastery of St. Sabas, and lived his days in peace.  

In 743, Khalif Ahlid II persecuted the Christians.  He cut off the tongue of Peter, metropolitan of Damascus, and banished him to Arabia.  Peter the Bishop of Majuma, suffered decapitation.  The Abbott sent St. John in the meanest and most beggarly attire to sell baskets in the marketplace of Damascus.  The harshness of the Abbot didn’t end there.  A man had lost his brother, and broken hearted at his lost, sought St. John to compose him a sweet hymn that might be sung at his brother’s funeral, and at the same time would soothe his own sorrow.  John asked the Abbot for a leave, and was refused permission.  But when John saw the distress of the mourner, he yeilded and sang him a beautiful song.  

The Abbot was passing at the time, and heard the voice of his disciple raised in song.  Highly angered, he expelled John from the monastery, and only allowed him to return on one condition, of his daily cleaning the filth from all the cells of his brethren.  The Abbot was rubuked for wasting the splendid talents of this young man.  John was allowed to devote himself to religious poetry, which became the heritage of the Eastern Church.  Some of his great hymns or canons are those on Easter and the Ascension.  His eloquent love and defense of Christian images, has deservedly procured him the title of “The Doctor of Christian Art”.  The date of his death is not certain.