Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Saint John the Russian, Euboea – Greece

One of the most famous modern saints in Greece today, who is venerated by hundreds on a daily basis, is St John the Russian, located in New Prokopi on the island of Euboea (the second largest island of Greece).

Saint John was born in the Ukraine in South Russia (end of the 17th century). During the Russian-Turkish war (1711-1718) he was in the imperial army of Peter the Great. As a soldier, St John fought to protect his country; however, due to his Orthodox upbringing, he was appalled by the reality and cruelty of war. Unfortunately, during the battles for the recapture of Azof (Black Sea), he and thousands of Russians fell prisoners to the Turks. He was moved to Constantinople and then to Prokopi, near Caesaria of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. He was given to an Aga who had a camp of Janissaries.

Because he was a Christian, John was tortured; he was beaten with sticks, kicked and spat on. A tremendous torturous act was when they placed a red-hot metal bowl on his head, burning his hair and scalp. He was then thrown into a stable, to live with the animals. He accepted the tortures; this acceptance impressed his tormentors, making them cease their brutality, giving him the name ‘veli’, which means saint.

On the 27th May 1730 Saint John passed away. After his death and his burial, in 1733, the old priest who every Saturday had listened to his sufferings and tortures and who had given him Holy Communion, saw a dream. In the dream the Saint explained that God had preserved his body entire and uncorrupted. He asked that they retrieve it and keep it as a blessing for the Christians to have.
In one of the conflicts between Ibrahim of Egypt and the Sultan of Turkey, Osman Pasha set fire to the holy relic of St John, as revenge against the Christians. Amid the flames, the Turks saw the body moving. Terrified, the abandoned this act. The next day, the Christians dug and amid the ashes they found the body blackened, but nonetheless intact and whole.

The Saint was venerated in all of Asia Minor. After the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922) and the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the local population from Prokopi took with them the holy relics of Saint John the Russian to their new home, New Prokopi in Euboea. A new church was built in his honour, where his relics are to be found to this day, being one of the greatest Christian attractions of Euboea. 

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