Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Thank you

Father Samuel thanks all of you for gifts,
cards and best wishes on his recent
Birthday and for a happy Feast of St.
Michael the following week.
May we all have a blessed and peaceful
Christmas sharing in the real joy of the
Incarnation of God, the Divine One
becoming human flesh that we might share
in His Divinity!

Troparion of the Nativity of our Lord and
God and Saviour Jesus Christ

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, dawned
upon the world the light of knowledge,
For by it those who worshipped the stars
were taught by a star
To adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Dayspring from on
O Lord, glory to Thee

Commemorated on December 4

Saint John of Damascus was born about the year 680 at Damascus, Syria into a
Christian family. His father, Sergius Mansur, was a treasurer at the court of the caliph.
John had also a foster brother, the orphaned child Cosmas (October 14), whom
Sergius had taken into his own home. When the children were growing up, Sergius
saw that they received a good education. At the Damascus slave market he ransomed
the learned monk Cosmas of Calabria from captivity and entrusted to him the
teaching of his children. The boys displayed uncommon ability and readily mastered
their courses of the secular and spiritual sciences. After the death of his father, John
occupied ministerial posts at court and became the city prefect.
In Constantinople at that time, the heresy of
Iconoclasm had arisen and quickly spread,
supported by the emperor Leo III the Isaurian
(717-741). Rising up in defence of the Orthodox
veneration of icons [Iconodoulia], St John
wrote three treatises entitled, "Against Those
who Revile the Holy Icons." The wise and Godinspired
writings of St John enraged the
emperor. But since the author was not a
Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to
lock him up in prison, or to execute him. The
emperor then resorted to slander. A forged
letter to the emperor was produced,
supposedly from John, in which the Damascus
official was supposed to have offered his help
to Leo in conquering the Syrian capital.
This letter and another hypocritically flattering note were sent to the Saracen caliph
by Leo the Isaurian. The caliph immediately ordered that St John be removed from his
post, that his right hand be cut off, and that he be led through the city in chains.
That same evening, they returned the severed hand to St John. The saint pressed it to
his wrist and prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos to heal him so that he could defend
the Orthodox Faith and write once again in praise of the Most Pure Virgin and her
Son. After a time, he fell asleep before the icon of the Mother of God. He heard her
voice telling him that he had been healed, and commanding him to toil unceasingly
with his restored hand. Upon awakening, he found that his hand had been attached
to his arm once more. Only a small red mark around his wrist remained as a sign of
the miracle.
Later, in thanksgiving for being healed, St John had a silver model of his hand
attached to the icon, which became known as "Of the Three Hands." Some unlearned
painters have given the Mother of God three hands instead of depicting the silver
model of St John's hand. The Icon "Of the Three Hands" is commemorated on June 28
and July 12. (Sayedna John gave a copy of this Icon to St. Michael’s when he
consecrated the church.)
When he learned of the miracle, which demonstrated John's innocence, the caliph
asked his forgiveness and wanted to restore him to his former office, but the saint
refused. He gave away his riches to the
poor, and went to Jerusalem with his
stepbrother and fellow-student, Cosmas.
There he entered the monastery of St Sava
the Sanctified as a simple novice.
It was not easy for him to find a spiritual
guide, because all the monks were daunted
by his great learning and by his former rank.
Only one very experienced Elder, who had
the skill to foster the spirit of obedience and
humility in a student, would consent to do
this. The Elder forbade John to do anything
at all according to his own will. He also
instructed him to offer to God all his labours
and supplications as a perfect sacrifice, and
to shed tears which would wash away the
sins of his former life.
Once, he sent the novice to Damascus to sell baskets made at the monastery, and
commanded him to sell them at a certain inflated price, far above their actual value.
He undertook the long journey under the searing sun, dressed in rags. No one in the
city recognized the former official of Damascus, for his appearance had been changed
by prolonged fasting and ascetic labours. However, St John was recognized by his
former house steward, who bought all the baskets at the asking price, showing
compassion on him for his apparent poverty.
One of the monks happened to die, and his brother begged St John to compose
something consoling for the burial service. St John refused for a long time, but out of
pity he yielded to the petition of the grief-stricken monk, and wrote his renowned
funeral troparia ("What earthly delight," "All human vanity," and others). For this
disobedience the Elder banished him from his cell. John fell at his feet and asked to
be forgiven, but the Elder remained unyielding. All the monks began to plead for him
to allow John to return, but he refused.
Then one of the monks asked the Elder to impose a penance on John, and to forgive
him if he fulfilled it. The Elder said, "If John wishes to be forgiven, let him wash out all
the chamber pots in the lavra, and clean the monastery latrines with his bare hands."
John rejoiced and eagerly ran to accomplish his shameful task. After a certain while,
the Elder was commanded in a vision by the All-Pure and Most Holy Theotokos to
allow St John to write again. When the Patriarch of Jerusalem heard of St John, he
ordained him priest and made him a preacher at his cathedral. But St John soon
returned to the Lavra of St Sava, where he spent the rest of his life writing spiritual
books and church hymns. He left the monastery only to denounce the iconoclasts at
the Constantinople Council of 754. They subjected him to imprisonment and torture,
but he endured everything, and through the mercy of God he remained alive. He died
in about the year 780, more than 100 years old.
St John of Damascus was a theologian and a zealous defender of Orthodoxy. His most
important book is the Fount of Knowledge. The third section of this work, "On the
Orthodox Faith," is a summary of Orthodox doctrine and a refutation of heresy. Since
he was known as a hymnographer, we pray to St John for help in the study of church
With acknowledgement to the Orthodox Church in America :