Sainted John, Archbishop of Novgorod

Commemorated on September 7

      Sainted John, Archbishop of Novgorod, was born at Novgorod of the pious parents Nikolai and Christina. He passed his childhood in quiet and peaceful surroundings.
      After the death of the parents John and his brother Gabriel, having received a small inheritance, decided to make on their inherited property a small monastery in honour of the Annunciation (Blagoveschenie) of the MostHoly Mother of God. At first they built a wooden church, but a short time later built also a stone church. Their good intentions were not without difficulties. Before they finished construction on the stone temple, the brothers totally exhausted their means. Only their steadfast and living faith inspired them to continue what they had started. They turned for help with it to the Queen of Heaven, on Whose account this God-pleasing matter was begun. Through their unflagging prayer She manifested to them Her mercy She foretold in a dream, that everything necessary for the completion of the temple would be provided. On the following morning the brothers saw a splendid horse, loaded with two sacks of gold. No one came by for it, and when the brothers took hold of the sacks, the horse then vanished. Thus did the Mother of god send means for the monastery.
      Upon completion of the monastery construction, here under the protection of the Mother of God, the brothers took monastic vows. Saint John took the name of Ilia, and Saint Gabriel the name Gregory.
      The chronicles speak about Saint John being made bishop under the entries for the year 1162. His first archpastoral missive was directed to the clergy of his diocese. It was embued with an endearing concern about his flock, written in a spirit of fatherly guidance: "It pleased God and the MostHoly Mother of God, through your prayers, that I but a mere man, should not refrain from this high dignity, of which I am unworthy. Wherein that ye yourselves have encouraged me to this service, now hearken to me..." The saint spoke about the vocation of the pastor he is concerned about his sheep, he not only chastises but also heals those that lead a sinful life. "At the beginning of my discourse I ask you, be not strongly attached to this world, but rather be instructive to people. Look first of all, that they not give themselves over to strong drunkenness. Yet ye yourselves know, that through this most of all do not only the simple people perish, but we also. When your spiritual children approach you in repentance, then question them with mildness. It is not seemly to impose harsh penances. Scorn not the reading of books, since if we do not make a start of doing this, then what will distinguish us from the simple unschooled people?... Do not impose penances upon orphans.... Let everything be seemly, in that the yoke of Christ ought to be light..."
      In the year 1165 Saint John was elevated to archbishop (from that time the Novgorod cathedra became archbishopal).
      The winter of 1170 was a very difficult time for Novgorod. Suzdal' forces with their allies laid siege to the city for two days since the Novgorod people would not accept prince Svyatoslav, and likewise the took the tribute-tax of the Dvina district which was not subject to them.
      In grief the Novgorod people prayed God and the MostHoly Mother of God for the salvation of the city. On the third night, while he was praying before an image of the Saviour, Saint John heard a voice, ordering him to go to the church of the Saviour on Il'ina street, to take the icon of the MostHoly Mother of God and put it up upon a trident-hook. In the morning the saint told the assembly about the command and sent the archdeacon with clergy to the Sophia church for the icon. Going into the church, the archdeacon bowed down before the icon and wanted to take hold of it, but the icon would not budge. The archdeacon returned to the archbishop and told him about what happened. Then the saint with all the assembly went to the Il'ina church and on their knees began to pray before the icon. They began to sing a molieben canon, and at the 6th ode at the kondak " Mediatrix of Christians" the icon itself moved from the place. The people with tears cried out: "Lord, have mercy!" Then Saint John took the icon and together with two deacons carried it on the trident-hook. The Novgorod people in terror foresaw their doom, since the Suzdal' forces with their allies had made their way ready for pillage. In the sixth hour of the evening there began an assault, and the arrows fell like rain. Then by the Providence of God the icon turned its visage towards the city, and from the eyes of the MostHoly Mother of God there trickled down tears, which the saint gathered on his phelon. A darkness like ashes covered over the Suzdal' forces, they became unable to see and with terror they fell back. This occurred on 25 February 1170. Saint John established in honour of this a solemn feastday for Novgorod the Sign (Znamenie) of the MostHoly Mother of God (celebrated 27 November).
      The Suzdal' army wreaked great harm on the Novgorod region. Here also the archpastor did not remain on the sidelines. He showed fatherly concern about devastated households suffering hunger, and he distributed aid to hapless orphans. Just like other Russian hierarchs, by prayer and by virtue he calmed and soothed the internecine strife in much-suffering Rus'. Thus, in 1172 the archpastor himself journeyed to Vladimir to reconcile the nobleborn prince Andrei Bogoliubsky with the Novgorod people.
      The saint not only shared in the adversity of his people, but most of all he concerned himself about their spiritual enlightenment. Saint John devoted great attention to spiritual conversations, which often occurred in the circle of the clergy and the laypeople. There are preserved about 30 of his instructions: concerning Baptism, Confession, the Holy Eucharist. The Guidance for Monks is filled with spiritual grandeur: "Once having followed after Christ, monks as actualisers of spiritual life by the cross ought to live in solitary places, separate from worldly folk. Let them pilfer nothing for themself, nor not wholly be dedicated to God. A monk ought always to be a monk, at every time and at every place both in sleep and in wakefulness they should preserve the memory of death, and in flesh to be fleshless. Not for everyone does the monastery serve as a doctoring for sensual-love, just as silence is to anger, and death to greed for money, and the tomb to avarice... Monastic life and worldly life are incompatible, just as they do not harness together a camel and horse. The monk bends his neck beneathe the yoke of the Creator and ought to pull the plow in the valley of humility, in order to multiply the fine wheat by the warmth of the Life-bestowing Spirit and to sow the seed-grains of the reason of God. The black-robed is not his own master; being like gods take care not to rot in likeness to people, nor fall from the heights like the light-bearing prince [i.e. of angels, Lucifer-satan]... for from human glory is begotten haughty pride..."
      The saint's spiritual powers of grace were unusual. For his simplicity of soul and purity of heart God gave him power against devils. One time, when the saint as was his custom prayed by night, he heard in the wash-bowl something splashing the water. Seeing that there was no one alongside him, the saint perceived, that this was the doing of a devil trying to scare him. The saint made the sign of the cross over the wash-bowl and restrained the devil. Soon the evil spirit could no longer bear the prayer of the saint, which scorched it with fire, and it began to implore to be released from the wash-bowl. The saint was agreeable, but set a condition, that the devil carry him from Novgorod to Jerusalem to the Sepulchre of the Lord, and back all in one night. The devil fulfilled the command of the saint, but asked him to tell no one about his shaming.
      In one of his conversations the saint told his flock, that he knew a man, who by night visited the Holy Land. The revenge of the evil spirit was not slow in coming. It began to scatter about women's things in the cell of the saint. One time when a large crowd of city-folk, stirred up by jealous and unvirtuous people, had gathered at the cell of the monk, the devil appeared to them, looking like a woman which ran out from the cell. The saint came out to the racket and gently asked: "What has happened, my children, what is the noise all about?" The unruly crowd, shouting various charges of perverse life against the saint, dragged him to the River Volkhov. They put the saint on a raft and released it down along the current of the river, reckoning to be rid of it. But the raft, contrary to expectation, sailed against the current straight to the men's Yur'ev monastery, situated three versts from Novgorod. Seeing this, people took shame and with weeping and shouts they went along the river-bank after the raft, beseeching the saint to forgive them and to return to the city. The heart of the simple-souled archpastor was filled with thankful joy, not only for himself but just as much for his flock: ""Lord, hold this not in sin against them!" he prayed and granted pardon to all.
      This occurrence happened not long before the death of the saint. Sensing its approach, he put off the hierarch's omophor and took the schema with the name John, the same name he had in his youth. As successor to himself he appointed his brother, Sainted Gregory (Comm. 24 May). The saint died on 7 September 1186 and was put in the portico of the Sophia church.
      In 1439 through the zeal of Sainted Evphymii repairs were being made at the Sophia cathedral; in the portico chapel-temple of Saint John the Fore-Runner a stone suddenly came loose and powerfully cracked the lid of the tomb standing there. Sainted Evphymii gave orders to lift off the boards broken by the stone, and the temple was filled with fragrance. In the tomb they beheld the undecayed relics of the saint, but no one was able to identify whom this archpastor was. In his cell Sainted Evphymii began fervently to pray God to reveal to him the name of this saint. By night there appeared before him a man, clothed in hierarchical garb, and said that he was Archbishop John, found worthy to serve the miracle of the MostHoly Mother of God in honour of Her Sign (Znamenie). "I proclaim thee the will of God, continued the saint, to make the memory of the archbishops and princes lying here, on 4 October, and I shall pray Christ for all Christians". His memory is celebrated likewise with the Assemblage (Sobor) of Novgorod Sainted-hierarchs on 10 February; in 1630 a feastday was also established on 1 December.

1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.

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Sainted John,
Archbishop of Novgorod

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