June 9

Newsletter Archive

This Day in the Life of the Church

June 9, 2024

A POW Who Became a Saint


The Rightheous John the Russian passed away on this day in 1730.

If we believe we live in difficult times, then it means we were not alive in the first half of the eighteenth century, regardless of the location. If you were a convict in England, you could have been transported to work forever in American colonies (after the 1776 Revolution the destination was changed to Australia). On June 1, I wrote about the turning of the Russian Christians (krest’ianstvo=Christendom) into serfs by Peter the Great at the same time. And now we will turn again to the Ottoman Empire.

In the Ottoman Empire Jews (who came over after the Reconquista of Spain at the end of the 14th century), Armenians or Greeks in Constantinople were treated as prisoners in a golden cage (a patriarch became an Ottoman minister – milet bashi for all Orthodox subjects of the sultan).

As a result of the defeat at the Poltava battle in 1709 King Karl of Sweden found a refuge in the Ottomans’ lands. Initially the sultan’s administration agreed to the Russian ultimatum to send Karl to the Russian Emperor. However, the wind began to blow in a different direction. Karl was allowed to stay and began to assemble an army containing Ukrainian Cossacks (Zaporozhian Sich’) and Crimean tartars. In November 1710 Sultan Ahmed III declared war against Russia to regain the port Azov which was taken by Peter in 1696 and used as one of the first Russian imperial naval bases.

In March of 1711, Peter moved from Moscow to Moldavia. There at the Prut River his army was surrounded by the Ottomans, Crimeans, and Zaporozhians. Peter the Great admitted defeat and agreed to surrender lands to Ottomans and Swedes. Azov was among these territories.

As a result of this campaign 730 Russian servicemen were taken as war prisoners. St. John the Russian was among them. He was a native of the modern-day Ukraine. The Crimean horsemen sold him to a head of the Ottoman cavalry. He brought John along with other Russian prisoners to his home in the town of Ürgüp (Byzantine Prokópi) in Cappadocia in Asia Minor. The Turks constantly coerced these Russian POW’s to become Muslims. This cavalry officer used “a carrot on a stick,” but St. John did not give in. Finally, the Turks left him alone assigning him a living quarter in a stable.

As expected for a Christian he was first of all loyal to his Heavenly Lord and then was completely dedicated to his earthly master. This “up front” attitude earned John respect from his boss and in time he freed him. St. John continued living in the same stable. He would go to the church regularly. Some people saw him praying, kneeling during nights at the church’s entrance. When the saint realized that the time to leave this world was near he asked a priest to commune him. The priest, frightful for his safety, did not go to the Ottomans quarter himself but sent Holy Gifts concealed in an apple.

Three years after St. John reposed in 1733, the same priest was informed in a dream that St. John’s relics were uncorrupted. After examination they were found in such a condition and placed in the church of St. George.

As a result of the Greek’s attempt of reconquista all Greeks had to leave the newly founded republic of Turkey and vice-versa. In 1924, Greeks moved to the Republic of Greece and took St. John's relics with them. Thus the major part of his relics are now in the city of Euboea on the same named island in the Aegean Sea.


This project has been supported by the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Church Abroad


Copyright 2023 Andrei Psarev.

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