St. John the Russian, Evia
One of the most popular saints among Greeks today is St. John the Russian whose incorrupt relics are the boast of the island of Evia, in the village Prokopion.Thousands of pilgrims flock here from all the corners of Greece, particularly on his feast day, May 27. Christians from all parts of the world come to pray to the saint and ask for his help in difficult moments.
St. John was born in 1690 in the south of Russia. Having come of age, he was recruited to the army of Peter the Great and took part in the Russo-Turkish War.Sharing the unhappy fate of many other Russian soldiers, the Saint was captured and sold as a slave to a Turkish cavalry commander from the village of Prokopion near Caesarea in Asia Minor. Like all captured Christian soldiers, John was threatened, tortured subjected to all means to convert him to the Moslem faith. “I was born a Christian and a Christian I will die” – invariably replied John.
After much torture, the Turkish Agha locked the “stubborn” Russian, where he lived with the animals, went barefoot, endured cold and hunger, but every night he was praying for the salvation of his soul and the victory and the prosperity of his country. St John’s bold words and firm faith, as well as his humility and meekness, finally softened the fierce heart of his master. He left John in peace, and no longer tried to make him renounce Christianity.
One day, the officer left Prokopion and went to Mecca on pilgrimage. A few days later, his wife gave a banquet and invited her husband’s friends and relatives, asking them to pray for her husband’s safe return. St John served at the table, and he put down a dish of pilaf, his master’s favourite food. The hostess said, “How much pleasure your master would have if he could be here to eat this pilaf with us.” St John asked for a dish of pilaf, saying that he would send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed when they heard his words. The mistress, however, ordered the cook to give him a dish of pilaf, thinking he would eat it himself, or give it to some poor family. Taking the dish, St John went into the stable and prayed that God would send it to his master. He had no doubt that God would send the pilaf to his master in a supernatural manner. The plate disappeared before his eyes, and he went into the house to tell his mistress that he had sent the pilaf to his master.
The news of this miracle spread quickly through the village and the surrounding area, and everyone, even theTurkish Muslims called John “holy”. Toward the end of his difficult life St John fell ill, and sensed the nearness of his end. He summoned the priest so that he could receive Holy Communion. The priest, fearing to go to the residence of the Turkish commander openly with the Holy Gifts, enclosed the life-giving Mysteries in an apple and brought them to St John. After receiving communion, John fell asleep in the Lord on May 27, 1730. He was about forty years old.
Three years later, the Saint appeared in a dream to his father confessor revealing that it was the will of God that his relics be exhumed, for his body was incorrupt. Until 1924 the relics were kept in the church of St. George there inProkopion. When, however, the exchange of population took place between Greece and Turkey, and many of the Christian inhabitants of Procopion were resettled on the island of Evia, the relics of their beloved St. John were also moved and were received with great acclaim and veneration by the Greeks who built a majestic temple in his honor there in the village of New Procopion.
To this day, streams of pious Greek pilgrims make their way to this village on the island of Evia, where the Saint answers the faith of their earnest petitions with his strong and quick intercession before the throne of God.