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Saint John the Silent was born around 454 in the city of Nicopolis, Armenia into the family of a military commander named Enkratius and his wife Euphemia. The boy began to study Holy Scripture, and he loved solitude and prayer with all his heart.
With the inheritance his parents left him, John built a church dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos. At eighteen years of age John became a monk, living an ascetic life of fasting, prayer and temperance with ten other monks at the church he had founded.
At the request of the citizens of Colonia, the Metropolitan of Sebaste consecrated the twenty-eight-year-old John as Bishop of Colonia. Having assumed the episcopal throne, the saint did not alter his strict ascetic manner of life. Under the influence of the saint his relatives, his brother Pergamios (an associate of the emperors Zeno and Anastasius) and his nephew Theodore (an associate of the emperor Justinian), also lived in a Christian manner.
In John’s tenth year as bishop, the governorship of Armenia was assumed by Pazinikos, the husband of the saint’s sister, Maria. The new governor began to interfere in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters, and there was unrest in the Church. St John then went to Constantinople, and through Archbishop Euthymius, he entreated the emperor Zeno to defend the Armenian Church from the evil Governor.
Overwhelmed by worldly quarrels, John secretly left his diocese and sailed to Jerusalem. With tears he besought God to show him a place where he might live and find salvation. A bright star appeared, which led St John to the Lavra of St Sava.
John, concealing his episcopal rank, was accepted in the community as a simple novice. Under the guidance of the igumen St Sava (December 5), Bishop John toiled obediently for more than four years at every task he was assigned. When a guesthouse was built at the Lavra, St John served the workers, serving their food and assisting in the construction of the building. When a cenobitic monastery for novices was being built, John was once again assigned to help the workers.
Seeing St John’s humility and love of labor, St Sava deemed him worthy of ordination to presbyter. St John was forced to reveal his rank to Patriarch Elias of Jerusalem (494-517), who told St Sava that John could not be ordained. Moreover, he said that John was to live in silence, and that no one should trouble him. Soon the Lord also revealed St John’s secret to St Sava. St John spent four years in his cell, receiving no one and not going out even for church.
Desiring ever greater solitude and increased abstinence, St John quit the Lavra and withdrew into the desert, where he spent more than nine years, eating plants and grass. He survived a devastating incursion of the Saracens and did not perish, only because the Lord sent him a defender: a ferocious lion. When the enemy tried to harm the saint, the lion attacked them and they scattered in fright. Tradition speaks of many miracles St John performed during this time in the desert.
When St Sava returned after an extended stay in Scythopolis, he persuaded St John to forsake the wilderness and to live at the monastery. After this, the Lord, in a miraculous way, revealed to everyone at the Lavra that the monk John was actually a bishop.
When St John reached age seventy, his holy and God-bearing spiritual Father St Sava died. The saint grieved deeply over this, since he was not present at the time. St Sava appeared to him in a vision, and having consoled him, he foretold that there would be much toil ahead in the struggle against heresy. St John even had to leave his solitude to strengthen the brethren in the struggle with the Origenists.
St John the Silent spent sixty-six years at the Lavra of St Sava the Sanctified. Through his constant ascetic efforts, by his untiring prayer and humble wisdom, St John acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit. At his prayers, many miracles took place, and he was able to discern the secret thoughts of people. He healed the sick and those possessed by demons. Even during his lifetime he saved those who invoked his name from certain destruction. Once, he scattered fig seeds on barren rock, and a beautiful and fruitful tree sprang up. In time, the tree grew so much that it overshadowed the saint’s cell.
St John the Silent departed to the Lord in peace at the age of 104.