December 4, 2015

December 4, 2015 – Optional Memorial of Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor

St. John Damascene
St. John Damascene was a theologian who carefully gathered together and transmitted to us the teaching of the Greek Fathers, and is thus one of the most trustworthy witnesses to the oriental tradition. He wrote many liturgical hymns still in use today. St. John Damascene died in 749. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church. He was instrumental in defending the production and veneration of religious images.

St. John Damascene, taught that icons and other sacred artworks are permissible because they point to the incarnation of Christ. He understood the power of words to do the same. St. John Damascene is one of the Church’s most gifted poets. Every sacred image, whether in art, hymn or poetry, can lead us to deeper contemplation of the heart of God.

Apologia of St. John Damascene Against Those Who Decry Holy Images

The Life of St. John Damascene

John of Damascus or Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, was one of the principal defenders of the veneration of images against the Iconoclasts, who condemned this practice.

When John was born, Damascus was under the jurisdiction of caliphs, but Christians were allowed to hold high offices. John's father was chief revenue officer of the caliph and a sterling Christian. He entrusted his son's education to a monk, Cosmas, who had been brought from Sicily as a slave, and who schooled the young man in theology, the sciences, and poetry.

John succeeded his father in office, and while living at the court gave an example of a model Christian. After resigning his office he became a monk at St. Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem. John spent his time writing books and composing hymns. When Leo the Isaurian issued decrees against the veneration of images, John wrote treatises defending this ancient practice.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem, desirous of having John among his clergy, ordained him a priest and brought him to Jerusalem. After some time, however, John returned to the monastery and devoted the rest of his life to writing. His most important work is his Fountain of Wisdom, in which he compiled and collated the teachings of all the great theologians before him; this is the first attempt at a Summa Theologica, a summary of philosophy and theology, that has come down to us. John's writings are a rich treasure of ancient traditions, and are held in high esteem. Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1890.

St. John was such a great orator that he was known as Chrysorrhoas ["golden-stream"]. He was the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and the first of the Christian Aristotleans. He also adapted choral music for use in the liturgy. His eloquent defense of Christian images has given him the title of "Doctor of Christian Art."

Adapted excerpt from A Saint A Day © 1957.

Collect Prayer

Grant, we pray, O Lord, that we may be helped by the prayers of the Priest Saint John Damascene, so that the true faith, which he excelled in teaching, may always be our light and our strength. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Orthodox Hymns to St. John Damascene

Troparion (Tone 8)

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,
the enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs:
all-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.
Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion (Tone 4)

Let us sing praises to John, worthy of great honor,
the composer of hymns, the star and teacher of the Church, the defender of her doctrines:
through the might of the Lord¹s Cross he overcame heretical error
and as a fervent intercessor before God
he entreats that forgiveness of sins may be granted to all.

Prayer Of St. John Damascene

Having confidence in you, O Mother of God, I shall be saved. Being under you protection, I shall fear nothing. With your help I shall give battle to my enemies and put them to flight for devotion to you is an arm of Salvation. Amen.

Another Prayer of St. John of Damascene

I stand before the gates of thy Temple, and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts. But do thou, O Christ my God, who didst justify the publican, and hadst mercy on the Canaanite woman, and opened the gates of Paradise to the thief; open unto me the compassion of thy love toward mankind, and receive me as I approach and touch thee, like the sinful woman and the woman with the issue of blood; for the one, by embracing thy feet received the forgiveness of her sins, and the other by but touching the hem of thy garment was healed. And I, most sinful, dare to partake of thy whole Body. Let me not be consumed but receive me as thou didst receive them, and enlighten the perceptions of my soul, consuming the accusations of my sins; through the intercessions of Her that without stain gave Thee birth, and of the heavenly Powers; for thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.


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