Holy Men

Defending Serbian in Heavens
”I must go to Serbia”, he said to those whom he addressed in their dreams, in May 1999, while putting on the uniform of the Serbian army. ”Our brothers are under attack only because of their Orthodox faith, because of their faith in the Son of God. Our Christ is bleeding there again. The devil is escalating dangerously. We, all of us, must help our brothers with the strongest thing we have got.” The Kumanovo Agreement, which ended the vicious aggression of nineteen countries of the Northern Atlantic Pact on small Serbia, was signed on June 9, 1999. On the day of passing away and celebrating St. John the Russian. From that flagrant and unfair war, Serbia came out unbroken and undefeated, which equals a miracle

By: Miloš Matić

”First there was a flame. An eerie sound of a siren in the background, resembling the howling of a wounded wolf in a dark night, at the end of the world. A horrible explosion would occasionally blaze in the semi-darkness. Then just a flame in the night.
A man, handsome, not more than forty years old, is kneeling on the barn floor. He is in deep prayer, his eyes closed, sorting a rosary among his fingers. Animals are around him, sleeping peacefully. Something brings me to the door of that barn. I stop at its entrance and watch. I want to ask something, but I cannot say a word. I know that the scene is filling me with peace.
All of a sudden, the animals wake up, and the horse is on his feet watching the man.
The man opens his eyes and rises slowly. He takes off his worn out working clothes and from a wall, probably from a coat rack, takes a camouflage suit. He puts it on. On his shoulder, I see the sign of a two-headed white eagle, familiar from somewhere. Only then the man raises his eyes towards me and looks at me.
– I must go to Serbia – he says. – Our brothers there are under attack, only because of their Orthodoxy, because of their faith in the Son of God. Our Christ is bleeding there, they want to crucify him again. The devil is overplaying dangerously. We, all of us, must help our brothers with the strongest thing we have got.
The horse approached him and the man quickly mounted it. Before he set off, he turned and said:
– Testify. You know where and to whom.
Yes, father, it is the man watching us from this icon. St. John the Russian.”
The priest in the Church of St. John the Russian in Prokopi, New Prokopi, in the hills of the Greek island of Evia, was listening to the description of the same dream for the third time in four days. It was told by different people, from three different sides of the Greek country, who came to Evia, to this church, to tell their dream. It’s the end of May 1999. For more than two months, nineteen countries of the Northern Atlantic Pact were viciously bombing small Orthodox Christian Serbia. They were targeting maternity hospitals, schools, bridges, passenger trains, news desks, green market on market days, city centers, power plants, chemical industry warehouses. They were using bombs with low enriched uranium and enriched lies, cluster munition and graphite bombs, all kinds of deadly and poisonous things. However, the small Christ-bearing country, ascetic and heroic, did not retreat. It did not give up on itself.
The prior of the Church of St. John the Russian in Prokopi listened carefully to all three passengers from afar. Then he ordered services with special prayers to St. John the Russian, whose incorrupt relics are lying in the reliquary in the center of the church. The relics are open on Sunday liturgies.


There are several hagiographies and they all match in important aspects. We here rely on the one written by Fotius Kondoglu (The Orthodox Word, June–July 1967).
John was born in the south of Russia, in a pious and humble Orthodox family. He fought in the war against the Turks in 1711, as a very young man. He was imprisoned and taken to slavery. His faith, as well as of other imprisoned Christians, was facing serious challenges. Tortured and starved, on pain of death, some have renounced Christ, but not young John. Finally, an agha, a cavalry commander from Prokopi, bought him. Although the agha also forced him to renounce his faith, the young man’s spirit was strong and he didn’t yield. He worked and slept in the barn. In time, the young man’s courage, goodness, firmness, gentleness, softened the agha’s heart, so he offered him better accommodation and food. However, John wanted to stay in the barn, in his solitude and asceticism. ”He ate a little, prayed almost constantly. He prepared for and took communion every Sunday in the nearby church, knowing that without the power of Christ he will not be able to endure on the path of true faith. At night, he secretly went to the church yard, where he kept awake. God rewarded his efforts and, through him, blessed even his Turkish landlord…”
The hagiography states that the agha made a fortune and had children, which he couldn’t have for a long time. John also saved his life several times. One story is especially interesting.
”The agha went to Mecca, the holiest Muslim city, on a pilgrimage. While he was away, his wife gathered friends and family to pray for agha’s safe return from the important journey. Before the beginning of the meal, the landlady turned to John, who served guests at the table, and said:
– Your master would be so happy if he were here with us eating this pilaf, his favorite dish!
Wishing all the best to his master and strongly believing in God’s almightiness, John asked the landlady for a plate of pilaf, saying that he will send it to his master in Mecca. The guests laughed at him, but the landlady ordered the cook to do as the young man requested. She thought he would take the dish to a poor Christian family, which he often did. (…) Carrying the plate in his hands, he returned to the barn and bent to pray. The plate in front of him disappeared. Everyone was astonished when the agha returned from Mecca carrying the copper plate where the pilaf was! The agha himself was astonished when, upon his return from the mosque, he found a plate full of steaming pilaf in his locked room! He was even more confused when he noticed that the copper plate had his initials engraved, just like all other dishes in his home. After he returned home and after his wife told him about John’s prayer, they realized that this unusual event was a miracle of God. Since then, everyone considered John a righteous one who deserved God’s grace.”


Again he did not accept to leave his barn, his small part of the Bethlehem cave, and take ”better accommodation”. It seemed that he can speak with the animals he lived with, that they understand each other by exchanging glances.
However, due to living in difficult circumstances for a long time, with the permission of God, John fell ill. He knew that the end of his earthly life was arriving, so he asked the priest for confession and communion. Fearing of malicious Turks, the priest hollowed an apple, plated it with wax and brought sacred gifts in it. John took communion and ”prepared for his journey”. He passed away on June 9, 1730, ”after living forty-odd years in this transitory valley of sin and sorrow”. Upon the agha’s orders, he was buried with Orthodox rites. The agha personally gifted a valuable cover.
”Three years later, a light appeared on his grave, visible to many. The holy man appeared in his priest’s dream, telling him that his remains should be exhumed by the will of God, because his body is incorrupt. Until 1924, his relics were in the Church of St. George in Prokopi (present Urgupa, Turkey). However, after the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey, when a great number of Christians from Prokopi was moved to the island of Evia, the relics of St. John were also moved. They were welcomed with great honors and laid down in a beautiful church dedicated to him in the village of New Prokopi. St. John responds to the faith of people and their prayers with firm and quick representation before the throne of God.”
He performed many miracles after his blessed passing away. Chronicles of such miracles write about agha’s servant, whose wife prayed for her child’s life above the relics of this holy man. We see Greek students saved after receiving a warning that the school roof will collapse. We read about the recovery of a nineteen year-old shepherd in the south of Greece, suffering from severe meningitis, and the healing of a three year-old boy in London…
One hand of St. John the Russian, mounted in silver, is in Boston, in the Monastery of Holy Transfiguration. The other is in the Monastery of St. Panteleimon in Mt. Athos.
Pilgrims from all parts of Greece, as well as faraway Orthodox lands, continuously arrive to the village of New Prokopi in Evia. They come to bow, kiss the relics, pray. Prayers next to the reliquary never cease. The famous icons of St. Ana and St. Siluan are in the small chapel next to the church. The glass reliquary is open on Sunday liturgies. One September Sunday in 2015, we were also standing above it and praying.


In the summer of 1999, a letter arrived from New Prokopi to the Diocese of Vranje. Priests from Evia described testimonies about the miraculous appearance of St. John the Russian and his announcement that he is setting off to help Serbia.
– Just as a reminder, the Military Technical Agreement in Kumanovo, which ended the armed aggression of nineteen countries of the Northern Atlantic Pact on Serbia, was signed on June 9, 1999. On the day of death and celebrating St. John the Russian. From that flagrant and unfair war, Serbia came out unbroken and undefeated, which equals a miracle – tell nuns from the Monastery of St. Panteleimon in the village of Lepčince in the vicinity of Vranje (notes Jelena Stojković).
Exactly there, in Lepčince, twenty-two kilometers southeast of Vranje, in the area of the Monastery of Prohor Pčinjski, one of the most unusual icons in Orthodox Christianity was painted based on testimonies from Evia. The icon was painted by nuns from this monastery, and has a special place in the church. It depicts St. John the Russian standing in a Serbian army uniform, with the Serbian two-headed eagle on his shoulder.
– Upon the blessing of the Almighty, we wanted to leave a trace to remind us of the help of St. John to our people in that very difficult and very solemn period – tell nuns from Lepčinci.
This monastery apparently originates from the Middle Ages, but it was destroyed. It’s renovation took place in 1852. The church is a simple, single nave edifice, without a dome, with a shallow three-sided apsis on the eastern side, built of stone from this area. It has a double slope roof, wooden ceiling and floor made of stone plates. The oldest preserved written document about it is the one in the Pčinja Prayerbook from 1843. Many different and interesting people left important inscriptions about this sanctuary, such as Miloš S. Milojević, Metropolitan Mihailo (Jovanović), Professor Vladimir Petković and Miroslav Timotijević…
The Akathist to Holy Righteous John the Russian Miracle-Worker, read here every June 9, says among other things:
”We celebrate you, chosen confessor of Christ and wondrous miracle-worker, apostle of the holy Orthodox faith, who was born in Russia and shone in the Hellenic land, holy righteous John, with praising songs: you, dear to God, standing before the Throne of the Emperor of Glory, save us from all troubles, us who praise you with love and gratitude:
Rejoice, earthly angel and heavenly man!
Rejoice, namesake of blessing! (...)
Rejoice, decorated by God with a wreath of confession! (...)
Rejoice, because you filled the Hellenic land with your miracles!
Rejoice, star of the Russian land!
Rejoice, because you do not forget your earthly homeland in your prayers! (...)
Rejoice, holy righteous John, fast companion and glorious miracle-worker! (...)”


Evia, former Euboea, is the second biggest Greek island (after Crete), and the biggest island in the Aegean Sea. It is 180 kilometers long and six to 45 wide. It is located northeast of Attica, connected to the land with a drawbridge in Chalcis, its capital city. (In the ancient times, part of the population of Chalcis moved to the north Aegean, today named Chalcidice after them).
The island has had a turbulent history since the oldest times. Its strategic position and the strait towards Athens gave it a great significance. The Athens fleet, famous afar, ruled that region. The famous Greco-Persian naval battle took place near the northern coast of Evia. On the opposite side, on land, are the Straits of Thermopylae (in the north) and Marathon Field (in the south). Phillip the Second, Alexander the Great, Romans, Venetians, Turks, new-age Greeks… all fought for that island.


Since 1903, the Lepčince Monastery was the starting point of Serbian chetnik actions. This is where Serbian komitas took their famous vow: ”Freedom or death!” The border with Turkey (occupied Old and Southern Serbia) was near the monastery. Serbian komita squads secretly passed the border and took actions. The komita commander Petko Ilić died in battle on March 19, 1912. According to his last wish, his battle comrades buried him in Lepčince Monastery. His remains were moved in 1933 to the village of Staro Nagoričane.
The Bulgarian occupying army burned the Monastery quarters in May 1944. Monk Merkurije was killed, the Monastery archive destroyed, as well as the small museum about the chetnik actions in Old Serbia and Macedonia from 1904 to 1912, with very valuable exhibits.


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