John of Damascus

● Memorial Day Orthodox/Catholic: December 4
● Name means: God is gracious (Hebrew)
● Monk, Church Teacher
● Born around 650 in Damascus, Syria
● Died on December 4 before 754 in the monastery of Mār Saba near Jerusalem, Israel
John of Damascus was a renowned figure in Christian history who lived between the 7th and
8th centuries CE. He was born to a wealthy family of high-ranking officials who served the
Umayyad caliphs in Damascus, where he was raised in an environment that fostered both his
intellectual and religious development.
From a young age, John was drawn to Christian teachings and was heavily influenced by his
father, Sergios, who was a godly man known for his charity and devotion to the Christian faith.
John grew up alongside his adoptive brother, Kosmas, an orphan whom Sergios had taken into
his home. Together, they received an education from a Greek monk named Cosmas, who had
been enslaved by the Arabs but was later redeemed by Sergios.

Under Cosmas’ tutelage, John and Kosmas excelled in various areas of study, including poetry,
music, and theology. John, in particular, was known for his proficiency in Arabic and Greek,
which he used to great effect later in life.
As an adult, John rose to prominence at the court of Caliph Abdul Malik, who was impressed by
his intelligence and appointed him as the intendant for the affairs of the Christian population. In
this role, John worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Christians in the caliphate, using much of
his own wealth to fund charitable causes and to ransom enslaved Christians.
However, John’s peaceful existence was disrupted when Emperor Leo III of Byzantine began to
promote iconoclasm, the veneration of holy images, which was at odds with the Orthodox
Christian teachings that John followed. In response, John wrote numerous letters to
Constantinople, drawing on his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Holy
Fathers to defend the practice of icon veneration.
This earned John the ire of Emperor Leo III, who sought to get rid of him by forging a letter
purportedly written by John to the caliph asking for the capture of the city. The caliph, deceived
by the ruse, had John’s right hand cut off as punishment.
Undeterred by this setback, John turned to prayer and placed his severed hand before the icon
of the Blessed Mother. After praying for hours, he fell asleep and had a vision in which the icon
came to life and restored his hand. This miraculous event solidified John’s faith and further
reinforced his devotion to the Orthodox Christian teachings.
Following this experience, John renounced his former life and became a monk at the Lavra of
Saint Sabas in the Holy Land, where he devoted himself to writing theological treatises and
composing liturgical hymns. His most famous work, the “Fountain of Knowledge,” is a trilogy in
which he expounds on the essence of Christian faith and theology as expressed by the Holy
In contrast to the prevailing trends of his time, John remained steadfast in his adherence to the
traditional teachings of the Church and refused to add his own opinions or innovations to the
dogmas and doctrines that had been handed down through the ages. His work continues to be
treasured for its clarity, depth, and fidelity to the revealed truth of Orthodox Christianity.