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Father John the Romanian
The Discovery of Incorrupt Relics
in the Monastery of Khozeva Near Jerusalem
by Monk Ioasaph
In one of the remote sketes of the Greek Monastery of Sts. John and George of Khozeva, the relics of a certain hieromonk who reposed twenty years ago have been found to be incorrupt.|
This narrative concerns the Romanian priest John, who struggled in asceticism in the gorge of the brook of Khozeva, which is situated in the wilderness of Judea thirty-five kilometers east of Jerusalem. In view of the fact that even during his lifetime Fr. John earned the respect of many for his pious manner of life, there is reason to suppose that we are here speaking of the manifestation of a new saint. Below, a short biography of Fr. John is outlined from materials obtained in conversation with the Monk Ioannikios, his fellow ascetic, who now resides at the Monastery of Khozeva.
Fr. John was born in 1913, in the Romanian province of Doroga, to a poor family. Having first lost his mother (when he was six years old)* and then his father (when he was nine), he was left utterly orphaned. Nonetheless, he succeeded in obtaining a secondary education and excelled in his inclinations toward literature and poetry. On completion of his education, he entered the famous Monastery of Niamets and soon became a rassophore monk there.
In 1936, Fr. John arrived in the Holy Land, where he made the acquaintance of Fr. Ioannikios, and together with him entered the Lavra of St. Savva the Sanctified. A year later, Fr. John took the great schema. He continued to struggle ascetically at the Lavra until 1940, after which he departed for the Monastery of St. Gerasimos on the River Jordan, near the Dead Sea. However, the British authorities then in power soon took him into custody, since he was a Romanian national, and kept him in a building situated over the Lithostroton, on the site of Herod's Fortress Antonia. In 1941, they released him and he returned again to the Lavra of St. Savva.
In 1947, at the request of Patriarch Nicodemus of Romania, Patriarch Timotheos of Jerusalem ordered that Fr. John be ordained hierodeacon and then immediately hieromonk; this was done so that he could be sent to the half-empty monastery of the Romanian Ecclesiastical Mission on the River Jordan near Jericho.
After his ordination at the Holy Sepulchre of the Lord, the newly-ordained hieromonk remained for a time in Jerusalem and then, together with his inseparable companion, Fr. Ioannikios, departed for the Jordan. There Fr. John often encountered Fr. Ignaty, the Russian hegumen from the Oak of Mamre, who periodically paid visits there from Hebron to tend the nearby orchard of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. Between them a close friendship grew.
Finding himself, however, under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Ecclesiastical Mission, the clergy of which are sent from Romania, Fr. John came into conflict because of his views and convictions, for the most part over the question of the New Calendar. Being a zealous proponent of the Old Calendar, he could not reconcile himself to the indifference to this question of his superiors, who considered themselves officially New Calendarists. He himself strictly continued to maintain the Old Calendar in the divine services since he was on the territory of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Finally, to put an end to the friction, in 1951 he decided to leave the Jordan, and with his faithful disciple Ioannikios he entered the Greek Monastery of Khozeva.
Fr. John spent one year in the monastery itself, serving as one of its priests; but afterwards he received the blessing of the abbot, Archimandrite Amphilochios, to settle in one of the caves of the Skete of St. Anne, which is located five kilometers down the stony gorge.
In the Skete of St. Anne at that time there was struggling an iconographer, the schema monk Paul, a great expert in, and lover of, Byzantine chant. This circumstance afforded favorable conditions for comparatively frequent services in the ancient cave church of the skete, with Fr. Ioannikios assisting.
From the moment of his arrival at the skete, Fr. John remained continually in that lofty aerie among the cliffs until his repose five years later. Continuing in the strictest fasting, he wrote articles on spiritual subjects in the Romanian language, in both prose and verse. Despite the difficulty of the path, many, even hierarchs, began to come to him for counsel and to be confessed by him. His extreme simplicity and modesty, together with his child-like sincerity and guilelessness inclined each visitor to him from the first. Finally, in 1960, the time of his blessed repose arrived, possibly caused by a disease of the kidneys with which he had been afflicted from his youth. After his funeral his body was interred in the cave's burial vault and was covered, as is the custom, with earth.
After the repose of Fr. John, Fr. Ioannikios continued to reside in the skete, and to put into order the manuscripts of his young elder (they were practically of the same age) and to dream of someday seeing them in print. With this end in mind he saved up a little store of donations, but the matter dragged on, for in Jerusalem no one thought that articles in the little-known Romanian language were of any real value. Only after the "Six-day War" in 1967, with the help of Archpriest Sergei Chertkov, who has a fine command of Romanian and was the acting head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, was Fr. Ioannikios finally able to publish two little books of the works of his abba. However, because of the language in which they were written, these books did not acquire popularity.
At about the same time, the monk Paul's right arm became paralyzed, depriving him of all possibility of painting any more icons, and he soon departed to his homeland, the island of Cyprus. There, using his left hand and a typewriter, he began to publish that island's sole Old Calendarist magazine. (The Church of Cyprus is officially on the New Calendar.) As a result, Fr. Ioannikios was left all alone, and Archimandrite Amphilochios summoned him to return to the monastery.
Many years later, in 1978, Fr. Ioannikios suddenly began to have a recurrent dream: Fr. John would appear to him and ask: "And where now?" Describing this dream to his sister, the schema nun Magdalena, who lived at the Romanian metochion in Jericho and had known Fr. John personally from the days when he lived by the Jordan, he was amazed to hear that she had had the very same dream herself.
Furthermore, Fr. Ioannikios related this strange occurence to Archimandrite Amphilochios, but the latter was overloaded with concerns relative to the extensive restoration being conducted at his monastery and was in no position to spare his attention for the visions seen by Fr. Ioannikios.
At that time the Greek Archimandrite Panteleimon arrived from Boston with a group of pilgrims, and on hearing Fr. Ioannikios' dream was the first to maintain the necessity of opening the crypt. However, a full year passed, and Fr. Panteleimon, who had arrived again from America, received the abbot's blessing. He went to the Skete of St. Anne with Fr. Ioannikios and, having opened the crypt, found the relics within incorrupt. Having served a panikhida with compunction, they left the relics in place and informed Fr. Aphilochios of what had occurred. The latter, for his part, made a report to Patriarch Benedictos.
Finally, almost a year later, Fr. Amphilochios received an order from the patriarch to transfer the incorrupt relics to the monastery itself. This was accomplished on July 26/August 8 of the current year (1980), on the feast of the venerable-martyr Paraskeva, and the body was placed in a tomb in the little Church of St. George the Khozevite (where the relics of the saint himself rest). Soon afterwards, Fr. Amphilochios had a glass reliquary fashioned, similar to that which contains the relics of St. Savva the Sanctified, thus affording visitors the possibility of seeing with their own eyes this remarkable phenomenon. Among the first such visitors were His Grace, Bishop Laurus of Syracuse and his pilgrims from America and Australia.
Fr. John's visage is emaciated. The skin on his face is of a light color, his little beard is quite dark. The nails on his fingers and toes remain intact. In general, all of his garments are in a state of perfect preservation, including his shoes. Many now expect miracles to take place. However, as always, there are skeptics who hasten to attribute the incorruption to the dry climate and favorable geological conditions. Time will tell who is right.
* A longer and more detailed life, also presented here (see The Life of Father John the Romanian), says that Father John's mother reposed when Father John was six months old. Both accounts agree that the father reposed three years after the mother. (Webmaster footnote.) Click here to return to the text.
Source: Orthodox Life, Vol. 30, No. 6 (November-December 1980), pages 14-17.