Saint John of Damascus

“John was know as chrysorrhoas or gold-pourer for the elegance of his writing.”

One of the last Greek Fathers of the Church, John aligned with much of Aristotle for his theological foundation. Born in Damascus when it was under Muslim rule, he grew to be a leader and chief representative of the local Christians to the Caliph. With this significant position came great responsibilities and demands on his time and attention. Living a harried life while in the service of the Caliph for many years, John resigned all his duties in 716 and moved into seclusion at Saint Sabas Monastery near Jerusalem.

For ten years he lived a quiet life of an ascetic: long periods of deep prayer and study. Inward stirrings began for him, along with the encouragement from his Spiritual Director, to use his talents for writing.

As this step forward in his spiritual journey was beginning, a powerful controversy began within the Church with the Iconoclastic Controversy. The Byzantine Emperor Leo III developed the belief that the use of icons (painted images, statues, physical structure of the church including the altar and candles, jewelry with religious images) were in direct opposition to true Christian spirituality. As a result, he order the breaking of all icons — hence the term “iconoclast.” Chaos resulted through the Kingdom and for the next 120 years, debate raged regarding the efficacy of icons within religious worship. 

John wrote in support of the use of icons and wrote three treatises outlining the not only acceptable but necessary use of icons in the life of the individual as well as the church community. He continued to write additional theological discourses, reflections on philosophy, poetry, and hymns. Known as the gold-pourer, his writings were the foundation of many theological spiritual leaders throughout the ages, including Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas.

John passed quietly in his cell in the monastery at the age of 74 in cir.780.

*Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy, Fr. John-Julian, OJN.

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