The Life of Saint John of Damascus (645 to 749 AD)


There are three things to learn from the life of John of Damascus: 1. He had two important visions of the Virgin Mary and a miracle by Her intersession. 2. He was born to defend the Church with his knowledge and writings against all heresies especially Moslems. 3. Use the gifts that God gives and do not try to be what you are not. This is important to me because I am at the end of life and need to think of what God wants of me.This story told me what to do, and I hope it inspires others to use what God gives you without pride and bring forth fruit while you can.

John of Damascus was born just 13 years after the death of Mohammed.When the warring Moslems swept over most all of Persia and captured Damascus, Johnís father was a wealthy man much loved by the citizens of the city.Although the Moslems slew many Christians, sold others into slavery, and permitted no one to confess Christ publicly, John's parents remained unharmed, and their property untouched.

Enjoying the rulers' trust, Johnís father was able to help his Christian brothers, ransoming captives, setting free the imprisoned, commuting the sentences of those condemned to death, and extending a helping hand to all the suffering. In the heart of the Moslem world, John was born and baptized. His father also adopted a Jewish boy from Jerusalem of the line of David.

The barbarians living in Damascus made frequent raids by land and sea against other countries, taking Christians captive to their city, some to be sold into slavery in the markets, others to be put to the sword without mercy. Once they happened to capture a monk from Italy named Cosmas. As Cosmas was being offered for sale in the market with other captives, those who were to be put to death fell at his feet, tearfully beseeching him to pray to God for their souls. Cosmas began to cry.


John's father asked the monk: "Why, O man of God, do you weep? Is it because you have lost your earthly freedom?Ē

"I do not weep because I have lost my freedom," answered the monk. "I lament because I shall depart this life childless, without an heir."

John's father said in astonishment, "You are a monk, Father; you are not permitted to beget children. You should not grieve over this."

"You do not understand my words, sir," answered the monk. "I do not speak of sons according to the flesh or of a material inheritance, but of things spiritual. It is clear that I own nothing; nevertheless, I possess a great wealth of knowledge, which I have labored hard from my youth to acquire. With God's help I have mastered every worldly science, including rhetoric and dialectic, the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, geometry, and the theory of music. I have acquainted myself thoroughly with the movements of the heavenly bodies and the courses of the stars, so that through the beauty of creation I might come to a clearer understanding of the wise Creator. Finally, I have learned well the mysteries of Orthodoxy as expounded by the Greek and Roman theologians. Yet while I possess such knowledge myself, I have failed to hand it on to another. Now there is no longer any possibility for me to teach what I have learned. I have no disciple, and little time remains to me, for I am certain that I shall die here by the sword. Then I will appear before the Lord and be likened to the tree that brought forth no fruit and the servant that buried his master's talent in the ground. This is why I weep and lament. Like a married man who has no son, I leave no spiritual heir to inherit the wealth of my knowledge."

John's father rejoiced when he heard this: "Do not sorrow, Father; for God may yet grant you the desire of your heart." Thereupon he hastened to the Caliph, earnestly begged to be given the captive monk. The Caliph did not refuse him.

Then he presented his two sons to the Monk and said, "I have two children, my son John and this boy who, like you, bears the name Cosmas. I pray you, Father, instruct them in the sciences and in good conduct, teaching them every virtue. They shall be your spiritual children, begotten anew by your teaching. Rear them and make them heirs of your spiritual riches, a wealth that no one can steal."

Studying assiduously, the two children mastered grammar, dialectic, philosophy, arithmetic, geometry, ecclesiastical hymns, poetry, astronomy, the mysteries of theology, good morals, virtue, and of spiritual and external wisdom.


When John's father died, the Caliph summoned John, and forced him to become his chief counselor. At that time Leo the Isaurian reigned over the Greek Empire. He rose up against the Church of God like a roaring lion, casting the holy icons out of the Lord's churches, committing them to flames, and mercilessly destroying those who venerated them.

Hearing of this, John wrote many epistles in defense of the holy icons, and circulated them all over the Greek Empire. These were read everywhere in the Greek Empire. Word of this reached the Emperor Leo.

To cause Johnís death, the Emperor forged letters that he claimed to be from John and sent them to the Caliph of Damascus slandering the Caliph. After reading them, the barbarian Prince summoned John and showed him the forged letter he had supposedly written. John understood at once that this was a plot of the malicious and cunning heretics, but the Caliph raged with anger and commanded that John's right hand be cut off.

John entered his prayer-room and fell to the floor before his icon of the most pure Theotokos. Pressing the severed hand to his wrist, he sighed and wept, praying from the depths of his heart:

"O Lady, most pure Mistress and Mother of God, behold: my right hand hath been cut off for the sake of the divine icons by the tyrant Leo! Whatsoever thou willest, thou canst accomplish, for through thy holy prayers, the right hand of the Most High, Who was incarnate of thee, worketh numerous miracles; wherefore, come quickly to mine aid, that He may heal my hand by thine intercession, O Theotokos. May I again be permitted to defend the Orthodox faith; may my hand write once more in praise of thee and thy Son!"

With this John fell asleep and beheld in a dream the most pure Theotokos looking down upon him from the icon with warm, compassionate eyes. She said,

"Your hand has been restored. Do not be troubled any longer, but return to your work and labor diligently, like a swiftly writing scribe, even as you promised me."

John arose from sleep, felt his right hand, and realized that it had indeed been healed. His spirit rejoiced in God his Savior and in the Lord's most pure Mother, who had done such a great thing for him. He rejoiced throughout the night with his entire household, chanting a new hymn:

"Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power. Thy right hand hath healed my severed hand and crushed your enemies, who do not revere Thy precious image or that of Thy most pure Mother. It shall destroy those who destroy the icons, and multiply Thy glory!"


Humbled by the miracle John decided to live a life of prayer in a monastery in Jerusalem instead of using his hand to defend the Church. He chose a superior as a guide that was heavy into prayer, sacrifice and silence but not in writing or preaching.


John lived many years in this silence and sacrifice until one of the monks died.John tried to consol his brother but could not. The monk asked John to compose a burial hymn for his brother to console him in his sadness. John wrote the hymns: "What sweetness of life," "Like a flower that withereth," "All human vanity," and others, which are used to this day in funeral services worldwide.

Johnís unwise spiritual director was so angry at Johnís writing hymns he almost kicked him out of the monastery, but Our Lady appeared to him in a dream, saying:

"Why have you blocked up a stream which pours forth an abundance of sweet water, a water preferable to that which sprang from the rock in the wilderness or the water that David longed to drink? This is the water Christ promised the Samaritan woman. Do not hinder the flow of this spring that will water the whole world, drowning heresies and their bitterness!

ďLet the thirsty hasten to this water, and let those who do not possess the pure silver of an unsullied life sell their passions and gain it by emulating John, a man radiant with purity and good deeds, and most learned in the dogmas of the Church. He will take up the psaltery of the prophets and David's harp to sing a new song to the Lord God, one that shall surpass the canticles of Moses and Mariam. The fabled odes of Orpheus will be counted as nought when compared with his works, for he will sing a spiritual and heavenly hymn like that of cherubim.

ďHe will make the churches of Jerusalem like maidens playing the timbrel, chanting unto God and proclaiming Christ's death and resurrection. He will expound in writing the dogmas of Orthodoxy and denounce the perverse teachings of the heretics; his heart shall pour forth a good word, and he shall speak of the wondrous works of the King."

The next morning, the elder summoned John and said to him, "O son of obedience to Christ, speak what is stored up in your heart! Let your mouth declare wisdom, announcing the things God has revealed to your mind. Open your mouth and proclaim, not legends and dark fables, but the truths of the Church and her dogmas. Speak to the heart of the Jerusalem that truly beholds God, that is, the Church, which He has reconciled unto Himself. Do not pour out empty words into the air, but relate what the Holy Spirit has inscribed in your heart. Ascend the lofty Sinai of the vision of God and the revelation of divine mysteries: ascend by means of your great humility, which is a bottomless abyss, to the summit of the Church, and there proclaim the Gospel to Jerusalem. Lift up your voice mightily, for the Mother of God has told me wondrous things of you. And forgive me, I pray, for my crudeness and ignorance have been a hindrance to you."

John Mansur, now called Saint John of Damascus became a doctor of the Church.I hope the words of Our Lady will inspire Catholics all over the world to read the great writings of John, because I believe they will cast light on the Unity of Faith between our separated brethren and the present war we have with Radical Islam.

His life story has also inspired me to pass on to my children all that I have learned over the years, and even though I am in the last days of my life, nothing else seems important to me except that I pass on all that I have learned.May Our Lady help me do all in truth and charity, without thought of human of respect or rejection. Saint John Pray for me.