Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saint John “the New” from Suceava

Saint John “the New” of Suceava was born around 1300 in Trebizond, being well educated according to the Christian model of virtues and faith. At the age of maturity he was engaged in commercial business, mostly on the banks of the Black Sea, where together with the merchandise handle he used to preach the Christian faith. During these travels he made not only friends, but also enemies. One of them, named Reitz (of Germanic ancestry, from Vienna) was seeking for an unknown reason to revenge on John. In a moment than both of them were in the port of Cetatea Albă (“White City”), situated at the entrance of the River Dniester in the Black Sea, - then occupied by the Nogai Tatars – Reitz send a message to the governor of the city, according to which, John would like to accept the faith of the Tatars. The synaxarion doesn’t mention that the Tatars would have been Muslims, and according to the troparion (hymn of the saint), these would have been Persians, that is Zoroastrians, or adepts to an astral religion. I would rather believe that this was the ancient religion of the Mongolic Tribes, because in the middle of it was the cult to the blue sky. Anyway, the governor was happy for the supposed wish of John and invited him to his court. The saint realized then the situation that will be happening, if he refused to change his faith. Despite of the imminent death, he remained Christian. He addressed to the governor: “Oh, mighty Governor, these words that have been said about me are false and simple temptations. I do not want to despise the kindness that you have showed to me, but I cannot deny Christ, the Light of the world”. The governor became angry and considered John’s words as insults against the Tatars’ faith, so he ordered John to be subjected to some terrible tortures.
Under the torture, John has strengthened his faith and his face was bright, beyond the normalness. After a while, the governor promised him that in change of his conversion, he will become the best medical care, in order to be healed, but John replied: “Don’t care for the wounds of my body, for through the perishable I wish to acquire the imperishable, and only the one who endures to the end shall be saved”. The stubbornness of John angered the governor even more, and he commanded that the “unfaithful” to be bound on the tail of a horse and dragged on the pavement of the city. Although he was strongly hurt, he prayed incessantly to God, and that prompted one of torturers to cut his head with the sword.
The governor didn’t allow the Christians to take his body from the road and bury him. But a Tatar from the City had a vision in which some men in golden clothes were officiating the funeral service to John. He thought that the Christian priests disrespected the order of the governor, so he took the bow and an arrow and tried to shoot them, but then his hands remained stuck on the bow and he was delivered only after he confessed what he intended to do. These miracles scared the head of the city, which has allowed the Christians to stand up John's body and bury him after the customs, in the graveyard of the town.
It appears that Reiz decided to dig up and profaned the grave, or according to the synaxary, he wanted to take the already wonderworker body of the saint in his country, which seems improbable to me, but he was discovered by the Christians in the city, who in this way discovered the incorrupt  body of the new martyr.

The Veneration of the Relics
The Life of Saint John the New appears to be with nothing more spectacular than of any other martyr. But the history of his relics reflects the entire history of the Principality of Moldova, which in the same manner as its sister Romanian Pricipates (Wallachia and Transylvania) had a very hard situation in the Middle Ages, being a theatre of conflicts between the neighbors.
 The relics of Saint John remained in a church in Cetatea Alba about 70 years, and his popularity among the pilgrims grew up to a moment when the owners of the city were the Moldavians. At the beginning of the 15th century the Voivode Alexander the Good of Moldova hears also about the miracles made at his coffin. In that period Moldova obtained from the seat of Constantinople the right to organize itself as an autonom Church, having its own metropolitan of Moldavian ancestry, namely Joseph Muşat. Following to this change of the church organization, the Voivod wanted the metropolitan seat to coincide with the capital city of Moldova, which was at that time at Suceava, today in the northern part of Romania.  Also the Voivod Alexander ordered that the holy relics of the saint to be moved in Suceava, in order to grow the prestige of his city. That happened in 1402, when the voivodal cortege met the procession with the relics in a place named Poiana Vlădicăi („The Bishop’s Glade”), near Iaşi.   The cortege accompanied the relics  about 100 kilometers up to Suceava, which remained in a church named Mirăuţi until 1589, when they were moved to the new cathedral in Suceava - dedicated to St. George.  
Voivod Alexander meeting the Cortege with the Relics
The tradition registered some miracles performed by the relics of Saint John the New and one of them is mentioned by Peter Movilă, the metropolitan in of Kiev. On June 2, 1622 Suceava was threatened to be overrun by the Tatars, and the people was obliged to refuge in some other towns. At that time, the priests wanted to take the shrine inside the fortress of Suceava (the church where they were housed being outside the walls), but they couldn’t pick them up. So they prayed to the saint to protect them and a heavy rain started suddenly and prevented the Tatars to siege to the city.
The relics remained here until 1686, when the army of the King Jan Sobieski of Poland entered in Moldova. Being beaten by the Turks, in retirement, the Poles took as a hostage the Metropolitan Saint Dosoftei, and because he was afraid of the robbery the Turks could do, he took with him the relics of Saint John the New in Jolkiew, where the Metropolitan died in 1693. The Relics remained here until 1783, when the bishop of Radauti, Dosoftei Herescu, managed to bring them back home, in the restored cathedral dedicated to St. George. Their arrival was possible because at that time the northern part of Moldova (Bucovina), with the city of Suceava, and the southern part of Poland were incorporated into the Austrian Empire. A new resettlement took place during their World War, when they were taken to Vienna in the Romanian Orthodox chapel, but in 1918 they were brought back.
Saint  John the New was considered for many centuries the protector of the entire country of Moldova. But because of the political changes, Suceava being occupied by the Austrians, he “lost” gradually his popularity in favor of Saint Parasceve. Her saint Relics were brought in 1641 by the Voivod Vasile Lupu in Iaşi, the new capital of the country, and her cult grew, so that even today millions of pilgrims come at her shrine in her celebration day, in October 12. She is now known as the “Protector of Moldova”.

Saint John the New in the iconography
The scenes of the Passion of St. John the New were represented in the painting of many churches in Moldova. His face appears for the first time in the church narthex from Dobrovăţ, near Iasi, in 1529. A few years later, in 1546, his life and martyrdom were portrayed in 12 scenes, on the south wall of the monastery church Voronet, founded by the Saint Voivod Stephen III the Great and similar scenes appear in the paintings of the Cathedral of Roman. Finally, at the monastery church Suceviţa appear 14 scenes of his life and passion, and also at the monasteries of Neamţ and Secu.
The Maryrium pf St. John the New. Fresco at Voronet

Hymn (Troparion) of the Saint
You have well governed your life on earth, working charity and incessantly praying with tears, you who suffered passions with courage, rebuking the Persian unfaith. Therefore you made yourself strength for the Church and praise for the Christians, oh John, you shall ever be remembered.

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