John of Novgorod and Wonderworker
Our father among the saints John of Novgorod and Wonderworker, also Ilya of Novgorod and Elias of Novgorod, was the Archbishop of Novgorod in the latter half of twelfth century, between the years 1163 and 1186. St. John is remembered on September 7 and December 1. St. John is also remembered with the archbishops and princes of Novgorod on October 4, and at the Synaxis of Novgorod hierarchs on February 10.
The future archbishop of Novgorod was born in Novgorod to pious parents Nicholas and Christina who had him baptized John. Other than that he had a brother named Gabriel, nothing is known of his childhood. After the death of their parents John and Gabriel established a small monastery in Novgorod dedicated to the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos. Initially, their church was made of wooden, but the brothers, inspired by the Queen of the Heaven, took on the difficult task of constructing a church built of stone. Tradition tells that when the brothers exhausted their funds, that in a dream the Theotokos promised that everything needed to finish the construction would be provided. The next day two bags of gold were found on a horse that mysteriously appeared before the brothers and then disappeared after the they had removed the bags from the horse.
After they had completed construction of the monastery, the brothers entered into monastic lives. John was tonsured with the name Elias and Gabriel with Gregory. Elias was elected bishop of Novgorod in 1163 and soon made himself known to his clergy as a person who respected them for choosing him as their bishop, spoke to them about the vocation of the pastor, and that he was concerned about his flock. He was elevated to archbishop in 1165.
The twelfth century witnessed frequent warfare between the princes of Russia as well as from German, Livonian, and Lithuanian forces coming from the west that pressed on Novgorod and its neighboring town of Pskov.  The winter of the year 1170 proved very difficult for Novgorod as the army of Suzdal laid siege to the city for rejecting Prince Svyatoslav as their prince. In grief as the siege intensified, Abp. John led the people of Novgorod in prayers before the icon of the Savior. On the third night, during prayers, Abp. John heard a voice directing him to go to the Church of the Savior on Ilyina street, take the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos from the church and carry it to the city walls.
When on the next morning Abp. John directed his archdeacon to get the icon from the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior, the deacon returned empty handed and told the archbishop that he could not lift the icon. It would not budge. After hearing this, the archbishop and the people went to the church, fell to their knees, and prayed before the icon. As they sang a molieben, at the kontakion after the Sixth Ode of “Protectress of Christians”, the icon moved itself from its place. At this time in the siege the people of Novgorod were prepared for their doom as the Suzdal forces were ready to enter the city for pillage. In face of the mounting attack on the next morning, February 25, 1170, John and his deacons took the icon to the city walls. As they prayed and turned the icon toward the city tears appeared from the eyes of the Theotokos and a darkness settled over the army of Suzdal. The warriors became unable to see and retreated in terror.
As a result of the fighting, the countryside and people around Novgorod were devastated. Abp. John immediately went to work to alleviate the suffering by distributing aid to the distressed people and orphans. He bolstered the people through spiritual meetings with his clergy and the faithful. Abp. John also placed great emphasis on calming the internecine fighting in the Russian lands. In 1172, Abp. John traveled to Vladimir to reconcile Prince Andrew Bogolyubsky with the citizens of Novgorod who trying to end the independence of Novgorod.
It was in the spreading and teaching the Gospel of Christ that Abp. John is remembered. He wrote many instructions concerning Baptism, Confession, and the Holy Eucharist of which about 30 have been preserved. In an area that was the frontier for the faith, his Guidance for Monks provided the example for meaningful monastic life.
Having lived his monastic life as Elias, John, when he sensed his approaching death, put a side his hierarch’s omophorion and took the schema with the name John, the same name given to him when he was baptized. After appointing his brother Gregory as his successor, the Holy John, the Wonderworker of Novgorod, reposed on September 7, 1186. He was buried in the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom (St. Sophia) in Novgorod.
His relics were desecrated during the Soviet anti-religious campaigns in April 1919, but were later re-interred in a new sarcophagus in the 1990s.
John was glorified during the Moscow Council of 1547.
- F.Dvornik, The Slavs in European History an Civilization, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1962, ISBN: 0-8135-0403-1, p311.
- F. Dvornik, p13
John of Novgorod and Wonderworker
|Archbishop of Novgorod