Lives of Saints - St. John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople Christianity - Books
“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.                “You shall have no other gods before me.                “You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.                “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain, for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.                “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. You shall labor six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. You shall not do any work in it, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.                “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.                “You shall not murder.                “You shall not commit adultery.                “You shall not steal.                “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.                “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
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St. John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople

If fasting guaranteed an entry into Heaven, lifelong felons and violators of every Christian creed could starve themselves into the company of the righteous. The practice of fasting complements the decent behaviour of the genuine Christian in emulation of the Saviour who fasted in the desert for forty days in warding off temptation. Not for forty days, but for more than forty years a man named John observed the custom of fasting, reserved for certain solemn occasions for the average Christian, in the process of which he also exemplified piety to the degree that he became the ecumenical patriarch of Orthodoxy, His self-denial earned him the name of John the Faster, a man who observed to the letter everything expected of an Orthodox priest but voluntarily went a step beyond in a regimen of diet usually expected of an eremite of the desert and not a man whose high office held forth the dishes that delight a Greek stomach.

Born in Cappadocia, Asia Minor in the sixth century, the remarkably durable John was formally educated in Byzantium where he was tutored by a renowned monk of Palestine whose name was Eusebios and who instilled in John the longing to serve Jesus Christ. It was after he was ordained a priest that John decided that he could fulfill his purpose in the Church with a self- imposed diet that allowed for the barest of sustenance. In resisting the temptation to eat the delicacies that delight the palate, he became inured to hardship and trained to resist any form of temptation, physical or spiritual. He did this in deadly earnestness, with no desire to impress anyone with his hardiness, which was asserted throughout his lifetime in spite of his meager fare.

An unseen hand nourished the dedicated John who was not the gaunt figure people expected to see wherever he went in his service to Christ. His rise through the ranks of the clergy was a rapid one, and it was inevitable that he would be made ecumenical patriarch, serving as spiritual leader of Eastern Christianity for thirteen years -- from 582 to 595. At church and state functions where banquets offered all manner of food, the ecumenical patriarch never went beyond the simple necessities of life which seemed to afford him greater pleasure than the offerings consumed by the heartiest of eaters. When he was referred to as the Faster, it was with reverence because his miraculous state of health was attained through prayer and meditation. This combination seems to have given him a proximity to God which was manifested not only in the miracle of his well-being but in miracles attributed solely to him through the power of the Divine.

It was not miracles but John's hard work that raised the patriarchate to an exalted level, one that is outstanding in a long history of exalted patriarchs. He took personal command of all the projects set forth to improve the lot of the Christians through aid for the poor, the establishment of hospitals, orphanages and churches for the service to all mankind. In the course of these vast undertakings, however, there was more than one manifestation of his ability to summon forth a small miracle, but he did his best to minimise his mystical power, calling on all to give thanks to God for his blessings.

A most holy man, John was quite human and combined his human nature with the mystical one on an occasion when he was provoked to righteous anger by an action of the state. A day of festivity at the Hippodrome was set by the authorities in a state celebration, but it happened to fall on the day of Pentecost. When a call for a delay of the festivity was issued by an outraged patriarch, it was ignored by those whose interests lay irreverently outside of respect for the holy day. This so distressed John the Faster that he retired to a chapel and prayed for rain so earnestly that he was answered with a deluge that washed out the entire affair. Conversely, he prayed for the safety of a ship on which he was a passenger and which was about to flounder in a storm, the answer to which was bright sunshine and just enough wind to fill the ship's sails.

At odds with the popes of Rome because of his insistence of retaining the title of Ecumenical, which applies to this day, St. John the Faster died peacefully on 15 September 595.


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