Saint John Jacob of Neamţ was born on 23 July 1913, in Crăiniceni village, Horodiştea commune, former Dorohoi county, to a family of religious peasants, Maxim and Ecaterina, having been the only child of his parents. He was baptised Elijah and turned out to be a child chosen and blessed by God.
Six months after he was born, his mother, who was in poor health, fell asleep into the Lord and left the child to grandmother Maria to take care of him. After two years, his father died too, in war, in the autumn of 1916, so that the child was left in the care of close relatives. He attended the first years of school in his native village and then the secondary school at Lipcani-Hotin and high school at Cozmeni-Cernăuţi, having been the best pupil of the school.
In the summer of 1932, his relatives wanted him to attend the courses of the Faculty of Theology in Cernăuţi, to become a priest. But he felt God called him to a higher life and told them: „No, I want to become a monk!”. One year later, young Elijah was working in the field and praying God to show him the way to follow.
Suddenly, he heard a voice telling him: the monastery! He had no peace in his soul ever since. Having taken the blessing of his father confessor, blessed John took his holy books, the cross and the icon of the Mother of God from his native house, and guided by the Holy Spirit, on a Sunday, he joined the community of Neamţ Monastery.
The abbot of the monastery, bishop Nicodemus, received him with much love and after he told him to pray to the miracle worker icon of the Mother of God in the princely church, he sent him to work at the nursery and at the monastery library. He was very silent, obedient and devoted.
From 1934-1935, he did his military service at Dorohoi, as male nurse, showing much compassion to the sick and loved by all those around. In the autumn of 1935, he came back to the community of Neamţ Monastery and continued the same service as librarian and male nurse at the monastery’s infirmary. All those around benefited of his humbleness, kindness and love and thought he was chosen by God.
On 8 April 1936, on the Wednesday of the Holy Week, the blessed rassaphore John Jacob was tonsured into monasticism by hierarch Valerie Moglan, the new abbot of the great lavra, by the monastic name of John, together with two other rassaphores. As he wished to live an ascetic life and longing for Christ and the Holy Places where the Lord was born, suffered and resurrected, the blessed monk John Jacob left for the Holy Land together with two other monks from the lavra, Claudie and Damaschin.
After they prayed at all the Holy Places and venerated the Cross of the Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre, the three monks retired to spend the winter with the community of Saint Sava Monastery, in the desert of Jordan. Then, his companions went back to Neamţ Monastery, while the blessed monk John Jacob kept on living at Saint Sava Monastery near Bethlehem, for ten years, suffering hard temptations, diseases and trials coming from people and from demons. His first task within the community of Saint Sava Monastery was that of a verger.
Pious John had great devotion for the church and for the holy services. He made prosphora, cleaned the place and rang the bells for religious services. He has also kept an atmosphere of love, lowliness and mercy for everybody. He also had to be the male nurse of the monastery and took good care of the monks with great love, as well as of many Arabs and Bedouins, of the sick, or of the war wounded brought to the infirmary of the monastery.
This is why they all loved him and wanted to contact him. His father confessor was hieroschema-monk Sava, a great adviser of the souls, Macedonian by origin, who could speak Romanian, and who took Confession for all the Romanian monks who lived in the Holy Land.
Thus, during the day he was in the service of the community and of the sick and at night time he was alone in his cell where he said many prayers, made prostrations, shed tears and lectured from the Holy Gospel and from the writings of the Holy Fathers.
He had a good command of the Greek language, so that he translated some outstanding patristic pages used to spiritually feed him and those who came to visit him. He also had the gift to write spiritual instructions and poems, which he sent to his brethren from the Holy Land or gave to the Romanian pilgrims who came to pray at the Holy Sepulchre.
From 1939-1940, the blessed hermit John Jacob lived together with another Romanian disciple in a cave in the desert of Qumran, close to the Dead Sea. There, he met monk Ioannikios Pârâială, who has been his faithful disciple until his death. Having been a hermit, he ate only rusks and few fruits. He used to pray at night, alone, suffering many temptations.
From 1940-1941, because of the war, pious John stayed together with several monks from the Holy Land in a camp at the Olives Mountain. After he was released, he went back to Saint Sava Monastery and continued to practice the same spiritual obedience and efforts.
On 13 May 1947, with the agreement of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the blessing of the Patriarch of Romania, he was ordained deacon, in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, following the recommendation of Archimandrite Victorin Ursache, the superior of the Romanian Pilgrim Hostel in Jerusalem.
The same year, pious John Jacob was ordained priest in the church of the Holy Sepulchre by hierarch Irinarh from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and appointed by the Romanian Patriarchate igumen of the Romanian Skete of Saint John the Baptist in the Jordan Valley, close to the place where Jesus Christ, our Lord, was baptised.
For five years, as long as this task lasted, pious John Jacob celebrated all the religious services in the Romanian language almost every day, translated many pages from the Holy Fathers that comprised teachings for monks and pilgrims; he wrote a rich book of spiritual poems, renewed the cells and the church skete, and most of all the spiritual life of the skete, met the Romanian pilgrims whom he took confessions for, administrated Holy Communion and gave saving advice for their soul.
But, at night, unknowingly, he prayed alone in his cell, or went to pray in the Jordan Valley, trying to follow, as much as he could, the example of Venerable Mary the Egyptian. His only constant disciple was monk Ioannikios, as well as some Romanian old nuns, Melania, Natalia, Galina, Casiana and Magdalena, who were his spiritual daughters under his guidance.
In November 1952, pious John the Hermit retired from the igumen position and joined, together with his disciple Ioannikios, the community of Saint George the Hosevite Monastery in Hoseva desert, in the valley of Cherit (or Horat) River. After one year he and his disciple retired to a cave nearby, called Saint Ana’s Cell, where, according to tradition, she prayed God to give her a child. A Cypriote monk named Paul was living in another cave, nearby.
There Saint John the Hermit and his disciple lived for 7 years in permanent prayers, night vigils, long fasting, tears shed, meditation and spiritual aspirations, suffering all kinds of temptations, pains, shortages, fighting against the devils, in total seclusion, glorifying Christ and praising the Triune God. His cave was hard to reach, with a high ladder, and he did not receive anybody there communicating with those who came to him especially through prayer, through spiritual writings and through his disciple.
At the great feasts and at fasting times, the saint celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the chapel of Saint Ana’s cave, together with his disciple, and both were taking the Body and Blood of Christ, thanking God for everything. During the day, when he had time, he wrote religious poems and translated patristic writings from Greek. He ate only once a day, rusks, olives, figs, and drank a little water, and at night he slept on a board with a stone as pillow.
In the summer of 1960, he was sick but suffered with much patience. Feeling his death was close, on Wednesday, 4 August, he received the Holy Communion and on Thursday morning, at 5.00 hours, he reposed into the Lord, at only 47 years old.
After three days, he was buried in the same cave by the igumen of Saint George Monastery, archimandrite Amphilochius, and after 20 years, on 8 August 1980, his body was found complete, without decay, spreading a nice fragrance, showing that he was glorified by God who included him in the host of the saints, due to his spiritual diligences and the holiness of his life. All those around were filled of great spiritual joy.
On 15 August 1980, the same igumen prepared a shrine carved in cypress wood where he laid him with great respect and took him in procession to the church dedicated to Saint Stephan in the precincts where his relics were laid, in the same place of worship where the relics of Saint George the Hosevite are to be found.
Pilgrims have come to pray to the pious’ relics ever since, asking for his help, which all those who pray to him receive. Taking into account the holiness of the life of pious John Jacob and seeing his holy relics, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church included him among the saints on 20 June 1992, by the name of Saint John Jacob of Neamţ, celebrated on 5 August, the date of his passing away in eternity.
Through his holy prayers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Troparion, plagal 4 tone 8:
In you, through zeal the one created in the image of God was saved, oh Father, for forsaking the world and leaving your homeland, you took up Christ’s cross, and you have dwelled in the valley of Jordan to labour. Wherefore, oh Righteous Father John, your spirit rejoices now with the angels. Intercede with Christ our God to save our souls.
The Martyr Eusignius was born at Antioch in the mid-third century. For sixty years he served in the Roman armies of the emperors Diocletian, Maximian Hercules, Constantius Chlorus, Constantine the Great and his sons. Saint Eusignius was a companion of Saint Basiliscus (March 3 and May 22), and he provided an account of his martyrdom. At the beginning of the reign of Saint Constantine the Great, Saint Eusignius was a witness to the appearance of the Cross in the sky, a prediction of victory.
Saint Eusignius retired in his old age from military service and returned to his own country. There he spent his time in prayer, fasting, and attending the church of God. So he lived until the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), who yearned for a return to paganism. Through the denunciation of one of the Antiochian citizens, Saint Eusignius stood trial as a Christian before the emperor Julian in the year 362.
He fearlessly accused the emperor of apostasy from Christ, and reproached him with the example of his relative, Constantine the Great, and he described in detail how he himself had been an eyewitness to the appearance of the sign of the Cross in the sky. Julian did not spare the aged Saint Eusignius, then 110 years old, but ordered him beheaded.
Saint Nonna, the mother of Saint Gregory the Theologian (January 25, 389), was the daughter of Christians named Philotatos and Gorgonia, who raised her in Christian piety. Saint Nonna was also an aunt of Saint Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium (November 23).
Saint Nonna entered into marriage with Gregory of Arianzus (January 1), the rich landowner of an estate in the Arianzus and Nazianzos districts. The marriage was advantageous by earthly considerations, but grievous for the pious soul of Nonna. Her husband Gregory was a pagan, a follower of the sect of the Supremists (Hypsistarii), who venerated a supreme god and observed certain Jewish rituals, while at the same time they worshipped fire.
Saint Nonna prayed that her spouse would turn to the holy truth. Saint Nonna’s son, Saint Gregory the Theologian, wrote about this: “She could not bear this, being half united to God, because he who was part of her remained apart from God. She wanted a spiritual union in addition to the bodily union. Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.”
Through the prayers of Saint Nonna, her husband Gregory had a vision in his sleep. “It seemed to my father,” writes Saint Gregory, “as though he was singing the following verse of David: ‘I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 121/122: 1). He had never done this before, though his wife had often offered her supplications and prayers for it.”
The Psalm was strange to him, but along with its words, the desire also came to him to go to church. When she heard about this, Saint Nonna told her husband that the vision would bring the greatest pleasure if it were fulfilled.
The elder Gregory went to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, where he made known his conversion to Christ. He was baptized, ordained presbyter, and then Bishop of Nazianzos devoting himself totally to the Church. At the same time as his consecration as bishop, his wife Saint Nonna was made a deaconness. With the same zeal with which she had raised her children, she now occupied herself in performing works of charity.
“She knew,” says Saint Gregory the Theologian, “one thing to be truly noble: to be pious and to know from where we have come and where we are going; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth: to use one’s substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kin.
One woman may be distinguished for frugality, and another for piety, while she, difficult as it is to combine both qualities, excelled all others in both of them. In each she attained the height of perfection, and both were combined in her. She did not permit one duty to interfere with the other, but rather each supported the other.
What time and place of prayer ever eluded her? She was drawn to this each day before anything else, and she had complete faith that her prayers would be answered.
Although greatly moved by the sorrows of strangers, she never yielded to grief to the extent that she allowed any sound of woe to escape her lips before the Eucharist, or a tear to fall from her eye, or for any trace of mourning to remain on a Feast day, though she repeatedly endured many sorrows. She subjected every human thing to God.
Her final years brought Saint Nonna many sorrows. In the year 368 her younger son Caesarios died, a young man of brilliant expectations; and in the following year, her daughter died. The brave old woman bore these losses submitting to the will of God.
In the year 370 Bishop Gregory, then already an old man, participated in the consecration of Saint Basil the Great as Bishop of Caesarea. Saint Nonna, who was somewhat younger than her husband, was also ready to enter into the next life, but through the prayers of her beloved son her time on earth was prolonged.
“My mother,” wrote her son, “ was always strong and vigorous, and free from sickness all her life, but then she became ill. Because of much distress… caused by her inability to eat, her life was in danger for many days, and no cure could be found. How then did God sustain her? He did not send down manna, as for Israel of old; He did not split open a rock, in order to provide water for the thirsty people; nor did He send food by ravens, as with Elias, nor did He feed her…, as He once fed Daniel, who felt hunger in the pit. But how?”
It seemed to her that I, her favorite son (not even in dreams did she prefer anyone else), had appeared to her suddenly by night with a basket of the whitest bread. Then I blessed these loaves with the Sign of the Cross, as is my custom, and I gave her to eat, and with this her strength increased.”
Saint Nonna believed the vision was real. She became stronger, and more like her old self.
Saint Gregory visited her early the next morning and, as usual, asked what sort of night she had, and if she required anything. She replied, “My son, you have fed me and now you ask about my health. I am well.” At this moment her maids made signs to me that I should not contradict her, but to accept her words so that the actual truth should not distress her.”
Early in the year 374 the hundred-year-old Saint Gregory the Elder reposed. After this, Saint Nonna almost never emerged from the church. Soon after his death, she died at prayer in the temple on August 5, 374.
Saint Nonna was a model wife and mother, a remarkable woman who devoted her life to God and the Church without neglecting her other responsibilities. Because of her spiritual, social, and domestic concerns, Saint Nonna would be a most fitting patron for Orthodox women’s organizations.
Tr by oca.org