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Venerable Saint Joannicius the Great, in original Greek Ioannikios the Great (Greek: Όσιος Ιωαννίκιος ο Μέγας 752, village Marikat, Bithynia - † November 4, 846 in Antidium) - respected Byzantine Christian saint, sage, theologian, prophet and wonderworker, the hermit of Mount Olympus (today known as Uludağ, near ancient Prussa, modern Bursa, Turkey), monk and abbot. One of the greatest monks of Christian East.
Early years and military service
Joannicius the Great was born in Bithynia in the year 752 in the village of Marikat. His parents were destitute and could not provide him even the basics of an education. From childhood he had to tend the family cattle, their sole wealth. Love for God and prayer completely dominated the soul of the child Joannicius. Often, having shielded the herd with the Sign of the Cross, he went to a secluded place and spent the whole day praying, and neither thieves nor wild beasts came near his herd.
By order of the emperor Leo IV (775-780), a multitude of officials went through the cities and towns to draft young men for military service. Young Joannicius was also drafted into the imperial army joining the imperial guard. He earned the respect of his fellow soldiers for his good disposition, but he was also a brave soldier who struck fear in the hearts of his enemies. Saint Joannicius served in the imperial army for six years. More than once he was rewarded by his commanders and the emperor. But military service weighed heavily on him, his soul thirsted for spiritual deeds and solitude.
Monastic life and studies
St Joannicius, having renounced the world, longed to go at once into the wilderness. However, on the advice of an Elder experienced in monastic life, he spent a further two years at the monastery. Here the saint became accustomed to monastic obedience, to monastic rules and practices. He studied reading and writing, and he learned thirty Psalms of David by heart.
While he was at a monastery near Bursa, second iconoclastic movement came in 818, although Joannicius earlier supported the iconoclasts, but this time we see him as a strong opponent of them. He was a respected saint along with other saints of his time, and on occasions consulted by Saint Theodore the Studite and Saint Methodius of Constantinople.
Withdrawal into wilderness
After this, commanded by God to go to a certain mountain, the monk withdrew into the wilderness. For three years he remained in deep solitude in the wilderness, and only once a month a shepherd brought him some bread and water. The ascetic spent day and night in prayer and psalmody. After each verse of singing the Psalms St Joannicius made a prayer, which the Orthodox Church keeps to this day in a somewhat altered form, "The Father is my hope, the Son is my refuge, the Holy Spirit is my protection."
By chance, he encountered some of his former companions from military service. The saint fled the wilderness and withdrew to Mount Kountourea to hide himself from everyone. Only after twelve years of ascetic life did the hermit accept monastic tonsure. The saint spent three years in seclusion after being tonsured. Wrapped in chains, then he went to a place called Chelidon to see the great ascetic Saint George (February 21). The ascetics spent three years together. During this time Saint Joannicius learned the entire Psalter by heart. As he grew older, St Joannicius settled in the Antidium monastery and dwelt there in seclusion until his death.
Miracles and spiritual gifts
Saint Joannicius spent seventy years in ascetic deeds and attained to a high degree of spiritual perfection. Through the mercy of God the saint acquired the gift of prophecy, as his disciple Pachomius has related. The Elder also levitated above the ground when he prayed. Once, he crossed a river flooded to overflowing. The saint could make himself invisible for people and make others also hidden from sight.
Once, Saint Joannicius led Greek captives out of Moslem prison under the very eyes of the guards. Poison and fire, with which the envious wanted to destroy the saint, did him no harm, and predatory beasts did not touch him. He freed the island of Thasos from a multitude of snakes. Saint Joannicius also saved a young nun who was preparing to leave the monastery to marry; he took upon himself the agonized maiden's suffering of passion, and by fasting and prayer, he overcame the seductive assault of the devil.
Death and religious feasts
Foreseeing his death, St Joannicius fell asleep in the Lord on November 4 (November 17 by Julian calendar), 846, at the age of 94.
Links and references
- The Venerable Joannicius (Ionikios) the Great: Icon, writings againts iconoclasts and brief biography
- Joannicius the Great on OrthodoxWiki
- Venerable Joannicius the Great (OCA)
- Ioannikos the Great (GOARCH)
- The Venerable Ioannicius the Great (Prologue of Ohrid)ru:Иоанникий Великий