St. John Damascene
Confessor, Father and Doctor of the Church (c.650 - c. 753)
The father of St. John Damascene was a fervent Christian who held the important post of grand vizier (chief financial officer) under the rulers of Damascus, then the capital of the Arabian empire. He used his great influence and wealth to purchase the liberty of numerous Christian slaves whom Arab raiders offered for sale in that Syrian city. In 699 he thus redeemed a devout and erudite Sicilian named Cosmas and entrusted to him the education of his growing son, John. The latter proved to have a brilliant mind, and was, on his father's death, appointed chief counselor of the city of Damascus but soon resigned his post on account of the hostility of Caliph Abdul Melek towards the Christian faith.
In c.730, with Cosmas, John became a monk at Mar Saba near Jerusalem. Ordained priest by Patriarch John V of Jerusalem, he went on to teach in the monastery, preach I Jerusalem, and counsel various bishops in matters of faith and doctrine. When, in 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III promulgated his first decree against the veneration of images, John immediately took issue with him and sided with the faithful in disregarding the command. A second imperial edict went still further, prohibiting even the exposition of images in public; but John vehemently defended the ancient usage, much to the chagrin of the monarch.
St. John is best known for his great oratorical skills and his important theological writings. His famous "Fountain of Wisdom" is an invaluable compilation of ancient Church traditions and the theological opinions of the great ecclesiastical writers up to his time _ it is thus the earliest "Summa Theologica" _ and one which both the Greek and the Roman Churches have always held in the highest esteem. In connection with his zealous efforts to preserve the faith in its purity, it is interesting to note that he was able to distinguish the appalling total of a hundred different heresies, which had been put forth at one time or another. St. John is the prince of Greek hymn-writers, and some of his compositions have become popular also in their English translations. He did for musical notation in the East what St. Gregory did for it in the West.
Considered the last of the Greek Fathers, he was proclaimed doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1890.
Reflection :"Without assiduous prayers, reasoning is a great dissipation of the mind, and learning often extinguishes the humble interior spirit of prayer, as wind does a candle" (St. John Damascene)