St. John of Damascus
St. John was born in Damascus (ca. 675- 749) and was the son of wealthy and pious parents. He was reared together with St. Cosmas who had been adopted by John's father, a man of high rank in the service of the Caliph of Damascus. Both of these young men were instructed by a monk who had been taken captive in Italy by the Arabs and later ransomed by John's Father. Saint John became a great philosopher, theologian and enlightener of the age in which he lived, and was honoured by the Caliph with the dignity of counselor. St. John is known for his defense of the Church’s use of imagery and icons which, as history demonstrates, preserved art for East and West. When Emperor Leo the Isaurian (reigned 717-741) he began an extreme campaign against holy icons and images, John wrote extensively in the defense of imagery and art defending their veneration. Through conspiracy, the emperor convinced the Caliph to cut of the saints hand as an attempt to stop him from writing. The Saint obtained the Caliph's Permission to have his severed hand again, and that night prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary before her icon. That night when sleeping she appeared to him in a dream and healed his hand, which, when he awoke, he found to be healed in truth. This Miracle convinced the Caliph of his innocence, and he restored John to his office as counselor. The Saint, however, with many pleadings obtained his permission to withdraw from the world to become a monk. He assumed the monastic habit in the Monastery of Saint Sabbas. Along with his theological writings, he also composed poems and music that are still used in Orthodox Churches today. He was also the first to write a refutation of a new religion that was spreading at the time called Islam. The time he had spent as a counsellor in the courts of the Muslims of Damascus had given him opportunity to learn their teachings at first hand, and he wrote against their errors with a sound understanding of their essence. Having lived 84 years, he died in peace in 760. His feast day in the Orthodox Church is celebrated on December 4.