This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27 -- Feast of Saint Yanah ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun

Saint John (Yanah) Damascene, as he is otherwise known, died on December 4, 749; his dies mortalis is a feast.  But what I published in 2010 left much on the table, so I thought I'd take another swipe at him since March 27 is also his feast in the General Roman Calendar.  Mostly what I want to talk about is a legend that seems thoroughly debunked, but is worth repeating nonetheless.  Before relating it, I must note that John is a Doctor of the Church.  In particular, he is considered the Doctor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, hereafter referred to as the Theotokos (God-bearer) or BVM.  The Assumption is the doctrine that she was taken up body and soul to Heaven rather than suffering mortal death like the rest of us.

Bogorodica Trojerucica
John was a great antagonist of the iconoclast Byzantine Emperor, Leo the Isaurian.  He wasn't an iconoclast in a good way, like David Bowie or even Iggy Pop.  He was the bad kind that tries to obliterate artwork which offends his personal religious interpretations; a Second Commandment fanatic.  Most critics of iconoclasm were tortured, exiled, or killed by Leo and his thugs, but John  was safely within the walls of Damascus, which had been conquered by the Muslim Caliphate.  As long as the Caliph was cool with John, he was free to say whatever he wanted. So he did, much to Leo's chagrin.

The story goes that Leo planned to get John killed.  He dummied up some plans for the reconquest (I would not say liberation in this case) of Damascus and implicated John in a plot to betray the city to Christian soldiers.  The Caliph wound up with the plans and ordered John's right hand to be chopped and displayed as a warning to other traitors.

John was deeply devoted to the Theotokos.  He prayed at her icon, enlisting her support for divine intervention to restore his severed hand.  Sure enough, the hand grew back.  In gratitude, he had a silver facsimile of his hand attached to the riza -- i.e. the protective and ornamental screen placed over holy icons -- of the icon.  That particular icon, now located at the Hilandar Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece, is called the Bogorodica Trojerucica, the Three-handed Theotokos. 

Some spoilsport scholar has demonstrated that John Damascene had already left Damascus for the Mar Saba Monastery before the iconoclast controversy broke out, but I follow in the proud tradition that does not allow the truth to get in the way of a good story. 

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