December 4: John of Damascus, Priest, c. 760

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

###

About this commemoration:

John of Damascus was the son of a Christian tax collector for the Mohammedan Caliph of Damascus. At an early age, he succeeded his father in this office. In about 715, he entered the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem. There he devoted himself to an ascetic life and to the study of the Fathers. In the same year that John was ordained priest, 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian published his first edict against the Holy Images, which signaled the formal outbreak of the iconoclastic controversy.

The edict forbade the veneration of sacred images, or icons, and ordered their destruction. In 729-730, John wrote three “Apologies (or Treatises) against the Iconoclasts and in Defense of the Holy Images.” He argued that such pictures were not idols, for they represented neither false gods nor even the true God in his divine nature; but only saints, or our Lord as man. He further distinguished between the respect, or veneration (proskynesis), that is properly paid to created beings, and the worship (latreia), that is properly given only to God. The iconoclast case rested, in part, upon the Monophysite heresy,which held that Christ had only one nature, and since that nature was divine, it would be improper to represent him by material substances such as wood and paint. The Monophysite heresy was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. At issue also was the heresy of Manichaeism, which held that matter itself was essentially evil. In both of these heresies, John maintained, the Lord’s incarnation was rejected. The Seventh Ecumenical Council,in 787, decreed that crosses, icons, the book of the Gospels, and other sacred objects were to receive reverence or veneration, expressed by salutations, incense, and lights, because the honor paid to them passed on to that which they represented. True worship (latreia), however,was due to God alone.

John also wrote a great synthesis of theology, The Fount of Knowledge, of which the last part, “On the Orthodox Faith,” is best known. To Anglicans, John is best known as the author of the Easter hymns,“Thou hallowed chosen morn of praise,” “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain,” and “The day of resurrection.”

Collects

I Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by thy servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by your servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lessons

Ecclesiastes 3:9–141

Corinthians 15:12–20

John 5:24–27

Psalm

29

Preface of Easter

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

###

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

7 Responses to December 4: John of Damascus, Priest, c. 760

  1. If I may share the Woman who was Emperor, and the Divine restoration of the Icons.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irene_of_Athens

    It is most empowering when we step outside of the “acceptable” gender roles and the trickle effect of Faith.

  2. Michael Hartney says:

    Bio. 6th paragraph: Might we include the Hymnal 1982’s #’s for these hymns? (198, 199 & 200, and 210 respectively) I continue to think that there is value to reference the hymnal of The Episcopal Church when they are mentioned in the bio. It could even be as a footnote.

    In fact, the introduction of footnotes to HWHM might be something to consider for a whole host of other concerns mentioned already and yet to be mentioned later in the calendar.

  3. Philip Wainwright says:

    The collect could be tweaked a bit. There are still some old-fashioned modernists in the church, and for us the idea of confirming our minds in mysteries doesn’t seem quite rational. I don’t think we lose anything by asking simply that our minds be confirmed in the true faith. In the peititon we could reduce some of the clutter without giving up any of the references by combining a couple of them: ‘that we, with him, singing the praises of Him Who is true God and true Man etc etc’.

  4. John LaVoe says:

    This “collect” doesn’t conform to the structure of a collect. It’s more of an embellished wish list: “Straighten our minds out and give us eternal joy.” It makes it sound as if John came up with the Calcedonian definition, and it doesn’t mention his contribution regarding the iconoclasts.

    (“Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by your servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”)

  5. Steve Lusk says:

    John’s dates are hopelessly muddled, but having him become a monk in 715 is surely wrong. The Oxford Dictionary has him resigning his office under the Caliph in 725, while the Encyclopaedia Britannica has him writing his discourses while still a government official in 730. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 or so) says that John’s discourses so enraged Leo III that the emperor had letters forged implicating John in a plot against the Caliph, which led the Caliph to have John’s hand cut off. It was after that that John retired to the monastery. And stayed there, even though the Caliph later offered him his old position back.
    Leo’s adoption of iconoclasm owed as much to his belief that the excessive use of icons was an obstacle to his efforts to convert Jews and Moslems to the True Faith. It’s worth noting that John’s ability to refute the imperial theology owed a great deal to his being the subject of Moslem prince, not the Orthodox emperor. John and his writings were condemned by the Synod of Hieria in 753. The iconoclasts remained in power until the death of Leo IV in 780, when the iconodules returned to power. Their positon was affirmed by the Council of Nicaea in 787. The iconoclasts remained strong in the Byzantine army, however, and a second persecution of the iconodules broke out in 814. The end of that struggle in 842 is commemorated to this day by the Eastern Churches on the first Sunday of Lent as the Feast of Orthodoxy.
    While they differ on the chronology of his life, the Oxford Dictionary and the Britannica agree that John’s “most important work” was the Fount of Wisdom, with the last of its three parts (On the Orthodox Faith) being the most important. In fact, Oxford’s five paragraph entry on John devotes only a single sentence — alebit a long one — to his defense of icons but three very long paragraphs to the Fount of Wisdom and its influence on later theologians, including Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas. The Britannica says his “theological synthesis [in the Fount] made him a preeminent intermediary between Greek and medieval Latin culture.” HWHM might profit from their example.

  6. Nigel Renton says:

    The subtitle is inadequate. I suggest “Monk, Priest, and Theologian”.

    His place and estimated date of birth (Damascus, in about 676 AD) should be shown.

    Line 1, sixth paragraph: substitute “also” for “best”, to avoid the propinquity to “best known” in the previous paragraph.

  7. Paul Colbert says:

    I question the usage of the archaic word, . This was in common usage at one point, assuming that Muslims followed Mohammed in the same way that Christians followed Christ. Muslim caliph would be a more appropriate wording.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: