saint JOHN of DAMASCUS: an eighth-century Byzantine saint; most famous for his defense of icons, his monastic handbook of theology (On the Orthodox Faith), and his hymnography.

the PHILOSOPHER: As a man in love with God, St John is a true philosopher. His own definition of philosophy, based on the Greek roots of the word, sheds light on its true nature and object: "Philosophy, again, is the love of wisdom. But true wisdom is God. Therefore, the love of God, this is true philosophy."

the THEOLOGIAN: St John is also a theologian. For him, however, a theologian is not someone who can eloquently articulate a system of abstract propositions about God, but rather one who knows God intimately and is able to talk about Him to the extent that he has experienced Him. Evagrius of Pontus, a fourth-century monk, articulates this view of theology most clearly: "If you are a theologian, you truly pray. If you truly pray, you are a theologian.

the POET: St Porphyrios asserts, "Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet." If a poet is characterized as one who is gifted at the perception and expression of the beautiful, then this bold claim is more understandable and St John qualifies as a poet par excellence, particularly in his use of imagery to express the beauty of the Lord. As the most articulate defender of icons, he understood the vital role of imagery in helping finite humans understand an infinite God. Indeed, in all of his works, the poet in St John emerges as he masterfully crafts a magnificent display of imagery in his attempts to describe the Church's experience of an indescribable and incomprehensible God.

the PREACHER: St John's poetic abilities are especially apparent in his homilies. His reputation for being an eloquent preacher is confirmed by the epithet commonly connected to his name: Chrysorrhoas ("flowing with gold"). Significantly, all of his surviving homilies were composed for a specific liturgical feast. For St John, participation in the annual cycle of fasts and feasts promotes the spiritual life by both inspiring one to imitate and enabling one to participate in the life of Christ and all His saints.

the HYMNOGRAPHER: St John's poetry shines most brilliantly in his hymnography. Although he penned hymns for many liturgical feasts, his most renown include those composed for funerals and for Easter. As a hymnographer, he harvests the rich tradition of patristic theology and, using both precise conceptual terminology and rich poetic imagery, transforms it into song and celebration: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death."

the MONK: As a Palestinian monk, St John joined a rich monastic tradition that established itself as the guardian of orthodox Chalcedonian Christology. The primary purpose of monasticism is to practice spiritual disciplines that facilitate the healing of the human person by restoring a harmonious relationship between body, mind and soul. The path for such healing was made possible by the incarnation. The debate over the nature and person of Christ is therefore of utmost importance. St Gregory the Theologian, whose influence on St John is profound, puts it this way: "What is not assumed cannot be healed."

our HERO: The life of St John of Damascus is an inspiration for all Christians: as philosopher, he inspires us to love Wisdom; as theologian, he inspires us to truly pray; as poet, he inspires us to perceive and describe the beauty of an indescribable God; as preacher, he inspires us to imitate the life of Christ and all His saints through the liturgical year; as hymnographer, he inspires us to sing and celebrate Christ's victory over death; as monk, he inspires us to choose the narrow way of self-denial as the path to healing and salvation; and as our hero, he inspires us to renew culture through faith and learning.

 

 

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