John was born on January 8, 454, in Nicopolis, Armenia. His parents, Euphemia and Encratius, were good Catholics who came from a long line of government dignitaries. They brought John up in the faith and made sure he received a good Christian education.
After the death of his parents, John received a large inheritance, which he shared with other relatives. With part of his share, he built a church dedicated to the Blessed Mother as well a monastery. He and ten other friends then began living their lives as monks, practicing self-denial and mortification.
In 481, he was asked to leave his monastic life and become Bishop of Colonia. This was difficult for John. He was very humble, felt unworthy, and preferred his life as a monk. John still followed monastic life as much as possible in his new position. He prayed fervently and constantly for discernment, wanting only God’s will. According to his biographer, one night while in prayer he had a vision of a bright cross in mid-air. He then heard a voice, which said, “If thou desires to be saved, follow this light.” The light then moved and pointed to a place that John recognized as the Lavre (monastery) of St. Sabas. John immediately knew that God had answered his prayer and so left his episcopal charge. He traveled to Palestine, taking time in Jerusalem to perform his devotions, then retiring at the Lavre of St. Sabas. There were 150 other devout and pious monks living at the monastery and John was at home with these fervent monks.
John was 38 years old at this time. In his new home he was given the duties of fetching water and carrying stones, having been placed in the service of the workmen who were building a hospital. Through all his chores, John was always silent but joyful. He tried to avoid the sins so often committed by the tongue, and also because he preferred interior recollection and prayer, he rarely spoke.
John was highly regarded by his brother monks. He served as a great example of holiness to them as did their abbot, St. Sabas. St. Sabas noticed John was remarkably proficient in the monastic life and decided that John should be allowed to have a separate hermitage to continue in his meditations and spiritual growth. For three years John stayed alone in his cell, only coming out in public to attend church on weekends. After this period, St. Sabas, judging John worthy of the vocation of priesthood, recommended him to the patriarch Elias. However, prior to his ordination, John asked to speak to the Holy Father and then revealed that he been ordained a bishop and had abdicated the episcopacy of Colonia. On hearing his confession, Patriarch Elias told St. Sabas that he could not ordain John. Finally John explained the situation to St. Sabas. Knowing how much he had disappointed his holy abbot, John insisted on quitting the Larve, but St. Sabas urged him to stay and told him that he would not reveal his secret. For the next four years, John again lived alone in his cell, never speaking to anyone except a few words to those who brought him food and necessities. Thus John came to be known as John the Silent.
In the year 503, due to problems with some of the monks and divisions among them, St. Sabas quit his Lavre. Out of respect for his abbot, John also left and went into the wilderness where he stayed for the next several years in complete silence, conversing with God only. After seven years, St. Sabas returned to his Lavre. He sought out John and prevailed upon him to come back. John did return, but he had become so accustomed to communication only with God that he confined himself to his cell and spent the next forty years in silence. John died at the age of 104.
St. Cyril of Scythopolis, who wrote about St. John the Silent, said that he when he was 16 years old, he sought advice from John who was then 90 years old. He wanted John to help him discern his state in life. St. John advised him to go to the monastery St. Euthymius. Cyril, however, went instead to a small monastery on the banks of the Jordan River. He had barely arrived there when he fell ill with fever and was deathly sick. One night, in his sleep he had a vision of St. John who gently rebuked him for not following his advice and told him that if he went to the monastery of St. Euthymius his health would be restored. As soon as he awoke the next morning, he received the Eucharist and set out on foot for the monastery. As soon as he arrived, he was completely recovered. St. Cyril, in his biography of St. John, also related several other miracles attributed to this holy man.
Father, you called St. John to the solitary life in which he prayed for others. Grant us the signs we seek for discerning Your will and purify our hearts, dear Lord, that we may serve You more perfectly. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
Our Lady of Fatima (1917)
St. Robert Bellarimine (1621), Bishop, Cardinal, Doctor
St. Andrew Hubert Fournet (1834), Priest