Though there is no exact date of birth for Saint John the Russian, it is predicted to be between 1690-1693 as he was a soldier in the army of Tsar Peter during the Ottoman - Russian war between 1711-1718.
During his military service, he frequently used the religious teachings that he received from his family as being a strict Orthodox Christian. As the war continued intensively near Castle of Azov, the Ottoman army captured him as prisoner. He was sent, just like the other prisoners to Istanbul. At that time, Omer Esat (Eset) who served as Janissary Agha in the Ottoman army took with him to his hometown Ürgüp after the war in order to get him served as a slave.
Spending the next 12 years of his life at Omer Esat Agha's Mansion, this local Saint was a personality loved by both Muslim and Christian demography of the neighbourhood. He lived in the Kayakapı Neighbourhood until his death (27th of May 1730).
Feeling love and compassion to humans, animals and all living creatures in nature during his relatively short life, the Saint was well known to always walk with arms crossed on his chest and to keep saying the word "Holy God". He mostly spent his life between Omer Esat Agha's house and the Hagia Yorgi (St. Georgios) Church close to his house. He greeted all the people he saw with the name of God and wished mercy and love to be with them.
It was observed that everything was in abundance at Omer Esat Agha's Mansion; number of healthy animals constantly increased and prospered after the arrival of Saint John the Russian. His obedience, his respect for people and getting along well with everyone made Omer Esat Agha very happy. Although Agha wished to give him a proper house - instead of the cave room allocated to him, he preferred to not give up his modest life and chose to live in the same cave with the animals.
St. John the Russian was a Saint of miracles. But almost all of his miracles appeared after his death. In particular, he was the Saint of those who fell into trouble, the debilitated patients, the disabled and people in need of remedy. Omer Esat Agha himself had personally witnessed the first miracle:
Omer Esat went to Mecca for pilgrimage. While performing the task of Hajj he longed for mantı (a ravioli like Turkish dish) for dinner. He told his friends: "I wish we had sweet mantı with yogurt and garlic for dinner tonight". Saint John in Ürgüp "happened" to know this wish. He asked Omer Esat Agha’s wife to prepare a large pot of mantı and as a reason for this preparation he told Agha’s wife that Omer Esat Agha longs for mantı. The lady of the house cooked the dish upon the Saint’s insistent request. The Saint took the dish and disappeared. When Omer Esat Agha and his friends returned back to their lodging after completing their religious exercises for the day, they found a big plate of fresh mantı on the table. Nobody knew who had cooked it or where it came from.
Months later, when Omer Esat Agha returned to Ürgüp he told his wife about the incident and the wife told the Agha what really happened. Learning about the event with amazement, Omer Esat Agha understood that this youngster was different.
The Saint was given a Christian burial on 27th of May 1730 by order of the Agha, who as a token of his love and great respect for the Saint, gave an expensive cloth to cover his relics. Three years later a light appeared over the tomb, which was seen by many. At the same time, the Saint appeared in a dream to his father confessor revealing that it was the will of God that his relics be exhumed, for his body was incorrupt. Until 1924 the relics were kept in the church of St. George there in Ürgüp (Procopion). When, however, the exchange of population took place between Greece and Turkey and many of the Christian inhabitants of Procopion were resettled on the island of Euboea, the relics of their beloved St. John were also moved and were received with great acclaim and veneration by the Greeks who built a majestic temple in his honor there in the village of New Procopion (New Ürgüp). To this day, streams of pious Greek pilgrims make their way to this village on the island of Euboia.
There are hundreds of miracles relating to the Saint, two of the miracles told about St. John the Russian are:
1 - Greek sailors caught in a storm in the Arctic Ocean on the way to Netherlands were constantly praying in front of the icon of Saint John the Russian. The ship's captain said: "My Saint, I beg for this ship and crew which are very valuable for me. Please save us from the wild waves!".
They struggled with cold waves and terrible storm all night. In the morning, as day broke, the ship was on a secure point of the docks in Rotterdam. Nobody knew how the ship arrived and anchored there. The ship's captain left Netherlands after this miracle and came to Greece. Together with his wife he went to Prokopi in Greece with valuable presents where Saint John the Russian rests today. Today the presents are still kept in the church that holds the name of the Saint.
2 – An old woman named Maria Siaka living in Frenaro, a village near the city of Famagusta of Cyprus lived with a hunchback almost causing her face to touch the ground for eighteen years. Maria came to the church in Prokopi, where the corpse of the Saint rests today. The woman prayed to the Saint for nights and days to save her from the hunchback. One day, while praying in the church, the woman slowly stood upright with cracking sound of the spine, just like if a hand was pulling her on her back. The woman turned to her old normal condition. After this miracle the old woman said: "My dear St. John, I am a poor old woman and have nothing else to give you but my walking stick." She hung her stick on the corpse of the Saint and left the church. Today, that walking stick is still hanging where Maria Siaka left it.
Note: Saint John the Russian’s right hand is in Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon in Athos. By blessing of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow in 2003-2004 a small wooden church of St. John the Russian was erected in Moscow, in Kuntsevo district. In Novosibirsk, Russia the lower side chapel of the church of Our Lady of the Sign is also devoted to St. John the Russian.