(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. John Kalyvites, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
St. John Kalyvites (the Hut-Dweller)
The popularity of the name John made it a name common in many families. In one family there was a son named John whose common name identifies him in a most uncommon manner, appropriate to the most uncommon life he chose to lead in complete devotion to the Savior seldom equaled in intensity and unsurpassed in loyalty. Thus a man comes down to us in ecclesiastical history by the name of St. John Kalyvites (= hut-dweller), whose life story is a study in Christian resolve and calculated denial.
This particular John was born to parents whose names were Eutropios and Theodora, both of whom were devout Christians and whose station in life was lowly enough to place them in the company of Emperor Leo. The youngest of three children, John had every advantage, but he might as well have been born of paupers. When he was old enough to make a choice, he scorned the fun and games of the more or less idle rich in favor of more serious pursuits, enjoying most the company of monks who had paused in his city en route to the Holy Land and one of whom remained for a time with John’s parents while the others went on.
The parents were content to entertain their guest for as long as he wished, but the monk extended his stay principally because he fascinated young John, who plied him with questions about Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. The monk in turn was pleased at the boy’s religious bent, spending hours in spelling out the concepts of the Christian faith and the beauties that lay in the worship of Jesus Christ. The monk finally left to continue his pilgrimage only after promising the boy that he would return and take him to the monk’s monastery called Akoimetoi (Sleepless).
Making no mention of his intent to eventually go to this monastery, whose name derived from the fact that the monks, organized in groups, prayed and meditated in turn around the clock, John went on with his education but with a request that he be given a Bible. The parents agreed because they could afford it – a hand-written Bible was expensive, a possession few youngsters possessed. It is said that the boy’s Bible was illustrated with holy figures, and made from the best of materials. John savored every word of the Bible while keeping up with his other duties and waiting impatiently for the monk to return as promised.
John’s anxiety grew as the days passed. Finally, after a year had passed, his friend the monk appeared. Determined to keep his future course a secret, John arranged to meet the monk aboard ship, getting the passage money from unquestioning parents. Once they had arrived at the monastery, they had no trouble asking the abbot to waive the mandatory one-year period, despite the boy’s extreme youth; and John was tonsured a monk without delay. He joined his fellow monks, embarking on a program of extreme austerity.
John’s vow of poverty and chastity included fast days that were ongoing and not restricted to sacred observances. John’s diet, restricted to meager portions of bread and water, was so severe that his gaunt appearance alarmed the abbot, who implored him to take substantial nourishment.
John continued his fasting, but as he continued to shut out everything and everybody to think only of the Lord, his will weakened to the extent that he allowed himself to turn his thoughts to the parents he had abandoned without warning. Finally, he was driven to ask the abbot for permission to see his parents once more. The abbot was only too willing to grant permission, assuring the young man, who now looked much older than his years, that the Lord would understand.
John somehow bore up under the weary journey and when he appeared at what once was his home, the servants were about to turn him away, when his father, not recognizing the haggard creature before him as his own son, ordered them to let the poor monk in. Offered shelter in comfort, the unrecognized son asked to be given the use of a hut in a corner of the grounds. He remained there for three years. In all that time his own mother failed to recognize him.
After three years of deliberate deprivation and isolation, John had a vision in which an angel of the Lord appeared to tell him that he was about to be received into the kingdom of heaven. He sent the Bible to his parents, who came rushing to his side. But in a matter of days the son, finally recognized by his parents, died.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GoArch.org.