Today is the feast of the Metastasis (Translation) of Saint John the Theologian, the Evangelist and Apostle. The Tradition of the Church states that Saint John, as a human being, died, but that his body was translated to heaven. He is the only other Saint, aside from the Panagia, for whom we believe that this happened before the general Resurrection of the dead that will occur at the end of time.
Saint John wrote the Gospel that bears his name, as well as 3 Epistles and the Book of Revelation. All these books are part of the New Testament.
There are so many wonderful things to say about Saint John. He is a pillar of Orthodoxy for the entire Church. In his writings, there is so much deep theology in such simple words. His symbol is the eagle because of the spiritual heights he himself experienced and to which he also leads us with his Gospel. Saint John defends the divinity of Christ and the reality of the Incarnation. He shares with us in his writings that God is love and that our love of God is deeply connected with the love of neighbor. Saint John is the Apostle of love and yet he does not at the same time hesitate to speak out against errors, false beliefs, and heresies.
For the Greeks, it is important to remember that he is fondly associated with the island of Patmos, whose patron Saint he is. There in Patmos is a monastery dedicated to Saint John with the cave where he wrote the Book of Revelation.
The following excerpt is meant to share some background on Saint John and his association with Patmos. Before his arrival to the island, Saint John was preaching the Gospel in Ephesus and had performed many miracles, converting many pagans and, in fact, taking them away from the worship of the goddess Artemis.
The Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) heard of John’s renown and arranged to meet him. He was so impressed by the Apostle’s confidence that Christ is mightier than any worldly power, that he banished him to the island of Patmos in the hope of reducing his influence. On the voyage there with Prochorus, John showed the kindness of God towards man by curing of dysentery the soldiers escorting them. As soon as they arrived, he freed Apollonides, the son of Myron a local dignitary, of an impure spirit. This miracle, accompanied by the word of John, brought Myron’s entire household to faith in Christ and Baptism; a little later, the Governor of the island was also baptized.
A formidable magician known as Kynopse (Dogface), wielding all the powers of Satan and served by a band of demons, lived in a wild part of the island. The priests of Apollo, who saw John as a dangerous rival, appealed to Kynopse to render the Apostle powerless. Kynopse, in his pride, did not deign to go himself but sent a demon. John reduced this impure spirit to impotence and drove it from the island in the Name of Jesus Christ, as he did all the devils that served the magician. Relying on the power of illusion, for God alone is able to work miracles, Kynopse challenged John to raise a man from the dead, and he himself made a demon appear that resembled the dead man. Finally he challenged the Lord’s Disciple by diving into the sea, intending to reappear after a long while, but at the prayer of John, the sea swallowed him up, as once it had swallowed Pharaoh in pursuit of Moses. After that, Kynopse and his slaves were seen no more on the island.
While he was on Patmos, John received a letter from the Bishop of Athens, Dionysius the Areopagite (3 Oct.), who was then ninety-nine years old. He praised John as the daystar of the Gospel and prophesied that he would soon be freed. Indeed when Trajan succeeded Nerva (AD 98), he recalled Saint John to Ephesus, to the great sorrow of the people of Patmos whom he had converted. John did not want to leave them unconsoled. Strengthened by a sign from heaven, he fasted with them for three days; then, accompanied by Prochorus, he went up into a mountain where he directed all the powers of his soul towards the Lord. Suddenly the sky was rent by fearful flashes of lightening and claps of thunder. Prochorus was overwhelmed and fell to the ground while John remained impassible in contemplation, for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). He heard a voice like thunder proclaiming from the height of heaven: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). Prochorus transcribed this message of salvation, revealed to John as was once the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai but, this time, not for the Jews alone but for all, even to the ends of the earth.
It was also on Patmos, on the Lord’s day, that John saw in the spirit Christ, having the appearance of a young man whose face was like the sun shining in full strength. Reassuring John, who fell at his feet as though dead, the Lord said: Fear not; I am the First and the Last; I am he that Lives and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore and have the keys of Death and of Hell. Write the things that you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter (Rev. 1;17ff). Then in successive revelations John was shown what will happen at the end of time: the gathering strength of iniquity, the coming of the antichrist, his warfare against the faithful and his final struggle against Christ who, in the end, will cast him forever into Hell with the Devil and his angels. It was also given him to see in his vision the violent upheavals that will take place in the world, the fiery end of all things, and the final triumph of the Son of man, the general resurrection and the Last Judgment.
The book of the Revelation of Saint John, which is also the last book of holy Scripture, ends with the sublime vision of the coming forth from God out of Heaven of the celestial Jerusalem, the holy and eternal City where God will dwell for ever with man, as the Bridegroom united with his bride. This city is perfect in its proportions and adorned as with crystal and fine gold; its foundations are garnished with precious stones and its gates are twelve pearls. And I saw no temple in the city, Saint John records, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (Christ). And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Rev. 21:22-23).
Then the Beloved Apostle, who was accounted worthy of looking upon mysteries that cannot be uttered, concludes the book of divine revelations by inviting the faithful to await the coming of the Saviour in silence and prayer: The (Holy) Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, ‘Come’. And let him who hears say Come. And let him who is thirsty come…and take the water of life without price…Surely I am coming soon (says the Lord). Amen, Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:17,20).
– From the Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church, Volume 1: Introduction – September, October by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, translated from the French by Christopher Hookway, Holy Convent of The Annunciation of Our Lady Ormylia (Chalkidike), 1998.