Here is a well-painted Russian icon with four figures:
Преподобны Даниилъ Столпникъ
Prepodbnui[y] Daniil Stolpnik
Venerable Daniel Stylite
Daniel the Stylite was a 5th century ascetic who spent 33 years atop a pillar after seeing a vision of Simeon the Stylite (Simeon Stolpnik). He died in 493.
Свяаты Пророкъ Софония
Svyatui[y] Prorok Sofoniya
Holy Prophet Zephaniah
Zephaniah was a 7th century b.c. Hebrew prophet whose teachings are said to be represented by the Old Testament book of Zephaniah.
Преподобны Савва Звенигородский
Prepodobnui[y] Savva Zvenigrodoskiy
Venerable Savva of Zvenigorod
Savva of Zvenigorod was a disciple of St. Sergiy of Radonezh. In 1399 he established a monastery near Zvenigorod (-gorod means “town/city”) on Storozhevsk Hill, thus his other title, Storozhensky (“of Storozhensk”). He died in 1406.
Святы Мученик Иоаннъ Воин
Svyatui[y] Muchenik Ioann Voin
Holy Martyr John the Warrior
Today we will focus on the last.
John the Warrior (Ioann Voin or Воинственник — Voinstvennik) is said to have been a soldier in the Roman army when Julian (the so-called “Apostate”) was Emperor (361-363).
You will recall from the previous discussion of St. Merkurios that Julian had been raised as a Christian, but as he grew older he left Christianity and, as Emperor, attempted to remove Christianity’s privileged status in the Empire, while maintaining freedom of religion. Because of that, Christians hated him, and in iconography he is seen as a persecutor of Christians.
John’s story is that he was both a soldier in the army and secretly a Christian. When he was sent out to deal with recalcitrant Christians under Julian’s new laws, instead of enforcing the laws, he helped the Christians.
The Emperor is said to have found out about John’s activities, and ordered that he be brought before him in Constantinople. On the way, the guards abused and beat John.
When he arrived in Constantinople, the Emperor was away in the war with the Persians. Meanwhile, John was imprisoned and placed in chains.
The Emperor Julian was killed in the war, and his successor, the Christian Emperor Jovian (363-364), restored the privileged position of Christianity in the Empire, and released John from prison.
John is said to have lived into old age, spending his time helping the sick and the poor and doing many pious deeds. When he died he asked to be buried among wanderers and beggars, and the site of his grave was said to be lost.
Some time later, John was said to have appeared to a pious woman in a dream, revealing the site of his burial. The site was found, and the remains were dug up and taken to be placed in the Church of John the Theologian in Constantinople.
Russian Orthodox traditionally prayed to him for aid in times of sorrow and difficulty, for finding lost or stolen objects, and as a patron of soldiers.
Here is a rather typical image of John the Warrior:
The title inscription reads:
Обаз Святаго Мученика Иоанна Воина
Obraz Svyatago Muchenika Ioanna Voina
“Image of the Holy Martyr John [the] Warrior”
As is common with warrior saints in iconography, he is dressed in a version of Roman armor. He holds a lance bearing a banner in his left hand, and in his right a cross. On his back are a helmet and shield.
It is common for traditional Russian icon painters to give standing male saints (including angels) a very “hippy” appearance, that is, the hips are often made to look wide in proportion to the chest. He wears a cloak, leggings, and boots.
In images showing scenes from the “life” of St. John the Warrior, those scenes vary from image to image. Often among them are some or all of these:
- His birth;
- His baptism;
- The sending out of John by Emperor Julian;
- John “on campaign”;
- John warns Christians of persecution;
- John frees a pious husband from prison;
- John arrested under Constantine’s rule;
- John in prison;
- The dormition (death) of John;
- The burial of John;
- A pious woman has a dream vision of John, who reveals his burial site;
- Finding of the incorrupt remains of John;
- The translation (moving) of John’s relics.
You should now be able to read the title inscription on this icon of John:
The central figure of John in this example holds his right hand out, with the fingers in the blessing position characteristic of the Old Believers.
In Greek iconography, John is Ιωάννης ὁ Στρατιώτης — Ioannes ho Stratiotes — “John the Soldier.”
Here is a rather more “folkish” example: