Feast Day: December 4
John was born in 676 and raised in Damascus. His father worked for the Muslim government which controlled the city, but John’s family were faithful Christians and respected in the community. John inherited his father’s job, but resigned when people began to complain that a Muslim, not a Christian, should have the job.
John was educated by a Sicilian monk who had been captured as a slave and brought to Damascus. He himself began to study for the priesthood at a monastery outside of Jerusalem. He became a priest.
John made major important contributions to the Church. He wrote an important book that explained the teachings of the Greek Fathers of the Church; he composed beautiful hymns which we still sing today; and he worked to correct the teachings of a group called the iconoclasts.
The iconoclasts, among them an important emperor, wanted all the beautiful images, statues, and pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the saints destroyed. They believed that these icons led to false worship and violated the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.” John wrote several important articles explaining that sacred images help us to honor the person pictured in the icon. He helped people to understand that we do not worship the icon, but the memory of the person it portrays.
John Damascene died in 749. He is both a saint and a Doctor, or important teacher, of our faith, declared so in 1883. When we pray before a statue or sacred picture, we can honor St. John by remembering all that our ancestors in faith did to help the Church grow in the world.