St. John the Russian was born approximately in 1690 in Ukraine. Having come of age, he was recruited to the army of Peter the Great and took part in the Russo-Turkish War (1710–1711). During the war, he was captured prisoner and sold to slavery to the head of the Turkish cavalry.
The saint refused to adopt Islam and was humiliated and tormented for that by the Turks, who called him a kafir, which means “unbeliever”. But as time went by, the mockery had stopped due to saint’s steadiness in faith, humility, and diligence, and saint John became respected by his master and the household. He worked as a groom and lived in the stables. Other slaves mocked him for the zeal he was working with, but the pious man took no offense, trying to help them in their needs and comforting them when needed. For his sincere kind-heartedness, the saint had earned love and trust of the Agha who proposed him to live as a free man, in a separate house. But he refused, saying: “My patron is Lord, and no one is above Him. He predestined me to live as a slave in a foreign land; it seems, it must be so for my salvation”.
In the daytime John worked and prayed, keeping strict fast, and when the night came, he used to secretly go to the cave-church of St. George, where he said the prayers of All-Night Vigil. Every Saturday he used to take the Holy Communion.
Soon the Agha became rich and one of the most influential people in Urgup. He decided, that it was because the holy man, who lived in his home. Having become rich, the Agha decided to carry out the Hajj. During this travel, his wife was giving a dinner to the relatives and friends. When the master’s favorite dish, pilaf was being served, she told John, who was waiting upon the table: “How glad would your master be, if he could eat this pilaf with us”. The saint asked her to give him this dish, promising to send it to Mecca. Everybody was laughing, but John’s request was complied, they decided he wanted to eat the rice pilaf himself or give it to the poor.
When the Agha came back, he told about the miracle that had happened to him: while being in Mecca, he found a fuming plate of pilaf in his locked room. And on this plate, his name was engraved – as on every plate in his home.
News of this miracle spread quickly, and everyone, even Muslims, began to call John a “Wali” – a “saint”. However, he did not change the way he lived and spent time doing hard work and praying. Before his death, he became seriously ill and, having no ability to stand up, asked for a priest to give him Holy Communion. The priest was afraid to openly go to a Muslim house and hid the Eucharist inside an apple. John the Russian died on June 9, 1730, some time after receiving the Holy Communion.
The relics of Saint John are in His church of Saint John the Russian in Prokopi in Euboea, Greece. His right hand is in the Russian Monastery of St Panteleimon on Athos.