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About 600 years after the apostle Paul was converted in Damascus, a boy was born there named John Mansour. Damascus was by then ruled by the Muslims, but John’s father, the treasurer of Caliph Abdulmeled, was a Christian who represented church interests before the court. John became a Christian himself and was educated by an Italian monk whom his father had ransomed from slavery. He excelled in academics, and upon the death of his father, he was appointed by the caliph to a high position.
In time, however, John felt the Lord calling him to the ministry. He left Damascus and settled in the Convent of St. Sabas between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. There he became a priest and spent out his days in study, writing, and doing humble tasks. His feast day is December 4.
John vigorously defended the eastern church’s practice of worshiping icons and images. But he is most famous for his encyclopedic summary of theology. He systematized Greek theology much as Thomas Aquinas summarized and systematized Latin doctrine 500 years later. “Like a bee,” he wrote, “I gather all that conforms to the truth. … I am not offering my own conclusions, but those which were laboriously arrived at by the most eminent theologians. I have merely collected them and summarized them, as far as was possible in one treatise.”
John also wrote hymns, and those who take time to thumb through old hymnals find his great resurrection hymn, Come, Ye Faithful, now 1,400 years old. Its words still paint beautiful pictures in our minds:
’Tis the spring of souls today, Christ hath burst his prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death, as a sun hath risen.
All the winter of our sins, long and dark is flying
From his light, to whom we give laud and praise undying.
Alleluia! now we cry to our King Immortal
Who, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
Alleluia! with the Son, God the Father praising,
Alleluia! yet again to the Spirit raising.
Christ has been raised to life! And he makes us certain that others will also be raised to life. Just as we will die because of Adam, we will be raised to life because of Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20,21)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec 4.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
749 – Greek Orthodox theologian and poet John of Damascus dies near Jerusalem. The last great doctor of the Greek church, he had been a strong defender of the use of icons.
1093 – Consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm fashioned the ontological argument for God’s existence and is often credited with being the father of scholasticism.
1154 – Adrian IV (Nicholas Breakspear) is elected Pope, the first Englishman to hold the position. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, he will still have been the only English pope.
1532 – Drops of molten silver injure the Shroud of Turin during a fire.
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