Commemorated May 7
Our Holy Father John of Zedazeni and his twelve disciples, Abibus of Nekresi, Anthony of Martqopi, David of Gareji, Zenon of Iqalto, Thaddeus of Stepantsminda, Jesse of Tsilkani, Joseph of Alaverdi, Isidore of Samtavisi, Michael of Ulumbo, Pyrrhus of Breti, Stephen of Khirsa, and Shio of Mgvime, were Syrian ascetics and the founding fathers of Georgian monastic life.
Saint John received his spiritual education in Antioch. Early in his youth he was tonsured a monk and withdrew to the wilderness. The Lord, recognizing his humility, diligence in fasting, and devout watchfulness, blessed His faithful servant with the gift of healing the sick and casting out demons. Saint John was celebrated for his holy deeds and miracles. Curious crowds would swarm around him, and after some time he found it necessary to withdraw into even deeper seclusion.
Taking with him several of his disciples, he chose a remote area, fashioned for himself a cell, and began to labor as a hermit. Once the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to Saint John and told him, “Take twelve monks and go with them to Georgia, the nation enlightened by the Equal-to-the-Apostles Nino, and strengthen the Christian soul of its people.”
Saint John related the vision to his disciples, and after much fasting and prayer he chose twelve of them: Abibus, Anthony, David, Zenon, Thaddeus, Isidore, Joseph, Jesse, Michael, Pyrrhus, Stephen, and Shio. He left his remaining disciples in the wilderness in the care of the abbot, the blessed elder Euthymius, and set off for Georgia with the twelve he had chosen.
By divine revelation the Georgian king Parsman and Catholicos Evlavios received the good news that the venerable fathers were in Mesopotamia, on their way to Georgia, and they hurried to greet them with the proper honors. King Parsman and Catholicos Evlavios met the holy fathers as they were approaching Mtskheta.
The holy fathers venerated the myrrh-streaming wood of the Living Pillar and the Robe of Christ at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. From there Saint John and his disciples traveled throughout Georgia, visiting its many holy sites.
With the blessing of Catholicos Evlavios, Saint John and his disciples settled on Zedazeni Mountain, where a pagan temple to the idol Zadeni had previously stood. The monks lived in wretched cells, eating only plants and praying ceaselessly.
Having heard of the spiritual endeavors of Saint John and his disciples, Christian believers began to flock to Zedazeni Mountain. Many burned with longing for the monastic life, and some abandoned the world to join the holy fathers at Zedazeni. In such a way, Zedazeni Mountain was transformed into an abode of hermits.
One night the Most Holy Theotokos appeared again to Saint John and instructed him to send his disciples throughout the country to preach the Word of God. In the morning, having related the vision to his disciples, Saint John advised them: “Our Lord Jesus Christ sent us to perform good deeds for this country and its people, for they are newly planted seeds in the Christian Faith. Therefore, let us go forth, each in his own direction, to preach the Word of God!”
Saint John remained at Zedazeni and went about his usual labors in the company of the Deacon Ilia. Zedazeni Mountain was without water, but Saint John prayed to God for a spring, and the Lord sent him a healing spring at the mountain’s peak. Through Saint John’s holy prayers, a bear that often came to the spring to drink was tamed and became a guard and protector of Zedazeni Monastery.
(To this day, the beasts of Zedazeni forest have never disturbed a single soul). Through Saint John’s intercessions, a man mute and paralyzed from his childhood began to speak and walk.
After earnestly serving God for many years, Saint John received a sign that his death was approaching. He called his disciples, blessed them, bade them farewell, and left them to bury him in the cave where he had dwelt. After receiving Holy Communion, Saint John beheld the heavens open and the incorporeal powers with the armies of saints shining forth.
The Lord called Saint John to Himself, saying: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham. Come and I will give you rest from your labors.”
The holy father prayed and gave up his soul to the Lord. After his repose Saint John’s disciples reasoned among themselves that a dismal cave was unfit to serve as their holy father’s burial place, and with great reverence they buried his remains in a church at the foot of the mountain. But suddenly a violent earthquake shook the ground where they stood. The earth ceased to quake only after the frightened disciples remembered their shepherd’s will and realized that the tremors were a sign from God. So the disciples, a priest, and a deacon uncovered the holy relics and reburied Saint John according to his will. While they were being translated, Saint John’s holy relics healed many sick and demon-possessed people.