The 20th Day of the Blessed Month of Babah
Departure of the Great Saint Abba John the Short
On this day was the departure of the great light and saint, the heguman Abba John (Yoannis) the Short. He was a native of Betsa in upper Egypt and he had one brother. His parents were righteous and God-fearing people, rich in faith and good deeds. When he was 8 years old, his heart turned away from the futility of this world, its lusts and its glory, and he desired the monastic life. The grace of God moved him to go to the desert of Scete and there he came upon a tried and holy man whose name was Abba Pemwah from El-Bahnasa. John asked Abba Pemwah to allow him to stay with him. The old man answered, trying him, "My son, you cannot stay with us for this is a very hard desert and those who dwell in it eat from the work of their hands, besides observing many fasts, prayers, and sleeping on the floor and many other forms of asceticism. Go back to the world and live in the fear of God." Abba John told him, "Do not send me away, for God's sake, because I came to be in your obedience and prayers. If you accept me, I believe that God will make your heart well-pleased with me." Abba Pemwah was in the habit of not doing anything hastily. He asked the Lord Christ to reveal to him the matter of this young man. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, "Accept him, for he shall become a chosen vessel." Abba Pemwah brought him and he shaved the hair of his head. He laid out the garb of the monk, and he prayed over it for three days and three nights and when he put the garb on him, he saw an angel making the sign of the Cross over it. Saint John started his monastic life with great asceticism and splendid works. One day Abba Pemwah wanted to test him, so he expelled him from his cell saying, "I cannot live with you." Abba John stayed out by the door of his cell for seven days. Every day Abba Pemwah went out and smote him with a palm branch and Abba John bowed down before him saying, "I have sinned." On the seventh day, the old man went out to go to the church and he saw seven angels with seven crowns placing them on the head of Abba John. Since that day, he was held by him in honor and reverence.
One day Abba Pemwah found a piece of dry wood and gave it to Abba John and said to him, "Take this wood, plant and water it." St. John obeyed and went on watering it twice a day even though the water was about 12 miles from where they lived. After three years, that piece of wood sprouted and grew into a fruitful tree. Abba Pemwah took some of that fruit and went around to all the elder monks saying, "Take, eat from the fruit of obedience." This tree still exists in its place in his monastery. Abba Pemwah fell sick for 12 years and Abba John ministered unto him all this time during which he never heard from his teacher that he fell short in his service. Abba Pemwah was an experienced old man who had been tried much, and sickness had emaciated him until he became like a piece of dry wood, so that he would be a chosen offering. When Abba Pemwah was about to die, he gathered together the elder monks and he held the hand of Abba John and gave him to them saying, "Take him and keep him, for he is an angel, not a man." He commanded Abba John to stay in the place where he had planted the tree. After that Abba John's older brother came to the monastery and was ordained a monk with him. He also became an honorable monk. It happened when the father the Patriarch Abba Theophilus was ordaining Abba John hegumen and abbot over his church, and as he placed his hand over his head, a voice from heaven was heard by the people present saying, "Axios, Axios, Axios (That is to say he is worthy)." When this saint consecrated the offering, he was able to know those who were worthy to partake of it and those who were not worthy. Abba Theophilus the Patriarch built a church for the Three Young Men in Alexandria, and he wished to bring their bodies and place them in it. He brought Abba John and asked him to travel to Babylon, and to bring the holy bodies. After much forebearing, Abba John accepted to go on this mission. When he left the Patriarch, a cloud carried him away to Babylon. He entered the city and saw its monuments, rivers, and palaces and found the bodies of the saints. When he started moving them from their place, a voice came out from the holy bodies and said to him, "This is the Will of God that we do not leave this place until the day of the Resurrection. Nevertheless, because of the love of Abba Theophilus the Patriarch, and your labor, too, you should inform the Patriarch to gather the people in the church and to put oil in the lamps without lighting them and we will appear in the church and a sign will be made manifest to you." Then Abba John left and went back to Alexandria and told the Patriarch what the saints had said. It happened when the Patriarch and the people were in the church, the lamps were lit up suddenly and they all glorified the Lord.
One day, a monk came into the cell of Abba John. He found him lying down with angels waving their wings over him. Later on, the Berbers attacked the desert of Scete and he left it. When he was asked why he left, he replied that he did not leave because he was afraid of death, but because he feared a Berber would slay him and go to hell, for though he is against his worship, he is his brother in form. Then he went to the mountain of Abba Anthony on the Red Sea. There he dwelt by the side of a village and God sent him a believer who served him. When the Lord wished to grant him rest and to end his strife in this world, He sent him His two righteous saints Abba Macarius and Abba Anthony to comfort him and to inform him about his departure. On the eve of Sunday, he fell sick and sent his attendant to bring him something from the village. The angels and the host of saints came and received his pure soul and took it up to heaven. At that time, his servant came back and saw the soul of the saint surrounded by the host of saints and angels singing before them. Before them all, there was one shining like the sun and singing. The servant marveled at this magnificent sight. An angel came to him and told him the name of each one of the saints. Then the servant asked the angel, "Who is this one in front of them all, who is shining like the sun?" The angel replied, "This is Abba Anthony, the father of all the monks." When the servant went into the cell, he found the body of the saint kneeling to the ground, as he had given up his soul while kneeling. The attendant wept sorrowfully over him and went in a hurry to the people of the village and told them what had happened. They came and carried his holy body with great honor. When they brought him into the village, great wonders and miracles were performed through his body.
May his prayers and blessings be with us all, and Glory be to God forever. Amen.