Above: St. John of Damascus
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT JOHN OF DAMASCUS (675 or 676-December 4, 749 or 754 or 780)
Theologian and Hymnodist
Also known as Saint John Damascene
Also known as Saint John Chrysorrhoas (or “Gold-Streaming”)
SAINT COSMAS OF MAIUMA (DIED 760 OR 773 OR 794)
Theologian and Hymnodist
Also known as Saint Cosmas the Melodist
His feast transferred from October 14 (Julian Calendar) and October 27 (Gregorian Calendar)
The Feast of St. John of Damascus is December 4 in the Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of England, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, among other denominations. In Holy Mother Church his feast has fallen on December 4 since 1969; prior to that it was March 27. (The Book of Catholic Worship, from 1966, confirms this date, which I found on several websites. I prefer to confirm information via primary sources as much as possible.) The transfer of the Feast of St. Cosmas of Maiuma from October to December is due to the overlap of his life and that of St. John, who were brothers in all but genetics and partners in various literary and theological projects.
Sergius Mansur, the biological father of St. John of Damascus and the adoptive father of St. Cosmas of Maiuma, held a prominent post in the Caliphate. (Aside: Sources have proven contradictory regarding his position. The two main versions are tax collector and chief representative to the Christians.) Sergius, a Christian, raised our two saints in the faith. He also liberated one Cosmas the Monk from slavery and had the monk instruct young John and Cosmas in theology and philosophy. St. John succeeded his father in government and exercised authority for years.
St. John’s destiny lay elsewhere, however. Circa 716 he resigned his post, sold his possessions, sold his possessions, and donated the proceeds to the poor. Then he and St. Cosmas became monks at the Monastery of St. Sabas the Sanctified, near Jerusalem, in 726. That year Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (reigned 717-741) decreed Iconoclasm. Our two saints wrote treatises condemning that heresy. They also worked together on defenses of Christianity against Manichaeism. St. John’s The Feast of Knowledge, containing “On the Orthodox Faith,” has proven especially influential. Perhaps their longest-lasting legacies have been hymn texts and tunes for chants. Due primarily to John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and John Brownlie (1859-1925) some of these texts have entered into English-language hymnody. Neale translated the texts in various editions of Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862). Brownlie’s volumes of translations included Hymns of the Greek Church (1900) and Hymns of the Early Church (1896). Although one of our saints received credit for a particular poem, chant, or treatise, both of them worked so closely that one may assume reasonably that both were partially responsible, until the death of St. John.
St. Cosmas left the monastery in 743 and became the Bishop of Maiuma, a port city in Gaza. He held that post for the rest of his long life and outlived St. John. According to tradition, St. Cosmas lived to the age of 100 years, give or take a few years.
The three main greatest hits of St. John of Damascus in Episcopal Church hymnody are Easter texts:
These are present in The English Hymnal (1906). So is a fourth text, “What Sweet of Life Endureth,” a funeral hymn.
These two saints left fine legacies, for the glory of God.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
SEPTEMBER 22, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF JOHN CAMPBELL SHAIRP, SCOTTISH POET AND EDUCATOR
THE FEAST OF JUSTUS FALCKNER, LUTHERAN PASTOR AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF PHILANDER CHASE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS OF VILLANOVA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF VALENCIA
Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power
by your servants Saints John of Damascus and Cosmas of Maiuma;
that we, with them, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man,
and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection,
attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 101