Saturday, May 7, 2016

May 7 - John of Zedazeni and Disciples, Monastics, Ascetics, Missionaries

John of Zedazeni committed himself to the monastic calling from a young age. In fact, he was still a youth when he received the traditional marks of his monasticism and withdrew to the wilderness to pursue God without distraction. His religious education had been extensive but it was far less important in the wilderness than his own moral commitments and his intentional disciplines and asceticism. John was well known as a man who refused distraction but was often the recipient of visitors in the wilderness because God had gifted him with the power to heal disease and cast out demons. Crowds sought him out seeking healing and exorcism but also seeking the opportunity to follow his words and teachings. After only a little time in the wilderness he had many disciples who were following his every teaching and depending upon him for spiritual guidance and direction. He did not seek this kind of influence but it was given to him by virtue of his grand calling and particular spiritual gifts. John's desire, however, was to retire even further into the wilderness and take up more ascetic and more isolated disciplines. He was willing to teach and lead but he found that it was becoming increasingly easy to become distracted by the wonders God was working through him.

So, John took some of his disciples--very close ones--and retired deeper into the wilderness. The others were left behind to continue growing in their devotion to Jesus under different leadership and direction. He built a monastery with the help of his disciples deeper in the wilderness and it was built exactly to his specifications. Each of the men present in the monastery had a cell that was barely large enough for their bed roll. They planted a garden and worked while they continued to draw closer to their God in seclusion. All of this changed, though, when God gave John a vision, a message, and a calling. In the vision he was called away to the country we call Georgia. He was told the story of Nino and told to go, serve, and teach the peoples of this foreign land. He was instructed to take with him twelve--and only twelve--of his disciples. Each and every one of John's disciples were willing to follow John wherever God had called him and so John only had to pick with God's guidance. He picked 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. These thirteen men moved to the Zedazeni mountains and established another monastery in the remains of a pagan temple.

John and his disciples continued the labor and prayer that they had started in the Syrian wilderness but now they did it in Georgia. It was only a little while until the Christians of Georgia--those who had a legacy including Nino--began to flock to John's monastery and receive instruction at his feet and at the feet of his disciples. Having established a monastic foothold in Georgia, they worked together to build each other up in their faith and devotion. The Zedazeni mountains even became a spiritual hot spot to which people would make pilgrimage. One night, John received another vision in which he was instructed to send his twelve disciples in different directions to infiltrate Georgian life and establish yet more monasteries. These twelve disciples who had long been under the tutelage and direction of John had become masters of the monastic path in their own right and now they were ready to have an astounding impact upon the people who were willing and eager to hear what they had to say. They departed soon thereafter and began establishing small monasteries and centers of spiritual formation throughout the Georgian landscape. John remained in the small Zedazeni monastery alone for some time before moving into a nearby cave. The twelve disciples of John changed the way of life in Georgia and converted many to a life of faith and trust in Jesus.

Many years later, John sent out word to his disciples that he was close to death. They returned from their monasteries and churches to attend to their teacher and director in his dying days. They found that for many years he had been living in a cave and subsisting on vegetables and prayer. He broke bread with his disciples and shared one last conversation. He asked them to bury him in the cave that had become such an integral part of his calling and then he died while gazing into the heavens receiving yet another vision. This time it was the open arms of the God he loved and served and had found in Syria and in Georgia. The God who had called him to lead, teach, and pray now welcomed him into eternal rest from his many labors.

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