John of Thebes, Hermit of the Judean Wilderness
February 6 is the Commemoration of John of Thebes, Hermit of the Judean Wilderness
The Monastery of Saint George of Hazeva was founded in the fifth (or VI) century by John of Thebes. After been tonsured a monk, St. John left Thebes in Egypt and came to the wilderness of Judea, around 480. Here, in a cave, he lived as a hermit.
St. George Monastery of Hazeva from Judea, also called Wadi Kelt, is an ancient Orthodox monastery baring the relics of Saint John Jacob of Neamt (the Romanian), called also “the Hotzebite” and of Saint George the Hotzebite. The monastery is situated approximately 20 kilometers from Jerusalem taking the road to Jericho. The valley of “Wadi Kelt” occupies a large part of the Judea desert and runs parallel with the ancient Roman road that once connected Jerusalem to Jericho, a road with biblical connotations – where the Good Samaritan came to Christ (see Luke 10, 29-37). The monastery of Saint George is situated on the steep west bank of the valley.
The Orthodox Christian monks began to settle in the wilderness of Judea as early as the fourth century. Between the V and the VI centuries, the desert of Judea became a particularly strong monastic region, more than 70 monasteries and monastic hermitages were founded here, some of which are little accessible even today.
The first monks settled in this valley around the year 420. There are known as: Prono, Elijah Gannaios, Ainan and Zenon. The small chapel built by these five hermits was later turned into a monastery by St. John the Thebes – a monk that came from Thebes, Egypt around 480 AD.
The Monastery is associated not only with John of Thebes but also with St. John Jacob the Romanian who was born in 1913 and passed in the Lord on August 5th 1960 at the age of 47 years. Saint John arrived at the Holy Land and went to the Romanian monastic settlement of Jordan, where he became a spiritual advisor and leader. St. John however, considered his labors not to be sufficient for his salvation and desired a more severe struggle in the desert as once had the anchorite of the golden age of Christianity.
Father John went to the Monastery of St. George the Hotzebite, to the cave where the Holy Prophet Elijah (of Tishbite) lived for sometime and where thousands of monks dwelled in ancient times, many been martyred during the Persian invasion. Perhaps that is why the pious ascetic John had chosen this monastery, where he lived but a short time. In 1953, St John retired into another cave – of St. Ann – nearby, where he remained until the end of life in the most severe asceticism.
In this cave – carved into the steep cliffs of the mountain, St. John spent his days in prayer and fasting, sleeping very little on a mat laid on a wooden board and eating little dry food. In this poor and lowly surrounding, St. John prayed for eight years, enduring cold, hunger, thirst, heat, diseases, deprivations and temptations of all kinds.
His holy body was placed in a tomb where he had prepared ahead of time. At his death, multitudes of birds had miraculously gathered at the monastery of St. George during the memorial service. For twenty years, St. John’ body rested in the tomb of Saint Ann‘ Cave. In August 1980, by divine providence when his grave was opened, his body was found whole, incorrupt and fragrant. His relics were translated in great procession into St. George Monastery chapel and placed in a glass casket.