It has been written that St. John Damascenes life sounds like a tale from the Arabian Nights.
Born in the fabulous city of Damascus sometime between 680 and 690 A.D., he lived out his years under the protection of Moslem rulers. His father, a wealthy and influential Christian named John Mansur, was the caliphs vizier, holding a position of trust in the Muslim government.
From early on, Johns greatest wish was to become a simple monk in a quiet monastery. He finally did achieve his goal though certainly not as he had planned it .
Trained by a Greek monk of extraordinary intelligence, John and his adopted brother Cosmos excelled in grammar, rhetoric and logic, to say nothing of music, poetry and arithmetic. Much of Johns instruction, of course, was geared toward an expected career in goverment office, and upon his fathers death, John did indeed serve competently under several caliphs.
As public life suited neither him nor his brother, though, they both decided to become monks, and set out for the laura of St. Sabas, called Mar Saba, near Jerusalem.
Mar Saba a very cold and picturesque monastery with a copper dome rising dramatically out of the rocks on the road to Jericho did suit John well. There, he continued to write poetry and hymns, many of which became very famous.
In addition to his beloved poetry, John wrote widely on Christian themes, including many fiery treatises against the spreading heresy of iconoclasm, which forbade the use of pictures or images for religious purposes. Until his death at Mar Saba in 754, John Damascene continued to write and preach against this last great heresy which arose in the Eastern Church, and which lasted over a hundred years.
Truly a defender of the Christian faith, St. John Damascene was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1890. His feast day is traditionally celebrated on March 27.