This guy is my hero!
John the Bulgarian
Much has been made of Turkish brutality and the old enmity between Turks and
Greeks, to the point where some of the younger generations consider the ill
feeling an overreaction on the part of their elders, but the life story of
John the Bulgarian who lived until nearly the twentieth century is recent
enough in memory to dispel this notion.
Nothing is known of the early background of John, who was one of the
carefree young who grew up in the shadows of the minarets and who numbered
among his friends boys of the Muslim faith. He had been born and baptized a
Christian but did not seem to take his Christian religion seriously. He was
not known to have been what one might call a churchgoer and in spite of the
fact that he was of decent character, was not known to have a childish faith
in Christ. Religious training was not a part of his childhood, but later he
proved himself more a Christian than most.
At some point in his early teens John the Bulgarian's relaxed religious
attitude was such that he allowed himself to turn to Islam, which at first
appeared to be no more than crossing the border into another country. It
soon became apparent as he approached adulthood that it was a much more
serious matter and that his carelessness could prove costly since he failed
to realize that in turning his back on Christianity, he had become an
apostate who denied Christ. When he was eighteen years old he faced the
harsh reality of what he had done and the latent spirit that had been within
him since his baptism asserted itself.
It was not fear, but abject contrition that drove John the Bulgarian from
the one extreme of indifference to a gnawing desire to repent. Not content
to rejoin his Christian friends and simply embrace Christ again with a
parish priest to hear his confession, he made his way to the monasteries of
Mt. Athos , where he was admitted with no credentials except one; that one,
a desire to atone for his ill-considered apostasy, was enough to gain him
entrance in the company of men who could help him cleanse himself completely
in the eyes s of God.
John the Bulgarian was assigned to the Monastery of St. Athanasios, where he
spent four years in meditation, prayer, and fasting. He led the life of the
most ascetic of monks, not in preparation for monkhood but to attain
forgiveness. One of his duties was the care of a monk who had lost an arm in
an accident, but not his faith in spite of his misfortune. The monk assured
John that he would love Jesus Christ with all his heart even had he been
rendered limbless. John was reminded that all he had lost in his past years
was his reason, which was easily restored, and in showing his true
contrition he was showing a great love of Jesus Christ. John found
considerable comfort in the old monk's counsel, particularly when he
insisted that John's incident was not so much as apostasy as it was an
John the Bulgarian felt that his forgiveness would be complete only after
kneeling in prayer in the Church of Hagia Sophia, in defiance of Turkish
law. This display would serve a dual purpose, since it would allow an overt
declaration of Christianity in what once had been the mightiest citadel in
Despite warnings that his action was needless and that his debt had been
paid, John the Bulgarian made his way to Constantinople and prior to
entering the cathedral, donned his Turkish garb over his street clothes. He
then entered the huge cathedral, scarcely noticed until he went before what
was once the altar, and casting his Turkish garb onto the floor, knelt in
prayer, constantly making the sign of the cross in true Orthodox fashion as
bewildered guards looked on. He continued to pray out loud, declaring Christ
as his deliverer and denouncing Islam as only one who had experienced it
could. It was some time before he was subdued by guards and ordered to pick
up his Turkish clothes.
John's answer was to step on the garments and grind them into the floor. He
was a man possessed, doing what no Christian had dared to do since the Turks
had forbidden Christian prayer in Hagia Sophia. In complete disregard of the
consequences, he shouted out that the Turks should be ashamed of themselves
for having defiled this House of God, just as he was ashamed of himself.
Shouting the praises of the Lord, he was dragged out into the street where
police pounced on him, slashing him to death. Without trial, he spilled his
blood for Christ on 5 March 1889.