His father died while John was a child. Recognized as a bright student, he was enrolled in the imperial court school in Constantinople. Principal court chanter. Exposed to a dissolute courtly life, he had no interest in it. The emperor arranged a marriage for him to a wealthy family, but young John felt a call to religious life, and became a monk at Grand Laura abbey, Mount Athos. Shepherd for the abbey.
Emperor John Comnenus either missed one of his favourites, or was angry that the boy had left without permission; either way, he sent agents to search for John, but no one connected the ragged monastic shepherd with the court singer. John sang hymns in the mountains; legend says that his sheep and goats stopped grazing to listen. A mountain hermit heard the singing, and advised the abbot that the shepherd and the boy the emperor sought might be one and the same. Questioned by the abbot, John admitted his identity, and begged to stay. The abbot let him return to the flocks, then went to the emperor himself and begged for the boy. When the emperor learned of John’s new vocation, he released him from court service, and asked that the shepherd pray for the empire.
John soon moved six days a week into a small cell, leaving only to chant in Sunday services. One Sunday, after singing, he received a vision of the Virgin Mary who asked him to never stop chanting, and placed a gold coin in his hand as proof of her visit; the coin still exists, and is part of an icon at the Laura of Saint Athanaius. John devoted himself exclusively to prayer and singing. His health suffered until another visitation from Our Lady healed him.
- 12th century at Grand Laura abbey, Mount Athos of natural causes
- accurately predicted the date of his death
- God is gracious; gift of God (John)
- beans and greens ( = Kukuzelis; nickname he earned as a schoolboy due to his difficulty with saying certain words in Greek at the imperial school)