St John was a fisherman by trade, the son of Zebedee (i.e., "the son of thunder") and Salome, the daughter of Joseph the betrothed of Mary the Theotokos; hence, he was a step-cousin of the Saviour. When the Lord Jesus called him and his brother James to follow him, they left their father Zebedee with the fishing nets. From that time on he followed Christ wherever he went. He was present with Peter and James at the raising of Jairus' daughter and at our Lord's Transfiguration, and he laid his head upon the breast of Christ at the Last Supper. At the crucifixion, John stayed with Christ when all the other disciples had fled, and Jesus entrusted him with taking care of his Mother; the gospel of St John tells us that he cared for her until her falling asleep.
After the Dormition of the Theotokos, St John and his disciple St Prochoros (with whom he is almost always depicted in icons) departed to Asia Minor to preach the gospel, primarily in Ephesus. Because of the success of his evangelism, the pagans became infuriated and sent him to Rome to stand before the Emperor Dometian. He was tortured before the emperor, but he was not harmed by any of the tortures: flogging, poisoning, and being put into boiling oil. The emperor became afraid at his miraculous survival, and sent him away to exile on the island of Patmos, where he continued his ministry of converting the pagans to right belief, and where he composed the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation), followed by his gospel and his three catholic epistles.
There is some dispute among his biographers as to his age at the time of his falling asleep: reports range between 95 and 120 years old. There is a tradition that when he had reached a ripe old age, he took seven of his disciples and instructed them to dig a grave in the form of a cross. When they had completed digging it, the old man climbed down into the grave and commanded that they bury him. When the faithful later opened the grave, they found it empty. Some have speculated that this was to fulfill Christ's words in the 21st chapter of the gospel of St John, in which Christ predicts Peter's imprisonment and death; Peter asks the Lord what will happen to John, and Christ says, "If I will that he tarry until I come, what is that thee? Follow thou me." The other disciples speculated that John would not die. Thus, the emptiness of St John's grave has been claimed as proof that he did not die, but will remain alive until the Lord comes.
A miracle was reported for many years on 8 May: a fine dust or manna arose from his grave, from which those suffering from diseases were cured.
The feast of St John's repose is celebrated on 26 September, with a lesser feast on 8 May commemorating the miraculous manna.