John was born in Nicopolis in Armenia in the year 454 into a noble and virtuous family. Unusually devout even from childhood, John did not pursue the careers popular in his family; instead, after the death of his parents, he was divinely inspired to build a monastery where he afterwards lived with ten other young men, living the life of monks. John was only eighteen years old.
Under his direction, they led a devoted life of work and piety, gaining for him a reputation of leadership and sanctity. Because of this, the Archbishop of Sabaste was moved to consecrate John as Bishop of Colonia in Armenia at the young age of twenty-eight.
While at prayer one night, John was granted a vision in which he was guided to the monastery of St. Sabas and there the pilgrim was granted permission to dwell in a lonely hermitage to pursue uninterrupted contemplation.