Science of the Saints, 25-XI (12 Nov.), Saint John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria

Sainted John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria, was born on Cyprus in the seventh century into the family of the illustrious dignitary Epiphanios. At the wish of his parents he entered into marriage and had children. When the wife and the children of the saint died, he became a monk: strict at fasting, prayer, and love for brother.

His spiritual exploits gain him reknown, and when the Patriarchal cathedra at Alexandria fell vacant, the emperor Heraclius and all the clergy besought Saint John to occupy the Patriarchal throne.

The saint worthily assumed his archpastoral service, concerning himself over the moral and dogmatic welfare of his flock. During his time as patriarch he denounced and drove out from Alexandria the heresy of the Antioch Monophysite Phyllonos.

But his chief task he considered to be charity and beneficence towards all those in need. At the beginning of his patriarchal service he ordered an accounting of all the poor and downtrodden in Alexandria, which turned out to be over seven thousand men. To all these unfortunates the saint daily distributed food for free. Twice during the week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, he emerged from the doors of the Patriarchal cathedral, and sitting on the church portico, he received everyone in need: he settled quarrels, aided the wronged, and distributed alms. Three times a week he visited those in the sick-houses, and rendered help to the suffering. It was during this period that the emperor Heraclius led a tremendous army against the Persian emperor Chosroes II. It resulted with the Persians ravaging and burning Jerusalem, and taking a multitude of captives. The holy Patriarch John gave over a large portion of the church treasury for their ransom.

The saint never refused suppliants. One time along the road to the sick-house he encountered a beggar and commanded that he be given six silver coins. The beggar, having made a change of clothes, ran on ahead of the Patriarch and again began to entreat alms. Saint John again gave him six silver coins. When however the beggar a third time besought charity, and the servants began to thrust away the obtrusive fellow, the Patriarch ordered that he be given twelve pieces of silver, saying: “Is Christ not indeed putting me to the test?” Twice the saint gave money to a merchant that had suffered shipwreck, and a third time gave him a ship belonging to the Patriarchate and filled with grain, with which the merchant had a successful journey and repaid his obligations.

Saint John the Merciful was known for his gentle attitude towards people. One time the saint was compelled because of some offense to remove from the Church a certain clergyman. This fellow was angry at the Patriarch, and so the saint wanted to summon him and talk it out, but it slipped his mind. But when he was celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the saint was suddenly reminded by the words of the Gospel: when thou bringest forth thine gift to the altar and do recollect, that thine brother hath something against thee, leave hold thine gift and first make peace with thine brother (Mt. 5:23-24). The saint came out of the altar, called over the offending clergyman to him, and falling down on his knees before him, in front of all the people he asked forgiveness. The clergyman, shaken with surprise, repented his doings and afterwards became a pious priest.

Likewise there was a time when a certain citizen insulted George, a nephew of the Patriarch. George asked the saint to avenge the wrong. The saint promised to reward the offender, in a manner that all Alexandria would see. This calmed George down, and Saint John began to instruct him, speaking about the necessity of meekness and humility, and then, having summoned the insulter, he declared, that he would release him from payment of a church tax on his land. Alexandria indeed was amazed by such a “revenge,” and George learned the lesson in the teaching of his uncle.

Saint John, a strict ascetic and man of prayer, was always mindful of his soul, and of death. He commissioned for himself a crypt-coffin, but he did not bid the master-craftsmen to finish it off, instead each feastday he would have them come and ask, if it was time to finish the work.

Shortly before his death, Saint John through illness was compelled to resign his cathedra and set off to the island of Cyprus. On the ship-journey the saint in his illness had a sign: in a sleep-vision a resplendent man appeared to him and said: “The King of kings doth summon thee unto Himself.” The vision announced the impending death of the Patriarch. Having arrived at Cyprus, in his native city of Amaphunteia, the saint in peace expired to the Lord (616-620).

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