Commemorated on November 12
Sainted John the
Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, was born on Cyprus in the VII 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.
exploits gain him reknown, and when the Patriarchal cathedra-seat 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, gratis and 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 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 6 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 6 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 12 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).
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.