JANUARY 23 is the traditional Catholic memorial of ST. JOHN THE ALMSGIVER (+c. 619).

St. John is also known as St. John the Merciful, John the Almoner, Patriarch John V of Alexandria and John Eleymon. The son of Epiphanius, the governor of Cyprus, he was born in Amathus, the capital around 552. He was of noble blood. As a young man, he married and had children. But his whole family soon died.

At this point, John was called to the religious life. He was apparently well liked and when Patriarch Theodore died, the Alexandrians asked Emperor Phocas to appoint John to the post. And, so, he became the Patriarch.

John quickly made a list of those Alexandrians in need. He took them under his wing and did what he could for them. He claimed that they had much in fluence at the court of the Most High. There are many anecdotes of his great benevolence. One tells of a merchant who was helped twice to no avail. On the third time helping the merchant, John gave him a ship and wheat to sell. The weather was fair and the man took the ship all the way to England. There, due to a draught, the man was able to sell all his wheat at a great price and solved all his financial problems.

In addition, John attacked simony, the act of selling church offices and roles. He counteracted heresy by improving the religious education system. He reorganized the system of weights and measures to keep the average people from getting cheated. And he did all in his power to reduce the corruption of the officials. John also busied himself building thirteen churches in Alexandria.

In 614, the Sassenids came out of Iran and attacked and overran Jerusalem. When John received the news, he raised alms, food, wine and money, and sent them to the Christians who had to flee. Eventually, the Persians reached Alexandria and John, with many others, had to run. John went back to his home country, Cyprus, where he died somewhere between 616 and 620.

“Circumstances easily deceive us: magistrates are bound to examine and judge criminals; but what have private persons to do with the delinquencies of their neighbors, unless it be to vindicate them?”–St John

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