Saint of the Day – 11 November – St John the Almoner (c 550-c 616) – born in c 550 at Amathus, Cyprus and died there in c 616 of natural causes. He is also known as John the Almsgiver, John the Merciful, John V of Alexandria, John Eleymon and Johannes Eleemon. He was the Chalcedonian Patriarch of Alexandria in the early 7th century (from 606 to 616). He is the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller, Casarano, Italy and of Limassol, Cyprus.
St John was born at Amathus as the son of Epiphanius, governor of Cyprus and was of noble descent. In early life he was married and had children but when his wife and children died, he entered religious life, he was around 40-50 at this time.
On the death of the Patriarch Theodore, the Alexandrians requested Emperor Phocas to appoint John his successor, which was accordingly done. One of the first steps he took was to make a list of several thousand needy persons, whom he took under his especial care. He always referred to the poor as his “masters”, because of their mighty influence at the Court of the Most High. He assisted people of every class who were in need. On Wednesday and Friday in every week, he sat on a bench before the church, to hear the complaints of the needy and aggrieved.
He was a reformer who attacked simony and fought heresy by means of improvements in religious education. He also reorganised the system of weights and measures for the sake of the poor and put a stop to corruption among the officials. He increased the number of churches in Alexandria from seven to seventy.
The work of St Vitalis of Gaza (died c 625), a monk who worked among the prostitutes of the city, was a noteworthy episode of John’s reign. The Patriarch was considered to have behaved with wisdom for not punishing this monk who was notorious for visiting the unsavoury and dangerous areas of the city and his judgement was vindicated, only after the death of St Vitalis, when the story of the monk’s mission of mercy became known.
St John visited the hospitals three times every week and he freed a great many slaves. John is said to have devoted the entire revenues of his see to the alleviation of those in need. A rich man presented him with a magnificent bed covering; he accepted it for one nigh, but then sold it and disposed of the money in alms. The rich man bought the article and again presented it to John, with the same result. This was repeated several times but John drily remarked: “We will see who tires first.”
When the Sassanachs sacked Jerusalem in 614, John sent large supplies of food, wine and money to the fleeing Christians. But eventually the Persians occupied Alexandria and John himself, in his old age, was forced to flee to his native country, where he died in c 616.
From Cyprus his body was moved to Constantinople, then in 1249 to Venice, where there is a church dedicated to him, the Chiesa di San Giovanni Elemosinario, although his relics are preserved in another church, San Giovanni in Bragora, in a separate chapel. Another relic was sent to King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. It was placed in the private Royal Chapel in Buda Castle, which was dedicated to him. In our time, his body lies in the St John the Merciful Chapel in St Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava, Slovakia.
A church in Cospicua, Malta, is dedicated to him and one of the bastions of the Santa Margherita Lines in the same city is also named after him.