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The Shepherd's Guild

St. John the Almsgiver of Alexandria

St. John the Almsgiver of Alexandria

Our father among the saints John the Merciful was patriarch of Alexandria in the early 7th century, also known as John V of Alexandria. He gained his epithet from his unstinting generosity in distributing the vast wealth of the patriarchate of Alexandria to the poor and afflicted. The main source for his biography is a Life written by Leontius of Neapolis in Cyprus. John is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on November 12.

Early life and consecration as patriarch:

John was born in Amathus on Cyprus c. 550 to the patrician Epiphanius, a governor of the island. He married and had children, but was a widower when he was called to become patriarch of Alexandria on the recommendation of his friend, the city's imperial prefect Nicetas. The Chalcedonian see of Alexandria had been vacant since the death in 609 of Theodore during the capture of the city by Nicetas. In 611 John assumed the throne, becoming the fifth Chalcedonian bishop of Alexandria to bear that name.


John was remarkable for his almsgiving or mercy (eleemosyne in Greek, hence his title Eleemon). To someone who was astounded at his generosity he recounted a vision he had seen in his youth in which Compassion appeared to him as a beautiful maiden and told him that she was the eldest daughter of God. The patriarchate of Alexandria had at its disposal immense wealth in both money and commercial enterprises, including shipping, and John put it all at the disposal of the poor. He was not only liberal with the resources of his see, but with his own goods. In one incident in his life he felt remorseful for accepting a richly-embroidered blanket as a gift and was unable to sleep until he sold it and gave the proceeds to the poor. He also made himself available to anyone who had a petition, grievance, or request. His generosity did draw censure at times. In one case one of his aides noticed that someone was abusing the distribution of goods in John's very presence, returning several times in different guises, but when he mentioned this John replied that it might be Christ in disguise. In another case he came to loggerheads with his friend Nicetas when the latter, concerned to contribute to Emperor Heraclius' war effort against the Persians, tried to appropriate some of the church's wealth to that end, an attempt which John firmly resisted and which ended in Nicetas' apology.

His care was not limited to his own flock in Alexandria, but extended to the people of Palestine in their sufferings during the Persian invasion and sack of Jerusalem. John sent convoys of essential supplies to Palestine and welcomed many refugees to Alexandria.

source: OrthodoxWiki