JOHN THE MERCIFUL, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA
John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, Nilus the Ascetic of Sinai, Martin, Bishop of Tours, Leondos Styppi, Patriarch of Constantinople
ST. PAUL’S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 9:6-11
Brethren, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
The Lord said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
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Saint John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, was born on Cyprus in the seventh century into the family of the illustrious dignitary Epiphanius. 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. He was zealous in fasting and prayer, and had great love for those around him.
His spiritual exploits won him honor among men, and even the emperor revered him. When the Patriarchal throne of Alexandria fell vacant, the emperor Heraclius and all the clergy begged Saint John to occupy the Patriarchal throne.
The saint worthily assumed his archpastoral service, concerning himself with the moral and dogmatic welfare of his flock. As patriarch he denounced every soul-destroying heresy, and drove out from Alexandria the Monophysite Phyllonos of Antioch.
He considered his chief task to be charitable and to give help all those in need. At the beginning of his patriarchal service he ordered his stewards to compile a list of all the poor and downtrodden in Alexandria, which turned out to be over seven thousand men. The saint ordered that all of these unfortunates be provided for each day out of the church’s treasury.
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, helped the wronged, and distributed alms. Three times a week he visited the sick-houses, and rendered assistance to the suffering. It was during this period that the emperor Heraclius led a tremendous army against the Persian emperor Chosroes II. The Persians ravaged and burned Jerusalem, taking a multitude of captives. The holy Patriarch John gave a large portion of the church treasury for their ransom.
The saint never refused suppliants. One day, when the saint was visiting the sick, he met a beggar and commanded that he be given six silver coins. The beggar changed his clothes, ran on ahead of the Patriarch, and again asked for alms. Saint John gave him six more silver coins. When, however, the beggar sought charity a third time, and the servants began to chase the fellow away, the Patriarch ordered that he be given twelve pieces of silver, saying, “Perhaps he is Christ 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. Once, the saint was compelled to excommunicate two clergymen for a certain time because of some offense. One of them repented, but the other fellow became angry with the Patriarch and fell into greater sins. The saint wanted to summon him and calm him with kind words, but it slipped his mind. When he was celebrating the Divine Liturgy, the saint was suddenly reminded by the words of the Gospel: “If you bring your gift to the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar … first, be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). The saint came out of the altar, called the offending clergyman to him, and falling down on his knees before him in front of all the people he asked forgiveness. The cleric, filled with remorse, repented of his sin, corrected himself, and afterwards was found worthy to be ordained to the priesthood.
There was a time when a certain citizen insulted George, the Patriarch’s nephew. George asked the saint to avenge the wrong. The saint promised to deal with the offender so that all of Alexandria would marvel at what he had done. This calmed George, and Saint John began to instruct him, speaking of the necessity for meekness and humility. Then he summoned the man who insulted George. When Saint John learned that the man lived in a house owned by the church, he declared that he would excuse him from paying rent for an entire year. Alexandria indeed was amazed by such a “revenge,” and George learned from his uncle how to forgive offenses and to bear insults for God’s sake.
Saint John, a strict ascetic and man of prayer, was always mindful of his soul, and of death. He ordered a coffin for himself, but told the craftsmen not to finish it. Instead, he would have them come each feastday and ask if it was time to finish the work.
Saint John was persuaded to accompany the governor Nicetas on a visit to the emperor in Constantinople. While on his way to visit the earthly king, he dreamed of a resplendent man who said to him, “The King of Kings summons you.” He sailed to his native island of Cyprus, and at Amanthos the saint peacefully fell asleep in the Lord (616-620).
Saint Neilos the Ascetic of Sinai, a native of Constantinople, lived during the V century and was a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, who exerted a tremendous influence upon their lives and their spiritual struggles.1 After receiving a fine education, the Saint was appointed to the important post of prefect of the capital while still a young man. During this period, Neilos was married and had children, but the couple found courtly life distasteful.
About the year 390, by mutual consent, they decided to abandon the world and entered monasteries. Neilos's wife and daughter went to one of the women’s monasteries in Egypt, while he and his son Theódoulos went to Mount Sinai, where they settled in a cave, which they dug out with their own hands. For forty years this cave served as the abode of Saint Neilos. By fasting, vigil, and prayer, he attained a high degree of spiritual perfection. People began coming to him from every occupation and social rank, from the Emperor down to the farmer, and all of them received counsel and comfort from the Saint.
On Sinai, Saint Neilos wrote many soul-profiting works to guide Christians on the path of salvation. In one of his letters there is an angry denunciation of the Emperor Arkadios, who had unjustly exiled Saint John Chrysostom. The ascetical writings of Saint Neilos are widely known: they are perfectly executed in form, profoundly Orthodox in content, and are clear and lucid in expression. His Ascetic Discourse is found in Volume I of the English Philokalia.
Saint Neilos suffered many misfortunes in the wilderness. Once, Saracens captured his son Theódoulos, whom they intended to offer as a sacrifice to their pagan gods. By the Saint's prayers the Lord rescued Theódoulos, and his father found him with the Bishop of Emessa, who had ransomed the young man from the barbarians. This bishop ordained both of them as presbyters. After ordination they returned to Sinai, where they lived as ascetics together until Saint Neilos reposed. His holy relics were transferred to Constantinople in the reign of Justin II (565-578), and were placed in the church of the Holy Apostles.
The Greek Philokalia has a quote from Saint Neilos beneath his icon: "The state of prayer is a passionless, settled disposition of the soul which, by supreme love, transports the wisdom-loving mind to spiritual heights." (See the English Philokalia, 153 Sections. Concerning Prayer, # 53).
1 In earlier editions of the Synaxaristes and the Menaion, it was erroneously stated that Saint Neilos lived during the reign of Emperor Maurikios (582-602). This was corrected in later editions, since he was a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, and was esteemed by Emperor Arkadios because of his virtues.
Blessed John the Merciful of Rostov (also known as “the Hairy”) struggled at Rostov in the exploit of holy foolishness, enduring much deprivation and sorrow. He did not have a permanent shelter, and at times took his rest at the house of his spiritual Father, a priest at the church of the All-Holy, or with one of the aged widows.
Living in humility, patience and unceasing prayer, he spiritually nourished many people, among them Saint Irenarchus, Hermit of Rostov (January 13). After a long life of pursuing asceticism, he died on September 3, 1580 and was buried, according to his final wishes, beside the church of Saint Blaise beyond the altar.
He had “hair upon his head abundantly,” therefore he was called “Hairy.” The title “Merciful” was given to Blessed John because of the many healings that occurred at his grave, and also in connection with the memory of the holy Patriarch John the Merciful (November 12), whose name he shared.
The Holy Prophet Ahijah, (cf. 1/3 Kgs 11:29 ff.) was a contemporary of Solomon, and was born in the city of Shiloh. The prophet predicted to Jeroboam his kingly rule over the ten Tribes of Israel, which God would grant him, snatching them away from the hands of Solomon. Afterwards Ahijah predicted to Jeroboam the perishing of all his line. All the predictions of the prophet were fulfilled. The Prophet Ahijah died in old age 960 years before the birth of Christ.
Saint Nilus the Myrrh-Gusher of Mt Athos was born in Greece, in a village named for Saint Peter, in the Zakoneia diocese. He was raised by his uncle, the hieromonk Macarius. Having attained the age of maturity, he received monastic tonsure and was found worthy of ordination to hierodeacon, and then to hieromonk.
The desire for greater monastic struggles brought uncle and nephew to Mt Athos, where Macarius and Nilus lived in asceticism at a place called the Holy Rocks. Upon the repose of Saint Macarius, the venerable Nilus, aflame with zeal for even more intense spiritual efforts, found an isolated place almost inaccessible for any living thing. Upon his departure to the Lord in 1651, Saint Nilus was glorified by an abundant flow of curative myrrh, for which Christians journeyed from the most distant lands of the East.
Saint Nilus has left a remarkably accurate prophecy concerning the state of the Church in the mid-twentieth century, and a description of the people of that time. Among the inventions he predicted are the telephone, airplane, and submarine. He also warned that people’s minds would be clouded by carnal passions, “and dishonor and lawlessness will grow stronger.” Men would not be distinguishable from women because of their “shamelessness of dress and style of hair.” Saint Nilus lamented that Christian pastors, bishops and priests, would become vain men, and that the morals and traditions of the Church would change. Few pious and God-fearing pastors would remain, and many people would stray from the right path because no one would instruct them.
The All-Merciful Kykko Icon of the Mother of God: This icon was painted, according to Tradition, by the holy Evangelist Luke. It received its name “Kykkiotisa” from Mount Kykkos, on the island of Cyprus. Here it was placed in an imperial monastery (so designated because it was built with donations from the Emperor), in a church named for it. Before coming to the island of Cyprus, the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God was brought throughout the region by the will of God. At first, it was in one the earliest Christian communities in Egypt, and then it was taken to Constantinople in 980, where it remained in the time of Emperor Alexius Comnenos (end of the eleventh to early twelfth century).
During these years it was revealed to the Elder Isaiah through a miraculous sign, that by his efforts the wonderworking image painted by the Evangelist Luke would be transferred to Cyprus. The Elder exerted much effort to fulfill the divine revelation.
When the icon of the Mother of God arrived on the island, many miracles were performed. The Elder Isaiah was instrumental in building a church dedicated to the Theotokos, and placing the Kykko Icon in it. From ancient times up to the present day, those afflicted by every sort of infirmity flock to the monastery of the Mother of God the Merciful, and they receive healing according to their faith. The Orthodox are not the only ones who believe in the miraculous power of the holy icon, but those of other faiths also pray before it in misfortune and illness.
Inexhaustible is the mercy of the Most Holy Theotokos, Mediatrix for all the suffering, and Her icon fittingly bears the name, the “Merciful.” The wonderworking “Kykkiotisa” Icon of the Mother of God possesses a remarkable peculiarity: from what time period is unknown, but it is covered by a half shroud from the upper left corner to the lower right, so that no one is able to see the faces of the Mother of God and the Divine Infant. The depiction of the Mother of God appears to be of the Hodēgḗtria (“Directress”) type, as is also the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God. The head of the Mother of God is adorned with a crown.
A copy of this icon is particularly venerated at the women’s Nikolsk monastery in the city of Mukachev.