"We will soon see, Lord, which of us two will win the contest: You, Who ever gives me good gifts, or I, who will never cease distributing them to the poor. For I know well there is nothing of mine that is not owing to Your mercy, which upholds my life."
(Prayer of St. John the Merciful)
Born in the year 555 on the island of Cyprus, the saint we remember on November 12 is a beautiful example of Christian Orthodox Stewardship. Known to us as St. John the Merciful, he was the son of devout Christian parents who were affluent and able to provide a comfortable living for their family. His father served as governor of Cyprus and was involved in the politics and business of the island. As John grew older, he married and had children. When his father died, he took over the family’s business interests, but this did not last long. Soon after the death of his parents, his wife and children also died from a rare disease. John’s faith in the Risen Lord gave him great comfort in dealing with the physical loss of his family. In thanksgiving to God, he surrendered his life to Christ and the Church. He was instrumental in the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, and gave his entire estate to the poor and needy so that he could pursue a life of prayer. His reputation as a philanthropist spread throughout the Byzantine Empire and he was soon asked to become the Patriarch of Alexandria.
Among his first actions as Patriarch was to call together all the clergy and trustees of the Diocese of Egypt. He sent them out to register all the poor and needy people in the area regardless of whether or not they Christian. Over 7,500 people in need were found. The Patriarch ordered that they were to be fed every day and given the clothing they needed. He called the indigent his "Masters" and recognized that by serving them, God was providing an excellent opportunity to express faith in Him! As Patriarch John depleted the treasury of the Church in Alexandria, concern arose as to how future expenses would be met. Through his trust in the words of our Savior, the people soon experienced the promise of the Lord: "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; nor about your body, what you will put on…But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you…" (Matt. 6:25, 33).
There is a story about a poor man who thought he could beat the system. He would receive his alms from John and then disguise himself to receive more. This happened three times when it was finally pointed out to the Patriarch. Without hesitation the Patriarch ordered that the man be given twice as much, saying: "Maybe he is Jesus my Savior who has come on purpose to put me to the test."
St. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, was recognized by his flock for being generous and kind to all people but especially to the poor and needy; for this reason, he was called "the Merciful." In being merciful to others, St. John knew that it was the Lord Himself Who grants mercy and that he was simply His humble servant.
We can learn much about Christian Stewardship from the example of St. John the Merciful. He recognized that his stewardship was both to serve people less fortunate and to teach the wealthy that contributing to the sacred work of the Church was an opportunity and a privilege. He encouraged the wealthy to realize this opportunity as an expression of their faith in Jesus Christ. Once, when some wished to thank John for his kindness and generosity he replied: "No more of that, brother! I haven’t shed my blood for you yet, which is what the Savior asks." With this in mind, let us reconsider our understanding of Christian Orthodox Stewardship and learn from the life of St. John the Merciful.
To learn more about the stewardship of the saints, click here.