John the Almsgiver

John The Almsgiver (JOHANNES ELEEMOSYNARIUS), one of the best of the patriarchs of the Eastern Church, was born of noble parentage at Amanthus, in Cyprus, about 550. He had married young, but, losing his wife, he distributed his possessions among the poor, and devoted himself to a life of ascetic practices. So irreproachable was his conduct, and so great his reputation for piety and charity, that, on the murder of Theodore, he was unanimously demanded as successor in the patriarchate. He was appointed by the emperor in A.D. 606. The first years of his reign were quiet; not so the last years, which were marked by the successful invasions of Chosroes II, king of the Persians, during the reign of Phocas, into the Roman possessions of the Orient (compare Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Rom. Empire, ch. 46). From all parts of Syria Christians fled to Alexandria to find a protector in John, and when at last Jerusalem also had fallen (A.D. 619), not content with feeding and clothing the refugees he found right at his own door, he sent large sums of money to the Holy City to redeem Christian captives and prevent further massacre. (The statement that at this fall of Jerusalem "90,000 Christians were massacred, and that principally by the Jews, who purchased them from the Persians on purpose to put them to death" [Neale], has no better basis than the inventions of prejudiced monastics, bent on the destruction of the Jews; Comp. Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 5, 34 sq., 438 sq.). In 620, when the Persians threatened Egypt also, he fled to his native island, and died there a short time after his arrival. He is commemorated in the Oriental Church November 11, and in the Latin January 23. Curiously enough, he is also commemorated by the Jacobites. It is from this John that the famous order of the Hospitallers, in the first instance, derived its name. Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, ascribed to him the authorship of the celebrated Epistola ad Coesarium, with which most Protestant and some Roman Catholic critics credit Chrysostom. Three biographical accounts were written of him:

(1) by Joannes Moschus and Sophronius (no longer extant);

(2) by Leontius, bishop of Neapolis, in Cyprus (translated, between 858 and 867, into Latin by Anastasius Bibliothecarius, and repeatedly printed); found in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists (Jan. 23, 2, 495);

(3) by Simeon Metaphrastes (but not trustworthy). See Neale, Hist. East. Ch. (Alexandria), 2, 52 sq.; Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, 5, 718 sq.; Fabricius, Biblioth. Groeca, 1, 699, note 20; 8, 322; 10, 262. (J.H.W.)

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