St John was Patriarch of Alexandria in the seventh century. When he was elected Patriarch he immediately asked that a list be drawn up of “all my masters, down to the least of them.” When asked what he meant by this strange request, St John replied “The people whom you call poor and beggars are my masters and helpers, for it is only they who can really help us and bring us to the Kingdom of Heaven.” The list ended up contains 7000 names, and to each one St John allotted a daily allowance of money.
St John then issued decrees about commerce, imposing penalties for those who cheated others in the markets, and then built seven hospitals, each with forty beds. To women who came to give birth in these hospitals, he gave a ‘maternity benefit’ upon leaving. He also built homes for the aged and infirm, and houses of hospitality for strangers.
He cared particularly for Syrian refugees when, in 614 the Persians invaded Syria. Many came to Alexandria, where he provided generously for them. The Persians also sacked Jerusalem, leading the saint to send large amounts of money and food to the city, and ransomed captives there.
St John was also a peacemaker. Twice a week he would sit outside his cathedral and would settle disagreements and advocate for justice for the oppressed. At one point, St John was stopped by a woman who was seeking a mediator for a conflict with her son-in-law, and the other religious officials tried to dismiss her and hurry St John along, no doubt to do what they considered important ecclesial work. St John rebuked them and said “How can I expect God to listen to my prayers if I do not listen to what this woman wants?”
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St John loved to get money from the wealthy to give to the poor. One time a certain wealthy person tried to ingratiate the saint by buying him a lavish gift. St John sold it and gave the money to the poor, so another gift was given. This kept happening and St. John said “We shall see who gets tired of this first!” He would also say “If in order to help the needy one is able, without ill-will, to strip the rich down to their shirts, one is not doing wrong, especially if they are heartless skinflints.”
St John's compassion, mercy, and peaceability made him immensely popular with his people. Before him, Christianity in Alexandria was remarkably conflicted and at times violent, but through his peaceful mercy he was reportedly able to increase the number of churches tenfold.