November 12, 2016

Saint John the Merciful as a Model for our Lives

St. John the Merciful (Feast Day - November 12)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ blessed the merciful: "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy." Happy are those who are merciful to their fellow people, for God will be merciful to them. In other words, He will offer them His uncreated grace, His love, and all His "worldly and otherworldly goods."

Mercy is a selfless offering. To be merciful means to offer something, as well as to offer myself. I offer myself to serve others. I offer my love and my heart. The offering of material goods is, of course, something important, but it is not the greatest and most important thing someone can do. Material goods can be offered by someone who does not believe in God and does it out of natural goodness, or even selfishness and ulterior motives. The most important and the most difficult thing is for someone to offer their love and their heart. To sacrifice themselves daily for others, even though they may not be their friends or they do not know who they are. Not just anyone can do this, but only someone who knows Christ personally and sees Him in the face of his fellow human beings, of each and every person, regardless of nationality, race, and language, for they see Christ Himself and are ready at any moment to sacrifice themselves for that which the Lord called the least of His brethren.

Merciful is the one who most of all and more than anyone loves God and consequently loves all that God loves. That is, first they love people who have been created in the image of God, and second they love all of irrational creation. And love means to open yourself up to other people, giving and completely offering yourself. Mercy requires genuine love and love requires humility. And because humility is the mother of all virtues, we can say that the merciful possess all the virtues.

Of course, all the Saints are benevolent and merciful, but some of them show greater zeal and willingness in this regard. They perhaps have as an ally in this their delicate and sensitive nature. Saint John the Merciful belongs to this category. He pursued philanthropy to a great degree and received from God this great gift. Here it should be stressed that God gives His gifts to people depending on each persons willingness and openness. To the one who is earnestly engaged in prayer He gives the gift of prayer and so they are able to pray unceasingly for themselves and for the whole world. To those who have the capacity of mind and are able to theologize, He gives the gift of theology, or the gift of healing to someone who has love for people, and so on and so forth.

Saint John the Merciful was born in the ancient Cypriot city of Amathus, at the beginning of the seventh century, to wealthy and pious parents, who taught him to love God and his fellow people. With the blessing of his parents he got married and bore two children. But God allowed, due to an illness, for his wife and children to soon leave the world, and so John totally dedicated himself to the ministry of the Church. When the fullness of time came he was elected Archbishop of Alexandria, and so the lamp was put on the lamp stand.

As Prelate of the great city of Alexandria and the region he was consumed in the ministry of the Church and in helping his flock with their spiritual as well material needs. In his biography there are incidents reported relating to his great gift, namely his mercifulness. We will mention one of them, which very much expresses and reveals his delicateness and sensitivity, but also the great gift of discernment which characterized him. Among those who came to his Diocese for alms, were certain people who had no real need and would repeatedly cheat him, thinking they were taking money and objects, which could have been given to others in dire need. But when you study carefully the biography and behavior of Saint John, you will see that he could not be cheated, because the Saint knew them and understood, for he was smart, and he also had a gift of God which is able to investigate someones secret thoughts. But he did not want to expel them, and he always found the right opportunity to correct someone in order for them to realize their mistakes and repent.

His reputation went beyond the boundaries of his Diocese and many from far away hastened to Alexandria to consult with him and receive his blessing. His life was one of daily sacrifice and an offering on the altar of love and service. The benefits realized by communicating with him, even by the vision of his serene face, was enough to stimulate their souls and give them courage to continue to face the struggles of life. For mercy, as stated above, is mainly the satisfaction and quenching of spiritual hunger and thirst. It is the solution to the great existential problems and the acquisition of inner fulfillment.

The Saints bring, perhaps, the greatest benefit by their entire presence, their regenerative words and their prayers, despite the offering of material goods which they may not have. The Saints are spiritual mercy to humanity. They are spiritual salt that preserves the world from decay. If something is beneficial to us and God tolerates it, then it is due to the existence and prayers of the Saints.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἅγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Ἑλεήμων", November 2001. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.