Keith looks back at some important saints and says he is reminded of a saying that he used to know, but which he presumes has gone out of fashion: It was never loving that emptied the heart, nor giving that emptied the purse.
I have been thinking about Saints recently. Most of us use the word rather specially – thinking of those holy (and sometimes not so holy!) people that the Roman Catholic Church has first beatified and then sanctified. Christians of other denominations (and, I am quite sure, most Catholics) think that we are all aspiring to be saints (small ‘s’) and that many of us are in our own small ways. However, one advantage of the formalization of Sainthood is that we remember their stories and lives. Or at least they are recorded!
I was moved to read about St Richard, a Saint I had never heard of, who was a King of the West Saxons who died in AD 722. Not only was he a saint but three of his children – Winebald, Willibald and Warburga – were saints also. Richard and two of his sons sailed from Hamble-haven (is that now Southampton or Hamble-le-Rice?), landing in Neustria on the west coast of what is now France. He traveled on to Lucca in Italy, but on the road to Rome died suddenly. His relics are still to this day venerated in St Fridian’s Church there. We know about him in his own country.
However I was more interested to tell you the story of St John the Almoner, who died in 619 (or thereabouts). Both he and St Richard have their feast days between now, as I write, and when these words are published.
John was of a noble family and very rich. He was living in Amathus in Cyprus after his wife had died and he had buried all his children. He decided to devote all the income of his estates to the poor. His sanctity became so well known that he was made Patriarch of Alexandria in about 608, when he was 50. He traveled to Alexandria, in northern Egypt, to claim his chair there and, on his arrival, ordered an exact list to be made of his masters. They did not know what he meant, until he explained that his masters were ‘The Poor’. There were about 7,500 on the list and he took them all under his special protection and provided them with all their necessities.
Hr absolutely forbade his servants and officers ever to receive even the smallest of presents, saying that they were no better than bribes. Every Wednesday and Friday, he sat for the whole day on a bench outside the church, so that all might have free access to him to lay before him their grievances and tell him their necessities.
One of the first things he did after arriving in Alexandria was to distribute the 80,000 pieces of gold which he found in the church’s treasury – giving it to monasteries and hospitals. He consecrated all the great revenues of his see to the poor.
His stewards complained that he was impoverishing the church, but he answered that God would provide. He vindicated his conduct by telling them of a vision he had had as a young man. He had seen a beautiful woman, brighter than the sun, with an olive garland on her head. He took her to be Charity. She said to him “I am the daughter of a great king. If you enjoy my favour, I will introduce you to the great monarch of the universe. No one has so great an interest with him as myself, who was the occasion of his coming down from heaven to become man for the redemption of mankind.”
At this time the Persians plundered the Middle East and sacked Jerusalem. John sent to the poor there large sums of money, corn, iron, fish and 1,000 Egyptian workmen to assist in rebuilding the churches. He also sent two bishops and an abbot to ransom captives.
He himself lived in great austerity and poverty as regards diet and clothing and furniture. A friend, a person of distinction in the city, heard that the Patriarch had only one blanket on his bed – and a pretty sorry one at that – and sent a rich blanket to him begging him to accept it. He asked him to use it for his, the donor’s, sake. John accepted and did use it – but only for one night. The next morning he sold it and gave the proceeds to the poor. The friend, who had given it to him, bought it back and gave it to him a second and a third time, for John always sold it in the same way, saying “We shall see who will be tired first.”
John was well versed in the scriptures and he devoted all his time to his ministry to the poor, to prayer and to pious reading.
Nicetas, the governor, asked John to accompany him to Constantinople to pay a visit to the Emperor. John was warned from Heaven, while he was on his way to Rhodes, that his death was near. He told Nicetas “You invite me to the emperor of the earth, but the King of Heaven invites me to himself.” So he set sail for Cyprus and soon after died in Amathus, in about 619, when he was 64 years old. His body was later buried in Constantinople, where it remained until a much later, Turkish, emperor gave it to Matthias, King of Bulgaria, who deposited it in his chapel in Buda. In 1530, it was translated to Tall, near Presbourg. In 1632 the body was moved again to the Cathedral of Presbourg and remains there to this day.
I am reminded of a saying that I used to know, but which I presume has gone out of fashion: It was never loving that emptied the heart, nor giving that emptied the purse.
Licensed Lay Minister