March 27 – John of Egypt

John of Egypt (305–395), a carpenter by trade, was monkified at age 25 and apprenticed to a veteran anchorite. His humility was tested by being set ostensibly absurd tasks, like watering a stick every day for a year, but all this he patiently endured, which goes to show something. After the anchorite’s death he spent four years in various monasteries, then shuffled off to Mount Bolcha, near Lycopolis, where he walled himself into a diminutive cell for 40 years, with only a small window to receive food, supplies, and (on Saturdays and Sundays) visitors (the visitors stayed outside). Like most hermits, however confined, a monastic community sprang up around him, including a hospital for ailing visitors, for he was a healer. And a clairvoyant, and a prophet, and one of those guys who is able to look into men’s souls (women’s too but more on that anon).

Once Emperor Theodosius sent to him asking about a potential war with Magnus Maximus (“Really the Greatest”), who had dethroned one previous emperor and killed another. John prophesied that Theodosius would be victorious, “almost without blood.” And sure enough, the encounter went off without a hitch (unless you were Maximus, or on his side). The Emperor praised John and attributed his success to John’s prayers. The next time a usurper (Eugenius) attempted to usurp, Theodosius sent his retainer (Eutropins the Eunuch—I wonder if that was on his name badge? If I were a eunuch I’m not sure I’d go around proclaiming it) to bring John to Constantinople, but John wouldn’t fit through his window, so that didn’t happen. Nevertheless he told Eutropins the battle would be won, but with much bloodshed, and the Emperor himself would die in Italy (there are worse places to die) (although admittedly I can’t think of any at the moment). The Emperor eked out a victory, but died you-know-where.

Despite John’s strict rule that he would not see women, one officer in the emperor’s employ brought his ailing wife to Lycopolis to be healed. John told the officer to buzz off (in as saintly a way as he could, of course), but the next day he came back and said he was sure his wife would die of grief if she couldn’t see the saint. “Fine,” said John. “Tell her to stay in town.” That night he appeared to the woman in a vision, applauding her great faith but scolding her for placing too much importance on mere humans such as himself. “What am I, a saint?” he asked (I’m hearing a Brooklyn accent here but your mileage may vary), adding a heaping helping of suggestions and admonitions for living a good Christian life, and oh by the way healing her of her infirmity.

Another time, when one of a group of visiting monks asked for a miraculous healing, John refused, then (perhaps with a sigh) fed him some blessed oil. The monk vomited and was healed from that moment. Yet another time, the future bishop Palladius came to see John, but while they were speaking a provincial governor hurried up and asked for advice. John had Palladius stand aside while he spoke with the official, and soon proverbial steam was pouring from Palladius’ ears. John sent a messenger to tell him to chill out, and when he finally got back to him, he said, “What are you so upset for? You’ve got all the time in the world, and this guy has to get back to his job.” He then went on to describe all of Palladius’s inner doubts, giving him counsel on how to deal with them. Palladius was so impressed he went on to write John’s vita. John is also praised by (Sts.) Jerome (Sep 30), Augustine (Aug 28), and John Cassian (Feb 29), which is not true of everybody they knew.