St John of Egypt Hermit    A.D. 394
       ST. JOHN was born about the year 305, was of a mean extraction, and brought
up to the trade of a carpenter. At twenty-five years of age he forsook the world, and
put himself under the guidance and direction of an ancient holy anchoret with such
an extraordinary humility and simplicity as struck the venerable old man with
admiration, who inured him to obedience by making him water a dry stick for a whole
year as if it were a live plant, and perform several other things as seemingly
ridiculous, all which he executed with the utmost fidelity. To the saint's humility and
ready obedience, Cassian attributes the extraordinary gifts he afterwards received
from God. He seems to have lived about twelve years with this old man, till his
death, and about four more in different neighboring monasteries.
        Being about forty years of age, he retired alone to the top of a rock of very
difficult ascent, near Lycopolis. His cell he walled up, leaving only a little window
through which he received all necessaries, and spoke to hose who visited him what
might be for their spiritual comfort and edification. During five days in the week he
conversed only with God: but on Saturdays and Sundays all but women had free
access to him for his instructions and spiritual advice. He never ate till after sunset,
and then very sparingly; but never anything that had been dressed by tire, not so
much as bread. In this manner did he live from the fortieth or forty-second to the
ninetieth year of his age. For the reception of such as came to him from remote
parts, he permitted a kind of hospital to be built near his cell or grotto, where some
of his disciples took care of them. He was illustrious for miracles, and a wonderful
spirit of prophecy, with the power of discovering to those that came to see him, their
most secret thoughts and hidden sins. And such was the fame of his predictions, and
the luster of his miracles which he wrought on the sick, by sending them some oil
which he had blessed, that they drew the admiration of the whole world upon him.
        Theodosius the Elder was then emperor, and was attacked by the tyrant
Maximus, become formidable by the success of his arms, having slain the emperor
Gratian in 383, and dethroned Valentinian in 387. The pious emperor, finding his
army much inferior to that of his adversary, caused this servant of God to be
consulted concerning the success of the war against Maximus. Our saint foretold him
that he should be victorious almost without blood. The emperor, full of confidence in
the prediction, marched into the West, defeated the more numerous armies of
Maximus twice in Pannonia; crossed the Alps, took the tyrant in Aquileia, and
suffered his soldiers to cut off his hand. He returned triumphant to Constantinople,
and attributed his victories very much to the prayers of St. John, who also foretold
him the events of his other wars, the incursions of barbarians, and all that was to
befall his empire. Four years after, in 392, Eugenius, by the assistance of
Arbogastes, who had murdered the emperor Valentinian the Younger, usurped the
empire of the West. Theodosius sent Eutropins the Eunuch into Egypt, with
instructions to bring St. John with him to Constantinople, if it was possible; but that
if he could not prevail with him to undertake the journey, to consult whether it was
God's will that he should march against Eugenius, or wait his arrival in the East. The
man of God excused himself as to his journey to court, but assured Eutropius that his
prince should be victorious, but not without loss and blood: as also that he would die
in Italy, and leave the empire of the West to his son; all which happened
accordingly. Theodosius marched against Eugenius, and in the first engagement lost
ten thousand men, and was almost defeated: but renewing the battle on the next
day, the 6th of September in 394, he gained an entire victory by the miraculous
interposition of heaven, as even Claudian, the heathen poet, acknowledges.
Theodosius died in the West, on the 17th of January, in 395, leaving his two sons
emperors, Arcadius in the East, and Honorius in the West.
        This saint restored sight to a senator's wife by some of the oil he had messed
for healing the sick. It being his inviolable custom never to admit any woman to
speak to him, this gave occasion to a remarkable incident related by Evagrius,
Palladius, and St. Austin in his treatise of Care for the Dead. A certain general officer
in the emperor's service visiting the saint, conjured him to permit his wife to speak
to him; for she was come to Lycopolis, and had gone through many dangers and
difficulties to enjoy that happiness. The holy man answered, that during his stricter
enclosure for the last forty years since he had shut himself up in that rock, he had
imposed on himself an inviolable rule not to see or converse with women; so he
desired to be excused the granting her request. The officer returned to Lycopolis very
melancholy. His wife, who was a person of great virtue, was not to be satisfied. The
husband went back to the blessed man, told him that she would die of grief if he
refused her request. The saint said to him: "Go to your wife, and tell her that she
shall see me tonight, without coming hither or stirring out of her house." This answer
he carried to her, and both were very earnest to know in what manner the saint
would perform his promise. When she was asleep in the night, the man of God
appeared to her in her dream, and said: "Your great faith, woman, obliged me to
come to visit you; but I must admonish you to curb the like desires of seeing God's
servants on earth. Contemplate only their life, and imitate their actions. As for me,
why did you desire to see me? Am I a saint or a prophet like God's true servants? I
am a sinful and weak man. It is therefore only in virtue of your faith that I have had
recourse to our Lord who grants you the cure of the corporal diseases with which you
are afflicted. Live always in the fear of God, and never forget his benefits." He added
several proper instructions for her conduct, and disappeared. The woman awaking,
described to her husband the person she had seen in her dream with all his features,
in such a manner as to leave no room to doubt but it was the blessed man that had
appeared to her. Whereupon he returned the next day to give him thanks for the
satisfaction he had vouchsafed his wife. But the saint on his arrival prevented him,
saying: "I have fulfilled your desire, I have seen your wife, and satisfied her in all
things she had asked: go in peace." The officer received his benediction, and
continued his journey to Seyne. What the man of God foretold happened to him, as,
among other things, that he should receive particular honors from the emperor.
Besides the authors of the saint's life, St. Austin relates this history which he
received from a nobleman of great integrity and credit, who had it from the very
persons to whom it happened. St. Austin adds, had he seen St. John, he would have
inquired of him, whether he himself really appeared to this woman, or whether it was
an angel in his shape, or whether the vision only passed in her imagination.
        In the year 394, a little before the saint's death, he was visited by Palladius,
afterwards bishop of Helenopolis, who is one of the authors of his life. Several
auchorets of the deserts of Nitria, all strangers, the principal of whom were Evagrius,
Albinus, Ammonius, had a great desire to see the saint. Palladius, one of this
number, being young, set out first in July, when the flood of the Nile was high. Being
arrived at this mountain, he found the door of his porch shut, and that it would not
be open till the Saturday following. He waited that time in the lodgings of strangers.
On Saturday, at eight o'clock, Palladius entered the porch, and saw the saint sitting
before his window, and giving advice to those who applied to him for it. Having
saluted Palladius by an interpreter, he asked him of what country he was, and what
was his business, and if he was not of the company or monastery of Evagrius:
Palladius owned he was. In the meantime arrived Alypius, governor of the province,
in great haste. The saint, on the arrival of Alypius, broke off his discourse with
Palladius, who with drew to make room for the governor to discourse with the saint.
Their conversation was very long, and Palladius being weary, murmured within
himself against the venerable old man, as guilty of exception of persons. He was
even just going away, when the saint, knowing his secret thoughts, sent Theodorus,
his interpreter, to him, saying: "Go, bid that brother not to be impatient: I am going
to dismiss the governor, and then will speak to him." Palladius, astonished that his
thoughts should be known to him, waited with patience. As soon as Alypius was
gone, St. John called Palladius, and said to him: "Why were you angry, imputing to
me in your mind what I was no way guilty of? To you I can speak at any other time,
and you have many fathers and brethren to comfort and direct you in the paths of
salvation. But this governor being involved in the hurry of temporal affairs, and being
come to receive some wholesome advice during the short time his affairs will allow
him time to breathe in, how could I give you the preference?" He then told Palladius
what passed in his heart, and his secret temptations to quit his solitude; for which
end the devil represented to him his father's regret for his absence, and that he
might induce his brother and sister to embrace a solitary life. The holy man bade him
despise such suggestions; for they had both already renounced the world, and his
father would yet live seven years. He foretold him that he should meet with great
persecutions and sufferings, and should be a bishop, but with many afflictions: all
which came to pass, though at that time extremely improbable.
        The same year, St. Petronius, with six other monks, made a journey to pay St.
John a visit. He asked them if any among them was in holy orders. They said: No
one, however, the youngest in the company, was a deacon, though this was unknown
to the rest. The saint, by divine instinct, knew this circumstance, and that the
deacon had concealed his orders out of a false humility, not to seem superior to the
others, but their inferior, as he was in age. Therefore, pointing to him, he said: "This
man is a deacon." The other denied it, upon the false persuasion that to lie with a
view of one's own humiliation was no sin. John took him by the hand, and kissing it,
said to him: "My son, take care never to deny the grace you have received from God,
lest humility betray you into a lie. We must never lie, under any presence of good
whatever, because no untruth can be from God." The deacon received this rebuke
with great respect. After their prayer together, one of the company begged of the
saint to be cured of the tertianague. He answered: "You desire to be freed from a
sickness which is beneficial to you. As it cleanses the body, so distempers and other
chastisements purify the soul." However he blessed some oil and gave it to him: he
vomited plentifully after it, and was from that moment perfectly cured. They returned
to their lodgings, where, by his orders, they were treated with all proper civility, and
cordial hospitality. When they went to him again, he received them with joyfulness in
his countenance, which evidenced the interior spiritual joy of his soul; he bade them
sit down, and asked them whence they came. They said, from Jerusalem. He then
made them a long discourse, in which he first endeavored to show his own baseness;
after which he explained the means by which pride and vanity are to be banished out
of the heart, and all virtues to be acquired. He related to them the examples of many
monks, who, by suffering their hearts to be secretly corrupted by vanity, at last fell
also into scandalous irregularities; as of one, who, after a most holy and austere life,
by this means fell into fornication, and then by despair into all manner of disorders:
also of another, who, from vanity, fell into a desire of leaving his solitude; but by a
sermon he preached to others in a monastery on his road, was mercifully converted,
and became an eminent penitent. The blessed John thus entertained Petronius and
his company for three days, till the hour of noon. When they were leaving him, he
gave them his blessing, and said: "Go in peace, my children; and know that the news
of the victory which the religious prince Theodosius has gained over the tyrant
Eugenius, is this day come to Alexandria: but this excellent emperor will soon end
his life by a natural death." Some days after their leaving him to return home, they
were informed he had departed this life. Having been favored by a foresight of his
death, he would see nobody for the last three days. At the end of this term he
sweetly expired, being on his knees at prayer, towards the close of the year 394, on
the beginning of 395. It might probably be on the 17th of October, on which day the
Copths, or Egyptian Christians, keep his festival: the Roman and other Latin
Martyrologies mark it on the 27th of March.
        The solitude which the Holy Ghost recommends, and which the saints
embraced, resembled that of Jesus Christ, being founded in the same motive or
principle, and having the same exercises and employments, and the same end. Christ
was conducted by the Holy Ghost into the desert, and as there spent his time in
prayer and fasting. Woe to those whom humor or passion leads into solitude, or who
consecrate it not to God by mortification, sighs of penance, and hymns of divine
praise. To those who thus sanctify their desert, or cell, it will be an anticipated
paradise, an abyss of spiritual advantages and comforts, known only to such as have
enjoyed them. The Lord will change the desert into a place of delights, and will make
the solitude a paradise and a garden worthy of himself. In it only joy and jubilee
shall be seen, nothing shall be heard but thanksgiving and praise. It is the dwelling
of a terrestrial seraph, whose sole employment is to labor to know, and correct all
secret disorders of his own soul, to forget the world, and all objects of vanity which
could distract or entangle him; to subdue his senses, to purify the faculties of his
soul, and. entertain in his heart a constant fire of devotion, by occupying it
assiduously on God, Jesus Christ, and heavenly things, and banishing all superfluous
desires and thoughts; lastly, to make daily progress in purity of conscience, humility,
mortification, recollection, and prayer, and to find all his joy in the most fervent and
assiduous adoration, love, and praise of his sovereign Creator and Redeemer.
From In the second book of the lives of the fathers and from Palladius In his
Lausiaca: the last   had often seen him. Also St. Jerome, St. Austin, Cassian, &cc.
See Tillemont, t. 10, p. 9. See also the Wonders of God in the Wilderness, p. 160.
[1] Bulter's Live of the Saints – March 27.
[2] Also known as John of Lycopolis – feast day is Feb 6 –see The Great Horologion
translated by the Holy Transfiguration monastery – Boston –1997