The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

A small cave offered this saint a window on the world

Though a hermit for 65 years, St. John of Egypt touched many lives


By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

We often refer to television as a window on the world because it can bring the people, customs and events of far-away places into our homes.

For St. John of Egypt, a fourth century hermit, his window on the world was literally a single small window in one wall of his cave. Through that window, he saw the thousands who were attracted to him as their "window on the spiritual world."

St. John of Egypt was born in about 304 at Lycopolis (now the city of Asyut) in Lower Egypt. He worked first as a carpenter. But, at age 25, he decided his true calling was as a hermit. He found another hermit or anchorite who agreed to serve as his spiritual director.

For the next 10 years, John received guidance from the man, particularly in obedience and self-surrender. One exercise the old hermit had John do daily was to water a dry stick as though it were a living plant.

After the old hermit's death, John spent four or five years visiting monasteries until deciding to build his own hermitage in a steep, rocky hill near Lycopolis.

John built three rooms - a bedroom, a workroom/living room and an oratory and enclosed it entirely, except for the one small window through which he could receive supplies and talk to visitors - but only men - on Saturdays and Sundays (he worked and prayed the other days).

Large crowds began gathering on weekends to watch him perform miracles and hear his wise and prophetic preaching.

Twice, John correctly predicted victories for the Roman Emperor Theodosius I - first against Maximus in 388 and then again Eugenius in 392. (As emperor, Theodosius prohibited all pagan practices in the Empire.)

Once, John correctly foretold that Palladius would one day be named a bishop and another time, he realized that there was a deacon among a group of visiting monks from Jerusalem.

Eventually, so many people were coming to visit that his followers decided they needed to build a hospice for them.

John lived on a diet of dried fruit and vegetables and refused to eat bread or anything that had been cooked by fire. Nor would he eat before sunset.

John, who was one of the most famous desert hermits, was said to have the ability to read minds, as well as to look into people's souls. In 394, he died in his cell, which was found in the early 20th century. We celebrate his feast on March 27.

The life of St. John of Egypt invites us to consider our own "windows on the world" and what they teach us - as well as asking to whom do we serve as a "window on the world" and what picture are we giving them.


(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints II and 365 Saints)


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