Saint John the Clairvoyant of Egypt was born at the beginning of the fourth century. He lived in the city of Likopolis (Middle Egypt) and was a carpenter. At the age of twenty-five he went to a monastery, where he received monastic tonsure.
For five years Saint John lived in various monasteries, and then wanting complete solitude, he went to the Thebaid and lived on Mount Bolcha. Saint John then spent many years in solitude, never leaving the spot. He conversed with visitors through a small window, through which he also received food and other necessities.
After thirty years of seclusion, Saint John received the gift of clairvoyance from God. He predicted to the emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) victory over his adversaries Maximus and Eugenius, and a military victory over the Gauls. He also foretold future events in the lives of his visitors, and gave them guidance. The ascetic gave holy oil to the sick who visited him, and anointed them with it, healing them of various maladies.
Saint John predicted that the historian Palladius, who wrote his Life, would become a bishop. The prediction of the seer was fulfilled, and Palladius was made Bishop of Bithynia (Asia Minor).
Saint John in his instructions commanded first of all to have humility: “Imitate the virtuous life of the holy Fathers according to the measure of your strength and if you fulfill everything, do not become overconfident or praise yourself. For there are many people who reached perfection in virtue and became puffed up with pride, plunging from the heights into the abyss.
“Examine yourselves carefully to see if your conscience is pure, so that purity may not be driven from your mind. Do not allow your thoughts to wander during prayer. Do you, out of vanity, wish to gain a reputation for asceticism? Or do you wish to have only the appearance of asceticism? Take heed lest any passion overcome you. Take heed that thoughts of worldly things do not enter your mind during prayer, since there is nothing more foolish than to pray to God with your lips, while your thoughts are far from Him. This often happens with those who do not absolutely renounce the world, but rather seek approval from men. A man whose mind is given over to worldly and perishable things, cannot behold God with his spiritual eyes. It is fitting that one who seeks after God will remove his mind from every earthly thing, and direct the gaze of his understanding towards God. He who has attained a little knowledge of God (for no one can receive the whole of it), is able to acquire knowledge of many things, and will see the mysteries which the knowledge of God will show him. He sees future events before they happen, and like a saint he will receive glorious revelations. He will work miracles, and will receive everything that he asks from God.”
“Love silence, child, live always in divine contemplation and pray that God will grant you a pure mind, free from sinful thoughts. Worthy of praise is the ascetic who lives in the world, practices the virtues, renders kindness to strangers or distributes alms, or who helps others in their work, or lives without anger. Such a man is praiseworthy, since he dwells in virtue, fulfilling the commands of God, while not neglecting earthly affairs.”
“He who leaves the transitory things of this world to others is better and more worthy of praise, for he denies himself, takes up his cross, and cleaves to Christ. He constantly embraces the things of heaven, and escapes earthly things. He will not allow himself to be turned aside by any other cares. Such a man, through his good deeds and the praises which he offers to God, is free and unfettered by any ties whatsoever. He stands before God in security, and his mind is not distracted by any other cares. He who is in this condition continually converses with God.”
Saint John brought much spiritual benefit to people with these and similar salvific teachings, through his instructive discourses, and by his personal example in the angelic life.
Saint John of Egypt survived into old age and fell asleep in the Lord in 395, at the age of ninety.