A story from the Life of St. John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria, 610-619
One day this blessed Patriarch went to visit the poor in the quarter called Caesareum - for there he had had some very long vaulted buildings erected; the floor was covered with wooden boards and mats and rough rugs were provided. Here the poor could sleep during the winter months. Accompanying the Patriarch was a certain bishop, a lover of money and of a most unsympathetic disposition. To him the blessed Patriarch said: 'Give Christ's brethren a little present, brother Troilus,' for that was his name, for somebody had whispered to the Patriarch that the bishop's attendant was carrying thirty pounds of gold at that moment in order to buy a set of engraved silver for the bishop's table. The bishop, reverencing the Patriarch's word and more probably momentarily quickened in soul thereby, ordered the man carrying the thirty pounds of gold to give a nomisma (coin) to each of the brethren sitting there. In this way the large quantity of gold was quickly spent.
After the Patriarch and the bishop Troilus had both returned to their own residences, the latter, who had performed this act of charity, so to speak, against his will, was seized by unreasoning and soul-destroying anxiety over the money which had been distributed, and as an outcome of his miserliness and pitilessness and change of mind a fit of shivers came over him accompanied by an unnatural feverishness. In consequence of this unexpected illness he straightway took to his bed. When the servant came from the most holy Patriarch inviting him to lunch, he excused himself saying that from some cause or other he had an attack of ague. On receipt of this message the Patriarch at once recognized that it was owing to his having given away those thirty pounds that the involuntary giver was ill, for we have already said Troilus was extremely avaricious and unsympathetic.
John could not bear that he himself should be waited on at table while the other lay in torments in his bed, so in his utter want of arrogance he quickly went to him and with a smile on his face said to him: 'You must forgive me, brother Troilus, for you imagine that I was serious when I asked you to give that large amount to our poor brethren, but let me tell you, I only said it in jest. For I wanted to give each of them a nomisma for the holy feast and as my purse-bearer had not a sufficient sum with him, I borrowed it from you, and now see, here are your thirty pounds!'
Hardly had the bishop seen the money in the venerable hand of this true physician and shepherd before the fever suddenly disappeared and the shivering ceased, and his ordinary strength and colour returned so that there was no concealing the fact that the money was the cause of his sudden indisposition.
When he had accepted the gold from the Patriarch's venerable hands without making the slightest objection, the Patriarch asked him to acknowledge in writing that he abandoned any claim for interest on the thirty pounds of gold which had been distributed. This Troilus did with joy, and wrote as follows with his own hand: 'Oh God, pray give John the most blessed Patriarch of the city of Alexandria, the interest on the thirty pounds of gold which have been distributed in Thy name, as I have received my own back.' The Patriarch, having received this acknowledgment, took the bishop back to lunch with him, for as we have already said, the latter had suddenly recovered.
However God, the Rewarder, wishing to chasten him and also to arouse him to pity and sympathy for his fellow creatures, showed him in a dream that same day, when he was taking a nap after lunching with the Patriarch, how great a reward he had lost. 'I saw,' said he, 'a house whose beauty and size no human art could imitate, with a gateway all of gold and above the gateway an inscription painted on wood which ran thus: "The eternal home and resting-place of bishop Troilus."
'When I read this, I was overjoyed,' he continued, 'for I knew that the king had granted me the enjoyment of this house. But I had scarcely finished reading this inscription when behold, an imperial chamberlain appeared with others of the divine retinue, and as he drew near to the gateway of the radiant house he said to his servants: "Take down that inscription," and when they had taken it down he said again: "Change it and put up the one the King of the World has sent." So they took away the one and fixed up another while I was looking on, and on it was written: "The eternal home and resting-place of John, the Archbishop of Alexandria, bought for thirty pounds." 'When I saw that,' he said, 'I awoke and went and related to the great arch-shepherd what I had seen in my sleep.' And Troilus was benefited by the instruction, for from that time he became compassionate.