One day, the all-wise (John the Almsgiver, patriarch of Alexandria, 610-619) heard of a generous giver and so he sent for him privately and said jokingly, "How is it that you became so generous? Was it natural to you, or did you put constraint upon yourself?" Some to whom he put this same question stood shamefacedly before him and would not answer, whilst others would tell him their story. One man whom the Saint questioned answered as follows: "As a fact, master, I neither give anything nor do any good; but the little I do give and do from that which comes to me through Christ and your prayers I came to do in this way. Formerly I was very hardhearted and unsympathetic and one day I lost money and was reduced to poverty. Then my reason began to say to me: "Truly, if you had been charitable, God would not have forsaken you." And thereupon I decided to give five coppers [pholleis] a day to the poor. But when I started giving them Satan immediately checked me by saying: "Those coppers would really have been enough to buy a bath-ticket or vegetables for your family." Then I felt at once as if I were taking the money out of my children's mouth and so I gave nothing."
"But I noticed I was being mastered by this vice, so said to my slave: "I want you to steal five coppers daily without my noticing it, and give them in charity." For I am a moneychanger, master."
"My slave, worthy fellow, began by stealing ten coppers, and occasionally even a shilling [keratin]. As he noticed that we were being blessed, he began to steal gold crowns, [trimisia] too, and give them away. One day I was expressing my astonishment at God's blessings to us, I said to him: "Those five coppers, boy, have greatly benefited us.
So now I want you to give ten." At that the slave said to me with a smile: "Yes, be thankful for my thefts, since but for them we should not even have bread to eat today. However if there can be a just thief, I am he!" And then he told me that he had given shillings and even crowns. So it was through his faith, master, that I grew accustomed to giving with all my heart."
The holy Patriarch was much edified by this story and said: "Truly I have read many stories in the lives of the fathers, but I have never heard anything like this !"
Leontius, Life of John the Almsgiver, 38
Whilst this same crowd of people (refugees from Syria) was still in the city (Alexandria), one of the strangers, noticing John (the Almsgiver's) remarkable sympathy, determined to try the blessed man; so he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals -- for he did this two or three times a week -- and said to him: "Have mercy upon me for I am a prisoner of war."
John said to his purse-bearer: "Give him six nomismata." After the man had received these he went off, changed his clothes, met John again in another street, and falling at his feet said: "Have pity upon me for I am in want." The Patriarch again said to his purse-bearer: "Give him six nomismata."
As he went away the purse-bearer whispered in the patriarch's ear: "By your prayers, master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!" But the Patriarch pretended not to understand. Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the attendant, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was the same man; whereupon the truly merciful and beloved of God said: "Give him twelve nomismata, for perchance it is my Christ and He is making trial of me."
Leontius, Life of St. John the Almsgiver, Early 7th century
From: Gleanings of the Holy Fathers, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas, Texas.