Mitred Archpriest Valery Lukianov
The memory of the just is celebrated with hymns of praise. The Russian diaspora prayerfully observes today the twenty-fifth anniversary of the blessed falling asleep of the ever-memorable Vladika Archbishop John of Shanghai, Brussels and San Francisco.
Throughout broad masses of believing people there has existed for a long time already a firm conviction that the Lord has glorified in the Kingdom of Heaven this unique ascetic of the twentieth century. “The voice of the people is the voice of God," goes an age-old saying. There is no country where Orthodox people have called for the prayerful intercession of this archpastor so dear to their hearts, and have not received what they asked: healing, enlightenment, peace, the well-ordering of their affairs.
Many souls are drawn during these holy days to the sepulchre of the reposed abba, moved by love for his holy person and by gratitude for consolation they received through him at one time or another in their lives. Many will be making their way to the dear coffin in hopes of obtaining spiritual comfort and needed help. From where, one might ask, do they have the assurance for these undeceived hopes? It's perfectly obvious that believers consider Vladika John a righteous man, whose intercession reaches the ears of God. Let us take a look at this righteousness.
God is love. Everything He creates is good and conforms with His Providence regarding the world. The crown of His creation is man, in whom is placed a spark of the divine essence. The Lord has a boundless love for this His creation, and even brings Himself as a sacrifice in order to free man from eternal spiritual death, which he brought upon himself through disobedience and transgressing the will of God. In restoring man's link to heaven, the Lord does not leave him to the mercy of fate, but has the most intimate and loving care for him.
Man, whom the Creator has endowed with His divine image with reason, an immortal soul and free will--is called to reciprocate by striving upwards in his spirit, by perfecting himself morally, increasing in virtues and holiness, and thereby cultivating within himself the likeness of God.
The Creator's care touchingly manifests itself in the sending down to man of the gift of divine grace, which alone is able to regenerate, to renew and to strengthen his qualities of soul, But if it is characteristic of God to love man, then a man who is filled with grace, who sincerely loves God, cannot but love God's most beloved creation every man, and especially fallen man, for true love suffers when it sees the divine image trampled or despised.
Righteous ones are those fortunate people whose entire lives are spent in laboring to transform their souls on the basis of love for God and neighbor. Such an enlightened vessel of God's grace was ever- memorable Vladika John, who acquired the Lord's mercy through unceasing ascetic labors and warfare. Through the righteous ones, who have become servants of God, God's providential aid is poured out upon people in need of strengthening and enlightenment. This, then, explains that certainty with which believers turn to a righteous one for intercession. And this certainty leads great numbers of blessed Vladika's venerators to turn to him for assistance. For this reason, the path to his place of rest will never become overgrown, the stream of letters placed on his coffin will never stop, and prayerful appeals to him will never cease.
Vladika's life is an open book of piety, love and ascetic labor. In familiarizing ourselves with the contents of this book, we acquire inspiration and wisdom. From its treasury, as from a grace-filled font, we draw up consolation for our weary souls. Every book teaches something, and from this book of Vladika's life we learn to love God and our neighbor. This is the main thing! The fact that we so poorly translate his soul saving examples into life is another matter, but it is already a good thing that his way of life compels us to reflect on our own poverty, and directs us towards repentance. Loving God and everything godly, Vladika loved above all and before all else to pray. He prayed constantly; he prayed everywhere, as Hieromonk Melety of Harbin observed: "We all prepare ourselves to pray, but Vladika John has no need for any preparation; he's always in a prayerful disposition."
Nowadays it is very rare to find anyone who performs unfailingly the entire cycle of services as Vladika did--daily. He did this in churches, in cars, in planes, in cities, in fields, in the woods, in the mountains. Wherever Vladika was going, wherever he found himself, the services always accompanied him; in them he found inspiration and vitality. Truly, here was a rare case of accomplishment and discipline, evidence of an uninterrupted existence "in the spirit," of an inseparableness with the heavenly...
The culminating point of the yearly cycle of services is, of course, the Pascha of the Lord. Even those people who come to church only on Pasha, even they are inspired by the majesty of the Paschal service. But he who was ever present at a Paschal service celebrated by Vladika John will never forget that unearthly radiance which shone forth from him; he will never forget Vladika censing around the church like a whirlwind, victoriously proclaiming the paschal greeting. One had the impression that Vladika actually saw the Risen Christ. Vladika was "tangibly" endowed with the grace of God, i.e., he knew by experience that Christ's Resurrection was not only a matter of faith through hearing, but a real, experiential and sensible fact of the inner life." (Letopis, v. I, p. 119.)
Wholly immersed in the prayer of the heart, and especially concentrated as he celebrated Divine Liturgy, Vladika always remained in the altar for a long time after the service. "One frequently had to wait some time before he came out of the altar and, after venerating the icons, left the church," relates V. Reyer. "I remember one time when Vladika and I had agreed to visit the American consulate after Liturgy. The Liturgy ended. Twenty minutes passed and Vladika still hadn't come out of the altar. My wife, wondering if everything was all right, whispered at one of the side doors, "Vladika, we're waiting.'' In a few minutes Vladika came out and, as if explaining the delay, said, "How difficult it is to tear oneself from prayer and return to what is earthly." (Letopis I, p. 118)
A strictness with himself gave Vladika grounds for requiring from those serving and praying in church a reverent attitude towards the service and the sanctity of the temple. For example, Vladika did not allow women with lipstick to approach the holy chalice; he required those on cliros to adhere precisely to the typicon and did not tolerate abbreviations in the services. Interestingly, he was much less demanding when it came to weaknesses in personal life; here Vladika was condescending, full of love; he forgave easily and did not hold grudges.' Vladika was very affectionate towards children, and was always affected by their sufferings. His favorite "child" was his home for poor children. Many raised in this institution maintained close ties with their benefactor long after they had grown up and successfully established themselves in the world.
I personally experienced the action of God's grace during confession with Vladika before my ordination to the diaconate. In addition to the cross and Gospel, Vladika placed on the analogion an icon and some relics of St. John of Tobolsk. I had a very real sense that my father-confessor was clairvoyant, and that without my saying anything he knew what was in my heart, and it was only for my benefit that he had me express my thoughts. On the one hand I felt Very much afraid, but on the other I felt on the part of this wondrous archpastor an all-forgiving love and condescension towards faults. This same manifestation of love, concern, joy and discernment I noticed in Vladika's unforgettable expression, immediately after he had performed the mystery of ordination.
An unhypocritical love and fear of offending the Lord with his human weaknesses compelled Vladika John to engage in a warfare against the weaknesses of the flesh. To limit the actions of the passions, to bridle the lusts of the flesh is possible only through abstinence in sleep, food, drink and pleasures. All this Vladika constantly practiced in his daily life.
Most astonishing is the podvig he undertook of never sleeping in a bed,
when a person allows his whole body to relax. "For forty years Vladika
never slept in a bed: he dozed and slept a little in a chair" (Letopis
v. I, p. 26). Vladika showed great restraint in eating: "He usually drank
tea about five o'clock, in the early evening, and ate once a day about eleven
o'clock at night. He made an exception when he was out visiting: he did not
refuse what was offered" (Letopis, p. 26).
Taking upon himself these physical podvigs, Vladika also endured many internal griefs. In the last three to four years of his life he experienced particularly fierce trials. Many people were shocked and couldn't understand how a righteous man could be dishonored and humiliated---even brought to trial! But one can see here God's providence, i.e., in the words of St. John Chrysostom, "a man cannot be so perfect as to be free from sin, and since everything is subject to recompense, the righteous man receives for sin a proportionate punishment, even though his sin may be minor. So too, if a righteous man endures some misfortune he will receive his recompense here in order that he might cast off his sin and enter cleansed into the Kingdom of Heaven" ("Homily on Lazarus").
Vladika John is venerated for his wondrous piety, his devotion, his extraordinary asceticism, but we should also remember him for his theological works and for his sermons. Vladika spoke rather rapidly, emphasizing certain words while pronouncing others barely audibly, sometimes swallowing his words. A favorite subject of his sermons was the lives of saints. Living their commemoration day by day in the services, he carried examples from their lives into his sermons. Here he was in his element! Reaching straight to the heart, Vladika's words and talks were printed in diocesan publications, but for a majority in the diaspora his teachings are little known. In recent times, thanks be to God, these teachings have been reprinted in Pravoslavnaya Rus,' to the joy and benefit of believers.
Archbishop John occupies a respected place among the truly Orthodox theologians of the twentieth century. He graduated from the Cadet school in Poltava, the law faculty in Kharkov, the theological faculty in Belgrade, and became an instructor in the Bitol seminary. While daily visiting the sick and praying for the dying, Vladika found time for theological labors. His theological treatises written before his consecration as bishop are collected in the second volume of A Chronicle of the Veneration of Archbishop John. One can justly conclude: The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom (Ps. 36:30).
Much has been written about Vladika's ascetic feats, his zeal and kindness; a great deal still remains to be written. One of the most moving testimonies about him was given by Metropolitan Anthony, founder of the Church Abroad, when he sent the young Bishop John to the Far East: "I'm sending you Vladika Bishop John as my own soul, my very heart. This man, frail and small of stature, almost a child in appearances, is a miracle of ascetic firmness and strictness in our days of widespread spiritual weakness,"
Already after Vladika's repose, Metropolitan Philaret gave a stunning testimony: "One cannot doubt that Vladika clearly pleased God by his genuinely ascetic life and podvig of prayer. It is worth noting that when we served his funeral on the sixth day after his repose (for various reasons I was held up, and for this reason, instead of being buried on Tuesday, as was scheduled, the funeral service was held on Thursday, at six o'clock in the evening), the coffin stood open, and not only was there no sign of decomposition, but Vladika lay as if asleep, his hands preserved their normal color and appearance; they were soft, warm...It was an obvious case of incorruption" (Pravoslavnaya Rus', September 15/28, 1966).
Truly, dear listeners, we had a most worthy hierarch, according to the words of the Apostle: holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens, who offered up sacrifices for his own sins and for the sins of the people (Heb. 7:26-27)...
We believe that the Lord has glorified His righteous servant; this is confirmed by the widespread veneration of his memory and the ever increasing number of testimonies of help received from the Lord through Vladika's prayers. May God grant that the time will also come for his earthly glorification. Meanwhile, we shall pray fervently to the Lord God for the repose of his luminous soul.' Let us run earnestly to his intercession and strive to emulate at least in some small measure the profitable example of his holy life.
Lakewood, New Jersey