Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Repose of
Friday, June 15/28, 1991. Rising majestically from San Francisco's Geary Boulevard, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral "Joy of all Who Sorrow" presented that evening an uncommon sight. A fine rain, welcome after a prolonged drought, fell as a crowd of believers and numerous clergy gathered at the entrance to greet in procession the arrival of the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. There was a tremulous feeling of joyful anticipation, unique to Orthodox churches on the eve of feasts. One would have thought that this twenty-fifth anniversary of Vladika John's blessed repose, which had brought so many people here to his sepulchre, would be an occasion of sorrow; and yet everyone was animated by the joy of a real celebration.
After the holy Icon was greeted, there began the All-Night Vigil. It was a special service, a parastas, in commemoration of the departure from this life of God's righteous servant. One can now see what a great number of Vladika's venerators had been drawn here by this jubilee. Standing reverently with lighted candles, they filled the spacious cathedral. The cathedral choir and the celebrants sang antiphonally. In the center of the cathedral at the front, a large memorial table was covered with a blaze of candies.
Headed by Archbishops Anthony, Laurus and Alypy and Bishop Hilarion, twenty-six clergy, assembled from the US and Canada, filed out of the altar and descended the solea into the middle of the cathedral. They presented a magnificent and at the same time a humble sight: the hierarchs and monks wearing their kobuks and the priests with kamilavkas. The golden glow of candles in the hands of all those present lent a special warmth to the cathedral, kindling in the heart a flame of prayer. One had the impression that Paschal matins was about to begin. Especially touching was the antiphonal chanting of the choir of clergy. Mention should be made of the cathedral choir, under the direction of V.V. Krassovsky, which was superbly rehearsed for the services and contributed significantly to the majestic reverence of the celebration.
The Vigil was underway. Many approached for confession. At the sixth ode of the canon the clergy again descended into the middle of the cathedral. There followed a litany for the departed and the kontakion, "With the saints give rest...", chanted by the clergy and choir. A brief word, dedicated to the memory of ever-memorable Vladika, was given by Fr. George Larin, rector of Holy Protection Church in Nyack, New York. The service concluded with a resounding "Memory Eternal", which truly corresponded to the memory of this wondrous archpastor-ascetic of the twentieth century.
It was already late in the evening when the service ended. Downstairs the sisterhood graciously provided an ample supper for the clergy and acolytes.
The next day, Saturday, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by a still greater number of clergy, forty in all, led by the rector of the cathedral, Archbishop Anthony, and visiting hierarchs. The cathedral was filled to capacity with faithful, who had come not only from various parts of North America but even from abroad.
After the communion verse, mitred Archpriest Valery Lukianov gave a talk about beloved Vladika John. Holy Communion was administered from three chalices. It was heartwarming to see the great number of communicants! This filled the hearts of those praying with hope that despite the falling away from faith of many contemporary Christians, piety and religious fervor will not wither away.
Before the memorial service, Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery delivered a word about Vladika John; another was given by Archbishop Anthony at the kontakion, "With the saints give rest..." Then, during the singing of "With the souls of the righteous," all present filed down to the sepulchre, located beneath the cathedral. The common prayer of those gathered at the tomb of this amazing wonderworker possessed a truly grace-filled effect. One felt that there is no death, that Vladika is alive, that he is present with us, directing fervent prayers to the Throne of the Most High on behalf of his flock, spread all over world.
'After kissing the cross, everyone went downstairs to the spacious parish hall, where the rite of "Panagia" was performed, the elevating of the antidoron in honor of the Mother of God. The sisterhood managed the heroic task of feeding five hundred people. During the Trapeza they listened to a reading of Archbishop John's article, "A Word in Praise of Russia's New Martyrs," and recollections of Vladika John by Bishop Nikolai [Velimirovich] of Ochrid. There in the hall a new book, Archbishop John (Maximovlch),--Archpastor, Man of Prayer, Ascetic, published by the Western American Diocese for the occasion of the jubilee, was available for purchase. Lovingly compiled and richly illustrated, the book owes a great deal to the efforts of Archpriest Peter Perekrestov.
After the early Liturgy on Sunday morning, the rite of "Laudations" was served before the wonderworking Icon. The late Liturgy was celebrated by Archbishop Laurus, Although many priests had returned to their parishes, there still remained quite a few for the subsequent services. A sermon was delivered by Archpriest Lev Lebedev, who had recently been received from the Moscow Patriarchate. After a service of intercession before the Icon, a common meal was served.
Truly, the services during the three days described above were spiritually exhilarating, but the culmination of the celebration of Vladika John's repose belongs to the service in the sepulchre on the day of Vladika's repose, June 19/July 2. On the eve a polyeleos rank vigil was served in honor of holy Apostle Jude, the brother of the Lord according to the flesh. Liturgy in the sepulchre the next morning began at six o'clock.
Twenty-three clergy, with three hierarchs, took part in the service. An altar was set up behind the tomb; on the tomb rested the wonderworking Kursk Icon, before which Vladika had reposed.
Amidst the clouds of incense, it was as if a divine fire of love wire its purifying tongues of flame traveled from the altar to the Icon of the Mother of God on the tomb of the hierarch; it alighted upon the dikiri and trikiri standing on the tomb; it played upon the changing colors of the mitre, beneath which lie countless letters and notes with requests for assistance and intercession; it flickered in the ever-burning flame of the vigil lamp, from which healing oil is sent to all corners of the world. The service ended with a memorial service followed by a breakfast, at which testimonies were read of miraculous help received through Vladika's intercession.
Mention should be made of two other perpetually burning vigil lamps in places associated with Vladika's ascetic life: one in Seattle, in the room where Vladika reposed and which has since been turned into a house chapel dedicated to the Feast of Dormition, and a second in St. Tikhon's House in San Francisco, where Vladika lived and where there is a small cozy church. This residence graciously provided lodging for several pilgrims during these days of celebration. The doors of this hospitable abode are always open to clergy and their families.
Participants of these spiritually satiating days of prayerful podvig carried away in their hearts joy and gratitude to the Lord for His manifest mercy, reflected in the many pilgrims who had been strengthened in faith, enriched in love and strengthened in the undeceived hope that, by the prayers of this archpastor-beacon, they were departing as better Christians.
Heartfelt thanks must be expressed to Vladika Archbishop Anthony and to all those men and women who helped him in the splendid organization of these festivities; their labor of love gave us great consolation in successfully providing such a truly spiritual feast.
Archpriest Valery Lukianov
(Translated from the Russian in Russkaya Zhizn, August 9, 1991)