Orthodox America

  Recollections of an Archpastor Ascetic

  Archpriest Mitrofan Znmko-Borovky

     "Do not forget that next to the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, where I am sending you for good and soul-profiting studies, there is a "living Academy"--our Abba Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky], my previous mentor and benefactor who is today a great teacher and hierarch of Christ's Universal Church. Drop by frequently to see him because from him you will receive and draw a richness of knowledge and wisdom which are scarcely obtainable from any contemporary theological school ." With these words Metropolitan Dionysius sent me to Yugoslavia in January of 1932...

     Metropolitan Anthony received me as one dear to him. I became a regular recipient of his abundant love, kindness and attention. The Staretz would be offended and reprimand me if I did not stop by to see him in the evening or during the course of the day.

     It was in the Metropolitan's humble quarters that I also became acquainted with hieromonk John (Maximovitch). I often observed the paternal kindness which the Staretz Metropolitan showed towards Fr. John; in the movements of his eyes, in every word directed toward Fr. John, there shone joy over a spiritual son, complete trust, and gratitude that this son was multiplying his God-given talents.

     Several times I had occasion to be in the home of Fr. John's parents. I was amazed at the number of Serbian students who made a"pilgrimage" to see him. The Serbs are not generally admirers of their own monasticism, but here, as soon as Fr. John appeared in Belgrade, Serbian students would literally besiege him. The righteous life of the monk-ascetic, his uncommon (in the world) strictness towards himself and his love-filled heart --this attracted the attention and the hearts of the Serbian students.

    The Lord brought me to be present at Fr, John's episcopal consecration and to meet him as a bishop in Metropolitan Anthony's quarters. "Be careful, Vladika, that your hierarchical rank does not spoil you...don't take a fancy to fine dishes; you know how people like to prepare delicious fare for bishops.. ," the Metropolitan would say jokingly to the young ascetic Bishop, and the Staretz' face would radiate with joy for the new hierarch of God,

    Our people like pontifical services and attend them eagerly. But, as I observed in Belgrade, the Liturgy celebrated by Vladika John would attract an unusually large turnout of faithful. His speech was sluggish and hard to understand, but the church was packed.

    In 1935 I returned to Poland for my pastoral service. In 1936 I received a letter from Vladika John from Shanghai and shortly thereafter some of his sermons. While in Paris in 1958 I spoke to him personally. Many people there did not understand Vladika. His external appearance, the fact that he wore no shoes, disturbed them. P.S. Lopukhin related to me that there were even complaints about Vladika sent to Metropolitan Anastassy. In one of the complaints the petitioners asked that the Chief Hierarch order Vladika John to get some shoes. Metropolitan Anastassy complied and wrote Vladika a letter. The parishioners, overjoyed, rushed to present their Archpastor with new shoes. Vladika accepted the gift, thanked them, and used the shoes...he carried them under his arm! but did not wear them on his feet.

Again complaints to the Metropolitan, again the Metropolitan Abba writes to Vladika John concerning obedience and receives in answer: "Your instructions were carried out--you wrote that l should use shoes, but did not write that I should wear them on my feet, and so I used them, i.e., carried them.., but now I shall wear them." And so Vladika began striding around Paris in shoes.

     "Your Vladika john leaves a strange impression on people. He pushes many away with his external appearance, but one thing is sure--he is a man of God, an ascetic and man of prayer," told me D.N. Fedehenko, a parishioner of the Russian Exarchate in Paris. He then proceeded to tell me the following incident from Vladika's life in Paris:

     There was a sick Russian woman in oneof the hospitals there who was unable to move and whose condition was hopeless. The doctors had reconciled themselves to her imminent death and tried to ease her last hours of pain. The nurses awaited her death. In the evening hours, on the threshold--as the nurses thought--of this woman's last night, Vladika John entered the sick woman's ward. He came on his own, not called by anyone, and stood by her bedside. Vladika prayed for a long time, blessed the unconscious woman and left. The nurses and aides watched how the "strange Russian priest" prayed standing by her bedside, And who would believe it; around midnight the woman got up from her bed and demanded her clothes so she could leave the hospital! The astonished nurses called the doctor who, upon checking her, found her completely well. Upon asking her what had transpired, it became evident that "someone in black came to her and told her that she was well and could go home." The sick woman did not name the "visitor in black" who ordered her to get up and go home, but it was not difficult for the doctors to determine that it was Vladika John.

    On May 16, 1963, in a discussion of the difficulties in San Francisco, Metropolitan Anastassy told me: "I do not recognize Vladika John. Previously he was quiet, silent and meek and now he is showing persistence, has livened up and is unyielding..." What happened to the Archpastor-ascetic? His whole life was a total surrender to God and the service of the Church, excluding any personal gain or, all the more, the interests of any cliques. The negative (and within the confines of church, devastating) phenomenon of cliquishness was completely alien to Vladika John. But it existed and exists. Vlsdika saw that in the confines of the Church a matterof PRINCIPAL was being altered for the sake of cliquish and personal gains and interests, and he became vigorous, firm and unyielding. His attitude to all questions of Church life was founded on the principle of the question, and his evaluation of events and facts did not depend on the author or protagonist of the given question, occurrence or event. Archbishop John did not know how to sacrifice objectivity for the sake of personal friendship, personal preference or, all the more, to sacrifice objectivity for personal favors.

    Vladika John was unusually strict in canonical questions and in faithfulness to Orthodox-Russian traditions and customs. At the same time he was a stranger to church provincialism. This was made evident when, as Archbishop of Western Europe, he reinstated the veneration of the saints of France (Gaul) who lived before the Schism.

    Once I was asked by the librarian of the Theological Faculty of the University of Belgrade: "Tell me, what is your attitude towards Metropolitan Anthony and Fr. John?" Over 35 years have passed since then, and the Lord has allowed me to meet with many active Church leaders and members, to hear and see a great deal within the Church confines, but I can still hear the librarian's question. On the basis of the answer to this question, the librarian would measure the spiritual level of the questioner and determine his degree of suitability for service in the Church. This question is still relevant today. Even now it remains a true measure in determining the spiritual quality and suitability of the laborers in Christ's vineyard.

        Archpriest Mitrofan Znmko-Borovky (Translated from V Zashchitu Pravdi (In Defense of Truth) by priest Peter Perekrestov)

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