St. John Maximovitch the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco
Commemorated June 19 / July 2
HOLINESS IS THE FRUIT of man’s efforts and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is reached by him who wears a cross and in the name of Christ wages warfare against the obstacles to holiness, obstacles to becoming akin to Christ.All of the righteous ones were sorrowful in the world because they were strangers to the sinful world. How varied are the paths of saints!
The Cross will save from eternal perdition all who conquered temptations by the Cross, who crucified their flesh with its passions and lusts, and took up their cross and followed their Christ.
But those who hated the Cross of the Lord and did not engrave the Cross in their soul will perish forever. (St John Maximovich)
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
St. John Maximovitch, Rescuer and patron of Orphans
He was a great lover of children and especially orphans. He was responsible for rescuing many unwanted and abandoned children while he was in Shanghai, China, developing a large orphanage in the process.
St. John was consecrated bishop and sent to Shanghai in the 1930’s. Among other things he started a home for orphans beginning with eight children. At great personal risk he would walk the streets and alleys at night and rescue starving children he found there.
There were always wars in China. The Chinese had large families with many children, and there was very little to eat. To save on food, they would get rid of newborns, placing them out on the street to freeze to death. Vladika John would pick them up and bring them to the orphanage. On these outings, the deacon of the cathedral would follow him in order to help and protect him. Once Vladika said to this deacon about a child, “Pick him up.” The deacon objected, “But he’s Chinese.” “But he is made in the image of God,” said Vladika.
At the end of the 1940’s as the communists came to power, Russians in China were forced to flee again, most via the Philippine Islands. In 1949 almost 5000 refugees from China were located in a camp of the International Refugee Organization on the island of Tubabao. They lived there in tents under the most primitive circumstances. All of the children of the orphanage were brought there, as were the elderly and infirm. They lived under the continual threat of fierce hurricanes, since the island is located in the path of seasonal typhoons which pass through that part of the Pacific Ocean. During the twenty-seven-month existence of the Russian encampment, only once was the island threatened by a typhoon, which, however, changed its course and passed around the island. Every night Saint John would walk around the entire camp blessing it with the sign of the Cross on all four sides. Later, when the people had departed for various countries and the camp had been almost completely evacuated, a fierce typhoon swept over the camp and leveled it to the ground. (source http://www.orthodox.net/saints/john-maximovitch-brief-life.html)
Saint John of San Francisco in Shanghai +July 2, 1966
(From the memoirs of Maria Aleksandrovna Shakhmatova, matron of St. Tikhon’s Orphanage in Shanghai.)
M.A. Shakhmatova witnessed the saint’s ascetic exploit in Shanghai almost from the very moment of his arrival there in 1934, on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. She saw Archbishop John crucify himself in both founding and managing the orphanage. Living conditions were terrible, and the needs of the children, whose parents had escaped Communism, were overwhelming. The young Bishop, almost from the start, gathered concerned ladies from his parish, asked them to found a committee, rented a house, and opened up a hostel for orphans or children whose parents were in need. The children would often be underfed, abused, and frightened, until Archbishop John would come and personally take them into his orphanage and school. Each child – and there were over three thousand who went through the orphanage – had a traumatic story.
There was, for example, a boy named Paul who had witnessed his father and mother being killed and chopped into pieces by the Communists right in front of his eyes. Because of the trauma the boy had become mute and could not even pronounce his own name. He was like a trapped animal, afraid of everyone, and trusted only his fists and spitting. He was brought into the orphanage at a time when it was packed and had no place for him. Due to the fact that Paul was so frightened, the ladies there thought that he was abnormal and refused to accept him lest he scare the other children.
When Archbishop John found out about him, he insisted on immediately dropping everything and going to meet the boy personally. They did not even know that he was a Russian boy and spoke Russian, for he only mumbled and hissed like a caged animal. When Archbishop John arrived, he sat down before the boy, who was still trembling, and said to him the following: “I know that you have lost your father, but now you have found another one – me,” and he hugged him. This was said with such power that the boy burst out in tears and his speech returned to him.
In the slums of Shanghai there were cases in which dogs would devour baby girls who had been thrown into garbage cans. When the newspapers announced this, Archbishop John told Mrs. Shakhmatova to go and buy two bottles of Chinese vodka – at which she cringed in horror. But her horror increased when he demanded that she accompany him into these very slums, where it was common knowledge that grown-up people would be murdered. Fearless as ever, the young Bishop insisted on going there, walking through dark alleys in the worst neighborhood. She recalled what horror seized her heart when they, n the darkness of night, walked and encountered only drunkards, shady characters, and growling dogs and cats. She held the bottles in her hands, following him with trepidation, when suddenly a growl was heard from a drunken man sitting in a dark doorway, and the faint moan of a baby was heard from a nearby garbage can. When the Bishop hastened towards the cry, the drunkard growled in warning. Then the Bishop turned to Mrs. Shakhmatova and said, “Hand me a bottle.” Raising the bottle in one hand and pointing to the garbage can with the other, Blessed John, without words, conveyed the message of the proposed sale. The bottle ended up in the hands of the drunkard, and Mrs. Shakmatova saved the child. That night the Bishop returned to the orphanage with two more babies under his arms. This fearlessness, however, had not been acquired without a deep inner struggle.
Even then he was already known as a miracle-worker, because he prayed for whomever would ask him, and often his prayer would be answered immediately.
The Bishop never slept at night, but only dozed off sometimes, sitting in a chair. Once Mrs. Shakhmatova, in the middle of the night, chanced for some reason to climb up into the belfry. The door to it led from the top floor of the vicarage. It was cold and windy. As she opened the door, she saw that Blessed John was in deep, concentrated prayer, freezing, shivering in the open air, wind sweeping through his robe, and that he was blessing the houses of his parishioners from above. She thought, “While the world is asleep, he keeps watch like Habakkuk of old, guarding his flock with his fervent intercession before God, so that no harm can steal his sheep away.” Deeply shaken, she withdrew. Thus she had a clue as to what he was doing during the long winter nights when all the people take their normal rest in their comfortable beds. “Why was it needed?” asked Mrs. Shakhmatova. “Who asked him to do it? Why such self-sacrifice, when his presence was needed everywhere?” And she answered her own question: “He had an unquenchable love for God. He loved God as a Person, as his Father, as his closest Friend. He longed to talk with Him, and God heard him. It was not some conscious self-sacrifice. He just loved God and did not want to be separated from Him.”
“Once during the war,” she continued, “the poverty of the orphanage reached such immense proportions that there was literally nothing with which to feed the children, and there must have been at least ninety of them at that time. Our staff was indignant because Archbishop John kept bringing in new children, some of whom had parents, and we were having to feed someone else’s children. Such were his ways. One evening when he came to us – worn out, tired, cold and silent – I could not resist telling him off. I said that we women could not tolerate this any longer, that we could not bear to see hungry little mouths and not be able to put anything into them. I could not control myself and raised my voice in indignation. I not only complained, I was full of wrath at him for putting us through this. He looked sadly at me and said, ‘What do you really need?’ I said, right off the bat, ‘Everything, but at least some oatmeal. I have nothing to feed the children with in the morning.”
Saint John of San Francisco Archbishop John looked at her sadly and went upstairs. Then she heard him making prostrations, so vigorously and loudly that even the neighbors complained. Pangs of conscience bothered her, and that night she couldn’t sleep. She dozed off in the morning, only to be awakened by the doorbell. When she opened the door, there stood a gentleman of English extraction who said that he represented some cereal company, and that he had a surplus of oatmeal; and he wanted to know whether they could use it since he heard that there were children here. They began to bring in bags and bags of oatmeal. While this was going on, with the commotion of banging doors, Blessed John began to descend the staircase. Hardly could Mrs. Shakhmatova utter a word to him when she saw his glance. He did not say anything, but with his eyes, with one single glance, he reproached her for her unbelief. She said she could have fallen on her knees and kissed his feet, but he was already gone to continue his prayer to God, now of thanksgiving.
Reprinted from “The Orthodox Word”
Troparion to St John Maximovich in Tone 6
Glorious apostle to an age of coldness and unbelief, invested with the grace-filled power of the saints of old, divinely illumined seer of heavenly mysteries, feeder of orphans, hope of the hopeless, thou didst enkindle on earth the fire of love for Christ upon the dark eve of the day of judgement. Pray now that this sacred flame may also rise from our hearts.