September 20, 2011

St. John Maximovitch: Modern Russian Holy Man

By Anna Kuksa

I once met a holy man in the Nyack church that I attended with my family. At the time, I was a little girl and did not realize it. Neither did a lot of people, not for another 30 years or so.

He was a Bishop and was visiting from San Francisco. After the liturgy, as customary, I kissed the cross and his hand. This in itself was a great blessing, a blessing that has been with me ever since. I distinctly remember the round, black glasses he wore and how his head tilted every so slightly to the right. He exuded an aura of peace and didn’t frighten me in the manner that most priests and bishops did.

Originally, the man’s name was Mikhail Maximovitch. He was born in Russia and moved to Belgrade after the Russian Revolution. Many Russians fled the Communist regime: some, as was the case of my family waited longer, others left sooner.

In Belgrade as a young man, Mikhail felt the pull to church life and he pursued and graduated with a degree in theology from the university. Soon after, he became a monk and took the name John. Eventually, he was transferred to China and assumed the role of the Bishop of Shanghai. Many Russian expatriates had fled to China and as a result, they needed a leader. In 1962, Bishop John came to America when he was assigned to San Francisco.

There was a lot of drama in church politics that I won’t mention, but suffice it to say that drama is a part of life.

Bishop John was a living saint, not eating or sleeping much, spending his time praying and doing good deeds. His fasting and prayer and worked miracles: there were many instances of healings by Bishop John while he was alive and even more miraculous events after his death. People witnessed how he appeared in two places at once, how he floated in the air and had a glowing light around his body, especially after Easter services.

By his own prediction, he died on July 2, 1966 and his body was entombed in a sepulcher in The Cathedral of the Theotokos, Joy of All Who Sorrow in San Francisco.

I visited this magnificent Russian cathedral on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco on a trip to California in 1988.

The tomb was underneath the church and even though it was below ground, the room was bright, lit by burning candles on the stands that stood around the sepulcher. The burning incense filled my lungs as I crossed myself and bent over to kiss the cold granite of his tomb. Silently, I said my prayer and asked the Bishop to intercede on my behalf with the Divine. My prayer was not for myself, and, I can assure you that to this day, it remains answered. Many other supplications were answered as well.

I was not the only one whose prayer was answered. Many Russian Orthodox persons, both here in America and abroad, petitioned the Russian Orthodox Church to consider sainthood for Bishop John. In 1994, after much study, the Church canonized him. His sepulcher was opened and it was discovered that his body was incorrupt, meaning that it had not decomposed despite the fact that the body had not been embalmed.

In 1994, I returned to San Francisco and witnessed the glorification along with hundreds of others. It was a glorious, once in a lifetime event. Although the services were long, I did not tire and afterwards, I paid my respects to wonderworker Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco. His body now rests in a glass tomb, in the Cathedral upstairs.

I realize that some don’t recognize saints and there are even fewer who are fortunate to meet one in their lifetime. All I can say is that some souls are more advanced than others in the spiritual sense and their life’s mission is devoted to prayer, helping and serving others. In serving others, they serve the Divine.

What you may not realize, either, is that all of us have the potential.