Author’s note: as I read “The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” I was especially struck by the life and love of this saint. I began to research further and found online many accounts of his life on earth and of miracles resulting from his prayers both during this life and since his departure from it. What a blessing to be able to learn about such a recent saint! I feel as though I have met a dear (and very holy) old friend. Although his commemoration day has already passed for this year, I’d like to introduce you to my new old friend, so that you can introduce your Sunday Church School students to him as well.
On July 2, we commemorate St. John Maximovitch, the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco. Who is this saint, and why do we commemorate him? This blog will offer a small glimpse into his life, as cited in the book The Life of Saint, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas.
Born in southern Russia on June 4, 1896 to well-off parents, John Maximovitch (baptized “Michael”) was a frail boy who loved to study. Throughout his growing up years, Michael was exposed to true holiness as his family attended church regularly and took him to visit holy icons and the relics of holy people. These experiences had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
He studied in a military school and then got his law degree before his family was forced to leave Russia because of the Russian revolution. When the revolution happened, his family escaped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where Michael studied theology and got his theological degree in 1925. During these years, he met and was mentored by Archbishop Anthony Khrapovitsky, who tonsured Michael as a monk named John, and ordained him to the diaconate.
John was a very humble man all of his life. For example, when he was summoned to Belgrade to be consecrated as a bishop, he told someone who he met on a streetcar that he had been accidentally summoned to see another monk named John be ordained bishop. The next day, when he met up with the same woman again by chance, he told her that the mistake was even worse than he had originally expected, for they actually wanted to make HIM the bishop, but he felt unworthy of the position!
After his ordination, Bishop John was sent first to Shanghai to look after the many Russians who had fled the Soviets in Russia and ended up in China. While he was there, he tenderly cared for his flock. Besides his pastoral work, he assisted in the completion of a cathedral, improved religious education, and cared for many orphans.
In his extreme humility, the bishop did not care about how he looked. Despite his status in the church, he wore clothing made from inexpensive material and usually walked barefoot. Even when he was told to wear sandals, since the Russian word for “wear” means “carry,” he fulfilled the decree by tucking the sandals under his arm so he was, indeed, “carrying” sandals!
Bishop John visited the sick daily, praying for them and doing whatever he could to help them. For example, once a woman who was thrown from her horse. She had her skull crushed but couldn’t be operated on (to remove the skull pieces pressing into her brain) because her pulse was so faint and the doctors knew she would not survive surgery. The bishop visited her and prayed over her for 2 hours. The woman’s pulse returned to normal. The surgery was able to happen, and was a success, through the prayers of the holy bishop. To this day, he cares for the sick and he intercedes for people who ask for his help, whether or not they are Orthodox!
When communism moved into China, (the now Arch)bishop John moved with his people to Tubabao, Philippines. This island, usually regularly buffeted by typhoons, was calm for two years and three months. During that time, Archbishop John walked around in the refugee camp every night, praying for his people and blessing the camp. (His prayers were powerful, for only two months after he and most of his flock left the island, a typhoon came through that flattened the entire camp.)
When the Russian refugees were relocated to the USA and Australia, Archbishop John was assigned to Western Europe. He oversaw the French and Dutch Orthodox Church, and gathered information on saints from that region that were part of Orthodoxy before the Latin Church left. Living in Europe didn’t sway the archbishop’s manner of dress: he continued to dress simply, and as a result, the French called him “St. John the Barefoot.”
Eventually, Archbishop John was sent to San Francisco, California. He worked hard to care for his flock, and also to enable the construction of the cathedral dedicated to the icon of the Theotokos, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” He had plenty of opportunity for sorrow with that project, as opponents falsely accused him and stood in the way of the building. He patiently continued on with his work, blaming only the devil for the troubles once the cathedral was successfully completed.
During this part of his life, the Archbishop wrote sermons and encouragement to his people. Some of these have been published in English as well as Russian. All are full of his wisdom and contain answers to many questions about the Orthodox Faith.
Throughout his years of ministry, the archbishop always arrived early to church and stayed late. One reason it took him so long to leave was that, each time he left the church, he reverenced the icons as if he were saying goodbye to dear friends. On July 2, 1966, he was visiting St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Seattle along with the “Kursk” icon of the Mother of God. On this night, he stayed particularly late – 3 hours after the service, to be exact – praying in the cathedral. After he left the cathedral, he went next door to a parish house, and reposed in the Lord.
For 28 years, people visited his remains, which were buried in a chapel below the cathedral in San Francisco. When they visited, people would often ask Archbishop John to pray for them. They would also write petitions on slips of paper and place them beneath his mitre. Archbishop John continued his work after departing this life, and even today he continues praying on behalf of his people. Many miracles have happened because of his prayers. Glory to God for His work through the prayers of His servant!
In 1993, Archbishop John’s relics were discovered to be incorrupt. His relics, along with the way that he lived and the miracles God has performed in response to his prayers both during this life and since his repose, were evidence enough for him to be recognized as a saint of the Holy Orthodox Church. He was glorified as such on July 2, 1994. Today, his relics are housed in a special shrine in the cathedral in San Francisco. His prayers continue on for all who request them.
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, please intercede for us and for our salvation!
The Life of Saint John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is a book for young people that was compiled by Maria Naumenko and illustrated by Gabriela Moustardas. It is available here: http://www.holytrinitypublications.com/en/Book/64/The_Life_of_Saint_John,_Wonderworker_of_Shanghai_and_San_Francisco_for_Young_People.html_
Find a dvd about St. John’s life here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=54
Find the troparion and kontakion to St. John here: http://antiochian.org/node/37811
Find the supplication service to St. John here: http://hvcbookstore.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=350
The following are additional resources to help your Sunday Church School students learn more about St. John the Wonderworker:
Find wonderful ideas of ways to celebrate St. John Maximovitch’s commemoration together with children here: http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com/2012/07/festal-learning-basket-saint-john-of.html
Find an easy-to-read life of St. John Maximovitch appropriate for use with younger children, a printable (and colorable) icon, a map of his journeys, and an activity page related to his life on pp. 38-41 of this free downloadable resource: http://dce.oca.org/assets/files/resources/american-saints.pdf
Print this double-sided brochure-style story of the life of St. John Maximovitch, and study it with older children: http://www.asna.ca/saints/st-john-maximovich.pdf
Older children and/or adults will benefit from watching this documentary about St. John the Wonderworker (with English subtitles). It features photos of the saint that were taken throughout his life, as well as stories from his life and interviews with people whom he has helped. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSOoD9cCBoo
“St. John [the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco] did not isolate himself from the world, but he was not of this world. First and foremost he was a man of prayer. He completely surrendered himself to God, presenting himself as a ‘living sacrifice’ and he became a true vessel of the Holy Spirit. His work as an apostle, missionary and miracle worker continues even now.” ~ from http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2013/06/st-john-maximovitch-wonderworker.html
Discuss this quote with older students: Talk about ideas of how to live like that: not isolated, but also not of this world. Discuss ways to present one’s self as a living sacrifice. Talk also about some of the miracles God has worked through the continuing prayers of St. John. Spend some time praying and asking St. John to pray for each student and the concerns that they may have for their family and/or fellow parishioners.