In 2013, the St. John the Wonderworker Foundation of Russia published a collection of letters written by St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco. In this collection are quite a number of letters to… children. St. John always had great concern for young people, that they not only be fed and clothed but also brought along the way of Christ’s commandments, that they never lose there youthful love for God’s Church, no matter what paths they may take as they mature into adults. Considering all those who, although baptized Orthodox, were always in church as children, bringing everyone joy with their childlike faith, yet lost that first love when they entered the storms of the world, we can greatly benefit from St. John’s example of caring instruction. After all, so many of the children who grew up near him or were somehow touched by him not only preserved their faith, but put their hands to the plough of Christ’s service and never let it go.
To remind us of his constant care for the children of the St. Tikhon’s orphanage, founded by him in China and carried on to San Francisco, we have translated some of these letters.
1927. My dear students!
Photo: beregrus.ru To my great regret, I have not been left as your teacher of the law. For two school years I have been with you, teaching you the true Orthodox faith and preaching to you the word of God. The time that I spent with you will never be erased from my memory. As always, I now also remember all of you, each individually. I will always consider you my dear students, and it will be pleasant for me if you would not forget me, and send me letters from time to time. But I would be even more overjoyed when I learn that my work with you has not been in vain, that you do what you always heard from me. Love God, be dedicated to the Orthodox faith. Do not think that now you can skip going to church because I am no longer there to watch after you. We must go to church not for the sake of people, but for God, Who sees who comes, and with what heart. Listen to the one who will be your teacher of the law, and study the Law of God not for the sake of grades, but in order to learn the will of our Heavenly Father. Be submissive to your parents, as Christ submitted to the Most Holy Virgin Mary. Be obedient to your teachers and elders who teach you goodness. Labor and beware of laziness, which is the mother of all vices. But most of all beware of quarrels; forgive each other when you are offended. Remember: Whoever quarrels consoles the devil, and whoever makes peace with others helps Christ and will be accepted into the Heavenly Kingdom, like the Son of God (Matt. 5:9).
I don’t have the possibility to send this letter to each of you; I am sending it to all of you whose addresses I know. But through them I am addressing all of you and would like as much as possible for each of my students to read it, so that my words would reach your hearts and leave a trace on your souls.
Letter published in the book, Vladyka John—Holy Hierarch of the Russian Diaspora, 2008, pp. 30–31.
Letter to the students of the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Orphanage in San Francisco
Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
November 21, 1952
Beginning from this day we sing in the Church services, “Christ is born, give ye glory!” This heralds to us the coming of the Nativity of Christ, and we are thus preparing ourselves to meet Him.
What does this preparation mean? It means that we have to tune our souls so that they might become as if cradles for the Infant Christ. And the feast should help us to do this. At the end of the Nativity fast the Church especially praises the three children and the Prophet Daniel, showing them to us as examples to emulate. But in what way did they become famous?
You know that when they were children, raised in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, they refused any delicacies at the king’s table and ate only vegetables, so that they would not violate the law of the Old Testament Church.
For this self-restraint and obedience to the Church’s Law, God rewarded them, gave them wisdom, in which they surpassed all their peers. Through the experience of fasting their souls were fortified, and they were able to refuse the king’s demand that they bow down to idols. And when they did not fulfill the impious command, and the three youths were thrown into a burning fiery furnace, and Prophet Daniel into a pit with lions, the Lord preserved them from it all. The hymns about this are sung everyday in the morning services to remind us of these youths’ heroism and to set them forth for us as an example.
Photo: slovoart.ru Children! You are now in a situation similar to the position of those children in Babylon. We are surrounded by people who do not know the Orthodox faith and do not submit themselves to the Church’s laws. The choice is before you: either fill yourselves with food that is forbidden by the Church, or, like Ananias, Azarias and Misael, you are free to reject what is forbidden. With whom do you want to be—with the youths, or with those who were against them? Do you want to emulate those saints, who were of the same age as you are now, or do you want to take the broad path and disdain all the rules?
Great courage and strength of character was demanded of those three youths so that they could fulfill the Church laws and traditions of their fathers; in the end they remained to live amongst the numberless multitude of unbelievers. For this God in His mercy glorified them before the whole world and for all ages. The Lord also will reward each of you if you follow the example of those youths.
Every time you are tempted to please yourself by eating what everyone else who does not know the divine laws of Christ’s Church eats, remember Daniel and the three children. And answer yourselves—are you with them, ready to follow them and be under God’s protection, or are you more interested in enjoying the sweet foods, which might look harmless but in fact turn us into destroyers of what made those Youths strong, glorious, and invincible. Who are you with, children, and whom do you want to follow?
May the Lord preserve you from temptation. May He strengthen you, and may St. Tikhon of Zadonsk teach you to walk the straight path.
May the blessings of the Lord be with you all, my dear children.
Your loving Archbishop John
This letter was published in the book, Blessed John the Wonderworker, 1993, pp. 256–7.
December 3, 1953
Holy Prophet Sophronius
St. Savva of Storozhev
To the students of the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk House
I was glad to spend the month with you, to see you again and be with you.
It was pleasant for me to see that you are becoming conscious, and developing your intellectual and other abilities.
I became convinced that you can be very good when you want to be. Watch yourselves, avoid everything that could turn you away from the good paths or lead you to the bad; always try to be the best you can.
Especially be fervent for your (church), take care of it, and attend with special diligence the Russian gymnasium and study well in it.
Though I am far away from you, I will always rejoice in your successes and goodness. Anything bad in you will make me very upset.
May the Lord preserve you all, and may St. Tikhon of Zadonsk and Great Martry Dimitry and (Panteleimon) help you.
The blessings of the Lord be upon you all!
Your loving +Archbishop John
This letter was published in the book by the St. John the Wonderworker Foundation, I Am Always With You in Spirit, Moscow, 2011, pp. 27.
To the children of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk
February 1, 1954
St. Pathenius, Bishop of Lampsacos (4th c.)
St. Luke of Greece (circa 946)
My dear children!
I greet you with the foundation day of the St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Orphanage, and with all my soul I feel what is happening with you and grieve for you.
You are on the threshold of some kind of changes, which have the power to change your whole lives.
Remain, my dears, always the children of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk; do not be deceived by baits and do not fear dangers!
Perhaps some find the fasts and other things needful to Orthodox Christians difficult. Do not give in to the temptations of the devil, who seduced Adam and Eve with the fruit, and who offered to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to turn stones into bread and receive all the kingdoms of the world if only He would bow down to him. Be Orthodox Christians not only in name, and do not imitate the animals for whom the most important thing is to fill their stomachs any way they can. Do no be drawn into other temptations either. Do not be afraid that you will be lonely and defenseless if you don’t find new protectors. Your Protector from your early childhood is St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, and he will not abandon you if you will be true to him and call upon him. He preserved you during the difficult years in Shanghai, and against all dangers he brought you across the sea to the country that you are in now. Hold fast to what was the main thing in his house, in which you were brought up and which you held on to. He will help you even now. Remember the inscription on the sword of Holy Prince Vsevolod (Gabriel in Baptism), on whose day the orphanage was founded: “I will not give away my honor to anyone.” Do not give away your honor to anyone; do not sell your birthright for a pottage of lentils.
May the Lord preserve you through the prayers of His Most Pure Mother, St. John the Baptist, and St. Tikhon of Zadonsk.
I call the blessings of the Lord upon each of you.
Your loving +Archbishop John
This letter was published in the book, I am Always With You In Spirit, St. John the Wonderworker Foundation, Moscow, 2011, pp. 32.