We offer our readers the continuation of a story by Tatiana Veselkina about Vladyka John (Snychev).
Metropolitan John (Snychev) Once we asked Vladyka John when to expect the end of time. “It is happening already,” he answered, “and will continue not for just one year or ten years; no one knows how long. It will depend on our repentance. But those will be scary times for sure.” It left me perplexed, “How can that be, Vladyka? How will we survive?”
“Stay close together, in groups of two or three. Support each other and help each other however you can. That’s how you will survive.”
That is how it did happen. We had to endure a lot of sorrow after Vladyka’s death. His own passing brought us a lot of grief, as if the roof had collapsed and heaven closed up.
I was on my way to pay my final respects to Vladyka, and many memories flooded my mind. I recalled my first visit to Petersburg and how everyone there was talking about the newly appointed Metropolitan. The elder used to say, “The metropolitans before looked stately and were in good health. And then I showed up, with my quiet voice.”
Nature was weeping: the pouring rain turned into wet snow, and the night wrapped the city of St. Peter in white.
Tonsured in honor of the apostle of love St. John the Theologian, Vladyka preached with his life about love, sincerity and patience. Not everyone understood it. Not everyone accepted it. But during those sorrowful days, the ones who came to him, full of loneliness, were the ones who loved him.
November 4, 2005. The autumnal feast of Our Lady of Kazan. It is one of my favorite celebrations. I arrived in Petersburg on an early morning train and immediately went to the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra. I couldn’t understand or accept that Vladyka John wasn’t serving in the altar even though he was present. Everything around me felt different.
At the end of the service, the choir members went to pay their last respects. It so happened that due to work obligations I couldn’t stay for the next day’s funeral and had to leave the same evening. I approached Vladyka and kissed his hand. The skin felt warm as if he were alive. I just couldn’t bear to walk away like the others and instinctively sat down beside my dear elder. I sat there until the evening. The clergy took turns reading the Psalter, the nuns from the local monasteries sang as police and the Cossacks kept the endless line of people in order.
The line to enter the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the St. Alexander Nevsky Lavra those days was probably the most sorrowful and the longest the monastery ever had. Russia was bidding farewell to Vladyka, and even at night, the cathedral stayed open. The people kept coming and coming.
On November 2, a woman heard, as if from an inner voice: Make a call to St. Petersburg, tell Valentina Sergeevna to take syringes and medicine1 and go where Vladyka went. “Where is this delusion from?” she wondered. “I am not going to call anyone, why should I bother them?” But she couldn’t calm down, and then she heard an inner voice once again. She told her family about it. “Maybe you should make a call?” advised one of her relatives. Still, they later decided not to. She was tormented all evening long and, during her evening prayers, she asked as she always did, “Lord, help us, through the prayers of Vladyka John,” and then adding, “If he is still alive.” It was 11 pm.
The morning came. As the telephone lines transmitted the sad news over to the far corners of the country, the mass media simply stated the fact of his death and went back to blasting the news about the killing of the Israeli Prime Minister. Maybe this was for the better, as Vladyka John lived simply and quietly, avoiding any noise. He fell asleep just as peacefully.
How did you become so dear to us, Vladyka? Certainly, it wasn’t your rank as a metropolitan, but rather that, without your title, the white klobuk2 and panagia3, you were like a father who taught his flock to stay away from lies, phariseeism, deceit, empty talk, betrayal, faintheartedness and idleness. You taught us to be sincere, honest, kind, and, above all, wise; to help our neighbor whenever possible, and to cherish every minute of our lives and fill them with good deeds. Even with your passing, you made us ponder whether we remember about the hour of death, whether we are ready every minute to answer God for our thoughts, words and actions.
We used to call you “Grandpa” behind your back. In the silliness of my youth, I even called you Grandpa in person, and not only once. In return, you called me “American girl” a few times. And I never even asked you why! The things you would have told me had I asked you then! All the things I had to figure out on my own living here, in America, for many years.
My heart recovered. By your prayers, my grief transformed into spiritual and real-life resilience. But trust me when I say that we here on earth feel lonely without you.
Many of Vladyka John’s spiritual children experienced the power of his prayers. But during his life, being aware of his meekness, I never spoke with him about this topic. When I came for visits, I would bring chocolates and candies, pendants of patron saints, crosses and other little souvenirs.
Usually, I would briefly describe the situation or a person to Vladyka, usually omitting their names, hand him an object to be blessed, and provide a general list of names with prayer requests.
Those who shared their stories below are still alive, and asked me to use their initials instead of their full names. I personally witnessed these events and do not consider it necessary to withhold this information.
M., a journalist, had been battling alcoholism unsuccessfully for many years, and tried all possible kinds of treatment. His family and career were at stake. He once asked Vladyka John to pray for him. I brought an icon pendant for M. back from St. Petersburg blessed by Vladyka, and M. began wearing it all the time. Since then, things have worked out for him. Everything is fine at work and they have welcomed a new addition to the family.
S.’s mother was in the hospital. She needed an operation for her appendicitis. Early in the morning, S. took her mother to the hospital and immediately called Vladyka in St. Petersburg, despite it being 5 am there. The doctors could not use general anesthesia, and the surgery turned out more complicated than usual. Besides, it took the doctors quite a long time to locate the appendix. The local anesthesia wore off and they ended up making an incision on an unanesthetized patient. Tormented by the pain, S.’s mother began to pray aloud to St. Panteleimon the Healer. When she was asked who he was, she responded that he was a physician and a miracle-worker. Suddenly, she heard a rustling sound as if someone were spreading a mantle over her head. “Found it!” exclaimed the surgeon and safely removed the appendix. It happened on the feast of Epiphany during the festal service when Vladyka John was serving the Liturgy, pronouncing the petitions for the sick and the suffering.
S. came to visit Vladyka John in St. Petersburg and had forgotten to bring her glasses. Vladyka John turned on a documentary film about Metropolitan Manuel (Lemeshevsky) for her, as she had wanted to see it for a long time. S. sat down right on the carpet in front of the TV. Vladyka came in unnoticed and asked why she was sitting on the floor. S. replied honestly, that her vision was quite bad and that she had forgotten her glasses at home. “Sit down,” he pointed to the sofa in another corner of the room, “and watch from there. Don't wear your glasses anymore, your vision is going back to normal.” Since then, S. has been able to work on the computer and lives her life without the glasses she had worn for many years.
K. asked Vladyka John’s blessing to make a pilgrimage to a remote monastery. He didn’t give her a blessing, but added that she would be able to go there later. Unwilling to waste any time, K. went to the monastery anyway. Instead of profiting from her trip spiritually, she had the opposite experience. She was traveling back in a second-class sleeper carriage and her berth was located close to the exit. At one of the stops, two men joined her in the adjoining berths, quickly got drunk and tried to spark up a conversation with her. She kept to herself and soon tried to fall asleep. Later, feeling as if someone was shaking her from sleep, K. suddenly opened her eyes and saw that one of the men was holding his hands over her throat ready to choke her. “Lord, have mercy!” was the only thing she managed to utter, and kicked her assailant in the chest as hard as she could. She spent the entire night in terror and didn’t get a wink of sleep.
K. believes she was saved through the prayers of Vladyka John and never again took another trip without his blessing.
N. asked Vladyka John for a blessing to learn to be a church seamstress. He wondered why she wanted it, as she was quite busy doing other things. But N. pressed on, so the elder replied: “You will sew when you don't have work.” He explained that she must learn to sew first, and that later on she shouldn’t take on sewing cassocks. He gave his blessing to start shopping for sewing supplies one item at a time. Whenever she could, N. would buy fabric, fringe, beads, etc.
After Vladyka’s death, it so happened that she had to quit her job and for almost six months she couldn’t find suitable work. Then, following the elder’s advice, she began taking sewing orders from the numerous churches reopening at the time. Interestingly, she couldn’t figure out why she was able to fulfill those orders so quickly. The cost of supplies grew, whereas she was able to use her surplus of fabric and fixings. N. had to work hard but sewing brought her satisfaction. What mattered more was that she was able to sustain her family during hard times by sewing until she found a job she was qualified for. She never ended up having to sew cassocks though…
N. suddenly began to experience symptoms of an unknown disease. She felt dizzy every morning, and on her way to work, she had to leave the bus every few minutes to come back to her senses. She even fainted occasionally. The tests didn’t show anything abnormal. She patiently endured her affliction and tried every possible medical intervention. The illness did not go away. N. was already on the verge of not being able to keep her job.
Then, she saw in a light dream how Vladyka John came by in a simple grey cassock carrying the Chalice with the Holy Gifts. He raised her head and administered Communion. N. immediately opened her eyes. It was 7 am and she felt a sweet taste in her mouth as if she had just communed. More importantly, she no longer felt dizzy! She calmly took the bus to work, amazed that she could ride it for 40 minutes without stopping for a break. She worked all day long at full pace, smiling at the thought of her morning “visit.”
In the evening, N. returned home and read for a while. Suddenly at 11 pm, her phone rang. N. was so immersed in reading that she decided not to get up, instead asking a family member to answer it and say that she was already in bed. Her relative picked up the receiver and then cried out, “But it is from St. Petersburg!”
N. ran to the phone. Vladyka John was on the other end. “What, still snoozing?” asked the elder, adding, “Feeling better?”
Written between October 2005 and October 2020
2 A monastic head covering.
3 A medallion with an icon of the Mother of God, worn by a bishop.