This year, the Russian Church Outside of Russia is celebrating two anniversaries, associated with one of the most venerated saints in the diaspora: Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco. June marks the 125th anniversary of his birth, and today, June 19/July 2, the fifty-fifth anniversary since his death.
Archpriest George Larin, rector of the Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY, is a goldmine of stories about St. John. He met Vladyka as a boy, in his native Shanghai in the early 1940s, and since then he has felt his protection all his life.
Archpriest George Larin with his family and parishioners
I feel the presence of Vladyka all the time
In my life there have been no specific miracles associated with prayers to St. John, but I always feel his presence. I have been serving in the Holy Virgin Protection parish in Nyack for over fifty years, and many things can only be explained by his intercession. Sometimes incredible little things happen, and this is God’s Providence; first I ended up in Jordanville, then served with the founder of our parish, Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy who wrote the book The Law of God,” and learned a lot from him. Often we didn’t have enough money for some important things—and suddenly benefactors would appear and were ready to donate necessary amounts.
For example, Fr. Seraphim really wanted to have a separate parish school, but we didn’t have enough space. There was only a church, while students had lessons in the basement. But Mikhail Konstantinovich Kluge came from Shanghai and bought for us all the houses that stood next to the church. And Artemy Mikhailovich Zhukovsky-Volynsky funded the construction of a school.
When the school was in full swing, it cost us $3000 to 4000 to buy a new copier. We didn’t know where to get this money from, but the father of one of our students came and unexpectedly donated $10,000.
All of this is evidence of the Providence of God, and I believe that Vladyka John also prayed that everything would turn out in this way.
I also attribute it to Divine Providence that I was honored to serve together with the Assembly of Bishops of ROCOR during the canonization of St. John in July 1994.
The Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Cathedral of the Icon of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in San Francisco, the construction of which Vladyka participated in, and where his relics now rest.
At one time I heard that soon after his repose, Vladyka John appeared to someone in a dream and said, “Tell everyone that although I am dead, I am still alive.”
And when we served that day, there was no feeling that we were celebrating a funeral service for someone who was no longer alive. On the contrary, we were glorifying a living person, and it was like a little Pascha. I was very happy that at last such a great man was canonized and that I, a sinner, was found worthy of having spent time with him.
Now I would like to share some of these wonderful letters (filled with pastoral care and love) of St. John of those years in order to honor the memory of this saint of God, through whose prayers and deeds we all came safely to the end of our refugee path.
October 23, 1949. Holy Apostle James, Brother of the Lord.
Being away from you and having many cares to facilitate travel from Samar Island to other countries, I always remember all of you children, whom I knew in Shanghai and who helped in church.
I remember you very often and at the same time restlessly think about how you are now and what you are like now.
Much in our lives does not depend on us, but still much depends on us. Becoming and staying good largely depends on ourselves. True, it is impossible without God’s help, but this help is given to us when we make efforts, force ourselves to do good and pray to God about that.
You were good children in Shanghai, you served with zeal... There were some shortcomings, but you corrected them. However, when I arrived at Tubabao, I noticed that you had already lost the habit of it a little and become undisciplined. After I had arrived you quickly got back on track and became as before. Departing, I left you as helpers in church—hoping you will not give that up.
How do you carry out that task now? Do you always go to church diligently without missing any festal services? Remember that the feasts are the days of God. The commandment does not say: “the seventh day is for you, for the fulfillment of your desires,” but it says: the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God (Exod. 20:10). Therefore, according to St. John Chrysostom, he who does not devote these hours of services to God “steals” from God what belongs to Him.
Everything is created by God that is given to us for use, and in gratitude to Him we must honor that which God has allotted for Himself for our own benefit. And everything that is commanded to us by God through the Church must be kept with reverence. Departing from the ways of the Lord, we may have bodily enjoyment for a while—but then we will feel the bitterness of that evil that seemed sweet.
I hope that you will always walk the good path.
How are your sisters? Let them read this letter too. I am waiting for a letter from you. May the Lord protect you all and bless you.
John, Archbishop of Shanghai
April 23, 1950. Great-martyr George the Victorious.
Happy name’s day—the feast of your heavenly patron, St. George the Victorious. May he help you become better and better, overcoming all your weaknesses and establishing yourself in goodness. Thank you and Sima for your letter. I often think of you, as well as other guys who were with me in Shanghai. I remember you very often. It saddens me that you are not serving in church right now. And it is time for you, Zhora, to read in the choir, and Sima could start to learn that.
Here I have met many whom I knew as helpers in the Russian church in Belgrade; there were people like you, and now they are adults. Some of them became priests in my presence, so on one of the days of Bright Week I served with Priest George and Hierodeacon Anthony, both of whom were among the younger assistants when I had been in Belgrade last. And there are also old priests who only recently escaped Russia, having experienced all the “pleasures” of life there.
Do you read the Gospel every day? That must be done—read either the prescribed Gospel passage for every day (there are instructions in the calendar) or (if it is not there) just in order: about twenty or thirty verses per day, in order to read the entire Gospel in this way. How are Tanya3 and Svetlana? Have you received the two books that I sent you at the beginning of Lent?
May the Lord protect and bless you and Sima, your parents and sisters.
John, Bishop of Shanghai
January 22, 1952. Holy Apostle Timothy and the Venerable Martyr Anastasius the Persian.
Dear Zhora and Sima!
It is now three years since you left Shanghai. I have not heard from you for a long time.
Do you continue to serve carefully? Do you go to church diligently? Do you study the Law of God?
May the Lord protect and bless your parents, you, and your sisters.
April 23, 1960. From Brussels, Belgium.
Happy name’s day. May he (St. George) direct your life according to the will of God and for your good and the good of others! May he keep you and guide you on a good path! I would very much like you to return to those aspirations that you had in childhood.
The lack of clergy is becoming glaringly obvious. Whole areas are left without priests, churches without services, and parishes without nourishment. Spiritual hunger is felt more and more year after year. With an aching heart, I have to deny people Communion or a priest for Pascha for lack of these. Think about that. If earlier you subconsciously longed for this, now muse about how much you would do if you were to consciously choose to serve Christ and His Church. That is a feat, and the highest good in the Name of Christ. No other earthly career would benefit others and you more than this one.
May Lord bless you!
January 18, 1961. Sts. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria.
I received your letters. I couldn’t answer you right away, but I always pray and remember you every day. I think you understand yourself correctly now. Of course, you could take up secular life, earn good money, have a family and enjoy your life. For a while, that would satisfy you, and you would consider your former desire for spiritual life a childish fantasy.
But still, only for a time. The opposite wind would blow, the storms of life would break out and immediately break you, and even without them someday you would feel that everything that you have is not what your soul yearned for, that your soul does not have what it needs. Such an awakening is scary, when it is no longer possible to return to the previous path, when it is irretrievably lost through your own fault.
Of course, the other path—the spiritual one—is not easy. There is much sorrow; sometimes it seems (and happens) that the whole world—even those close to you—is against you. But then, as sorrows grow, the power of grace also multiplies—the help that strengthens you and gives you consolation and even joy in sorrow. But worldly sorrows are cheerless and do not benefit us.
Meeting and observing the lives of those whom I knew as adolescents and who now are in old age, I see how, burdened with life’s worries and illnesses, they spend their days joylessly if they do not have higher aspirations. Those who have given themselves to the service of God (even if they suffer for this) are spiritually vigorous and feel the Hand of God that keeps them.
What should you do and where should you go? I think I already wrote to you that although everyone—both learned and illiterate—can serve God and live righteously, the Church now needs pastors who can instruct people in the faith and ward off attacks on it. I would be very glad if you were with me, but I think it is more useful for you and the Church if you would receive a theological education and for this purpose enter the Holy Trinity Seminary, where Adrian Gan is studying.
May God help you and bless you on that path! May the blessing of the Lord be with all of you.
May 30, 1962. St. John Damascene.
How are you?
I did not have time to greet you on your name’s day and since then I have been trying to write to you all the time. When Sima informed me that your departure to America had been delayed in November, I immediately wrote to the State Department, asking for permission for you to enter.
I received an answer after about two months, but it was vague. I have also spoken about you with Archbishop Averky (Taushev). God willing, things will come out right; the devil is interfering, but do not lose your ardent desire to serve God.
May God bless you, Sima, your parents, and your whole family!
Thomas Sunday. Antipascha.
Christ is Risen!
Beloved in the Lord, Father Cyprian!
To my deep regret, your letter got into a pile of other letters, and only now, while sorting it out, have I found it. I am answering immediately—I would have done it right away if I had read it earlier.
I have known George Larin since he was about eight, when, seeing his reverence in church, I invited him to serve at the altar. I also know his parents and the whole family well. Since the time indicated George constantly visited me, and I knew both his inner life and behavior. He was exceptionally religious, which was noted by the parishioners of the cathedral, so even then many thought that he would follow the spiritual path.
The school he attended was Catholic; in the past, there were some conversions of Orthodox boys to Catholicism, but by the time Larin was admitted there such phenomena had almost ceased, and vice versa, the students there saw the negative aspects of Catholicism and moved away from it. I knew many boys who studied there; some served in my cathedral and visited me.
After we left Shanghai, I saw the Larins in the Philippines, but with their move to Australia I continued to be in contact with them, and constantly received letters from both the father and the boys, George and his brother. I knew what was happening to them and their moods. One of my letters gave impetus to George’s decision to go to seminary. When I saw him at the Holy Trinity Monastery, he spoke openly with me, without concealing anything. I have no doubts about his decency and sincerity, and I am ready to testify it before everyone. The accusations against him are revolting slanders, and are probably happening in order to lead away from the Orthodox Church those who may subsequently be its faithful and good servants. George works on himself, trying to develop himself not only mentally, but also spiritually, being fully aware of his shortcomings. You can only pray to God that he will continue this way.
Thank you very much for writing to me, and I only regret that I did not answer you earlier.
I ask you to greet the newly tonsured monks from me and convey my blessing to them, as well as to my spiritual son G. Larin and other seminarians I know, and the brethren.
I am sending a letter with a copy so you can show it or give to anyone if needed. God bless you!
Your sincere well-wisher,