How St. John of San Francisco Found Our Home, and Other Stories From Matushka Maria Kotar

In the house of St. John In the house of St. John   

I have witnessed the lives of spiritual people

You’re asking me to tell you about myself—I’ll try to do that, but not because I myself would be interesting to someone. I’ll never live to become a spiritual person—this title is too high, but by the mercy of God, I have witnessed the lives of such people. I’ll try to fulfill your request, but I’ll talk about myself in the context of those whom I’ve known—that’s the only way I could perhaps be interesting to anyone.

Archpriest Sergei Kotar with his son Nicholas, now a deacon Archpriest Sergei Kotar with his son Nicholas, now a deacon   

My relatives were believers and I sang in the choir from an early age. From the age of six I already knew the order of the services. Only, it wasn’t my merit, but that of my relatives who were pastored by St. John of San Francisco back in Shanghai and Tubabao. And then St. John continued pastoring my family in San Francisco—I grew up under the protection of his prayers, and my most memorable childhood memories are connected with him; from my adolescence—with my spiritual father, Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose). Vladyka John himself brought him to our house when Fr. Seraphim was still just the young Eugene Rose, a reader at the cathedral. I also knew Bishop Nektary (Kontzevitch) well, even considering him my grandpa as a child. Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) would play with my children, José Muñoz, the guardian of the wonderworking icon, was our family friend. I’ve already spoken about this in detail—I’m just mentioning it for those who haven’t read those articles.

They were all spiritual people. I grew up among them, and they made such an impression on me that I wanted to strive for this too. For these people, every moment of their lives was sent by God, and this had a very strong influence on me, then a young girl.

St. John at a festal meal St. John at a festal meal     

My adolescence

I got two college degrees, studying literature and history at the University of Berkeley. I like to study foreign languages. I can’t say I speak them equally well, but studying them is interesting for me. It helps train my memory, I think. I’m studying my eleventh language right now, but this pull to foreign languages also isn’t my merit, but perhaps that of my great-great-grandfather. Nikolai Kasimovich and his brother Alexander Kasimovich Kazem-Beki were the most talented linguists, professors and teachers of the Faculty of Oriental Languages of the St. Petersburg Imperial University. Interestingly, my great-great-grandfather was a Godson of Tsar Alexander II, and my great-grandfather, being the chairman of the Ekaterinburg District Court, organized an investigation into the murder of his grandson, Nikolai II. But I’ve already talked about that too.

Perhaps it was my great-grandmother Carolina Zholive (Eugenia in Baptism) who gave me my ability with languages. She was French, and spoke French, English, and Russian fluently. Her son, my grandfather, recieved the knowledge of languages from her and also spoke those languages as his native languages. My mama learned from my grandfather. She didn’t speak these languages like a native speaker, but she spoke with me in French when I was a child.

Mama, Eugenia Olegovna Isaeva, departed to the Lord on Theophany this year, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. She was born in March 1921 in Vladivostok, to where the whites were retreating, including my grandparents, a lieutenant colonel in the Volunteer Army and a young sister of mercy. Then came Shanghai, Tubabao, Australia, America… Mama gave me a love for Russia and the Russian language, although she spent her entire life outside of Russia…

Mama, Eugenia Olegovna Isaeva-Paphnutieva Mama, Eugenia Olegovna Isaeva-Paphnutieva     

I really love Russian literature, and especially Dostoyevsky. I read voraciously as a child. I adored the poetry of Pushkin and Lermontov, but history is more important to me now, because I taught it at the Orthodox school that Fr. Serge and I opened at Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral in San Francisco.

I think it’s very important to know history now, especially the history of the Church, because many don’t know it and can’t soberly assess what’s happening. We have to know the past so as not to repeat its mistakes now. People are confused and either say some kind of ideal things about the Church, or they scold it and only look for its shortcomings. They demand that everyone in the Church be like the angels and saints and live a fleshless, angelic life, but they don’t look at themselves.

My husband is a priest. He’s a very good man and labors with all his might, and sometimes I even think he lives a holy life, although, of course, he wouldn’t say that about himself. But I don’t think I can expect or demand holiness from him or anyone else.

Archpriest Serge Kotar Archpriest Serge Kotar     

The Lord had other plans for us

I met my future husband, now Archpriest Serge Kotar, at the cathedral in San Francisco, at the relics of St. John of San Francisco. I sang in the choir (there are mainly men on the kliros in the cathedral), and he did too. His father was a priest. I was thinking of monasticism then, and he had graduated from the seminary in Jordanville and was also thinking about monasticism, but the Lord had other plans for us.

Not everyone who graduates from the seminary gets ordained, and my husband promised me he wouldn’t get ordained. He had a secular job then—besides the seminary, he also had a degree in library science. Most of our priests live quite modestly. In America, a priest’s salary usually isn’t enough to feed his family, and our batiushkas have to either combine their parish ministry with secular work (and then they hardly see their families), or they have to rely on their wives’ salaries.

But it’s not even that—it’s just that the lot of a priest’s wife seemed very difficult to me—I had too little faith. But subsequently, the Lord never left us, and when we needed money, it would appear. My daughter studied one year in Oxford and my son one summer in London, and they were given scholarships at other universities—God was with us at every step.

Matushka’s son Nicholas and daughter Alexandra, named for the Royal Martyrs Matushka’s son Nicholas and daughter Alexandra, named for the Royal Martyrs     

What could I say to these words, so full of love?!

But in the beginning of our family life, I didn’t imagine myself as the wife of a priest and my husband as a priest. In 1983, our first-born Nicky—Nicholas—was born, and in 1985 our daughter Alix—Alexandra. We named them in honor of the holy Royal Martyrs. I remember I had just given birth to Nicky; I didn’t feel well, and Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) came to our house. He said a prayer, and I made dinner and set the table. We were having dinner with Vladyka, and suddenly he turned to my husband and said:

“Well, are we ordaining you on Palm Sunday?”

And my husband answered:

“Yes, Vladyka!”

I realized they had already had a conversation about this, and I started crying because they hadn’t told me anything about it, and now they were setting a date. Our Vladyka Anthony was a holy man. He immediately understood what was going on and spoke to me with consolation. He told me:

“Everything is in your hands, dear! If you don’t want to, we won’t do it!”

What could I say to these words, so full of love?! Of course, I couldn’t object to Vladyka. In these difficult, emotional days for my husband and I before his ordination, a miracle of God occurred in our family, which I’ll tell you about now.

Myrrh from the Montreal Iveron Icon of the Mother of God Myrrh from the Montreal Iveron Icon of the Mother of God     

A miracle of God

We knew Brother José Muñoz, the keeper of the wonderworking Montreal Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. He often came to our cathedral in San Francisco so the parishioners could venerate and pray before the miraculous icon. He also came to love our family and would come to our house with the icon.

José was a very kind person, the most humble—he always stood somewhere in the corner, never drawing attention to himself, never wanting to stick out. He was quiet, always joyful, and very meek. No one would look at him and suspect that he was the guardian of such a great holy item and that he was, in fact, the chosen one of the Mother of God.

Before my husband’s ordination, both of us, as I have already said, were very emotional. I should add that we, the young cathedral parishioners, in those years, the mid-1980s, were very active: We would get together and sing Russian hymns, and we would send The Law of God and other spiritual books and icons to various addresses in Russia.

And my husband and I made paper copies of the wonderworking Iveron Icon to send them to Russia. We made a whole stack of these icons, prepared them for shipment, and next to them we had a small jar with some cotton in it, soaked with myrrh from the miraculous icon. We closed the jar tightly so the cotton wouldn’t dry out.

And suddenly we saw more and more myrrh appearing—already a jar-full. It was already seeping out, right onto the paper icons. They were all covered in myrrh, but since they were on a glossy photo paper, they still looked the same, just with droplets of myrrh on top.

We started putting them in plastic bags and we sent them to Russia, to priests and friends. And they would receive them, open the envelopes, and out came the sweet fragrance of the myrrh! Everyone was overjoyed at such wonderful gifts! A priest we knew, Archpriest George Kurtov, a jack of all trades, made a kiot for us, and we put our bottle of oil and the paper icons there. Then the myrrh started coming out not only from the jar, but it also began to appear on top of the paper icons! They started streaming myrrh!

I was home alone with young Nicky when suddenly I saw how the myrrh just kept coming, flowing from the icon into the kiot, and soaked into it, and the whole area smelled fragrant. I was frightened, just as the holy Apostle Peter was once frightened by the huge, simply unbelievable amount of fish caught, and cried out to the Lord: Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord (Lk. 5:8).

I called my friend, another priest’s wife, and practically screamed into the phone:

“I’m scared! I’m home alone with the baby—and then this happens!”

To which my friend answered:

“I wish that miracle would happen at my house!”

Her reaction calmed me down a bit. I thought later: Why did this miracle happen at our house? Perhaps to strengthen us before Fr. Serge’s ordination? Maybe it wasn’t even for us, but for those we were sending things to in Russia? Probably for both us and them… But after this myrrh-streaming, I calmed down, stopped worrying, and accepted everything as if the Mother of God herself had blessed my husband for pastoral ministry.

Brother José Muñoz Brother José Muñoz     

I want to come to your ordination with the wonderworking icon

We sent all these little icons to Russia and put new ones in the kiot, and they also continued to be soaked in myrrh. This continued for a whole year, and then it stopped. But one of these paper icons, the jar with the myrrh, and the kiot are all kept in our chapel (we have a small chapel in our house). They’re our holy items.

And then José went up to my husband and said:

“I want to come to your ordination with the wonderworking icon, and you’ll be the first priest to be ordained in its presence.”

So he came, and that’s what happened.

Then José came to visit us several times. He really loved our children and tried to come to San Francisco timed to their birthdays and spend time with them, and so the wonderworking icon would be with our children on these special days for them.

When José was killed on the night of October 31, 1997, it was a terrible tragedy for everyone—for us and our children too. Our daughter was still very young, and I stayed home with her, but Fr. Serge and Nicky flew to Jordanville for the funeral.

Fr. Serge with the myrrh-streaming Montreal Iveron Icon Fr. Serge with the myrrh-streaming Montreal Iveron Icon     

The wonderworking Hawaiian Icon and its guardian

And ten years later, in 2007, the Hawaiian Iveron Icon of the Mother of God started to stream myrrh, owned by our friend Reader Nektarios Yangston, whom we’ve known for a long time. Fr. Serge and I went to Hawaii often. They had problems with priests, and we would fly there—five hours there and five hours back—and Fr. Serge would serve the parish there.

When the icon that Fr. Anatoly Levin gave him started to stream myrrh, Nektarios brought it to us in San Francisco, to the cathedral. He also bought a cross, the size of an icon, which he placed on an analogion, and that started to stream myrrh too. He brought them to our cathedral and left them in the altar. Vladyka Kyrill checked everything and blessed Fr. Nektarios (he’s a deacon now) to become the guardian of the icon and to speak about it.

I remember him as a teenager—such a good-natured boy, always smiling. He loved surfing. The last thing I would have thought was that he would become the guardian of a miraculous icon, that the Mother of God would choose him. Fr. Nektarios, like José, loves my husband, Fr. Serge, and gave us one of the covers of the icon, soaked in myrrh. He changes the kiot and cover often, as they’re completely saturated with myrrh, and he gives them away.

Archpriest Anatoly Levin, Archpriest Serge, and Fr. Nektarios Yangston Archpriest Anatoly Levin, Archpriest Serge, and Fr. Nektarios Yangston     

I never wanted to leave Vladyka John

I’ve already talked about how I sang in the choir of the Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral in San Francisco at the relics of St. John of San Francisco for many years. I always turn to Vladyka John in case of some need and entreat his prayerful help. When Fr. Serge and I opened an Orthodox school and I was working as the director, I had to do a lot of work to ensure we would have teachers there. Once, I urgently needed a math teacher. So I stood at St. John’s relics and began to ask:

“Dear Vladyka, please send me a math teacher! Classes start in a week and we still don’t have a math teacher!”

As I walked away from the relics, a woman met me:

“Forgive me, they told me you’re the director of the school. Would you happen to have some work for me?”

“And what do you do?”

“I’m a math teacher…”

Later, I also asked St. John for a Russian teacher, and before I even left the church, the new teacher himself approached me. Such things happened many times.

My husband, Fr. Serge, served in the cathedral for thirty-two years, and I never intended to leave Vladyka John, so dear to my heart. And then, some time ago, a parishioner of the cathedral came up to me and said:

“I had a dream about you saying goodbye to Vladyka.”

I was scared: What did I do? Do I really have to leave Vladyka John?! Then the following story happened.

The glorification of St. John in the San Francisco cathedral The glorification of St. John in the San Francisco cathedral     

The house of St. John of San Francisco

My husband was approaching retirement age, and we were living in the parish house. It was elegant and beautiful, but we really wanted to have our own home. As I already mentioned, a priest’s salary is low in America, and we didn’t manage to save enough money for such a purchase during our lifetime, especially since housing in San Francisco is very, very expensive.

If my husband could no longer serve due to age, we would have to leave the parish house, and we didn’t have our own apartment. We had to think about what to do next. Buying a house in San Francisco was completely unrealistic, so I started looking for other options, although I absolutely didn’t want to leave my beloved Vladyka John of San Francisco.

There was nothing to do, and I started looking for a place in Jordanville (Fr. Serge’s idea). Jordanville is on the east coast, unlike our western, California coast. But the thing is that our son had graduated from seminary in Jordanville and stayed to work as the choir director and a seminary teacher, and lives near the monastery with his wife and children. The monastery gave them a house (they have several houses for seminary professors and teachers), but it was very cold and poorly equipped. I started looking online at houses on sale in this area, and they were much, much cheaper than in California.

Several times I came across the same ad for the sale of a fairly large house that was very suitable for us in terms of area. There was space there both for my son’s family and for batiushka and me. There was only one “but”: The interior of the house made an extremely pitiful impression in the photos, even scaring off potential buyers. But, as it turned out, this was God’s providence. The house was put up for sale a year ago, and only one family showed interest that whole time, but the sale didn’t work out.

We served a moleben at St. John’s relics, and I fervently entreated:

“Vladyka, you know how I don’t want to leave you, but my husband is already seventy-three, and we need our own place… Vladyka John, please find us a home! We really need our own home!”

The next day, we flew to New York, and from there drove to Jordanville. We were supposed to look at four houses that were for sale there. The first house we decided to look at was the one I really didn’t like from the photographs. But when we arrived and walked in, I just gasped: In fact, it was nice, very nice—simply wonderful!

Our home—the House of St. John of San Francisco Our home—the House of St. John of San Francisco     


The photos were bad. They were taken from a bad angle, and so on, and everything looked just terrible in the photos, but in reality, it turned out to be a wonderful house! It was like a castle! Everything that looked bad in the photos—the wild colors and the rest—we later repainted. The main thing is that it was spacious; there was an abundance of sunlight, many rooms, and our grandchildren started running around the whole house with delight.

I went upstairs, turned around, and saw—on the wall, an icon of St. John of San Francisco! I practically fell into a stupor. I called for my husband and son:

“Look! This is the home of Americans, Protestants. They couldn’t have icons in their house? Or it is just me?!”

But, an icon there was, of course! It was Vladyka sending us a message that he himself had found us a home!

It turns out that the former owners had gone to the monastery just for an excursion, they went into the church shop, and out of hundreds of icons, it was the icon of St. John that they liked. They didn’t even know who was depicted on it, but they liked Vladyka John so much that they bought the icon and hung it on the wall.

Then they started asking me:

“Tell us, who is depicted on this icon?!”

And I smiled and answered them:

“This is my husband’s boss—he worked next to him for thirty-two years!”

St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco     

They were simply amazed and told all their friends about it. And we decided that we would call our house the House of St. John of San Francisco and that it would be not only for us, but a house open to the public, and so we have a Sunday School here now, young seminarian wives meet here, and various events are held: We decorate kulichi and celebrate Church feasts.


As I already said, we have a small chapel, and our holy items are kept there, including a particle of the relics of St. John, the handle from his old coffin (Fr. Serge participated in the opening of his relics), and many other holy items.

These are the stories I wanted to share with you today, dear readers of God bless! Holy Hierarch Father John, pray to God for us!

Our chapel Our chapel

Our chapel Our chapel   

Maria Kotar
Prepared by Olga Rozhneva
Translation by Jesse Dominick


See also
How the Relics of St. John of San Francisco Were Opened, and Other Amazing Stories How the Relics of St. John of San Francisco Were Opened, and Other Amazing Stories How the Relics of St. John of San Francisco Were Opened, and Other Amazing Stories How the Relics of St. John of San Francisco Were Opened, and Other Amazing Stories
A Conversation with Archpriest George Kurtov
Archpriest George Kurtov
I very acutely felt then that what the Church says through the mouths of our righteous ones is all true.
St. John Made no Compromises, Neither With Himself Nor With Circumstances St. John Made no Compromises, Neither With Himself Nor With Circumstances
On the Commemoration of the uncovering of the relics of St. John of Shanghai; Deacon Andrei Psarev, Maria Reshetnikova
St. John Made no Compromises, Neither With Himself Nor With Circumstances St. John Made no Compromises, Neither With Himself Nor With Circumstances
On the Commemoration of the uncovering of the relics of St. John of Shanghai
Deacon Andrei Psarev, Maria Reshetnikova
In our life it’s simply impossible to meet someone who is both kind and active. Many are active, but they are very cruel; and many are kind, but they do nothing. When you read about Vladyka John and you see what an active and kind man he was, you realize how fortunate it would have been to be his contemporary; he literally and physically save the lives of so many people.
 The Price of Sanctity. Memories of Archbishop John Maximovitch The Price of Sanctity. Memories of Archbishop John Maximovitch
Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky)
 The Price of Sanctity. Memories of Archbishop John Maximovitch The Price of Sanctity. Memories of Archbishop John Maximovitch
Fr. Herman (Podmoshensky)
Feeling an utter triumph in my soul, that I had spoken to a saint, I turned to Fr. Vladimir for further information about him, Archbishop John. But I heard nothing of what my dear benefactor Fr. Vladimir was telling me then, due to my excitement over having met a man not of this world.
Maria Kotar8/29/2021 2:20 am
Fr. David, come and visit us anytime! We miss you too!!
Elizabeth Kulp8/28/2021 7:26 am
Thank you so much for this article. I now have a son and two God-sons at Jordanville and part of my heart is there, even though I've only been there about four times. May God grant you many years and richly bless you and your family.
Rafael Habtezion8/27/2021 6:53 pm
We read the written details. Amazing, Wonderful & eventful history. God bless. Thank you for sharing. Please pray for us for our heart's desire to get it done. Dear Holy Hierarch Father Saint John, Vladyka, the Wonderworker pray to God for us! Pray to God that our beloved daughter' as well as our heart's prayerful desire to be fulfilled complete in & by the LORD GOD. Thank you Vladyka for healing my back pain with your Holy ointment. Your servant, Rafael & Family.
David Moser8/26/2021 10:28 pm
Reading this now, I miss you all so much. Pray for us as we pray for you.
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