I would like to share another story about the power of the blessing of a spiritual father and parents, about obedience to pious parents and the grace that the Lord gives in return for this obedience.
My grandfather, Rostislav Adolfovich Gan, graduated from the gymnasium (classical school) in Harbin and the Railway Commercial School of the CER (Chinese Eastern Railway). In 1928, he entered the Harbin Institute of Technology, from which he graduated in 1933 with a civil engineering degree.
Secular education was not enough for my grandfather—his soul longed for the spiritual and he was even able to complete pastoral and theological courses in Harbin at the same time as his difficult studies at the Institute of Technology. Those were not ordinary courses—they were recognized by the ROCOR Synod of Bishops as a full-fledged spiritual institution of higher education.
My young grandfather was pastored by Archimandrite Juvenaly (Kilin), the future Archbishop of Qiqihar, who in those years (between 1924 and 1936) served as abbot of the Monastery of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Later, in one of his letters, Vladyka wrote about his spiritual child Rostislav Gan:
“He loved me very much, listened to my instructions and often attended my services, especially those according to the Typicon, at the monastery of Harbin.”
From a young age, Rostislav longed for the monastic life, but since he was the only son of Seraphima Nikolaevna Gan, my great-grandmother refused when he asked for her blessing for joining the Monastery of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. She said with firmness:
“My dear son, your father is missing. You must carry on the Gan family line.”
My grandfather went sorrowfully to his spiritual father, Vladyka Juvenaly, complaining that his mother hadn’t blessed him to become a monk. The wise Vladyka Juvenaly had the gift of spiritual discernment and after praying to God responded to his spiritual child:
“Rostislav, you must obey your mother! Let me introduce you to my great-niece, Sophia Yumina. She is the daughter of my nephew, Father Konstantin Yumin, who was martyred for the faith.”
The church where the Lord blessed my grandparents’ married life
On February 9, 1936, Rostislav Gan and Sophia Yumina got married at the Church of St. Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow, in Modyagou (a district of Harbin). I cannot help but say a few words about this church where the Lord blessed my grandparents’ married life.
It was a marvelous three-altar church: the main altar was dedicated to St. Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow; the right side-altar—to St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Irkutsk; and the left one—to the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos, “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” The parish was one of the most populous in Harbin and consisted of almost 2,000 believers. In those years a free tea room for the poor was open at the church where up to 200 people were offered hot tea with bread daily.
“A true man of prayer, a devout pastor, a great preacher”
Five days after the wedding—on February 15, 1936, the feast of the the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple—Vladyka Juvenaly (Kilin) ordained my grandfather to the diaconate, and to the priesthood the following day. So in lieu of a honeymoon, my grandfather celebrated the Divine Liturgy daily for forty days in a row, as is customary for newly ordained priests. In those years, people put the interests of the Church above their personal ones.
Archpriest Rostislav Gan served as the rector of many churches in various cities of China. In one of his letters Vladyka Juvenaly (Kilin) characterized my grandfather as follows:
“Now he is a true man of prayer, a devout pastor, and a great preacher who has especially come to love the writings of St. Theophan, the Recluse of Vyshna, having learned his divinely inspired works almost by heart.”
Here is a quote from one of my grandfather's sermons:
“The Lord is able to transform everything for good, if only our own good will and our own conscience are awakened. And we need to look into our conscience more often, and especially and above all, we need to be afraid of offending someone in life. We must also remember how we often misjudge other people and sometimes interpret their actions for the worse, and not for the better.”
My grandparents had four sons in China: Adrian (1937-2011), Seraphim, my father (1940-2010), Alexei (born in 1945 and died as an infant) and Nikolai (born in 1951).
“With his departure I am losing a piece of my heart”
My grandfather also served with a great saint of the twentieth century, St. John of Shanghai. Vladyka John, Vladyka Juvenaly and Fr. Rostislav were spiritually very close to each other. They were united by spiritual friendship and spoke on many Church-related, historical and Patristic topics. I was told that when they served together, it felt like spiritual sparks were igniting around them.
In 1953, Archpriest Rostislav Gan left for Sydney with his wife Sophia and their sons. My grandmother told me that when they were leaving Shanghai, Vladyka John of Shanghai told her about my grandfather:
“With his departure I am losing a piece of my heart.”
My grandmother remembered Vladyka’s words until the end of her life. Our family keeps his letters where Vladyka John inquired about how our relatives were doing.
In Australia, my grandfather served as rector of the Protection of the Holy Virgin community, and then at the parish of the Protection of the Holy Virgin in Cabramatta (a suburb of south-western Sydney) until the end of his life. At first, my grandfather served in an old residential building converted into a church, and then, together with the community, they decided to build a new stone church.
It was built all together: parishioners came to the construction site after their main jobs and carried out much of the construction work with their own hands. Even before completion of the construction, my grandfather served in the new church. It was only completed two years before his repose.
A message from the past
I have already told you how my great-grandfather, Adolf Alexandrovich Gan, was sent to serve in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) when my grandfather was still a boy. My great-grandfather left, and went missing. Years passed. When my grandfather was ordained a priest, he didn’t know how he should pray for his father properly: whether as one of the living or of the departed. So my grandfather, Archpriest Rostislav Gan, lived his entire life knowing nothing about the fate of his father.
But the Lord didn’t keep him in the dark: a year before his death, in 1974, my grandfather received a “message from the past.” One of his adult sons met an elderly woman in Washington, originally Russian. Hearing the surname “Gan,” she inquired about the Gan family, and when she realized that the son of Archpriest Rostislav Adolfovich Gan was in front of her, she was very happy. She wrote a letter to Fr. Rostislav with the following story.
In her youth in China, she (then a young girl) met a young man, the batman of Staff Captain Adolf Alexandrovich Gan. The staff captain and his batman were sent to serve in Tiflis, and there Adolf Alexandrovich fell seriously ill with typhus. He died in a military hospital, and before his death he ordered the batman to inform his wife and son about his demise. The faithful batman went to Harbin and there he searched for Seraphima Nikolaevna Gan and her son for a long time, but in vain. He was very worried that he hadn’t fulfilled the last will of his commander and spoke of this with the young lady he had fallen in love with—that very woman from Washington.
These are the stories I wanted to share with you today.