Archpriest George Larin, one of the oldest priests of the Russian Church Abroad, had a special blessing in his life: As a young boy, he got to personally know St. John of Shanghai and San-Francisco, and he learned a lot from him. The future Fr. George, known at the time simply as Zhora, happened to celebrate the Bright Resurrection of Christ with Vladyka John several times and so he remembered well how Vladyka would literally fly around the packed church. He preserved this Paschal joy throughout his life.
—Father George, do you remember how Vladyka John served at Pascha?
—Shanghai had a rather large cathedral. On the night of Pascha, it was packed with people, and Vladyka John would literally fly around there. He would circle the people around with his censer, greeting everyone, “Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen!” He used to say it with such delight —like a child. And he was the child —possessing a completely childlike soul, he was truly an extraordinary man. You know, it was as if St. Nicholas the Wonderworker came to our midst, and so, with such delight and so much joy, he used to greet everyone with this great Feast.
It was as if St. Nicholas the Wonderworker came alive among us
Vladyka moved so quickly around the cathedral that he was quite literally as if flying. The subdeacons, who held the dikerion and trikerion for him on his right and his left, had to run after him, but they still couldn’t keep up with him. And so that’s how he’d go around the entire cathedral. I’ll never forget that.
I have many other memories that have to do with Vladyka John. If it hadn’t been for him, my life would have taken a rather different course, and Vladyka predicted all this for me.
—The subdeacons couldn’t keep up with Vladyka. But what about you, a little boy and his staff bearer—were you able to keep up with him?
—Yes, I was. I was really little then, and so I did run after him, but occasionally, I’d be slower than him. Two adult subdeacons were beside us. That was how I would ran around the entire cathedral space, and so I surely also felt the huge joy Vladyka had conveyed to us. It’s hard to explain what that feeling was like, but it was something very special.
And I’m sure that other people present in the cathedral at the time were able to sense that joy as well. Many people stayed until the end of the service, but my parents would usually leave earlier—right after the Matins and before the beginning of Liturgy. They would take us children back home, and that was when we would have our festive meal. I was really young at the time, maybe eight or ten years old, and my brother was two years younger.
—You celebrated Pascha with Vladyka John more than once. Do you have any special memories that have to do with that?
—It lasted only for a few years. Our house was three blocks away from the cathedral, a mere fifteen minute walk. And so Vladyka used to visit us. You could see how joyful he was during the days of Pascha. A child-like smile would light his face, with his appearance exuding so much joy that it was easily transmitted to everyone around him.
Then we evacuated from Shanghai to the Philippine island of Tubabao, where we stayed for almost a year. From there, our family went to Australia. Vladyka used to write letters to me there, and I keep them; they are priceless for me. Interestingly, he always wrote using the old-style orthography, just like my father, who never accepted the new rules, considering it a Soviet invention and a distortion of the Russian language.
—What did you, still a little boy, learn from Vladyka John about the celebration of Pascha? Has your communication with him helped you understand the importance of this feast?
—Oh yes! Because of my personal acquaintance with him, I was able to grasp so many things that interested me. Vladyka said that Pascha was the most important day and he called it the Feast of all Feasts. That it lasts almost a month, and we exclaim, “Christ is Risen!” up until the day of the Ascension of the Lord.
Vladyka John experienced the joy of Pascha throughout his life—regardless of whether it was Lent or any other time. It was simply amazing.