This account was written at the time of the uncovering by a spiritual son of St. John.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the year 1993 from the Nativity in the Flesh of God the Word, on the feast of St. Chariton the Confessor, 29 September/11 October, the All-merciful Lord revealed to us sinners the greatest mercy through the uncovering of the holy and healing relics of the Hierarch and Wonderworker John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, who rests untouched for twenty-seven years after burial-in the beautifully embellished and prayer-filled sepulchre under the Cathedral of the Most Holy Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow.
Monday was a strict fast day for all those who took part in this holy obedience to the Church. Many prepared by serving the Divine Liturgy and through Confession. About eight o’clock that evening, after Vespers served at the altar of our Holy Father John of Kronstadt (in whose canonization Archbishop John had taken part), Priest George Kurtov, Priest Alexander Krassovsky, Protodeacon Nikolai Porshnikoff, Deacon Alexei Kotar and Reader Vladimir Krassovsky took a blessing from Archbishop Anthony and then went down to the sepulchre to make the necessary preparations, as blessed by Vladyka Anthony. There in the sepulchre, the caretaker, Boris Troyan, was already waiting.
A long table was ready on which was later placed the new, temporary, pine coffin. Crowbars, hammers, and other tools were brought in. The candle stands, analogions and flower pots were moved aside to make more room. Candles burned on the candle stands and the sepulchre was well illumined. After the exclamation, “Blessed is our God..,” those present began to read the Gospel from St. John over the casket: In the beginning was the Word. During this reading, about nine o’clock, Archbishop Anthony, Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, Bishop Kyrill of Seattle, Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko, Archpriest Peter Perekrestov, Priest Sergei Kotar, Hieromonk Peter (Lukianov, of Holy Trinity Monastery), Priest Paul Iwaszewicz and Hierodeacon Andronik (Taratukhin) arrived at the sepulchre. Altogether there were fifteen people present: three hierarchs, seven priests, three deacons, one reader and one layman.
The three bishops and the priests all read from the Holy Gospel. After the readings, about 9:07, the bishops served a full pannikhida, which was sung by the clergy. This ended around 9:45. Before the chanting of Memory Eternal, the “Prayer Before the Beginning of Every Good Work” was read. Vladyka then turned to all those present with the following words: “Honored bishops, fathers and brethren. The Lord has sent us in holy obedience to our Church to examine and report concerning the honorable remains of our good instructor, archbishop and father, Vladyka John. Let us approach this holy work with love for one another … with one mouth and one heart.” Asking forgiveness of all present, Vladyka made a prostration, which was repeated by all with the words, “God forgive you and us. Pray for us, Vladyka.” The Protodeacon then intoned “Memory Eternal.” The temporary casket was brought in. It was lined with satin, and on top was fixed a cross. Inside was placed a new, white sheet. The casket was blessed with a prayer.
All the sacred objects-the icons and mitre-and the brocade covering were removed from the sarcophagus. An account was given of the initial investigation which had taken place the night of 17/30 September, the feast of the Holy Martyrs Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love. We then proceeded to lift the cement lid-weighing some four hundred pounds-off the sarcophagus, while everyone sang the troparion, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us…” The lid was carried into the corridor outside the sepulchre. Those who had not been present at the initial investigation now saw that the [bishop’s] mantle covering the casket was like new.
The initial examination had shown the casket to be severely rusted, and therefore those present proceeded to tie the casket in four places, not knowing what state the bottom was in. During the singing of the eikos, “Thou alone art immortal,” the casket was carefully raised out of the sarcophagus. It was initially raised higher in order to examine the underside. Boards were placed on the sarcophagus and the casket was placed on the boards. The casket was disintegrating; in many spots it was rusted through. Originally a silver-grey color, it was now dark yellowish, the result of the tarnished lacquer. Vladyka Anthony then blessed Hieromonk Peter, who had kept the key after the casket had been locked at the burial, to open the casket. After several unsuccessful attempts to open the lid, it could be seen that the lock had rusted through. It was finally broken by the Protodeacon’s earnest prying. Still the lid would not come off, and it was necessary to use crowbars, screwdrivers and pliers. [During this process] the casket began to fall apart. Calling to aid the Most Holy Mother of God, we sang, “We have no other help, we have no other hope, but thee, O Sovereign Lady…” Finally, after about ten minutes of concerted effort, we managed to pry off the lid.
It is difficult to describe the state of trepidation that overcame all of us. As the rest of us sang, “Open to us the door of compassion, O blessed Theotokos…” Vladyka Anthony lifted the upper half of the lid, and the holy relics of Vladyka John were revealed. The most devout feeling of peace and stillness reigned. One could clearly see the outline of the reposed Bishop’s form, vested in white, brocaded Paschal vestments which, due to dampness and humidity, had turned a greenish color. On Vladyka’s head was a white mitre with hand-painted icons. His face was covered with an aer adorned with painted seraphim. Under his right hand lay a wooden staff. The remains were sprinkled with a considerable amount of earth. Vladyka John’s dry, incorrupt hands were raised slightly in the air since the lower part of the torso had sunk in. We could see skin and nails. The prayer rope on his left hand had decayed. The wooden cross from Jerusalem, on which was glued a paper ikon, as well as the “Prayer of Absolution” which he was holding were preserved, as were his cross and panagia. A small, leather-bound gospel book from Kiev was still intact, although the inner binding had disintegrated. There was another cross in the casket by Vladyka’s left shoulder, which fell apart when examined. A small icon of the Holy Archangel Michael (Vladyka’s patron saint in the world) had likewise all but disintegrated. All these objects were taken out of the casket and set aside. The material lining the casket, originally light blue, had turned green due to mold and dampness.
Vladyka Anthony crossed himself and, while reciting the fiftieth Psalm, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy…” very carefully raised the aer from Vladyka John’s face. All present felt deep devotion and total peace in their souls. No one acted surprised or expressed amazement, but with great compunction gazed upon the incorrupt visage of the reposed Vladyka. The skin was light, almost white. The hairs of the head and beard, as well as the eyebrows, were grey and preserved intact. Even the eyelashes were there. Vladyka’s mouth was slightly open and his teeth were visible. The mitre and inscription were preserved, although the icon of St. John the Baptist from the left side of the mitre had fallen off and was lying on the pillow. A clean aer was brought to cover the face We then commenced to uncover the lower half of the casket, which was very rusted. Again it was necessary to use crowbars and screwdrivers to separate it. When it was opened one could see that the lower part of the vestments had been fully preserved. On Vladyka’s feet were leather sandals and the bone on part of the left heel was visible. What was visible of the rest of the feet was preserved, the skin quite dark. It was decided that the relics could not remain in the old casket and should be transferred into the newly-prepared one. We began to sing the irmosi of the Great Canon of Repentance by St. Andrew of Crete, from the service of the Burial of a Priest: “A helper and protector was He unto me for salvation..,” “Attend, O heaven, and I will speak..,” “Behold, behold, that I am God…” During the singing the holy relics were prepared for transfer to the new casket. The table with the new casket was moved close to the head of the old casket. As we sang “On the immovable rock of Thy commandments, O Christ..,” the holy relics were lifted in our hands and transferred, being lowered into the new casket as we sang the refrain, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.”
The earth, dust and rust particles were cleaned off the relics. We all witnessed the fact that the relics were intact and did not fall apart. Even the tendons between the bones had been preserved. The relics were very light in weight. The vestments on the underside of the holy relics were likewise preserved. After they were cleaned off, the relics were place in the new casket and wrapped in a clean sheet. During the singing of the kontakion, “My soul, my soul arise. Why art thou sleeping?” the old casket was taken out of the sepulchre and placed in the adjoining room. The odor of dampness and rust disappeared; around the relics no one detected any odor of corruption whatsoever. At this time Priest Yaroslav Belikov, who had been waiting nearby with his two-year old son, Vsevolod, suffering from a kidney ailment, came into the sepulchre and the boy was placed on Vladyka’s incorrupt hands. Then the cement sarcophagus was cleaned out (it had a lot of rust debris from the old casket) and, during the singing of the ninth irmos of the Great Canon, “A seedless conception..,” the casket was placed on the sarcophagus. The holy objects that had been in the old casket were put in an envelope and placed in the new casket, which was then lowered into the sarcophagus and covered with its lid. Vladyka Laurus tied a cord around the casket and Vladyka Anthony sealed it with the diocesan seal, and the mantle was placed on top. The sarcophagus’ cement lid was put back, and it was covered again with its brocade covering. All the other objects-the icons, fans, trikiri, dikiri-were put back in place. After this was done a litya for the dead was served and all were anointed with oil from the ever-burning vigil lamp on the sarcophagus. Following the example of Patriarch Paul of Serbia, all the clergy sang the troparion to a hierarch: “Teacher of Orthodoxy..,” which the Patriarch sang last year when he visited the cathedral. Vladyka Anthony then expressed his gratitude to all for their labor and zeal. Around 11:15 all began to return to their homes in an exalted, prayerful state of trepidation, sending up gratitude to the Lord God for the mercy, comfort and spiritual joy which He had sent. Amen.
Wondrous is God in His saints! Holy Hierarch John, pray to God for us!