“I Know That Vladyka John Watches Over Us and Hears Our Prayers”

This year, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) celebrates the thirty-year anniversary of uncovering of the relics and canonization of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. On his feast day, the day of his repose, we publish this interview with Vladimir Krassovsky, who knew the saint personally.


The Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) celebrated last week the thirtieth anniversary of the uncovering of the relics of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco—one of the most venerated saints of the Russian diaspora. Vladimir Krassovsky, director of the Choir of the Diocesan Cathedral the Holy Virgin, “Joy of All Who Sorrow”, knew Vladyka in his childhood and participated in uncovering his relics thirty years ago. Before the celebration on Saturday, June 29, Vladimir shared with us his experience of being with St. John.

Vladimir, what will happen these days in San Francisco?

—The festivities will start on Thursday evening, when confessions will be held, and the relics of St. John will be transferred to the center of the cathedral, and the Akathist will be song before the relics.

On Friday evening, we will greet the miraculous Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God and the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad (ROCOR) Metropolitan Nicholas (Olhovsky). There will be a conclave of ten bishops and a multitude of clergy serving. There will be two choirs singing—the cathedral choir, and the Holy Trinity seminary choir, which is coming from Jordanville, New York, to participate in the services. Both choirs will be singing antiphonally during both Vigil and Liturgy.

Saturday, June 29, will be the main day of the celebration. There will be an early liturgy and then a late service with the bishops. Then, there will be a procession around the cathedral with the relics, and after the services, we plan a banquet in one of the most prestigious hotels in San Francisco.

Vladyka John is one of the most venerated saints in the Russian diaspora. Why is he so important for the Russian people abroad, and for the whole of Russia and the entire Orthodox world?

—Vladyka was a bishop in Shanghai, China, where there was a very large Russian emigration community. After that he was a bishop in Western Europe, where there was also a very large Russian diaspora, and then in San Francisco, where there was a large Russian diaspora from Shanghai. He is touched people all over the world.

Now, St. John is being more venerated in Russia every day. Just recently, only several weeks ago, the Church in Russia included in its ecclesiastical calendar the feast of the uncovering of the relics. It was always in the calendar of the Russian Church Abroad, but now it is been added to the calendar of the Church in Russia as well.

I have heard from many people who attended previous anniversaries of Vladyka’s canonization that it was like another Pascha, or another Triumph of Orthodoxy…

—You get that feeling every year. And it is not only about the feast of the canonization but throughout the entire year. Pilgrims from all over the world come to venerate the relics—bishops, clergy, Orthodox people of all jurisdictions, even non-Orthodox people—everyone comes to venerate St. John. He transcends all ethnic boundaries, and he is recognized as a modern saint in all jurisdictions.

Vladimir Krassovsky Vladimir Krassovsky You have the privilege of looking at Vladyka’s relics from the choir loft almost every day. What do you feel, what do you see?

—It is a very personal relationship for me. I knew him personally, quite well. He was very close to my family. For instance, today (we spoke on Monday, June 24, the day of the Holy Spirit.—DZ), which is a weekday, we served a Liturgy. Our choir is not a paid choir, we are all volunteers. On days like this one, after such a heavy weekend, with such long services as on the feast of Pentecost, I am always worried about who is going to show up on Monday to sing the Liturgy. But we had a full choir this morning! People—and they are all young, I am the oldest one—came from work, from school. I looked to Vladyka from the choir and said, “Thank you, Vladyka, you are taking care of your Cathedral.”

He watches over us, and we trouble him all the time with our prayers. And he hears us! That connection is very strong. I know that my singers, who are all young, all realize what a blessing we have to be able to sing in his presence. I feel this all the time.

You participated in the uncovering of Vladyka’s relics thirty years ago. How do you remember that event now?

—The uncovering of his relics was a very holy and unique experience in my life; I was very involved in that holy venture. I was very involved in the orchestration of this process. There were four of us who initially inspected the coffin and the sarcophagus, and did all the research and all the preparatory work.

When the relics were found, I was staying at the very same place as I was the day we buried Vladyka. I was an altar boy, and now I am choir director, and I stood at the exact same place! There were fifteen of us there; I was one of three people who were actually present at Vladyka’s funeral.

It is very difficult to describe all my feelings. It was probably the holiest and the most sacred moment in my life. To this day, it is like it happened yesterday for me.

I understand that it is very difficult, but can you describe your feelings and emotions when you opened his relics?

—I was standing right next to Vladyka Antonii (Medvedev), Vladyka Laurus and Vladyka Kyrill were there. When the lid was taken off, there was dead silence in the room. It was such a holy moment! You could not even breathe.

Vladyka Antonii began reading the 50th Psalm (“Haver mercy on me, O God”) as he removed the covering from Vladyka John’s face. I saw that face thirty years before. It was an amazing moment, very humbling, and I felt incredibly blessed to be there at that moment.

You already mentioned that you knew Vladyka John fairly well...

—Yes, I was close to him. Several times, I spent the night at his residence in San Francisco.

What did you learn from talking and being with him? And what stories come up in your mind today?

—I could speak for an hour and half on that. I could speak for two days on that (laughs). He was like a father to me. When he was strict, he was strict. But you always felt that fatherly love is behind his strictness. I saw him get upset, I saw when the clergy were rude to him, and I saw him react in total humility. He was, as we say, not of this world. Many people understood that and respected that, but many others did not understand, and did not respect it.

Vladyka played a great role in my life. There was no priest where I was born, and he wrote a letter to my father and taught him how to baptize me. Then, when we came to San Francisco in 1956, Vladyka wanted to see my parents and me. He was in Europe at that time but maintained ties with my family. And when he came to San Francisco, we always met with him. He visited our Russian school in Burlingame several times a year. There was much experience with Vladyka in my life.

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