“VLADYKA JOHN OF SHANGAI WAS NO FOOL FOR CHRIST,
HE WAS A HIERARCH OF GOD”
On July 2, 1994, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia glorified Archbishop John (Maximovich) of Shanghai and San Francisco the Miracle-worker.
His Eminence Archbishop Peter (Loukianoff) of Chicago and Mid-America, a spiritual son of St John, shares his recollections of the hierarch as we mark his feast day.
In 1965, Paul Loukianoff was ordained a reader by Vladyka John. He served as an acolyte under the bishop and accompanied him on archpastoral trips. In 1966, Paul enrolled in Holy Trinity Seminary and stayed at Holy Trinity Monastery after he graduated. He then studied on Norwich University and Belgrade University. Archbishop Peter taught Church History, World History and Civilization at Holy Trinity Seminary and served as the seminary’s dean. In 2000, he was appointed Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. By a decision of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, he was appointed Archbishop of Chicago and Mid-America.
Archbishop Peter: Vladyka John knew our family back in Shanghai; my mother corresponded with him. I was born in San Francisco, and Vladyka knew me since my birth. When he moved to San Francisco, I spent the last three and a half years of his life with him. I would travel with him as an aide, and served as an acolyte during his services. I consider Vladyka John my spiritual father.
I recorded my memories of St John, and with the blessing of the late Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco and Western America, I published a booklet about him in 1991.
Vladyka passed on when I was 17 years old. By that time, he had already sent me to Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, where I later taught and served as Vladyka Laurus’ cell-attendant. I then went to study in Serbia. I also graduated Norwich University, spent a year in Greece, and in 2000 I was appointed Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. In 2002 I was appointed Vicar Bishop in the Chicago diocese, where I have served since.
A lot of my memories of Vladyka John are very personal. He was very responsive when we talked.
I don’t agree with those who say that he was a “fool for Christ.” He could not be—he was a bishop of God. That would have been impossible for him as far as I understood him. Being a yurodiviy [“fool for Christ”] reflects a type of human behavior which evokes mockery in others. Vladyka would never permit himself to behave in such a way, since he was an ordained bishop.
John of Shanghai lived in a different world. I remember the following episode: Vladyka celebrated Divine Liturgy every day. One weekday he was serving in the “old cathedral” in San Francisco. I was an altar boy. Afterwards, the assistant warden approached him to talk about some administrative matter. Vladyka emerged onto the kliros (he never had discussions in the altar), and gave some distracted reponses. When the assistant warden left, Vladyka turned to me and said “After Liturgy I cannot concentrate on anything else…”
This is not being a “fool for Christ.” If anyone took it that way, I disagree completely.
For example, when Vladyka was at home, he walked barefoot, but never when he went to church. He slept in a sitting position, so his feet were always swollen, and it was painful for him to wear shoes. Had he been a yurodiviy, he would have intentionally gone to church barefoot, but that never happened.
People would say that Vladyka never smiled, for example, that he didn’t own a watch. Nothing of the sort. He had a pocket watch, a gift from one of the orphans he cared for. True, he was always late, but he did own a watch.
Vladyka actually liked to joke around. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and loved to joke with young people. People who didn’t know him personally would say the opposite. I’m not saying that they lie, just that sometimes you can get the wrong impression sometimes.
Works of Mercy
When Vladyka John arrived in China, he was very upset about the number of orphaned children he saw there, so he set up an orphanage.
Over the years, about 2,000 children were reared in his orphanage. These were both genuine orphans who lived there year round, as well as kids who just spent a few days there. Sometimes a single mother would get sick and go to the hospital, and they would take her children in.
The orphanage in San Francisco no longer exists, but the building is still there, which they still call “the orphanage.”It was a great benefit to the Church Abroad.
I remember once how we came to the “Old Cathedral” in San Francisco for all-night vigil. Vladyka emerged from the car, when an American woman approached, about 40 years old. She said that she had some young children, but they are hungry, and her story was so sad that I was moved to empathy.
Vladyka’s English wasn’t good, but he understood everything, he didn’t need an interpreter. When the woman finished her story, he smiled and asked me to give her five dollars, but he made it understood to me that her story was false. Still, he gave her the five dollars with a smile (at the time, that was a significant sum—she could have fed her family for a week or two).
Vladyka John was a humble person, though from a family of the intelligentsia, and was very well educated. But in church, he was a genuine bishop.
He didn’t have a musical ear, but he understood music very well. Once we attended a benefit concert; in those days, such concerts usually consisted of serious compositions in the first half followed by fun folk songs. Bishops would generally attend the first half. At this concert, there was a serious piano performance; Vladyka praised the quality of the performance. He was tone-deaf, but had an excellent knowledge of music.
I always felt at the time that he was a holy man, and I treated him accordingly. But I never said anything to anyone about what I thought until after his death. I understood that the Lord would select the time when Vladyka John’s canonization would be appropriate. And the time finally came, and 28 years after his death, he was canonized—not a very long time at all. That was God’s will.
Vladyka spent a lot of time visiting the sick and commemorating the dead. He would, for example, read an obituary in a New-York newspaper, someone he didn’t know at all. He would write down the name to commemorate later at Liturgy. He also deemed personally visiting the sick very important and devoted a lot of time to it.
Vladyka John knew the lives of the saints very well and often referred to them during conversation. Our ancestors loved to read hagiographies, and Vladyka was reared on the reading of their lives and on the Psalter. What would Vladyka John say to our generation today? Know your saints!
When Vladyka John venerated icons, it seemed that he not only kissed the image of the saint, but was engaged in conversation with the one depicted. It seemed that he had a personal relationship with the saints whom he read about. Whether it was a bishop from the 3rd century or a martyr of the 4th or 10th century, they were all dear to him, he had a personal relationship with them all. He also had a splendid memory—he remembered everyone.
Of course, I don’t fulfill everything that Vladyka taught me. If anyone is able to learn anything from me, then thank God for that.
The orphanage was allowed to be transferred to America, but they would not let them take new children in. By the time the last orphan “graduated,” it ceased to exist.
Those who venerate Vladyka John, his spiritual children, cherish his memory and his actions, and we like to share them with others. When Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy wrote The Law of God, he gave the first copy to Vladyka John, which he later inscribed and gave to me as a gift. I later gave it to one of my seminarians. I hope that it ends up in a museum someday.