Always a strict ascetic and true monk of unceasing prayer, Vladika John was at the same time an accessible archpastor whose heartfelt concern for the individual members of his flock translated into a voluminous correspondence when circumstances scattered his sheep to various parts of the world. After a 10 or 20 year separation, many people continued to receive greetings on their Names days, always with a word of encouragement, urging the person towards a life dedicated to Christ and His Church.
The first letter below was written three years after Vladika John had been raised to the rank of Archbishop over all the Russian faithful in China. With the Communist advance many were being evacuated, and in this atmosphere of confusion and flux, Vladika John had to address many irregular situations. This letter, written to a distant parish in need of a priest, is particularly significant for us today when there exist numerous individuals and families so widely scattered and in such isolation that they have no priest to regularly minister to their spiritual needs.
March 17, 1949
St. Alexis, Man of God
Always having you in my thoughts from the time when I undertook your spiritual care, transporting myself to you in spirit, and mentally looking upon you whom I have never seen with my eyes, I am deeply grieved that I cannot fulfill my archpastoral duty with regard to you and satisfy your spiritual needs.
Having assigned a priest to your church dedicated to the Holy Spirit, I was sure that he would come to you before the beginning of the Nativity Fast, so that the day of the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Mother of God would mark the beginning of new life for your parish.
However, it was not pleasing to God that this should be. At first there was no money for transportation, although it was expected in so short a time that there was hope you would have a shepard by the Feast of Nativity .
There were then other complications. By God's allowance for our sins, new misfortunes began which also affected church matters. Because of the conditions which have come about in the country, an evacuation of the Russian population was declared, and this began before Nativity.
The majority of our flock is already on the island of Samar in the Philippines, where a large part of the clergy has also followed them. The remainder are awaiting further developments .
Remaining for now with a few clergy in our God- preserved city of Shanghai, I am grieved in soul that you are still without a shepherd and the possibility of receiving Holy Communion and church services. I am grieved the more because it is not known how and when these might be restored to you. Events and circumstances are not within our will. One must only pray to the Lord God for the sending down of peace and the salvation of our souls, for the peace of the whole world, for the good condition of the holy churches of God, and for the union of them all in one flock.
Do not become despondent in these sorrows, and do not waver in these temptations. Be faithful children of the Orthodox Church and continue, in the absence of a priest, to gather in the temple of God on Sundays, Feast Days, and during the approaching days of Passion Week. Sing to God, and read the texts appointed for that day from the Divine Services, imitating the first desert-dwellers who were likewise deprived of a priest for long periods.
Do not seek grace in any other faith, for truth is only in the Orthodox Church, of which Christ said: "I shall establish My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (Matt. 16:18).
Do not allow any child to die unbaptized. In case of danger, a layman should baptize, as I have explained in a separate instruction.
Inform us concerning the newly-departed, so that a funeral may be served in absentia. Likewise, you may send us names for commemoration .
Lead a Christian life, refraining from anything which spots and defiles a man. Live in peace and harmony, not occupying yourselves in criticismm of the sins and shortcomings of others. Forgive each other your offences, so that the Heavenly Father might forgive us. Raise up your children in piety.
And, most important of all, fervently pray that the Lord might direct everything for the best and might give to us what is profitable in this life and especially in the life to come.
May the blessing of the Lord be upon each and all of you.
+John. Archbishop of Shanghai
(Reprinted from "Nikodemos, " May-June, 1977)
The following four letters were addressed to two brothers who were 13 and 15 years old in 1949 when the first letter was written.
October 23, 1949
St. James, Brother of the Lord
1841 Bathgate Ave.
New York, NY
Although I am quite far away from you and have many things to worry about in trying to ease the departure from the island of Samar to other countries, I constantly remember you, the children whom I knew in Shanghai, the ones who served in church.
I remember you very often, remember and at the same time worry--what is happening with you now? what are you like? A area deal in our lives does not depend on us--but a lot also does. To become and remain good depends to a greater degree on ourselves. True, without God's help this is impossible, but God's help is given to us when we ourselves direct and force ourselves towards good and pray to God for this.
You were good children in Shanghai; you served with fervor, especially N.... You had your weaknesses, but you worked to correct them. However, when you came to .... I noticed that you grew out of this habit and lost hold of yourself. With my arrival you quickly got back into line and became as you were before. At my departure I left you as acolytes in the church and hope that you do not desert this task. Are you faithful in your responsibilities? Do you always come on time, not missing any feast day services? Remember, feastdays are God's days. Concerning feastdays it is not said in the commandments "the seventh day is for you and your pleasure," but rather, "the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord." As St. John Chrysostom says, those who do not give these hours of church services to God are, as it were, stealing from God that which belongs to Him. Everything is created by God and is given to us for our use, and in gratitude to Him we must honor that which God has reserved for Himself and which also serves for our benefit. Everything that God commands us through the Church must be preserved by us in holiness . When we deviate from the Lord's path, it is only for a short time that we may indulge in, the flesh, for evil seems sweet at first, but later we taste its bitterness. I hope that you will always walk upon the path of goodness. How are your sisters? Let them also read this letter. I await your reply. May the Lord God preserve all of you and bless you.
+John, Archbishop of Shanghai
Apri1 23, 1950
Great-martyr George, the victory-clad
New York, NY
Dear . . . !
I greet you with your Namesday, with your Heavenly Patron St. George the Victory-clad. May He help you grow better and better, conquering all your weaknesses and establishing yourself in goodness. I thank you and ... for your letter. I often remember you and the other children who were with me in Shanghai. I remember you very often. It saddens me that at present you do not serve in church. For you, ..., it is time to read on the cliros and . . . can also start learning.
Here I have met many of those whom I knew as altarboys in Belgrade's Russian church; they were like you and now they are grownups. Some of them have become priests during my stay here; one day during Bright Week I served together with the priest George and Hierodeacon Anthony, both of whom were acolytes the last time I was in Belgrade. There are also some old priests here who have recently managed to get out of Russia after having experienced all the "pleasures" or life there.
Do you read the Gospel every day? This is absolutely necessary--either to read the daily Gospel reading (it is indicated in the Calendar) or, if a Calendar is not available, to read 20-30 verses in chronological order, thereby reading through the complete Gospel. How are Tanya, Svetlana? Did you receive the two books I sent you at the beginning of Great Lent? May the Lord preserve and bless you, ..., your parents and sisters.
+John, ABishop of Shanghai
April 23, 1960
Holy Great- martyr George the victory clad
I greet you with your Namesday. May He direct your life according to God's will and for the benefit of yourself and others! May He protect you and guide you upon the path of goodness! You would do well to return to those aspirations which you had in your youth. The lack of priests is becoming critical.
Whole areas are left without priests, churches have no services, parishes are left without pastoral care. Each year we feel the spiritual hunger more and more. It is with pain of heart that one must deny people the possibility of receiving Communion or deny them a priest at Pascha because of lack of clergy. Think about this. If in the past you had a subconscious inclination towards this, think how much you could do if you consciously undertook to serve Christ and His Church. It is a podvig and the highest blessing in the name of Christ. No earthly pursuit can bring so much benefit to others and yourself as this one. May the Lord bless you!
+ ABishop John
January 18, 1961
Saints Athanasius & Cyril of Alexandria and St. Maximus of Serbia
I received your letters. I was unable to answer you immediately, but I always pray and commemorate you daily. I think that now you have come to properly understand yourself. Of course, you could occupy yourself in a worldly life--earn good wages, have a family and, generally speaking, revel in contemporary life. This would satisfy you for some period of time and you would consider your previous yearning for spiritual life a childish fantasy. But this would be so only to a point. The wind direction would change, the storm of life would erupt and you would very soon be broken. And even without them you would eventually feel that all you have gained is not what your soul has been searching for and that it does not have that which it needs. Such an awakening is frightening when there is already no possibility of returning to the previous path, when through your own fault it is irretrievably lost.
Of course, the other path--the spiritual path--is not an easy one. There are many sorrows and at times it seems (and it is definitely so) that the whole world, including your closest ones, is armed against you. But then, in accordance with the degree of growing sorrows, one feels an increase of Gracefilled power, an increase in the help which strengthens and gives comfort in sorrow, consolation and even joy. The sorrows of the world, on the other hand, are gloomy and bring us no benefit.
When I meet and observe the lives of those whom I knew as young people and who have now reached a ripe age, I see how weighed down they ate with worldly cares and sicknesses, how bleakly they spend their days if they have no higher yearnings . But those who give themselves to God's service, even if they suffer for it, are spiritually vibrant end feel God's hand protecting them.
What should you do and where should you go? I think I have already written you that anyone--both the learned and unlettered--can serve God and live righteously, but now the Church needs servers who are able to guide the people in the faith and defend Her from attacks. I would be very happy if you could be with me, but I think it would be more beneficial for you and the Church if you were to receive a theological education and for this reason enroll at the Holy Trinity Seminary, where ... is presently studying.
May the Lord help you and bless you on this path. The Lord's blessing to all your close ones.
+ ABishop John
Translated from Russkoe Vozrozdenie, #29,
by Fr. Peter Perekrestov, priest