John of San Francisco and Shanghai

St. John of San Francisco & Shanghai

Michael Maximovitch was born June 4, 1896, into a noble family in the Ukraine. He entered law school at the age of 18 and then began theological studies at 25. Due to the anti-religious conditions imposed by the communists, Michael left Russia and was tonsured a monk in a Serbian monastery, taking the name John. The same year, 1926, he was ordained priest. He kept an austere ascetic discipline all his life.

In 1934, Father John was consecrated a bishop of the Russian Church in Exile and was assigned to Shanghai, China, where he immediately set out building churches, an almshouse, an orphanage and a hospital. He became Archbishop of Paris and Brussels in 1951. He came to America in 1962, as Archbishop of San Francisco. Blessed John had great compassion for all men, regardless of their faith, and his devotion to God consumed him 24 hours a day. He literally “prayed in the air,” for many times people would come to visit and find him standing deep in prayer, aglow in light, and six inches off the floor. He would be seen in several distant locations at the same period of time without there being any possibility that he could have traveled so quickly by earthly transport.

Late one night, during a severe storm, one of Blessed John’s parishioners was near death in a hospital. She asked the nurse to call Fr. John, but was told that the phones and electricity had been knocked out by the storm. The nurse also said that since Fr. John lived across town they could not send a messenger to summon him. The patient decided that the best she could do was to pray. While she was in prayers, Fr. John entered the room, attended to her needs, healed her immediate crisis, and departed. The next morning, the woman asked the nurse how she had reached Fr. John. The nurse replied that she had not and that no one had come through the entrance, because it was bolted due to the storm. The nurse did say that she saw an Orthodox priest in the hallway that night, but added that it could not have been Fr. John, for the man she saw was not the least bit wet from the storm.

Blessed John held strong to the belief that the Orthodox Church was not a social institution, but a place of true worship and spiritual growth towards God. He refused to pander to the groups in San Francisco who wanted the church to be primarily an ethno-social gathering place. As a result, many inflammatory letters, filled with fraudulent accusations, were sent to the Metropolitan; and Archbishop John was even sued by parishioners for alleged misappropriation of building funds. At the end of several years of courtroom legal defense, he was physically exhausted. He died soon after his acquittal, on July 2, 1966, but not before formally declaring that the disgruntled parishioners were to be forgiven, for Satan had blinded them.

Archbishop John was canonized a saint of the Orthodox Church in 1994. He is entombed at his Cathedral in San Francisco, where visiting pilgrims can view his body that has not decayed despite its not being embalmed. Reports of miracles connected to his intercession (similar to those in his lifetime) continue to be reported from many sources – both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Christian and non-Christian. On July 2, 1994, Archbishop John was glorified as “Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco,” and his feast day is commemorated every July 2.