Memories of Archbishop John Maximovitch

By Abbot Herman


Before returning to California, I was detained in Boston by the fact that my sister's fiancÉ, a former acolyte of Archbishop John in Shanghai, turned out to have schizophrenic tendencies. He was my seminary classmate and his as ailment caused great concern among some fathers, who thought he was possessed and needed exorcisms. Knowing the temperament of the fellow - who was high-strung and artistic, a professional pianist - I was concerned, naturally. Learning that Archbishop John would be present at the Council of Bishops which would convene that spring, I went to New York City to ask for his prayers. I was convinced that, if two or three bishops, as successors of the apostles, would simultaneously pray, everything would blow away. I arrived and asked my friends Archbishops Tikhon, Averky, and John to come together and serve a moleben. I managed to persuade them, but Archbishops Averky and Tikhon were sick and promised to pray in their room, while Archbishops John and Leonty took to heart my plan and gathered in the main church to serve the moleben over my head. Archbishop Leonty even shed a tear my concern. Archbishop John insisted that sick Alexander was not possessed but needed a Christian psychiatrist.

This I brief meeting confirmed my mind that I must I move to California, especially since I had painted an icon of St. Herman and wanted Archbishop John to pray over it in his chapel in St. Tikhon's Orphanage. By November of 1962 I came to California filled with my ideas about the St. Herman Brotherhood, and went directly to Archbishop John for guidance. I arrived at ST. Tikhon's Home with the icon of St. Herman, which he took and placed in the canopy of the altar of the chapel. He said that he would keep it there and pray before it until the brothers found adequate headquarters for the Brotherhood, at which time he would return it to us. He was busy, so I waited till midnight to talk with him. After his midnight dinner he received me in his small office downstairs, which was also the headquarters for his Archdiocese He sat in a large armchair and sat me in a chair opposite him, pulling me close to him, and asked me to tell, from the beginning, what I wanted to tell. I had many things: I was full of hope, full of ideals, and my life was opening up, for I longed to serve our Lord with all my heart and soul. The question was how. I began to pour out my heart, grateful for the opportunity, only to discover that his eyes were closed, and that he was literally snoring. In confusion, but understanding very well how tired he must be, I stopped. At this moment he opened his eyes and said quite seriously, "Continue." I began to talk and he continued to snore. Feeling it was useless, I began to pray; but he immediately opened his eyes, pulled me closer to him so that there was about a foot distance between our noses, and with absolute earnestness demanded that I continue. I obeyed and bravely poured out all the major points that I had to settle. As I spoke he slept. When I stopped, he asked me whether I had finished. When I said yes, he answered point-by-point all the questions which I had delivered while he slept! I was amazed and realized that he was not asleep it was just that his body gave out.

Upon these answers, we built our St. Herman Brotherhood, my sister's problems were solved, I received a good job in Monterey, was able to buy a house for my mother with a view of the bay, and eventually founded monasteries in California and Alaska thanks to the prayers of the blessed clairvoyant, Archbishop John.

The aforementioned Council placed Archbishop John in charge of completing the building of the Cathedral which eventually, because of the instigation of his enemy in Los Angeles, Archbishop Anthony, caused Archbishop John to be placed on the bench of the accused in a San Francisco City trial, to the shame of Orthodox archpastors and parishioners who approved of this act.

One day, walking down Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, I chanced to glance at the newsstand and was horrified to see a portrait of my Archbishop John sitting in court together with my other favorite hierarchs Savva, Leonty, and Nektary who had come there in support of him. This front page news which read "Bishop on Trial" upset me because I had never realized that enmity towards Archbishop John could take such proportions.

That very weekend, I had to go to San Francisco and was offered a ride by my fellow language teacher George Alexandrovich Skariatin. He had me sit in the front seat as he drove me and talked to me, while his wife and another lady sat in the back.

I never was very interested in the political or "official" aspect of church life. Because I had come from Latvia, my former bishops were in the so-called Metropolia (OCA); and since I was interested in Valaam Monastery and St. Herman, I visited the Moscow Patriarchate Bishop of San Francisco, Mark, who had been a novice on Valaam and was a true Valaamite full of monastic anecdotes, a veritable encyclopedia of life on Valaam. Due to such positive contacts with hierarchs of both Russian jurisdictions, I placed little credence in validity of jurisdictional divisions, and thus paid little attention to church politics in general. Here in the car, however, as I was being driven from Monterey to San Francisco, Mr. Skariatin unfolded to me a hitherto unknown reality of the church-political realm which was the attempt of other bishops to literally get rid of Archbishop John.

Mr. Skariatin had known Archbishop John from Shanghai. He was the man responsible for acquiring the St. Tikhon's Home in San Francisco, which enabled the orphans to be transported to America. He had also founded a charitable fund with the aim of funding various projects of Blessed John, since the Archbishop himself had no money and ofttimes even refused to handle monetary questions.

The picture that Mr. Skariatin presented, and the enthusiasm with which he conveyed it, were devastating to me, and up until today I carry that wound. It was the cry of a righteous man who sees a leader of righteousness being crucified by small ecclesiastical minds. By the time I left that car, I saw Archbishop John in a different light: almost like in Gulliver's Travels, where Gulliver ends up in the land of Lilliputs. It seemed that we were all helpless before a bunch of angry, small men who viewed Church reality as if it were devoid of a heavenly context. When I returned to school on Monday, I was shocked to learn that Mr. Skariatin, on that very night of our conversation, had had a heart attack and died. In this way did he seal in my mind an awareness which he had been the first to give me: an awareness of the phenomenon of church unrighteousness. I could no longer be indifferent, and I vowed to defend the righteous hierarch, at least in my heart.

The shaping of public and ecclesiastical opinion against Archbishop John took huge proportions. The intensity of hatred towards him increased as he was being belittled and dismissed by church politicians. I was not able to attend the San Francisco court trial as did Fr. Seraphim, but I saw how manipulative were the ecclesiastical opponents of Archbishop John. I myself saw, as Archbishop John entered the Cathedral, a woman hiss and spit in his direction with evil words. The daughter of a woman who spit on Archbishop John testifies that there was a definite attempt to make him look ridiculous. Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago paid for an almost full-page ad in the San Francisco Russian newspaper, in which he publicly testified that Archbishop John had been a "paranoiac" since childhood. When the question would arise of raising money for some needy situation, however, this same hierarch would demand that Archbishop John be sent, because "his followers throw millions of dollars to him."

Bishop Nektary told Fr. Seraphim and myself about another attempt to get Archbishop John out of the picture. He said that he had received a telegram from Metropolitan Anastassy in which he was instructed, as a monastic obedience, if need be by force, to put Archbishop John in a reserved seat on an airplane going to New York the next morning. The message also explicitly said not to telephone the Metropolitan. The whole night Bishop Nektary did not sleep. He prayed and walked around the block. In the morning, in all good conscience, he called the Metropolitan to say he could not do it, to which the Metropolitan replied that he knew nothing about the telegram. At this moment the secretary of the Synod, who was tapping the line, interrupted the conversation, which indicated to both the Metropolitan and Bishop Nektary that a coup had been planned which would have been executed by the innocent hands of Bishop Nektary.

In earlier years, Archbishop John's biggest foe, the late Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, had a trap set at a certain destination on a train in Europe. Employees of a mental hospital were to kidnap Archbishop John. Having been forewarned by God, Archbishop John went into the mail car and sat amidst packages and mail until they reached the end of the line, where the local parishioners were called by the train conductor, who said, "Come to the baggage department and pick up your bishop." Thus he had also escaped the European trap.

The trial in San Francisco ended with a triumph for Blessed John, and the Cathedral was built without further hindrances. When I asked Archbishop John who was at fault for all the disturbance in San Francisco, he only said one word: the Devil The heart of the righteous man, however, could not endure any longer. To one of his spiritual sons in France, he wrote a letter indicating that he would die as a result of his sorrow over what had occurred.

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