Memories of Archbishop John Maximovitch

By Abbot Herman


Early in the fall of 1963, after we had composed a written proposal of the aims and objectives of the St. Herman Brotherhood a blessing was received from Fr. Gerasim in Alaska with an icon of the Theotokos "Joy of All Who Sorrow"; and at the same time Archbishop John sent his blessing upon which the Brotherhood was founded. From the text of his blessing, it was apparent that the emphasis was not placed on his blessing but on labor and struggle. It thereby became apparent to us that he included us in his world, plugging us into his spiritual energy and thus into the process of struggling. Often failing, yet slowly but surely progressing, we had his sure protection.

At the end of that year, with Archbishop John's blessing, we opened up a store, and he sent Fr. Spyridon and Bishop Nektary as his representatives to support us. These two men were to be responsible for our monastic instructions as well, six years later.

Once I came to Archbishop John asking him to be the censor of our forthcoming magazine. After my repeated entreaties, however, he told us that in the end times, when Christianity is mocked and ridiculed and Orthodox action is tested and tried, it is essential for independent Orthodox workers to rely on their own creative impulse rather than wait for various benedictions and sanctions to come from hierarchs who themselves in the last times will be imperfect, to say the least. It was quite apparent that he was aware of the danger of the initial Christian creative spark being quenched by within the Church. He gave us various examples of this, from which we gathered that this was the path he consciously put us on He concluded by stating that in Christianity it is not important who is right and who is wrong, but who acts from a loving, self-sacrificing impulse, for where this is, there is life. He brought forth the idea that the whole of Christianity is represented or contained in one Christian, and that therefore one Christian is responsible for the whole of Christianity. As Fr. Seraphim and I were returning through the dark streets of San Francisco with these thoughts lingering in our minds, we thought of how inspiring was his outlook on life. How fresh, creative, and full of life it was, just like almost all the activities he took part in. Truly, here was a fruit-bearing pastor.

Earlier, while in France, Archbishop John had founded a missionary society with the name "Orthodox Action," having these same principles. He was responsible for the Orthodox Dutch Church as well as the French Orthodox Church. The latter had been based on the rediscovery of Gallic patristic texts, liturgical practices, and other traditions stemming from the 6th century. This rediscovery had been led by Archbishop John's friend from Russia, Fr. Eugraph Kovalevsky, whom Archbishop John later tonsured with the name of Jean-Nectaire (after St. John of Kronstadt and St. Nektarios of Pentapolis), consecrating him as the first bishop of the National French Church. Unfortunately, not a single Synodal bishop supported Archbishop John's involvement with the French Church. His old friend Bishop Theophilus Ionescu whom he had consecrated ten years earlier and who now served in the Romanian Church was the only bishop who came to help him consecrate Fr. Eugraph to the episcopate, coming all the way from France to San Francisco for this purpose. Fr. Mitrophan, a close spiritual son of Archbishop John, also arrived from France at that time, being very enthusiastically involved in the French Church. He too gave us insights into Archbishop John's inner world.

Our Brotherhood took part in the services when the French people came to San Francisco for the consecration of their first bishop. Archbishop John although a bit disappointed at having received such little support, was actually radiant. We remember how often he smiled, and how he spoke about the importance of the restoration of ancient ethnic Churches and the revival of ancient, forgotten Orthodox saints of the West. In talking about these saints, he only warned that it was important to separate later legends from the original hagiography. He used to come regularly to our store next to the new Cathedral and always brought some information about or pictures of saints. That was how we developed love for Western saints before the schism (of 1054). Archbishop John gave us the main impulse to later create and publish our St. Herman Calendar, which incorporates the names of pre-schism Western saints. We took these names from the lists which Archbishop John compiled and submitted to the Synod of Bishops, to be included among the number of ecumenical saints in church calendars and menalogions. Archbishop John's advice and thoroughly prepared documentation on these saints left no impression on Orthodox calendar publishers in free countries outside the Soviet Union; and no other calendar besides our St. Herman Calendar incorporated his list of saints. Every year on the eve of the commemoration of St. Herman of Alaska, Archbishop John would come into our shop wearing a small omophorion and epitrachelion, and there he would perform a pannikhida (memorial service) for the Saint, who was then not yet canonized. Then he himself would take the Brotherhood's icon of St. Herman and carry it from the store into the Cathedral, and place it on the analogion of the church. Despite the lack of an official canonization, he would triumphantly sing the Magnification Hymn to the Saint, and would make the Cathedral choir sing the troparion. He placed this troparion, with an icon of St. Herman we had given him, in his cell in St. Tikhon's Orphanage, where it remains even up till today.

His love for saints was amazing. Often I would ask him questions, and he would give us little pieces of paper with troparions and kontakions to various obscure and forgotten saints. In the right kliros of the Cathedral, there was attached to the iconostasis a special wooden stand which served as an analogion for Archbishop John; and there he would place rare canons to forgotten saints not found in the monthly menaia. During Matins and Compline, it was a customary picture to see Archbishop John leaning on that analogion and enthusiastically reading the main canons to these saints, of which he was very fond. He spoke to us of how important it is to evoke the love of saints, who are alive in heaven and who hear us on earth. At other times, this analogion served as a Confessional. I myself confessed several times to Archbishop John on that analogion. He had the habit of confessing people in a very simple, ordinary way, always emphasizing the necessity of humility, duty, honor and devotion to one's state or post. When he heard confessions, he did not make it a big thing. He was a promoter of frequent Communion, but with confession before Communion. Therefore, he called confession a "dusting off" - that is, dusting off the layers of ungodly impressions which settle upon the soul automatically if the soul does not resist and preserve its freshness. After each confession from Archbishop John, which as I said was nothing extraordinary, I felt very enlightened, although I must confess I always feared him because I knew he clairvoyant.

Unforgettable was one incident which occurred at the very beginning of the first year of our store. The altar boys who accompanied Archbishop John ran into our store saying that the Archbishop was going on top of the roof of the newly built Cathedral, and that if we wished to be up there we should join him, since the door to the roof would soon be locked for good. We came out of the store and met Archbishop John coming towards us with a smile. Usually Archbishop John's expression was sober and concentrated, to the point of even looking like an angry grimace. Most of the time he was in a state of concentrated prayer and therefore externally he looked very stern This day he was happy. We all were happy, because the Cathedral was almost finished and the raising of the crosses on the five domes was already scheduled, with Metropolitan Philaret expected to come for the occasion. Seeing the boys and I come from the store, Archbishop John blessed us and we turned towards the Cathedral. The inside walls were not quite finished then, but the elevator was already in full use There must have been ten of us, half of whom were his teenage acolytes. We got into the elevator, but for some reason the boys ran out. Only Archbishop John and myself remained in the elevator, which slowly began to ascend. We were locked in this ascending vehicle. I was about to ask some frivolous question, when suddenly I met in him the most severe look He was gazing into my soul As we were physically rising above the ground and being suspended in the air, his look changed my inward state immediately, for I knew that I was naked before him and he could read my read my whole life like in a book Cold sweat covered my whole body. I stood motionless He gave me another look and then entered into the realm of his private prayer. We reached the top floor, and he left without saying a word.

Shaken to the ground by that minute - long experience with a man not of this world, I could not to climb the roof with the laughing boys, as I had originally intended. I remained motionless on that top floor. When everyone was gone, I was seized with uncontrollable sobbing for my sins, and for the sin of the whole world a world which was not worthy of such a heavenly man. For days I was under the deep impression of that experience of being lifted up in the air with an angel-like human being.

Once Archbishop John came into our store, accompanied by the twins Paul and Sergius together with the Bagatsky boys. He was wearing his purple mantle and omophorion. As he stepped into our shop, blessing our hand-type printing system, I accidentally stepped on his mantle and it began to choke him as he was going forward. He turned to me with a very angry look and said, "Do you know what happened to a man who stepped on an Archpastor's mantle?" I did not know to what he referred. I still do not know. I was very apologetic and felt really bad that I caused pain to him, but then he immediately smiled and asked the same question. When I answered that I did not know, he smiled cryptically and would not tell me.

At another-time a gentleman named Tikhon Chetirkin came into our store. He said that he was named after St. Tikhon of Kaluga and told us how this came to be. In Russia, his mother had given birth to many children and they had all died. Then someone suggested that she make a pilgrimage to the St. Tikhon of Kaluga Hermitage, where she should bathe in the miraculous spring of St. Tikhon and then walk through the opening of the oak tree in whose hollow St. Tikhon used to live. After she walked through that hollow of St. Tikhon's tree, her birth-giving was successful and the child she bore, Tikhon, was this man who had come to our shop. He said he had a life of St. Tikhon which had been given to him by Archbishop John, who venerated St. Tikhon very much. St. Tikhon of Kaluga was important to our Brotherhood because our founder, Fr. Gerasim of Alaska, had laid his monastic beginning in the St. Tikhon of Kaluga Hermitage.

On the eve of St. Tikhon's commemoration day, June 16th, 1966, Archbishop John came to us and with a cryptic smile asked us whether we would come for the Vigil service in the Home of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, because it was St. Tikhon's nameday and he had something important to tell us. At that time we were very busy with trying to finish issue #8 of The Orthodox Word, and so we expressed doubt that we would be able to make it. Fr. Seraphim went for the Vigil but I had to finish printing and did not go. After the service, Archbishop John greeted Fr. Seraphim, then Eugene, and asked again whether we would come tomorrow for Liturgy, since he had something very important to tell us. We did not go the next day, hoping that we would learn that important thing some other time. That same night Archbishop John left for Seattle with Bishop Nektary, accompanying the Kursk icon of the Theotokos. They stopped in Redding, California, and there Archbishop John kept blessing to the west, where a year later we bought a parcel of land in Platina and laid the foundation for what would one day be a monastery.

Having gone to Seattle, Archbishop John celebrated what was to be his last Divine Liturgy. Then, having visited the grave of his old friend Fr. Michael Danilchik, and having had tea at his widow's house, he returned to the vicarage and died in the same upstairs room where I had lost my prayer rope and he had found it, thereby pulling me to work with him and to serve God and His Orthodox Church.

Of course, when we heard of Archbishop John's death, Fr. Seraphim and I lamented that we had not gone to that Liturgy in honor of St. Tikhon of Kaluga, thus missing out on Archbishop John's last words to us. What was so important that he had wanted to tell us in connection with St. Tikhon of Kaluga? Twenty years later, we already had a monastery on Spruce Island in obedience to the commission of Fr. Gerasim, who, as we have said, came from St. Tikhon's monastery in Russia.

When the news reached San Francisco that our beloved Archbishop John had died, there was no end to everyone's grief. For a whole week I was in San Francisco praying at the coffin of Archbishop John day and night. Finally after a long, five-hour funeral service we placed his coffin in the Sepulchre under the Cathedral. His deeply devoted spiritual children performed the service together with five hierarchs: Bishop Nektary, Archbishop Leonty, Archbishop Averky Bishop Savva, and Metropolitan Philaret. All the hierarchs wept profusely as they buried him. Archbishop Leonty stood right next to me and wept like a child, tears running down his cheeks like streams from a mountain. As we parted with Archbishop John, I was the last one to hold my hand on his mitre before the casket closed. It was sealed, and I remained to keep guard the first might. We brought out our Brotherhood's big Psalter and placed it at the foot of the coffin. With Bishop Nektary's blessing I began to read the Psalter, and it was read for forty days thereafter in the Sepulchre by various people. The acolytes, not wanting to part from their master, dragged mattresses into the Sepulchre and sweetly slept there the first night.

I stood on guard that night. Everything calmed down and the boys fell asleep. I looked around. The holy hierarch was right there at my feet, his casket covered with his mantle, his mitre on top of the casket, and his archpastoral staff on the right. The candles and the lampadas were quietly twinkling. For almost a whole week, from the time he died until that moment, I had wept inconsolably just like everyone, yet all that time I had never felt sadness. There was quiet, mystical joy in the remembrance of that man. As the dawn began to play on the east, I witnessed how people began to stream to the little window, look into the Sepulchre and whisper their prayers to the righteous one. They did not see me, but I saw them: I saw their wet cheeks and hopeful eyes, as they whispered their wishes into the little Sepulchre that treasured such a big-hearted man. That holy spot saw thousands of prayers and tears all carried to heaven, to the throne of God, where Archbishop John is triumphantly present. It is not right that today there are plans to empty that tomb and place him a man who devoted his life to poverty into a fancy, expensive reliquary with artificial canopies and columns.

Right after the repose of Archbishop John, Mrs. Shakhmatova secretly telephoned me from St. Thikhon's Home and said, "I want to give you something from Archbishop John without the knowledge of the bishops. When you find a moment, call me to make sure that no one else will be here." When I arrived at the designated time, one of the striking things she said to me was that, with the repose of Archbishop John, her life had faded. "How boring and empty it is now," she said, with the longing to follow him. Then she led me to the little room, his office, where I had often gone to see him. She put the key in the door, locking it from inside, and said, "Go through the files and take anything you want. They will steal everything and rob us and send everything to New York to his enemies. They got what they wanted: they got rid of him," and a bitter smile flew across her face. She prepared a box with Archbishop John's censer and cassock, and put other things in a plastic bag. She told me to pick these up on the way out. "Take your time," she said. "I will knock on the door if someone comes." I remained alone in front of a filing cabinet, with a bookshelf on the left. In those days, I had no bitterness in my heart over Archbishop John's persecution, because then his suffering really did not concern my life. Only eighteen years later did it hit home. Then I knew what she meant by "they."

I really did not know what to look for in Archbishop John's office, and what I needed. I was hoping to find some information on Western Saints, but found nothing of interest except for a manuscript written by our friend Elena Lopeshanskaya on Kievan hierarchs after the revolution. Then my eyes fell upon a service written to Blessed Xenia. I picked it up, kissed it, and thought "Now this will be a gift from Archbishop John to all of us, right from his own chamber." Years later we found out who the author was a woman named Valeria Hoecke and corresponded with her. Fr. Seraphim translated the service and prepared it for St. Xenia's canonization, which occurred in 1978

I flipped though the files some more but was too engrossed in the context of Archbishop John's living quarters, being deeply satisfied to be there. I picked up the plastic bag and left. After that I had just a few insignificant conversations with Mrs. Shakhmatova, and within a year she was dead, too. After the repose of Archbishop John she saw him in a dream in which he said, "Tell the people: Although I have died, I am still alive."

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