THE ORTHODOX WORD, Vol. 4, No. 5, Sept.-Oct., 1968
GOLD RUSH fever caused the transformation of a small Roman Catholic missionary outpost into a large city -- San Francisco. That fever of burning passion has never left San Francisco; the spirit of this world has had full sway over it, making it the country's most alluring city, promising worldly pleasures. But likewise, ever since the purchase of Alaska by the United States, San Francisco was also the country's first Orthodox Church center and the see of the first Orthodox missionary diocese, whose bishops, with their true pastoral character and their holy deeds of sowing Christ's seed, have become living illustrations of St. Paul's words: But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound... (Romans 5: 20)
Today, a century later, these words have become even more applicable. Apart from old vices, within the city satanic services are now openly conducted, and a generation of his servants is being cultivated. But again the grace of God is sent in such measure to no other city but this one, for here lived a true vessel of the holy Spirit in the form of a frail and unattractive little man -- Archbishop John Maximovitch, who spent his last years in San Francisco and whose relics are enshrined in a sepulchre under the majestic cathedral which he completed in this city. Just a glimpse of his spiritual greatness may be seen in an incident related by an eyewitness (Orthodox Russia, No. 3. 1968):
"I suffered very much... In 1939 I sent my daughter to Italy to my husband, who took her to his parents, spent 11 days with her, and then was ordered to Africa. When he left, his parents told my daughter to leave their home; not knowing the language and being only 17 years old, she wrote me despondent letters. I prayed much for two months, I suffered very much, I went every day to the Cathedral in Shanghai; but my faith began to waver. I decided not to go to church any more but to go to some friends instead, and so I didn't hurry to get up earlier. My path went by the Cathedral, and here I heard singing inside the church. I went inside. Vladika John was serving. The altar area was open. Vladika was saying the prayer, Take, eat, this is My Body, and this is My Blood... for the remission of sins, and after this he got down on his knees and made a full prostration. At this time I saw the Chalice with the Holy Gifts uncovered, and at this time, after Vladika's words, a flame came down from above and descended into the Chalice. The form of the flame was like a tulip, but larger. I never in my life thought that I would see the actual sanctification of the Gifts as a flame. Faith was kindled in me once more. The Lord showed me Vladika's faith, and l was ashamed for my own faintheartedness."
Readers of The Orthodox Word will recall the almost identical incident in the Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh (1968, no. 3, p. 108).
During his lifetime Archbishop John was regarded as a saint; many people sent requests for his prayers from all over the world, and many testified of obvious miraculous help. After his death his sepulchre became indeed a holy place: thousands of people visit it annually; by mail many request that prayers be said before his tomb; people send for the ends of candles burned before the tomb for them, and also for drops of oil from the vigil lamp burning there. Every year on the anniversary of Vladika's death, June 19 (July 2), the Divine Liturgy is served in the sepulchre; then, despite the early hour (about dawn), the sepulchre is overflowing with the faithful, and virtually all receive Holy Communion.
The Cathedral, with its five golden domes, is dedicated to the miracle-working Icon of the Mother of God, The Joy of All Who Sorrow; it is located on Geary Blvd. (6222), between 26th and 27th Avenues, and is a dominating feature of the northwest part of San Francisco, being visible from many parts of town as well as to travelers approaching by ocean or over the Golden Gate Bridge. The Sepulchre is two stories down under the altar. Its walls are adorned with frescos, done in 1967 by the noted icon-painter Pimen Sofronov, who was the first to bring the great iconographic tradition to the New World.
Once you have descended to the lowest basement level, you enter a fairly spacious chapel with a low frescoed ceiling and walls and a glittering marble floor. In the center, surrounded by a myriad of flickering candles, is the sarcophagus, covered by Archbishop John's mantia. At the head of the sarcophagus rests Vladika's mitre, on both sides of which are the pontifical dikirion and trikirion (2 and 3-branched candlesticks for blessing), and above them a ripidion (fan) on either side (held over holy objects during services). His arch-pastoral staff is attached near the foot of the sarcophagus, and at this end is an analogion where the Psalter is read for the repose of Vladika's soul. On an analogion at the other end of the sarcophagus is the chapel's main icon, brought from China: the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.
The frescos painted by Pimen Sofronov include: on the ceiling, Christ Pantocrator, in a circle over the sarcophagus; on the walls at the sides of the sarcophagus, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ; on the south wall, directly opposite the entrance, the Protection of the Theotokos, with angels on either side; next to this, on the east wall the Angel of the Lord announcing the Resurrection of Christ to the Mother of God and the myrrh-bearing women, and on the west wall the Archangel Michael (see cover and page 227), who was Vladika's patron saint before he became a monk. Between these large icons are several saints shown in half-stature in ovals: St. John of Tobolsk (Vladika's patron saint), Sts. Boris and Glafira (in memory of Vladika's parents), St. Sergius (for an uncle), and St. Natalia (for his godmother).
Here several nights a week panikhidas are served by local clergy. The oil vigil-lamp on the sarcophagus burns unceasingly. The sepulchre is visited frequently especially by those in various afflictions; they come there to pray for the righteous soul of their beloved Archpastor and ask for his intercession before God. They come with child-like faith just to "complain" of their heartfelt sorrows and misfortunes... And Vladia hears them and grants them help, In Holy Russia, whence he came and whose Saints he emulated, in places like this records were kept in special books of testimony of heavenly help granted after prayer with faith to a saint. Let us give here the first few such testimonies from the as yet non-existent record book of Archbishop John's intercessions, in order to strengthen the faith of those who are too far away to visit this holy place in person, in hope that they in turn, wherever they may be, will utter a prayer for the righteous soul of our Vladika, for themselves, and for the sinful laborers of these Pilgrimages.
I. A nurse in a San Francisco hospital, G. Vasiliev, found herself one day unable to see with one eye. Her doctor found that she had an inflammation of the nervous optic. In her agony she rushed to church and then to Vladika's tomb and prayed to all the saints to help her. One night when she was especially distressed, after fervent prayer she opened the Gospel to the passage about the blind man who was healed when he was anointed with clay made from the Saviour's spittle, and washed in the pool of Siloam (St.John 9: 6- 7). Having read this, she exclaimed: "O Lord, if only I could have a drop of this water, I could see again". When the next day she came to the Sepulchre, a lady approached her and said that she had been to, Jerusalem and had some water from the pool of Siloam, and that she would give her some next morning, when the Divine Liturgy was to be served there. At dawn she was there and received Holy Communion, and as she applied the water to her eye she felt improvement. The next day she could see.
II. In March, 1967, Mr. Vadim Kazachenko, a long-time altar boy of Vladika's, was struck with four severe ailments at the same time: cirrhosis of the liver, flowage from the gall bladder, pneumonia, and internal bleeding. He was brought to the Veterans' Hospital in a hopeless state, the doctors saying that only a miracle could save him. For a whole month he was in a coma. Funeral arrangements were already made and his relatives were without hope. Constant prayer was offered at Vladika's Sepulchre; as his sister, V. Harvey, relates, it was there that suddenly a strong flame of faith in his recovery was granted to his close ones. After the service of unction was performed over him, there was a remarkable improvement and eventually he was saved. When he was strong enough, he went first to the Sepulchre to have a thanksgiving moleben served.
III. Lance Corporal John Holtz III has great reverence for Vladika. Before leaving for Vietnam, he took a photograph of Vladika from the tomb as a blessing, wearing it always over his heart. He reports in his letters many cases of evidently miraculous preservation from death. Once his squad was ambushed and he alone was neither killed nor wounded.
IV. Olga Skariatin of Monterey suffered from varicose veins for quite some time, until her doctor insisted that she be operated on. After a week in the hospital she came home, but the pain did not stop. She could hardly get out of bed the next morning when she received a letter from Fr. Mitrophan, who often serves panikhidas at the Sepulchre, together with a small peace of cotton saturated with oil from the vigil lamp on Vladika's tomb, and these words: Rub it on the painful spots, cross yourself and say Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of our dear Vladika heal me from sickness. She did this and the pain almost immediately cropped, and she was on her feet the next day and has had no trouble since.