Our friends Mr. and Mrs. C drove Mr. Glad and me to San Francisco this morning for a visit to Holy Virgin Cathedral, the “Joy of All Who Sorrow.” We were going there for the same reason many people come from all over the world, to pray at the relics of St. John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco.
Strange as it may seem to find those cities sharing a place in the name of this saint, they form an outline of his fascinating and famous life. He was in particular famous to his many adopted children and flock of Orthodox, some of those who had settled in China years before his arrival after fleeing from the Bolsheviks. In 1949 as the Communists were coming to power there he helped 5,000 of these expatriates to emigrate, eventually to the United States. Later still he established the cathedral in San Francisco where his incorrupt relics remain.
On our way there we told what stories we could remember about St. John. One thing he was famous for was ending up barefoot much of the time because he was always coming across someone who was without any footwear; again and again he would take his own off and give them away.
Fr. John was glorified (recognized as a saint by the Orthodox Church) in 1994, and is often called St. John the Wonderworker. It was a joy to visit this place — my third time — with our friends and pray together, some of us asking St. John’s prayers as well.
We were the only ones in the church for quite a while, but as we were leaving we met some people coming in who were from Romania. The bishop in the group, it turns out, had served the liturgy at the canonization of St. John back in 1994! We were really pleased to meet someone who had such a special connection to the saint, and who was obviously thrilled to be visiting again.
Afterward we needed some lunch, so we followed the advice of the candle desk attendant at the cathedral and ate at a Russian restaurant called The Red Tavern that was also in that Richmond District neighborhood. We were the only people there, too, though from the name we half expected when we went through the door to see a group of Bolsheviks plotting in the back corner.
A young woman only recently from Ukraine was our waitress and we enjoyed talking to her and eating the wonderful food. I didn’t think that I liked Russian food much, but everything I tasted was superb: dark brown bread scented with caraway, fresh cabbage salad with golden raisins and tomatoes; thinly sliced fried potatoes; and barley-mushroom soup with a complex and rich flavor. We all shared some Polish poppy seed dessert that we could tell had marzipan in the filling. We cut the two pieces into two more and ate them off these pretty dishes that the waitress said were their “dessert plates.”The forecast had been for cold and foggy weather in San Francisco today, but the sun was shining on our day and we didn’t even need our sweaters. Also, in our souls, we felt the warmth of Christ and of our friendship.
Malachai 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.