Category Archives: church

St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco

In memory of St. John the Wonderworker I am posting this story of a day of which he was the main part, one day in the last months of my late husband’s life. Today is his feast day and I am not taking part in any communal celebrations, but I wanted to at least share again a bit of his story and mine. I hope you will follow the link to read more about him.

From November 2014:

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 John-of-San-Francisco photo smilewere 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.

In the car on the way 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 off his own shoes 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 to pray together, asking St. John’s prayers as well.

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We were the only ones in the church for quite a while, but as we were leaving we met a few 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.

P1110802Afterward we needed 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 woP1110798man 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.”

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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.

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We are not describing the Holy Spirit.

In the Orthodox Church, when we celebrate a feast commemorating an event in our salvation history, such as Pentecost, also known as Holy Trinity Sunday, it is followed directly by another feast honoring a person who figures heavily in the previous day’s event. In the present case, tomorrow is Holy Spirit Day. It seems a good time to post these thoughts from Metropolitan Anthony:

When we say that God is spirit, we say simply that he is not matter as we know it, that he is something quite different. In that sense it is a negative description that belongs already without the word, to that form of theology which is negative theology, apophatic theology, a theology of paradoxes, a theology that uses words to point toward the ineffable — that which can neither be described nor put into words and yet which must be indicated somehow in speech.

One could avoid speech. In Siberia there were pagan tribes that had deliberately rejected every human word for God. And when in conversation they wanted to indicate God they raised their hand towards heaven. This is possible in a civilization of direct communication by speech. It is no longer possible in a civilization of books. But whatever words we use we have got to be aware of the fact that we are not describing, we are not defining what God is, because the very thing we know about God is that he is beyond defining, beyond describing. So that when we say of God that he is a Spirit, when we speak of the Holy Spirit in particular, we do not mean to give a concrete definition or any description of what he is. We point towards the fact that he is beyond our conceptual knowledge, beyond every formulation, that is is what we don’t know, and this is what we mean to say by saying that he is a spirit as contrasted with us.

–Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, excerpt from “Our Life in God,” from Essential Writings

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Northwoods Prayer

This morning I woke in the northwoods of Idaho, at the home of my goddaughter Rosemary and her husband. I sat on their deck and watched the green aspen leaves as they quietly fluttered and twirled against patches of blue sky background above.

Unfamiliar birds squawked and twittered in the neighborhood, glorifying God. And I found this prayer in my prayer book, that asks God to teach us to use our voices to pray as well. The prayer itself is good instruction.

“My Lord, I know not what to ask of thee. Thou alone knowest my need. Thou lovest me more than I know to love Thee. Father, I am thy servant: grant me all I dare not ask. I ask neither for a cross nor for comfort; I simply stand in thy presence. My heart is open to thee. Thou seest my needs, of which I myself am unaware. Look upon me and act toward me in accordance with thy mercy: smite and heal, cast down and raise up. In thy presence I stand, reverent and silent before thy holy will and thy judgments, to which I cannot attain. To thee I offer myself in sacrifice. I commend myself to thee. I have no desire except to fulfill thy will. Teach me to pray. Do thou thyself pray within me. Amen.”

-St. Philaret of Moscow

Good things are up ahead.

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When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.
–Hymn for the Feast of Ascension

It’s something I can’t grasp, with my very earthly mind, how Christ the God-Man is now in Heaven. As we heard in the homily this morning, when Christ ascends, “He takes created flesh to a place Creation has never gone before.” I understand that Heaven is not a place on a map somewhere, but just what or where is it?

In any case, if the heavenly realm is open to the Son of Man, it’s open to us. We were exhorted not to forget that it’s what our life is really about, this journey to the Kingdom. Or put another way, the Kingdom is in us already, if only as a seed. “Divine energies are working in us,” as our priest explained.

And getting back to historical events, Jesus had told his disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Ten days from now we will celebrate that event on The Feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit will help us on our heavenly journey!

The angels had something more to tell after Christ was received into a cloud, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, Who is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven.”

I do understand this much: God is with us, and good things are up ahead.
All the blessings of this feast to you all!

(This post is from the archives of my blog. I’m in Colorado for Ascension,
but plan to be home in time for Pentecost.)