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Notes of a Pilgrim....

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  • Hristofor
    Notes of a Pilgrim on the Glorification of St. John of Shanghai and San
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 6, 2004
      Notes of a Pilgrim on the Glorification of St. John of Shanghai and San

      >Francisco, 1994
      > (in Russian)
      >Arriving in San Francisco, I was anxious and excited over the forthcoming
      >event. As a pilgrim of the 20th century, I did not go on foot, but arrived
      >by plane from my native Ottawa. I had earlier participated in the
      >glorification of the Elders of Optina, the New Martyrs of Russia, Blessed
      >Xenia of St. Petersburg, but heading for California, I knew that this time
      >it would be different.
      >At earlier canonizations, we had glorified those who had lived long before
      >us and far away. Now we were to glorify a saint who lived in North America.
      >St. John was appointed to the Western American Diocese in1962 and departed
      >to the Lord only 28 years ago, in 1966, in Seattle. I know people, fairly
      >young in fact, and older, who knew this righteous man personally and told
      >me of their contact with him. Many of us had already visited the Cathedral
      >of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow" in San Francisco, and prayed
      >in the crypt under the church where he is laid to rest.
      >But this glorification differed from the others in yet another way. In
      >October 1993, in connection with the preparations for the canonization, a
      >special committee appointed by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of
      >Russia descended into the crypt and opened the sarcophagus and coffin of
      >Vladyka John. The committee discovered that everything that should have
      >remained whole?the metal coffin, the brocaded vestments and everything made
      >by human hands?rusted and rotted away, but the body of the bishop remained
      >incorrupt. The clergymen of the committee, who had known Vladyka John
      >during his lifetime, saw his face, his beard and hands, and said that it
      >was still so familiar, that it felt as though Vladyka returned to his
      >flock. By the time of his glorification, the relics of Vladyka John were
      >washed, adorned in new vestments and transferred to a beautiful new
      >hand-carved wooden sarcophagus. For the first time, the Russian Orthodox
      >Church Outside of Russia glorified her own saint and conducted the
      >ceremonious disclosing of the uncorrupted relics.
      >I flew out on Thursday, June 30, 1994. When my plane descended into San
      >Francisco, I felt a certain lightness in my heart, and a Paschal joy
      >accompanied me?I had felt the same thing in Holy Trinity Monastery in
      >Jordanville, or at the Near and Far Caves of the Kievo-Pechersk Lavra. I
      >had often visited San Francisco, but I had this feeling for the first
      >time?that the relics of Vladyka John were no longer hidden away but shone
      >for all who came to him. I think that even common travelers felt different
      >in that airport that day. From all sides one could see bishops in their
      >rassas, priests, monksЙ His Grace Bishop Hilarion arrived from New York at
      >the same time as I, carrying the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God.
      >Taking his blessing, I noticed his joyous and shining face?this mood was
      >ubiquitous among all the pilgrims.
      >I was told that during liturgy on Thursday there were over a thousand
      >worshipers?yet the main services lay ahead! On Thursday evening, the
      >enormous church was overfilled with people. There were three holy icons to
      >be welcomed: the Kursk-Root Icon, the Iveron Myrrh-streaming Icon and the
      >Vladimir Icon (which renewed itself, a locally-venerated icon from a
      >convent in San Francisco), all of the Mother of God; following this was a
      >parastas [memorial service]. Two mens' choirs saing antiphonally on the
      >kliros (I was invited to direct the right-hand choir). After the 6th song
      >of the canon, the entire church sang the kondakion "May his repose be with
      >the saints." On Friday, the funerary liturgy began at 8 am, and over 500
      >people partook of the Holy Mysteries, administered from three chalices. The
      >Cathedral Choir, probably the best in North America, consisting of 100
      >singers, sang at all the services, beginning with this liturgy. On Friday
      >evening and Saturday, the late liturgy was sung by the SS Kyrill and
      >Methodius High School Chorus, supplemented by visiting youth?some 100
      >It is worth noting that everything was wonderfully organized. Despite the
      >multitude of worshipers and the long services, everything was done calmly
      >and spiritually. On Friday, after liturgy, hundreds of volunteers helped
      >prepare everything for vigil and the liturgies. The glorification was
      >preceded by a three-day conference, which ended with a touching description
      >by witnesses of the uncovering, washing and vesting of the relics of St.
      >John. Photographers were preparing for the services, not only for a movie,
      >but for direct relay of the service to the church hall, where many of the
      >elderly and parents with children were found, and to an enormous screen
      >standing before the Cathedral, so that all could see and hear the services.
      >With the help of the police, the boulevard was closed to traffic. A group
      >of clergymen, including two priests, who carved the wonderful iconostasis
      >of the Cathedral 15 years earlier, were now finishing the canopy over the
      >sarcophagus with the relics of St. John?this canopy was now to become the
      >earthly abode of the saint. The entire time, more and more clergymen
      >arrived and took their places in the altar. Everything was ready.
      >The translation of the relics from the crypt to the Cathedral was scheduled
      >for Friday at 3 pm. A group of pilgrims from Toronto arrived at the church
      >at 2:30 and it was already impossible to enter. My friend from Toronto, a
      >pilgrim named Anna, was very upset that she could not enter the church,
      >when suddenly she saw an acquaintance who gave her a pass to ascend to the
      >choir (Anna was a singer). I received my choir pass a day before?these
      >passes not only allowed us to sing at the services, but gave us the chance
      >to see everything happening in the church below. The Cathedral, inside and
      >out, was filled with a great many people, but all were silent. The enormous
      >church, despite its size, effused warmth and comfort. Partly this was
      >because of the icons and frescoes, the work of the eminent icon-painter
      >Archimandrite Kyprian of Jordanville. The Cathedral in San Francisco would
      >be familiar to anyone who has seen his icons in Holy Trinity Monastery in
      >Finally, the clergy emerged from the altar, and, led by the choir, headed
      >for the crypt. The sarcophagus was raised onto shoulders and after 28 years
      >of cover, it was brought upstairs to the cathedral. The sarcophagus with
      >the relics was covered with a mantle and placed in the center of the
      >church. After the reading of the rules before Communion (the three canons
      >and the akathist), at exactly 4:30, the final pannikhida for Vladyka John
      >began. At my parish at home there was also a final pannikhida served (at
      >7:30 our time), and though I was far from home, I was in union with the
      >prayers of my fellow parishioners. Grandly and with trepidation (but not in
      >the weak, contemporary sense of the word), the words "Eternal memory" were
      >sung for the final time!
      >During the pannikhida, the sarcophagus stood like a coffin during a funeral
      >service, facing the altar. By the time of the singing of "With the Souls of
      >the RighteousЙ" the coffin was turned 90 degrees, so that it now stood like
      >the plashchanitsa during Great Friday. For the prayers for his repose had
      >ended. St. John would soon be glorified by the Church! In the Orthodox
      >Church, glorification is an act of that which is already apparent?that
      >someone is holy through his life, word and deed. And at this celebration,
      >the Church and her children were truly represented. Clergymen from around
      >the world, some 200 of them, were headed by His Eminence Metropolitan
      >Vitaly. Bishops from the Old-Calendary Rumanian, Greek and Bulgarian
      >Churches stood in the altar and prayed. In the church itself was a great
      >multitude of monastics from Jordanville, Lesna Convent in France, from
      >Jerusalem, South America, Russia and Australia, and also bishops and
      >clergymen from various Orthodox jurisdictions. Some people noted that it
      >seemed as thought the entire Church Abroad was at the canonization. Others
      >compared the celebration to the holiday of the Dormition of the Most-Holy
      >Mother of God, when the apostles "from all corners" gathered at the tomb of
      >the Most-Pure. Indeed, people gathered for the glorification of St. John
      >from all points on the globe, on the anniversary of his death, as though he
      >himself collected all of us, Orthodox Christians, Russians and those of
      >other nationalities, other peoples and races. We had one goal?to glorify
      >the bishop.
      >Much has already been written about the vigil that day. In will briefly
      >note some moments of the service itself, but I will draw the reader's
      >attention to what I had felt during those moments. Vigil began right after
      >the pannikhida. A third choir joined the first two, a male choir. At first
      >I heard the stichera and prayers to the new saint. The worshipers were
      >reminded of his ascetic life. He paid little attention to his needs, a
      >great deal of attention towards the needs of others. About this, the
      >troparion says: "Wholly sanctified by God through the ministry of the
      >all-pure Mysteries, and thyself strengthened thereby, thou didst hasten
      >unto suffering, O most gladsome healer." During the litany, the clergymen
      >emerged with the coffin, and in a procession of the cross, circled the
      >Cathedral." But no one, I believe, will ever forget the polyeleos. In order
      >to give everyone who served the opportunity to emerge from the altar for
      >the polyeleos, the choirs antiphonally sang the 21 sticherion of the 134th
      >and 135th psalms "Praise the name of the Lord." Priests surrounded the
      >bishops in 5 or 6 rows. After the singing of the psalms, the Cathedral was
      >absolutely silent. Everyone's attention was focused on the sarcophagus.
      >First His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly removed the cloth from the icon of
      >the saint (the icon lay in the sarcophagus), and two priests (one monastic,
      >one from the lay clergy), raised it for all to see. Then, the mantle was
      >removed from the coffin, and finally, a key opened the locks, the cover was
      >opened, and the very relics of St. John were visible through the glass.
      >There are no words to describe the feeling of humility and love which
      >overcame all who saw the incorrupt relics of the saint in his white Paschal
      >vestments. We awaited this moment for years, months, days, and as it
      >finally arrived, we were not prepared for the reaction this moment
      >incurred. Thousands of people in the cathedral, in the hall and outside
      >stood breathless. This was one of the most profound moments of my life.
      >Everyone fell to their knees before the relics and then the clergymen, in
      >an unequalled choir of 200 male voices, joyfully sang "We magnify thee,
      >Holy Father John!"
      >From that moment on, the worshipers could not hold back their tears. I
      >looked around and everywhere, people were crying from joy. We, especially
      >the singers, tried to concentrate on the prayers we sang, but it was
      >impossible to hold back?Vladyka John truly returned to his flock. The sight
      >of his relics forced us to think about his life, his miracles, his labors
      >in Shanghai and in San Francisco, how he was able to unify church forces
      >and complete the construction of magnificent cathedrals. Between singing
      >prayers, we gazed upon his relics and again broke out in tears. The entire
      >vigil continued this way. Though people approached his relics from two
      >sides of the sarcophagus, the veneration still lasted for some four hours.
      >The people prostrated themselves, wept, kissed his relics, applied paper
      >icons and prayer beads to the glass. Most of the people had arrived at the
      >Cathedral at 2 pm, and here, 9 hours later, they did not wish to leave.
      >The Cathedral has three altars, and so it was possible to conduct three
      >liturgies on Saturday, July 2, at 2 am, and 5 am and the main liturgy at
      >7:30 am. I was honored to direct the two choirs, along with Peter
      >Alexeevich Fekula, at the first liturgy. This was sung by all the
      >worshipers in the church in Slavonic and English. Peter Alexeevich and I
      >had prepared 70 photocopies of the texts and notes, thinking that only 300
      >people would be at the 2 am liturgy. People, after all, need to sleep. We
      >were mistaken. There were over 1000 people there, and some 700 of them
      >partook of Communion. After the solemn vigil, now it seemed everything was
      >calmer. The whole church sang the Eucharistic canon in unison, in the
      >znamenny tone, and we felt a special peace in our souls, unforgettable to
      >this day. After 22 hours in church, I headed home to get some rest.
      >Most of the clergy served at late liturgy, but almost all the priests and
      >worshipers who attended early services returned to the end of the last
      >service to participate in the moleben and procession of the cross?I had not
      >seen such a procession in the Russian diaspora. Thousands emerged from the
      >Cathedral into the street. The clergy carried the sarcophagus with the
      >relics of St. John by means of a special armature. From the windows of
      >nearby houses, many watched, unwittingly bowing before the procession with
      >the relics. My heart softened to see how our priest from Uganda carried one
      >of the Miraculous Icons. When I reentered the Cathedral with the choir, I
      >was surprised to see that the church was already filled with people.
      >After the services, I had the opportunity to take part in a feast organized
      >in an enormous hall in the center of San Francisco. During the trapeze, in
      >which some 1500 people participated, we shared our experiences. I was able
      >to meet with our archpastors, pastors, monks and brethren and sisters in
      >Christ, many of whom I had not seen in 15 years. I was able to spend some
      >time talking to a few of them. Many had a similar goal for their trip to
      >San Francisco as I did?to gain spiritual strengthening and direction in our
      >difficult and complicated times. We remembered many of those who because of
      >their health could not come to this event, for example, Fr. Archimandrite
      >Kyprian. We did not forget those who was no longer with us, but, thanks to
      >whom we remained close to the Church throughout our lives. It is likely
      >that without them we would not have participated in this celebration. We
      >began to think about how important the way we were reared from childhood
      >proved to be, how important it was that our parents took us to Jordanville
      >and taught us to understand our faith. We also thought about how many
      >children participated in the services of glorification?in the choirs,
      >serving in the altar and standing in church with their parents. Some
      >pilgrims were disappointed that their children could not come with them.
      >One local priest told me that after early liturgy, he came home and was
      >expecting to eat eggs, kulichi and sausages, only to remember that this
      >wasn't Pascha, but the Fast of SS Peter and Paul.
      >That evening, at vigil, the sarcophagus with the relics was moved from the
      >middle of the Cathedral and placed under the canopy on the right side of
      >the church. During the following days, pilgrims did not depart, but
      >continued to approach the relics and venerate them during services. The
      >time came to venerate them for the last time and to bid farewell to
      >everyone. On the way home, in the plane, I was able to think about the
      >wondrous week I spent in San Francisco, and I was saddened that everything
      >ended. Then I remembered a sermon spoken by Vladyka Metropolitan Vitaly
      >many years ago. He said that after Pascha we return to our daily, gray
      >lives, but that Pascha had given us the opportunity to endure and survive
      >them, this recollection of Pascha and theat bright joy which it brings.
      >Those of us who were able to go to San Francisco during those days will
      >always remember the glorification of St. John. Hierarch and Miracle-worker
      >John, pray to God for us.
      >Reader George Skok
      >Toronto, Canada
      >Russky Pastyr, No. 20, 1994
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