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Orthodox Holiness

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    Orthodox Holiness ST JOHN THE WONDERWORKER IN ENGLAND For twelve years, from 1950 to 1962, St John was Archbishop of Western Europe, with his see first in
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2005
      Orthodox Holiness

      For twelve years, from 1950 to 1962, St John was Archbishop of Western
      Europe, with his see first in Paris, and then in Brussels. As such he was
      also responsible for the British Isles and, in particular, England. During
      this time he made several visits to London. The following has been recorded
      of those visits.

      The late Archimandrite Ambrose (Pogodin), pastor and learned writer on
      Church history (+ 2004), recounted the following:

      Vladyka John visited us in London. He usually visited us every year on the
      Dormition of the Mother of God, our Patronal Feast. Vladyka John was an
      outstanding personality. Everybody loved him and revered him, but not in an
      idolatrous way. It was rather a profound deference to his ascetic struggles
      and to himself, as one who of his own will carried on this spiritual

      Vladyka John routinely visited churches of other faiths, where the grace of
      Orthodoxy might still manifest itself, especially in the form of the holy
      relics of saints who had been glorified before the Schism. Following this
      practice, Vladyka John expressed the intention of visiting Westminster
      Abbey. At one time it may have been a holy place. In spite of the
      devastation wreaked by Henry VIII, the Abbey had miraculously been
      preserved as a working church. Now, however, it no longer possesses the
      holiness it once had as an ancient church. Now people simply go to see it
      as one of London’s tourist attractions. Vladyka also went to see it, but
      after spending only a short time there, he left, saying: ‘There is no grace
      here’. It is true, there could be found the remains of famous English
      figures, of the country’s political founders, writers and scholars, but not
      of saints.

      Here is yet another impression I had of Vladyka John. He was coming to
      London by train, from France as I recall. A group of clergy, the late
      Vladyka Nikodim, Archpriest George Sheremetiev and myself, met Vladyka at
      the railway station. At that moment a hunched-over old man came out of the
      station, wearing sandals on his bare feet, carrying a heavy icon on his
      chest, with clerical headwear slightly askew. Although he was not an Elder,
      he had the appearance of one, as if worn down by life’s concerns. V1adyka
      came out of the station and an Englishman, a simple man, said: ‘Now that is
      a bishop!’ He had felt a tremendous spiritual strength in Vladyka.

      The late Mother Elizabeth (Ampenov) (+ 1999) of the Convent of the
      Annunciation in London recorded this:

      Vladyka John was then Archbishop of Brussels and Western Europe and England
      was under his jurisdiction. On returning from a trip to England, he decided
      that it was there that we should settle. We received a visa and work permit
      for England without delay. Through his holy prayers and fatherly concern
      the first Russian Orthodox Convent, dedicated to the Annunciation, was
      founded in London. On leaving the Lesna Convent in France, where we had
      been staying, Vladyka John sent us off to our new life, saying: ‘You will
      be in a big city, but live as though you were in the desert’.

      After many difficulties, a suitable building was found for accommodation.
      Having looked everything over, Vladyka said to me: ‘The sisters are from
      the Holy Land. They need heat. Make sure they have it at once!’ Central
      heating was installed, but we had an unfortunate accident: a workman broke
      the water heater tap and the whole kitchen and larder floor was flooded
      with boiling water. When Vladyka discovered this on his next visit, he
      asked for a service book and some holy water. He read a prayer over the
      boiler, sprinkled it all with holy water and prayed at length over the
      heater and electrical system. He asked us to hang up an icon of the Mother
      of God, the ‘Unburnt Bush’, over it. Since then, thanks to Vladyka’s
      prayers, everything has worked without a problem.

      Whenever he visited England, Vladyka John always stayed with us at the
      Convent. He never lay down to sleep, but rather rested, sitting in an
      armchair in the office next to the church. At night we heard how he often
      used to go into the church.

      Knowing that the sisters had all been pupils at the Bethany School in the
      Holy Land, Vladyka gave us his blessing to work with children, teaching
      catechism, Russian language and singing. Once Vladyka was at our Convent
      when lessons were under way. Among our pupils were some of their English
      friends. We introduced the children and they came up for a blessing.
      Surrounding Vladyka, they did not want to leave. Vladyka John was not very
      attractive outwardly, but even Non-Orthodox felt his spiritual grace, and,
      on leaving, the English children said: ‘You’re so lucky to have such an
      Archbishop!’ By Vladyka’s prayers we worked with children for over
      thirty-six years.

      After visiting the churchwarden, Count Vladimir Kleinmichel, Vladyka
      declined to take a taxi, preferring to return to town by tube. The warden
      accompanied Vladyka to the station. As he was leaving, the ticket agent
      asked him whom he was seeing off. ‘That was our Orthodox Archbishop’,
      replied the churchwarden. ‘I'm a Baptist’, said the ticket agent, ‘but I
      can see that your Archbishop is a saint’.

      During one of Vladyka’s visits to our community, there was a phone call
      from France, telling us that Archimandrite Serge had died. Vladyka asked
      that the funeral be postponed and said that he would return to France at
      once. Early in the morning we saw Vladyka off to the station by taxi. The
      young English cabbie asked if he could have a blessing. Vladyka turned
      around and blessed him. He then said to us: ‘What a wonderful,
      extraordinary Archbishop, he has a rare inner strength’.

      At one time a Russian family from China were living in London. One night,
      the husband called me, frantic with anxiety. ‘For God’s sake, tell Vladyka
      John that my wife Olga is in hospital, critically ill. Her blood pressure
      has shot up very high, the doctors fear for her life as well as the life of
      our unborn child’. I called Versailles, hoping to find Vladyka there. He
      answered the phone, found out all the details, and then said not to worry,
      that all would be well. Afterwards, he thanked me for calling him. Through
      his holy prayers everything turned out fine, and a healthy girl, Katherine,
      was born.

      A friend of our community, Paraskeva Dimitriu, lay ill in a coma. At our
      request, Vladyka John went to see her; he prayed and blessed her. That same
      day she got up, healthy, and with tears related how she had suddenly felt
      her illness leave her. Others told me that whenever Vladyka put his hand on
      their heads, they had felt the power of grace and felt light in their
      souls. Vladyka carried out the Lord’s commandments with self-sacrificing
      love and the Lord answered his holy prayers.

      It was the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God, the Patronal
      Feast of the London Cathedral. When Vladyka returned to the Convent, we
      fell into a discussion about the celebration of services, and he mentioned,
      rather sorrowfully, that during the Vigil at the Cathedral no one had sung
      the stichiras of the eight tones. The nuns offered to sing them for him
      there and then. Vladyka listened, beaming. He often served at the Convent
      and brought us great consolation. He loved the singing of the nuns and
      valued a knowledge of the intricacies of the services. For the Feast of the
      Protection of the Mother of God, Vladyka John sent us a greeting, which we
      hung in our choir: ‘On the day of Saint Romanus the Melodist, crowned by
      the Lord for his enviable singing ability, I ask that you pass on my
      greetings to all the nuns and sisters, who work diligently for the Church
      and take part in the services through their singing. May the Lord bless
      them through His mercy for their diligence and hard work for the glory of
      Christ’s Holy Church. I call down the Lord’s Blessing on you, on all who
      glorify the Lord with their singing and on the whole Convent!’

      By 1994 the ROCOR Diocese in the British Isles was in dire straits and the
      Convent could not find any priest in England to serve for Christmas and
      Pentecost. I was called on in Paris to go and serve there. In conversation
      with Mother Elizabeth about the English saints and St John, then about to
      be canonized, I related how sad I was that I would be unable to attend his
      forthcoming canonization in San Francisco on account of my duties. As if in
      consolation, she told me the following:

      When Vladyka John left us to go to America, he gave us the impression that
      we would never see him again. He told us: ‘I am leaving you now. I entrust
      you to the First Martyr of England, St Alban’.

      Fr Andrew
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