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WAY OF THE ORTHODOX - Archbishop Ioasaph

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  • byakimov@csc.com.au
    WAY OF THE ORTHODOX                                  +                   Enlightener of Canada
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2003
                        Enlightener of Canada
                  Archbishop Ioasaph


             It was Novgorod the Great that nourished and formed the future
      hierarch-enlightener of Canada. Vanya (diminutive form of Ioann-John)
      Skorodumoff [in English, "Quick thinker"] was born on January 14, 1888, the
      son of a village priest. His mother died when he was six. At the age of ten
      his father brought him to Tikhvin, a town famous for its miraculous Icon of
      the Mother of God, and there he completed the seminary preparatory school,
      after which he entered Novgorod Seminary.

          From his early years, asceticism entered the boy's life. The
      Church-centered life of Imperial Russia, with its abundance of monasteries,
      convents, hermitages and sketes in towns, on lakes and in forests, the
      wonderworking icons, the hermits unknown to the world, the wanderers and
      pilgrims, the religious processions with many choruses singing and hells
      ringing--all this left a deep impression on the young ascetic, At first it
      was almost game, Vanya and his elder brother would go fishing and stay
      overnight somewhere outdoors, lost in the warm summer night, talking and
      reading about the great ascetics of old and the lives of saints. On the way
      hack they would perform a "podvig" [spiritual struggle or exploit]-carrying
      a pail of fish on one shoulder without changing for miles, all the way
      home. At times their shoulders would be bleeding, and although such
      "podvig" was discouraged at home by the elder sister, who was something of
      a mother to them, still the boys would be elated for having endured
      suffering. They also walked some distance barefoot on the snow, unseen by

          In 1908, having brilliantly completed the Seminary course, he entered
      the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, where he became the devoted
      disciple of its saintly Rector, Theophan, later Bishop of Poltava. Vladika
      Theophan (Bystroff) was an intensely learned theologian and a great expert
      in the Jesus Prayer; to him even the fate of the dead was somewhat
      revealed. Under his influence the young Skorodumoff was properly introduced
      to the art of arts, which he apparently practiced well, since for the rest
      of his life he was constantly in a joyful state, as if experiencing joy
      like that of Pascha. His graduating thesis was on "Monasticism according to
      St. John Chrysostom," and the Saint's influence shaped the spiritual
      personality of the future archpastor for life. On this Saint's day he was
      tonsured a monk, and 43 years later on the same day he died.

           Not long before his graduation his Abba Theophan was transferred to
      Astrakhan, a large seaport at the mouth of the Volga River, and the
      faithful disciple, upon successfully graduating from the Academy, gathered
      all his meager means and undertook the trip down the Volga to his bishop.
      On the way his fears were quieted by a vision in a dream, which came true
      just as he had seen it. In monasticism he was given the name of the
      recently canonized St. Ioasaph of Belgorod.

           At first he was sent to teach in a seminary in northern Russia, but
      soon he was transferred back to his Abba, now in Poltava, where he served
      as an army chaplain. After the end of the war he taught in Constantinople
      and at various seminaries in Yugoslavia. There he was known to serve
      Vespers and Matins daily, which he unfailingly continued to do for the rest
      of his long life.

          A friend of his, a former strannik pilgrim who roamed many holy places
      of Old Russia, was now in Canada; he wrote from there that the schism of
      Metropolitan Platon in 1926 left no legitimate Orthodox clergy in Canada,
      yet the land was so reminiscent of Russia and was fertile for the seed of
      the word of God. "Do you want to come?" concluded the letter. "I do!" was
      the immediate response, even though he was quite aware of the hardships
      that this involved. It was only in 1930, however, that Archimandrite
      Ioasaph arrived in Montreal. In half a year he was made bishop for Canada.
      Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky tonsured him in Belgrade on October 12,
      1930. Upon handing him the archpastoral staff he warned him of the nature
      of the Christianity he would meet in America: "You are going to people who
      have long lived in an understanding of things that has nothing whatsoever
      to do with Christianity. Bring them the teaching of humility; accept this
      staff as a staff of benevolence and, blessing the people who now stand
      before you, think of the flock there, who already love you."

      And it was precisely the wisdom of humility (smirennomudrie in Slavonic)
      that taught him to be an exemplary missionary in the post Christian era and
      preserved him pure in heart. "In my life," said he in his sermon upon being
      consecrated bishop, "two questions have especially occupied my attention.
      First: the exploration of the ways of God's mercy. I observed God's
      unutterable mercy first of all in richly-endowed nature, and explained it
      to myself that nature subordinates itself to inevitable natural laws. Then
      I began to observe human life; and even where free wall was leaning towards
      evil, I always found God's mercy. Then I decided to turn to that which is
      most sinful, most evil, and I turned to my inward life. It seemed that here
      there was no place for God' s mercy because there was nothing good in it;
      but even here I discovered God's mercy, and I remembered the words of the

      Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?
      Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence ?
      If I  ascend up into heaven, Thou art there;.
      If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.

      Then I finally became convinced that the mercy of God towards man is
      limitless and boundless. The second question which I sought to solve was:
      will the Last Judgment be soon? Judging by signs in nature, by the moral
      state of humanity, and finally, by myself, I felt that the time was close,
      that one had to hasten to do the work of God and bring into reality the
      preaching of His Kingdom."

          Vladika was an unmercenary. He came to Canada almost penniless, lived
      and travelled entirely on the donations of his poor countrymen: at times
      when visiting his diocese he would hardly have enough to pay the fare to
      the next village parish. For the first ten years he endured not only
      poverty and cold, but also much sorrow thanks to the rivalry of various
      church jurisdictions which separated themselves from the One Holy Apostolic
      Orthodox Church. But at the end of the first ten years this penniless yet
      cheerful bishop had: a cathedral church in Edmonton with living quarters
      for several clergymen, forty parishes, a monastery at Whitefish Lake, and
      the Holy Protection Skete, where his friend, V. Konovalov, who had called
      him to Canada and had given up his house and all he had to pay for the
      trip, became the abbot--Archimandrite Amvrossy.

           After living for many years in Canada, just after recovering from a
      severe illness, Vladika was raised to the rank of archbishop and sent to
      Argentina. Here he soon became deeply loved by all. During his first
      visitation of his diocese, which included Paraguay as well, he visited a
      sick woman who had lain paralyzed in a hospital for a long time. She asked
      his prayers, to which he at once agreed, but he asked her whether she had
      faith in God and His ability to heal her. She said "yes." Whereupon he
      prayed and gave his panagia to her to kiss, after doing which she was
      healed. The mother of Fr. V. Drobot had a severe toothache when Vladika
      visited them. As he was about to leave, he hit her with his fist right on
      the place of the aching teeth, saying, "That's nothing, it will go away."
      And at once the pain stopped.

           Vladika' s frail health and the' hot climate of Argentina, especially
      after Canadian winters, drained his last strength, and he died a righteous
      death in 1955. He appeared in white vestments to many people in their
      dreams. There were cases also of Vladika's rendering help from the other
      world. But one of the most striking testimonies of his holiness comes from
      the lips of the gardener gatekeeper, D. Carlos, of the English cemetery in
      Buenos Aires where Vladika Ioasaph is buried: "Once when it was already
      dusk, I noticed that in the chapel they had forgotten to turn off the
      electric light, and I went there. Before I had reached it, my attention was
      attracted by a powerful light at the left side of the chapel. But when I
      came closer, I saw that on the grave of your archpastor there was such an
      enormous light. At first I was frightened, but then I thought, what can the
      dead one do to me, and I decided to come closer. There was no chance that
      it could be a reflection from the vigil light on the grave, since the light
      was blue like the moonlight. It was something enormous. (Fue algo enorme.)
      I became terrified, although I am an atheist?'

           Such was the earthly life of a true Orthodox enlightener of America

      (Reprinted from The Orthodox Word, March-April 1968.)
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