WAY OF THE ORTHODOX - Archbishop Ioasaph
- WAY OF THE ORTHODOX
Enlightener of Canada
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.)