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Short Biography of St Jonah of Hankou

 

"Forgive me for the sake of Christ, but do not forget me in your saintly prayers. Write my name in the book of departed..." bequeathed, still remembered, Jonah bishop of Hankow, who, by his especially-ascetic life, his richest spiritual experience and his active service to his neighbors, gained general love and reverence, "working on good feat" (2 Tim. 4, 7). Daring to write about one of the great luminaries of Russian Orthodox Church and Russian dispersion, I begin this narration with the words of known archpastor and an outstanding missionary archbishop Nestor (Anisimov; † 1962) from Kamchatka and Petropavlosk:

"During three years his radiant, pure, hardworking life proceeded within sight of all city inhabitants of the city of Manzhouli. And presently, when there is among Russian people so much grief, disasters, deprivations and sufferings, and alongside with it a lot of enmity, divisions and hatred – in this time comes blessed Jonah, a man full of love and mercy, the person of piece, deep belief in God and of great will power. Our heart is full of reverential feelings, but neither language, nor our writing can adequately express praise to the departed blessed because his life is so mighty, bright and colorful in his exclusive content and so radiant is the death of this bishop and saintly man. For us his life and his death are enviable, and his memory eternal" ( "Good Shepherd " . Special issue 1992, page.4).

Blessed Jonah (Pokrovsky), Vladimir (his name before becoming a monk), was born on April 17, 1888 in Kozelsk district where, early having lost his parents, descended from peasant stock, has been adopted by a rural deacon Pokrovsky. Having successfully finished church school and the Kaluga seminary, young Vladimir has entered the Kazan Ecclesiastic Academy in 1909. During the 3rd year Vladimir took monastic vows with the name Jonah, and has departed to Vvedenskuy Optina Monastery. Here he was satiated with wisdom of Saint Anatoly and Joseph, listening to words of the latter: "If you did not grow a tree, from where do you expect to find fruits? The tree on which the inner monk grows is: lent, abstention, attending church services, manual work and then on it the fruit will grow, the inner monk" ( "From spiritual teaching of Elder Joseph" , Journal of Moscow Patriarchate ? 10, 1988, p. 74).

Vladimir has returned to academy already as a consecrated monk (hieromonk) and, having finished academy in 1914, began to teach the Scriptures as an associate professor. But, "as the eye requires hands and other parts of a body, belief requires active good deeds" (Blessed Feodorit, bishop of Kirsky) – therefore Father Jonah, having unshakable belief, has desired to serve those who protected Belief, Tsar and Fatherland from vicious enemies in the days of the Great War, became the military chaplain, and then – the main chaplain of the 11th Army in 1916.

In 1918 Father Jonah left Kazan and in Perm has been beaten by atheists, arrested and sent for trial to Tyumen. During his journey, namely in Tobolsk district, white armies managed to liberate him. From Tobolsk Father Jonah using Irtysh River has gone to Omsk where, by decree of the Supreme Church Management he was elevated to the rank of hegumen with a post of the main chaplain of the Southern Army. Defeat of the last has then forced hegumen Jonah, who has taken upon himself the cross of exile, to leave the Native land through Turkistan and the Gobi Desert.

Having arrived to the Western China, father superior Jonah has arrived first to Shanghai, and then has been appointed to the Russian Spiritual Mission in Beijing where he has been elevated to the rank of archimandrite. In September of 1922 in Beijing he was elevated to the rank of Bishop of Tianjin, the vicar of the Beijing Mission, with assignment to the position of rector of Innokenty Missionary Cathedral in a city of Manzhouli. Among the bishops who participated in his elevation to the rank of bishop and his consecration, there were the Chief of Mission Archbishop Innokenty of Beijing, Bishops Melety of Transbalkalian and Simon of Shanghai (subsequently Archbishop of Beijing). Having arrived to Manzhouli on October 19, 1922, the newly consecrated archpastor began his saintly work, by proclaiming apostolic preaching to people.

Bishop Melety (later Metropolitan of Harbin and Manchuria) so describes the first steps of his archpastoral services:

"The population of the city of Manzhouli that came from different places of Russia has not been brought up properly regarding religious attitudes. The new extensive and magnificent temple of the Mission was poorly attended by small number of worshippers; the church sermons were very weak. Zealous servant of God’s Church and an outstanding preacher, young and energetic bishop Jonah first of all has undertaken education of his flock in the religious-moral attitude. In his temple he establishes standard divine services, gets an excellent choir, constantly preaches, the temple is filled with worshippers and, at last, becomes cramped. However for vigorous Bishop Jonah it appears insufficient. He, by the invitation of city council, teaches God’s Law in a local secondary school. The pupils who have grown fond of him, having learned, that passing an examination of God’s Law is non-mandatory for them, have declared the desire to undergo the examination in this subject, and everyone was found to have good knowledge of the subject" (Bishop Melety, "In memory of Blessed Jonah" , Harbin (Special release, 1992), page 3.

Ioakim Krupenin, an admirer of the bishop, writes the following about his arrival: "Everybody remembers the arrival of the bishop in Manzhouli. All waited for the bishop to be the way ordinary people visualized him, meaning full of greatness, importance and inaccessibility. But Bishop Jonah knew, where and to whom he was going. He knew who and what awaits for him. He knew, that satiated and satisfied he would not be needed. The destitute were waiting for him, and he came to them. He has come not only as prince of Church, but also as loving friend and father, modestly, with affection and a consolation for all. All were amazed by the extraordinary simplicity and availability of the archpastor upon arrival. As the bright icon lamp lighted up in Manzhouli the activity of Bishop Jonah and has lit up a face of the Christ calling sufferers: "Come to me all you hardworking and burdened and I will give you peace" . All have felt joy, having understood, that not all is lost, when they have heard vigorous appeal: "There is a release – belief in God and love thy neighbors" . With this appeal for belief in God and love to neighbors has begun Vladika’s archpastoral activity. But words were not enough. Work was required. Huge work was necessary. And work has begun... Not sparing his strength and health, and forgetting himself, he gave himself to the service of God and neighbors" (Ioakim Krupenin, "Blessed Jonah, Bishop of Hankow" , Personal Reminiscences of Bishop Jonah – A Text in Russian (Originally printed in China in 1925), pages 14-15

Here Blessed Jonah establishes an orphanage for children, accepting direct participation in life and education of children, as Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka testifies in the letter to children of this shelter in Manzhouli :

"Bishop Jonah is still with us, and especially with you, dear children for he cared about you and thought about you during his life and he has not left you after death. I remember his will where he so touchingly, so warmly speaks about you and almost exclusively about you. Bishop Jonah gave himself totally to charitable work, and all his heart he gave to you, and with this love, this mercy directed to the Lord, he calls all his dear children to follow the same road. To follow this appeal, dear children, is a unique way for you to be grateful to Bishop Jonah for everything, that he has done for you" (from the letter of Bishop Nestor to the children of a shelter named after Bishop Jonah (year 1927)).

Wishing to have a rest from his formidable saintly activity "among kids" as the blessed Jonah liked to say, he escaped to his beloved children's shelter. And nowadays many former pupils of this shelter recollect with great love and gratitude always remembered Vladika, celebrating the day of his death by participation in the Divine Liturgy and by prayerful singing.

Diligently executing Christ’s precept about active love to neighbors, Bishop Jonah was an outstanding public figure, who cared about the well-being of his flock. During the three years of his stay on Hankow’s pulpit he established:

The orphanage, providing space for up to 40 orphans, ages from 5 to 14 years.

Lower and upper schools where training was provided for up to 500 persons for free.

Dining facility which daily fed 200 people for free.

Out-patient station which gave medical aid and medicines to the poorest population of Manzhouli without payment.

Library for spiritual education of inhabitants of Manzhouli.

Let us bring up memories of people who knew this righteous Bishop:

"Shortly before his death, – writes V.V.Frolov, – the drugstore has been equipped, the outpatient station was expanded. The last undertaking was the opening of a library-reading room and the organization of sale of books. Characteristic feature of these quickly developing activities was their constant improvement. In the summer – excursions for school children, a summer residence – for orphanage children; at school the fine string band under direction of the artist-conductor has been organized; the school scientific cinema is organized, which for rather cheap payment and also without payment were used by all educational institutions of the city. Every year at school new craft workshops opened. Children’s evening arrangements, performances, Christmas celebrations, school exhibitions became events in the city. Simultaneously large work in the church was undertaken. The church has been restored again; a new part was built for early liturgy services. The organization of church divine services during Bishop Jonah tenure can never be forgotten by people of Manzhouli. Being an excellent orator blessed Bishop Jonah attracted a multitude of people to the church; on greater holidays the large church was always overflowing. Experts on church singing confirm, that Manzhouli’s hierarchical choir on artistry of its performance could bear comparison with any of the best choruses of Harbin. And all this has been accomplished in the time when economic vitality everywhere was quickly fading" (V. Frolov, "Blessed Jonah, bishop of Hankow" , Personal Reminiscences of Bishop Jonah – A Text in Russian (Originally printed in China in 1925), page 33.

"We did not protect our Bishop, – writes Joachim Krupenin, –he did not protect himself also. Business hours lasted from 7 in the morning till 11 in the evenings. During his working day people were queuing up to the door of his room. So it was day by day, both on a holiday and weekday. And from 11 o'clock, instead of rest, he started new tasks. All have left to rest, everyone sleeps, nobody disturbs. He prepares answers to the extensive correspondence of business character, writes the next pastoral edification, and prepares a leaflet for printing, and so on, and so on... Only the night watchman knew when the light went out in the room of the hard working-archpastor and he left to rest. And there were nights when the light did not go out at all, when the sun replaced the lamp, and another heavy work day again began"(Joachim Krupenin, op. cit., page. 15)

Blessed Jonah also published papers with spiritually-moral content and was lecturing in Harbin theological-philosophical courses. The Bishop with his erudition, spiritual attitude, charitable work and sociability attracted people of all classes, ranks and age. He was extraordinary humble and modest, as one of his admirers narrates to us: "And how simply lived Bishop Jonah! It was hard to believe, that he was "a prince of the Church" , Bishop and "Vladika" . He did not have any cooks or kitchen. He ate rather modestly and simply. His favorite dish was fried potatoes and black rye bread. The clothes and shoes of the Bishop were more than modest. Patches were a usual ornament of clothes and footwear. Frequently the tailor and shoemaker refused to repair them: patches did not keep. But if in life the Bishop was modest, in death he presented greatness and new height of spirit" (Ibid., pages. 15-16).

Spiritual value of the person is defined not only by his life and activities, but also by his death, or rather, how he departs to life eternal. All merciful Lord, wishing to call Bishop Jonah to his heavenly abode, about which it is written: "the place the eye could not see, the ear could not hear, and the heart of man could not comprehend" (1Cor. 2, 9), has written a name of the blessed Jonah "in the book of righteous" , granted him "peaceful end" (from a prayer of Saint John Zlatoust (Chrysostom, Goldenmouth)).

It is interesting to note, that before his death, having confession with spiritual father Alex, having communion and having written the will, the Bishop ordered clerics who surrounded his berth to robe him in epitrakhelion and cuffs that belonged to Saint Amvrosy from Optina Hermitage and to dress him in white robes with miter, received by him from the flock in Manzhouli, and to bury him behind the altar, next to the founder of the monastery Father Mikhej for whom Bishop Jonah conducted the burial services some days prior to his own death. He asked Archbishop Mefody of Harbin and Manchuria to conduct for him a monastic burial service and, to grant a well-known in China church composer and director of Innokenty’s Cathedral choir, priest Paul Shilyaev the privilege to wear the gold pectoral cross of recently deceased monk-priest Father Mikhej. At this time in the Cathedral there were prayers conducted for the health of the Bishop Jonah with multitude of worshipers and children from the orphanage of whom Right Reverend reminded many, at farewell with his flock, saying: "Do not abandon children, protect them" . Before the Bishop they held icons of the Mother of God (blessing of his Beatitude Metropolitan Antony (Hrapovitsky)) and Apostle John the Theologian which he ordered to be put in his coffin. And here, firmly holding a sacred Cross, the Bishop has uttered his last words: "Forgive me, pray for me" , and has quietly passed away from this temporal life to the eternal-blessed one with the Lord.

One of witnesses during his last minutes was Archbishop Mefody of Harbin and Manchuria: "Having seen his confessor, the departed Bishop has understood, that the last moment is at hand, and he asked the doctor: "Is my end really so soon?" Having received the affirmative answer, the departing began to prepare for Confession and Holy Communion (the Bishop has gotten blood infection from quinsy). Putting on a mantle, he said: "It is time to get ready" . Disrobing himself, he sat and typed his last will…Describing his last will, he got up, took his prayer book and read the canon for soul departure. I stood behind and prayed with him, the doctor only slightly held him up from behind. After he read the canon, he started to take leave from all present, who stood behind the curtain in the next room. Having blessed all present with a bishop’s blessing, he sat down on a bed, ordered to have his shoes removed, then having laid down in bed, and said: "I am dying" . They put in his hands the cross and a candle... I began to read the canon for soul departure. The dying bishop was saying something. Having read through the kontakion "My soul" , when I began to read ikos, suddenly tears came to my eyes, during this moment the dying had let out the last shout and has expired" (Archbishop Mefody, "Death of Right Reverend Jonah, Bishop of Hankow" , Memories of Right Reverend Jonah (the brochure published after death of Bishop Jonah, comprising a compilation of articles about the hierarch). The place and year of the edition are not specified).

Burial service was headed by Archbishop Mefody with many clergy and 8 thousand worshippers (the population of Manzhouli – 10,000 people!). With deep grief and plentiful tears his populous flock with clergy and children of orphanage, so passionately beloved by him, saw him off to "green pastures" . In the Cathedral during a funeral service (Panikhida) for Hierarch Jonah, A.T. Gantimurov died suddenly from a heart attack; he was deeply upset about sudden death of Vladika. Before the ninth day they had funeral vigil (parastas), and in the day – the Divine Liturgy after which the assembly in memory of the Vladika Jonah has been arranged, which was begun by the service of a memorial litiya.

For us the death of Vladika Jonah is glorious, victorious and very instructive! Bishop Jonah taught us the highest lesson of Christian life and death, has reminded us of blessedly edifying words of Saint Efrem the Syrian: "Time of repentance is short; Heavenly Kingdom has no end!" The Archbishop despite his youth always prepared for death and a life of the world to come, executing the words from "the Prologue in lectures" : "Our genuine life is a field in which we should sow seeds or good deeds for future life. We shall sow, and our seeds will grow, will bear fruit, and with these fruits, consequences from kind deeds, we shall enjoy the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father. If we do not sow here anything good, we shall not see anything good in the Kingdom to come" (Archpriest Victor Gurjev, the Prologue in Lectures. Moscow: I.E. Yefimov's Tipo- Lithography, year 1912, page 204).

Having left this world, Vladika did not leave his love for children, the miracle of healing of the certain 10-year old adolescent testifies to that; the teenager suffered from inflammation of knee joints and has seen in the his sleep the bishop at the hour of his blessed death in which the blessed bishop told him: "Here... Take my legs, they are not needed by me any more, and yours – give to me" . The late archpriest Nikolai Kiklovich, clergyman from the Diocese of Harbin and Manchuria narrates about the cured boy:

"With death this love and feeling of respect for him did not stop, and on the contrary they began to love and esteem him even more, but not as the ordinary mortal person but as God’s Saint; that was especially affected after healing by Vladika of sick adolescent Nikolai to whom the medicine could not help and left him to his own devices ( the boy was initially treated by doctor V.V. Lyapustin,who treated the Bishop and then transferred the boy’s care to a midwife Belov – deacon S.G.). And at that time when human frailty appeared powerless to help the suffering teenager, and his family has fallen in despair for the future of this adolescent - then God’s might came to aid the sufferer by the intercession of newly departed Bishop Jonah. A month ago, blossoming man of 27 Nikolai, who was healed in the night and hour of Bishop Jonah’s death, now married with two teenage daughters, has a house and manages his household, has recounted in detail in his apartment, to the writer of this narrative, about his healing. After wonderful vision of just departed Bishop Jonah, he immediately woke up, has risen at night absolutely healthy, threw away his crutches and started during midnight time to pace his room" (Priest N. Kiklovich, "19th anniversary of memory of Right Reverend Jonah, Bishop of Hankow" , Heavenly Bread (? 11-12, year 1944), pages 29-30).

In the summer of 1994 in the city of Kurgan Nikolai Dergachev has died in advanced years, he lived some time in Kustanai where in 1989 he was visited by A.Baksheev, who was living in Australia, an admirer of the Bishop: "I was looking for this boy, he lived in the well appointed apartment, I talked to him. It has turned out as in a fairy tale or as a miracle. Living in China, we read this booklet and it was not thought, that one will meet this boy" (from the letter of Baksheev to deacon S.G.).

Some years after the blessed death of the Bishop Jonah there was a publication issued of special collection of descriptions of the miracles which have occurred by the intercession of his prayers. Belief in the posthumous help of the Bishop increased every year. Daily, since dawn till late night, pilgrims came from the city to the tomb of the Bishop Jonah, some to pray, some to tell about their grief or to ask blessing before beginning of some affair. Grooms and brides went to the tomb to receive blessing for a legal marriage. There were also some people who did not begin their daily work before venerating the icon and an oak cross on the tomb of the Bishop. The order of reverence for a tomb of the Bishop has strongly taken roots in inhabitants of the orphanage and almshouse.

In the mid 1990’s many former pupils of this orphanage and spiritual children of blessed Jonah have desired to find his remains and to transfer them to the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville so that they could became a subject of reverential celebration from all who respect the memory of the wonderworker. In February of 1994 V.I. Ufaev, with the help of "a Society of former people from Manzhouli" in San Francisco, has gone to China where he received the sanction of authorities to export the blessed remains of Bishop Jonah. In July of the same year, on the day celebrating Grand Duke Vladimir (name of the Bishop in the world), he has started carrying out the excavation in a place of burial by the wall of altar of Innokenty Cathedral blown up in 1964. The relics unfortunately, have not been found and, most likely, have been destroyed during explosion of the Cathedral, stones from which have been taken by the population. At the second session of Council of Archbishops of ROCOR after listening to the report of Archbishop Antony (Medvedev; † 2000) of San Francisco and Western America about attempts of "a Society of former people from Manzhouli" to find remains of Bishop Jonah, has decided: "To send the people from Manzhouli the blessing of the Council of Archbishops and praise their fervent and fidelity to the memory of Bishop Jonah and to thank them for diligence to find his remains" (from decision of Council of Archbishops). In 1996, ROCOR’s Council of Archbishops has defined the church glorification of blessed Jonah which was accomplished on October 7/20, 1996 on the day of his death.

And here it is necessary to note, that in the Moscow Patriarchate the question of glorification of Bishop Jonah was also taken up. In April of 1991, Bishop Gabriel of Khabarovsk, former deputy of Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, has addressed with the special message to all remembering Bishop Jonah with the request "to send materials on life of Bishop Jonah and data on his deeds and feats with which he assiduously worked for the glory of Sacred Orthodoxy" ("Harbin" ? 4, April, year 1991).

I conclude with the words of Metropolitan Melety of Harbin and Manchuria: "The Right Reverend Jonah has fulfilled the most important Christ’s precept: he fed the hungry,has given drink to thirsting, took in the wanderer, has dressed the nude, has visited the sick, doing all this to needy brothers, through them did he made pleasing deeds to Lord Jesus Christ from Whom he will hear the Blessed voice: "Good and faithful slave, come and inherit what I prepared for you in the Kingdom of My Father" (Bishop Melety, op. cit., page 4).

First published in Pravoslavnaya Rus in 1995, and again in 1996, with additional text. Also published on the ROCOR website in 2006 on the 10th anniversary of the canonization of St Jonah.