Sermon by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky)
of Eastern America and New York (+1985)
Before the Pannikhida for Archbishop John of San Francisco
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
The Russian Orthodox people for many years had a belief that bishops of the Orthodox Church die in groups of three, of course over a period of time. This ancient belief just came to mind now. Soon after the last Council of Bishops of the Church Abroad convened, one and a half years ago, a venerable elder, participant of this council, Vladyka Archbishop Stefan, died. Then a year ago or so, the Church Abroad sorrowfully escorted from the path of all mortals their Primate and spiritual father of many years, the unforgettable elder Metropolitan Anastassy. And now finally the third… Yesterday, during all-night vigil, an urgent telephone call was received from Bishop Nektary from California with the sorrowful news: one of the eldest hierarchs of our church, First Deputy of the President of the Synod, the ascetic archpastor Archbishop John, suddenly died in Seattle, where he was accompanying the Miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God "of the Sign” along with Vladyka Nektary. Stunning news…
Now when I think of Vladyka John, I remember what happened over 30 years ago, when my late father, Vladyka Dimitry, knowing the sorrows and unpleasantries which were being endured in Yugoslavia by the Primate of the Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anthony of blessed memory, invited him to the Far East, to the city of Harbin, where church life was peaceful. “You will rest here with us Vladyka,” wrote Vladyka Dimitry the head of the Church Abroad. Vladyka Anthony responded “My friend, I am already so old and feeble that I cannot even think of undertaking such a journey, I can only make the journey to the cemetery… But instead of myself, I am sending you Vladyka John, who is close to my soul and to my heart. This slight, feeble person, almost childlike in appearance, is by some miracle a staunch ascetic and strong in our age of spiritual weakness.” This is how Vladyka John was described, who was then still young, only just ordained a bishop, by his great Abbot. Vladyka John was like that then, and so he remained, and even now, in our days, he was right before our eyes a miraculously ascetic person, a lofty example of spiritual and prayerful life. Vladyka John always prayed, Vladyka John prayed everywhere.
When he was still a young man in Harbin, the equally-spiritual monastic, hieromonk Methodius (Yogl), noted perceptively that we all stand up for prayer, but Vladyka John does not need to stand, he is always in a prayerful mood… And whatever changes occurred in his external life, the task of prayer and divine service always took precedence for him, and nothing could tear him away from that.
Not one person can accommodate within himself to be a perfect bearer of all spiritual gifts. Everyone makes mistakes, not one person is free from that. But those knew Vladyka John knew him as a man of prayer, as an archpastor, who cared for human souls and was always ready to help, those who experienced personally and who saw their loved ones benefit from his prayers will never forget Vladyka John, and will always carry within themselves the blessed memory of his warmth and light.
Vladyka John died, his constant prayer with which our great men of prayer burned constantly, has been interrupted—he prayed for everyone and for all. But the Church Abroad will not forget him. We hope that John receives mercy and has the boldness before the terrifying Altar of the Lord of glory to pray for his flock, as he did here on earth… It is our duty of grateful love, in response to his prayer, to pray likewise for him. Let us pray now for his bright soul, that the Lord grants him repose with the righteous.
3 July 1966