St John Maximovitch's Letters to Mt Athos monastics

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St John Maximovitch's Letters to Mt Athos monastics

Post by Barbara »

As today was the Feast Day of St John Maximovitch, this article provides a fascinating glimpse into St John's care for the Russian Athonite monasteries.
St. John (Maximovitch; 1896-1966) the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is one of the most outstanding saints of the twentieth century. Thousands of people have received and continue to receive healing by prayers to him. Being a prominent hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, he labored greatly for the preaching of holy Orthodoxy among pagans and non-Orthodox peoples (in China, the Philippines, France, the U.S., and elsewhere).

Many books have been written and published about St. John today. However, one of the least studied pages of his life remains the connection of the Holy Hierarch with Holy Mount Athos and, in particular, with the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos. Having found himself in foreign lands, St. John took an active part in the fate of Russian monasticism on Athos and corresponded with many of its prominent representatives and ascetics. His first acquaintance with Russian Athonites took place during his ministry in Yugoslavia, where representatives of St. Panteleimon’s Monastery, the Prophet Elijah and St. Andrew Sketes, and numerous Russian cells often went to visit the ROCOR Synod in the 1920s and 1930s. From then on, St. John had a close friendship and correspondence with many of them.

Being constantly informed about the true state of affairs of Russian monasticism on Mt. Athos and deeply empathizing with it, speaking at the Second All-Diaspora Council of the Russian Church Abroad in August 1938, St. John reported on the situation on the Holy Mountain:

Athos is experiencing a triple disaster: the cessation of the influx of pilgrims and funds from Russia, the requisition of part of the monastery’s property by the Greek state, and the complete prohibition on the arrival of new monks of Slavic nationality, especially Russians, who aren’t permitted even as pilgrims. Athos is in danger of completely drying up.[1]

St. John sounded the alarm, calling upon the Russian emigration to help Russian monasticism on Mt. Athos, which was in distress. And his call didn’t remain fruitless. Despite the fact that they themselves were experiencing extreme need and difficulties in exile in foreign lands at that time, the Russian Church Abroad and representatives of the Russian emigration tried to help and support the Russian Athonite monasteries as much as they could. In particular, Russian emigrants created the “Commission for Assistance to Russian Athonite Monks,” which St. John and other ROCOR hierarchs worked with closely. In his homilies, St. John often called upon parishioners to make donations to the holy work of saving the starving Russian Athonite monks, to support the Orthodox brethren on the Holy Mountain, and to not allow the Athonite holy sites to die out. As M. Shkarovsky notes, this support from Russian emigrants, although modest, significantly helped save St. Panteleimon’s Monastery and other Russian Athonite monasteries from desolation in that period.

The archives of St. Panteleimon’s Monastery have preserved several letters of St. John from 1936 and 1964, which partially allow us to open a little-known page of his life, connected with his close relations with Russian Athonite monasticism. Unfortunately, the majority of his letters have not survived to our day. But even on the basis of this surviving, albeit sparse, information, we learn valuable new facts about the life and ministry of this outstanding Holy Hierarch of the twentieth century. We hope that further searches in the archives of the Russian Athonite monasteries (St. Panteleimon’s Monastery, and the Prophet Elijah and St. Andrew Sketes) will allow us to fill in the missing gaps in the biography of St. John, connected with his close contacts with the monasticism of Holy Mount Athos.

In this publication, we offer readers the chance to get acquainted with three little-known letters of St. John from 1936 and 1964, addressed to the abbots of St. Panteleimon’s Monastery Schema-Archimandrite Misail (Sapegin; 1852-1940) and Schema-Archimandrite Ilian (Sorokin; 1883-1971).


August 1, 1936, Shanghai
Russian Spiritual Mission in China
Office of the Bishop of Shanghai
55, Route Paul Henry
August 11, 1936
Tel. 72557.

To His Reverence
the Abbot of the Russian St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on Old Athos
Fr. Archimandrite MISAIL.

Our church needs two icons: 1) The Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Prince VLADIMIR and 2) The Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles CYRIL and METHODIUS.

I ask Your Reverence to inform us in detail about the price of these icons if we place an order for them, and also how much they will cost with shipping.

1. The icon of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Grand Prince Vladimir should be eight (8) feet long and two (2) feet and 7 inches wide, as indicated in the drawing, and should be a copy of the attached image, with the only difference that St. Vladimir should be depicted in full height, and the cross he holds in his hand should be drawn according to the attached example and with the inscription: “O Lord, save Russia,” in Slavic writing.

2. The icon of the Holy Equals-to-the-Apostles Cyril and Methodius should be five (5) feet and 11 inches long and 2 feet and 10 and a half inches wide, as indicated in the drawing. Sts. Cyril and Methodius should also be in full height.

Both icons should be painted on the best canvas and with the most durable paints, because the Shanghai climate has a detrimental effect on any material and only the best can endure it. I entreat yours and the brethren’s holy prayers for me and for all who live here, and I invoke God’s blessing upon you.

John, Bishop of Shanghai

August 11, 1936, Shanghai

The attached image of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir has not been blessed.

Biscop. Jean Changhaisky
55, Route Paul Henry
Changhai – China
(via Port-Said)


February 22/March 6, 1964, San Francisco

Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church of America
The Most Reverend JOHN
Archbishop of San Francisco and Western United States
2040 Anza Street
February 22/March 6, 1964

Most Honorable and beloved in our Lord
Fr. Abbot Ilian.

May God’s peace be with you!

We haven’t seen one another for more than a quarter of a century, but I remember you from the last time in 1936 as a thin, young, and considerate hierodeacon in the library, assistant to Fr. Joseph.

I send you and the whole monastic brotherhood my greetings and love. I know that all of you Russian Athonite monks tread a difficult path. May the Lord help you!

This letter will be given to you by my good friend, an Orthodox man, Roman Borisovich Gul, an old emigrant and editor of the best journal in the Russian American Diaspora (“New Journal”). Please, facilitate him however and as much as you can to stay on the Holy Mountain, which he wants to visit, and recommend him to speak with whomever necessary.

I ask you and the brethren to commemorate in your prayers this unworthy and negligent monk who is living in the world.

Remembering you with love

+ John
Archbishop of San Francisco

P.S. I keep the blessing of your predecessor in the abbacy, Fr. Misail: a holy cross with relics.

February 22/March 6, 1964, San Francisco


March 28/April 10, 1964

To His Reverence
Archimandrite Ilian

Your Reverence!

I hereby send you a bank transfer in the sum of 100 (one hundred) dollars, intended for the needs of the Athonite monks.

I invoke God’s blessing upon you, and entreat your holy prayers for the donors and for me.

Humble Archbishop John
March 28/April 10, 1964
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