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  St. John of Tobolsk – June 10


      One of six brothers, St. John was born in 1651 into the noble Maximovitch family. As a boy he liked to read the Holy Scriptures and writings of the Holy Fathers and to attend church services. This early religious inclination set the direction for his future.

      St. John applied himself diligently to his studies at the Kiev Theological Academy, where, after graduating with honors, he became an instructor. He frequently visited the nearby Kiev Caves Monastery, which nurtured his desire for monasticism. After teaching for eight years he was tonsured a monk. While he was still quite young he was appointed abbot of several monasteries in southern Russia, inspiring the monks by his holy life and gifted preaching. This brought him to the attention of Archbishop Theodosius of Chemigov, who, when he sensed his approaching death, called St. John to be his successor.

      Not long after St. John became Archbishop of Chemigov, he became dangerously ill with a burning fever. He was near death when St. Theodosius appeared to him and said, “serve tomorrow, and you will be well." To the amazement of those around him, the sick archbishop ordered that vigil be served in his quarters and that someone read aloud his rule of prayer before serving. The next day the Saint, completely well, served Divine Liturgy. In thanksgiving for his healing, St. John placed a portrait-icon of St. Theodosius over his grave and underneath it wrote a hymn of praise that he had composed in verse.

      Archbishop John worked to educate the clergy, establishing a college that became a model for future seminaries. He was a true pastor, able to teach the truths of the Christian Faith and life in a way that all could understand. He used the image of a sunflower which daily turns its face to follow the sun, even when it's cloudy, just as we should every day turn our attention to God and follow His will.

      His flock in Chernigov loved him as they had loved St. Theodosius before him. They were sorry when, in 1711, he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan and sent far away to Siberia, to Tobolsk, to aid his friend, Metropolitan Philotheos. For his protection he took with him a copy of the miraculous Chernigov-Ilyin Icon of the Mother of God. With his whole heart he labored in his new diocese, caring for the schools, establishing courses in icon painting and taking charge of local missionary work, which freed Schema-Metropolitan Philotheos to preach Christ to the wild tribes in still more distant parts.

       St. John loved to do good in secret. He sent money and various things to poor people, especially widows. He would go to a window, knock and say, "Accept this in the Name of Jesus Christ," and quickly leave. He likewise loved to go to prisons, where he instructed, consoled and gave gifts to the prisoners. He never went out just to visit, and never entered the houses of the rich.

      St. John was very strict with himself in his personal life. He was never idle; he was always either reading, writing, teaching or thinking. Above all, he prayed. Shutting himself up in his cell, he would pray for hours on his knees.

      For his God-pleasing deeds, St. John was granted a righteous death that revealed the holiness of his earthly life. Foreseeing his approaching death, he prepared for it by going to confession the evening before and solemnly celebrated Divine Liturgy the next day, June 10, 1715. After Liturgy he invited the clergy and local poor people to dinner, serving the latter himself in literal obedience to the Gospel command: When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind (Luke 14:13). Then he shut himself in his quarters to pray. When it was time for Vespers, there was no answer to the knocks of his servant, who wanted his blessing to ring the bells. He was found dead, kneeling before the Chemigov Icon. That same day, far away in the wilderness, his friend Blessed Philotheos, told those with him, "Our brother John has passed away. Let us go to Tobolsk."

      The Saint was buried in his cathedral in Tobolsk, where his incorrupt relics may be venerated to this day. He is the patron saint and distant relative of Blessed Archbishop John (Maximovitch).

Compiled from The Orthodox Word, Vol 2, No. 5, and Zhitia Russkikch Sviatikh by Nun Taisia, Jordanville 1983.

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