Orthodox America

  That We May Be Changed


Thy heart hath gone out unto all who entreat thee with love,
O holy Hierarch John,
and remember the struggle of thy whole industrious life
and thy painless and easy repose,
O faithful servant of the All-Pure Directress.



This icon was commissioned for the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Washington DC.  The border scenes from the Saint's life show his birth, his monastic tonsure, his ordination to the priesthood, his arrival in Shanghai as bishop, healing the sick, with his orphans in China, before the US Capitol where he interceded for his flock to emigrate to America, serving a memorial service on the streets of Marseilles for the slain King Alexander of Serbia, overseeing the construction of the cathedral in San Francisco, and his blessed repose.

It was, as one pilgrim remarked afterwards, such a blessing, truly the experience of a lifetime; everything of heaven suddenly seemed real and "just around the corner."  Indeed, the Glorification of Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco was an occasion for such an outpouring of grace as most of us seldom experience.  It was, as another pilgrim said, a powerful reminder that God is alive and intimately with us.  One had an almost tangible sense of the action of the Holy Spirit.  The Glorification lifted tired spirits and moved jaded hearts to tears of purifying repentance and tender joy.  It was a gift of God, a great mercy.

Such an experience, however, is not given to us simply for our enjoyment, for a temporary spiritual "high," which gradually fades into a pleasant memory.  It carried with it a sobering message: To whom much is given, of him shall be much required (Luke 12:48).  And there is no doubt that as Orthodox Christians we have been given "much."

In our spiritual treasury we have many inspiring lives of saints, many striking accounts of miracles, many profoundly instructive teachings on how to struggle with our passions and cultivate the virtues.  We may have read lots of books and "know" what is required if we wish to progress on the path to salvation. And yet, we remain essentially unmoved, walking circles around first base, vaguely dissatisfied with ourselves but lacking the motivation, the determination to really focus our lives on "the one thing needful," our soul's salvation, and to bring needed change to our lives. With the Glorification of Saint John, we have been thrown a life-line, as it were, to rescue us from our spiritual lethargy.  In his presence we sense what heaven is all about; we sense that other-worldliness which we too are called to inhabit, the sanctity which is ours to attain.  O taste and see . . .

Saint John was not born with this life-line in hand. He acquired it at a price-a life of self-sacrifice for the love of God and neighbor.  His asceticism is well known: he fasted strictly, often eating only one meal a day late at night; he slept very little and, after his tonsure, never in a bed; he locked his mind and heart in prayer, avoiding frivolity and distraction; he was always alert to those in need, visiting the sick, providing for the poor; he never missed an opportunity to instruct, to inspire.  Devoid of self-interest, his life was "hid with God." One can only imagine-rather faintly-the warfare he must have endured to reach such a height of sanctity and become the rare vessel of grace, the wonderworker we know him to be.

We are among the beneficiaries of his unremitting warfare, reaping strength of faith and inspiration from the fruit of his struggles.  And if we love Saint John, if our celebration of his Glorification was not merely a show of outward splendor decorated by superficial emotions, we must respond to his call to join him on the path of holiness.  Reflecting on the significance of the Glorification, one pilgrim said,  Perhaps we shall begin to understand how essential it is for us to deepen our spiritual life, after the example of Saint John.  The same message came again and again from the ambo.  "If only," said Fr. Valery Lukianov, " we can worthily and eagerly respond not only to the celebration-which has revealed our strength and our best qualities-but likewise to the call of Saint John: to emulate him in his ardent prayer, in his love for God and man, in his humility and patience, in his obedience to the Church, and, finally in gracefully shouldering that soul-saving podvig which the Lord is pleased to lay upon us."

Holy Saint John, pray for us and help us!

- Editor