Orthodox America


“Who Then is This Man?”  


 Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart (Ps. 24:3)

 

     Much of what has been published over the years about Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch (+1966) speaks of his external activities: his work for God and the Church, first as a monk and a teacher, then as a hierarch in China, Europe and North America; the fact that he was a rescuer of orphans and a fatherly protector of homeless exiles; his zealous and open-hearted missionary efforts; his miracles.

In all of these activities we see the self-sacrificing and untiring labor of a saint, it is true, but we get only the smallest glimpse of the inner man.

One of Blessed John's former seminary students has warmly recalled how much the students loved him, and how greatly he loved them in return: "In our eyes he was the embodiment of all Christian virtues: quiet, calm, gentle. He glowed before our eyes." ("Orthodox Life," No. 4, 1986)

Quiet, calm, gentle... These are qualities emanating from a deep, inner spiritual condition, not from external activities, however worthy they might be.

Most people today are so other- or "outer-directed" that they virtually have no inner life whatever. They define themselves in terms of what is going on around them, rather than from some inner sense of purpose and direction. Their identity is formed solely by institutions, rules, titles, roles. In their lives they are "re-actors" rather than actors. Even in Church life this has become a common condition. Individuals are so caught up in complex liturgical services, in personalities and politics, or building projects and "schemes," that there is no time and, sadly, often no interest in developing the deep inner life of the soul. In a sense, for many of us, our souls have simply "gone to sleep."

     The same seminary student remembered that when Archbishop John led his students in prayer (and he knew all of the prayers and even many of the services by heart), he literally just "talked" with God, the Mother of God, the saints and the angels. For him, the prayers were not "automatic," to be repeated in the well-known drone of those who know the words of the prayers well, but are paying no attention to their meaning. God and the saints "were present to his spiritual eyes." (Ibid.) Therefore, prayer was "holy conversation," not something repeated by rote, a dead "rule" of prayer.

     It was because Vladika John was so "inner-directed" that Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky (of Blessed Memory) called him "my soul, my own heart," and added: "In our times of world-wide spiritual weakening, this frail little man, well-nigh a child in appearance, comes forth as a miracle..."

    It was because of Blessed John's profound inner life that many who came into contact with him received not just a promise of prayer on their behalf, or wise advice, or the correct answer to some question, but they were given a precious spiritual gift-umilenye--the special Russian word for "warm and tender-hearted contrition," deeply felt and life-changing.

     And it was because of Vladika's rich, life-long inner spiritual life that Fr. Seraphim (Rose) would describe his unforgettable funeral thusly: "There was a sense of being present at the unfolding of a mystery--not just the mystery of death, for to this was added a mystery of another dimension, as it were, the mystery of holiness.'' ("Orthodox Life," No. 4, 1966)

       Finally, it was because of this "inner life" that the Serbian Bishop, the newly glorified Saint, Nicholas Velimirovich, who knew Archbishop John well, asked, Who then is this man? He answered his own question with the following:

      "I have often been put to shame before my betters, but must admit that I never felt myself so insignificant as I have in front of Vladika John, because in every virtue and in every Christian perfection he overtakes as does a rider on horseback the one on foot. I cannot reach his spiritual height!" ("Orthodox Life," No. 5, 1966)

         In what does Blessed Archbishop John's significance consist? In what way is he a special gift, a "sign," to us today? Precisely because of his inner spiritual life--the kind of life to which we have been called by the Saviour, but which is now dying out all over the world, in all of the Churches--an inner condition which is completely whole and healthy, healed of sin and bathed in forgiveness, centered not on man and his furies but on the Lord God Sabaoth and on Him Alone. Blessed John calls all of us to this same "inner life" of the spirit. He invites us to quite simply lay down all the rest.

     As St. Nicholas Velimirovich said, speaking to a little girl about Vladika John: "Those who are most holy are scarce, like gold in the sand. They do not stand out, but even conceal themselves, my daughter. The sand is the foundation, but it is the gold that glitters." ("Orthodox Life," No. 5, 1966). 

Fr. Alexey Young Editor


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