St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966)

The future Saint John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco, when he was still known to the world as Archbishop John (Maximovich), served from 1953 – 1962 as Archbishop of Brussels and Western Europe, the Ruling Bishop of our Diocese and responsible for all its parishes both in continental Europe and in Great Britain and Ireland.

Michael Maximovich, later to be glorified before the whole world as St John the Wonderworker, was born in Adamovka in the Kharkov Governorate, to an aristocratic family of Serbian origin. From 1907 to 1914 Michael attended cadet school in Poltava and then he studied law at Kharkov University, graduating in 1918. Following the revolution in Russia, he was evacuated with his family to Yugoslavia, where he studied at Belgrade University, graduating in 1925. In 1926 Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory, the first First Hierarch of the Church Abroad, tonsured him as a monk, giving him the name ‘John’ after his ancestor, Saint John of Tobolsk. Monk John was soon ordained as a Priest. Fr John thereafter taught at various schools and, from 1929, at the seminary in Bitol. In 1934, Metropolitan Anthony consecrated him as Bishop of Shanghai.

In Shanghai Bishop John quickly involved himself in the charity work for which he would be known throughout his life and beyond. He personally founded an orphanage, which in the course of history has become famous as a signpost of his love and work in the Diaspora. It was also in Shanghai that Bishop John first became known for miracles attributed to his life and prayer — the attribute that would gain him the title ‘Wonderworker’ when he was canonised by the Church.

In 1946, as the only Russian Orthodox hierarch in China who refused to submit to the authority of Soviet-dominated authorities seeking control of the Church, Bishop John was elevated to become Archbishop of China. Yet in 1949, Archbishop John had no choice but to leave Shanghai upon its being overtaken by revolutionary factions; and he did so with some 5,000 refugees, just days before the city was fully occupied by the Communists. The Russian colony, refugees from the Soviet terror, once again was forced to flee, first to a refugee camp on the Philippine island of Tubabao, and thence to outposts of the Diaspora in the United States, Australia, Argentina and other parts of the world. Archbishop John himself travelled to Washington, D.C. to ensure that his people would be allowed to enter the USA.

Archbishop John’s archpastoral service as the Ruling Bishop of our Diocese began in 1951, when the Holy Synod of Bishops assigned him to the Diocese of Western Europe, with the cathedra of his see first in Paris and then in Brussels. As Archbishop in Western Europe, Vladyka John also had spiritual oversight of the Diocese in the United Kingdom, where the then-Bishop Nikodem (Nagaieff) was a Vicar Bishop of the Western European Diocese (later to become Archbishop of Richmond and Great Britain). Archbishop John is best remembered in the UK for the fact that in 1959 he consecrated the old Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God at Emperor’s Gate, London. In Western Europe Archbishop John continued in the spirit of pastoral and charitable works for which he had become so known and revered in Shanghai, despite his flock being so widespread — the territory of the Western European Diocese being expansive. Above all else, Archbishop John was concerned with missionary work and brought particular life to the Church’s presence in Dutch and French communities.

After the death of Archbishop Tikhon (Troitsky) in 1963, who had governed the Western American Diocese, Archbishop John was called by the Holy Synod to return to the USA to take up that diocese, in need of his archpastoral oversight. There he became Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America, in which role he served until his repose, three years later, on 20th June / 2nd July 1966, in Seattle. His repose had been foretold by St John himself, taking place on the day of the commemoration of St Jude, the brother of the Lord, while bringing the wonder-working Kursk-root Icon of the Theotokos to the northern parts of his diocese.

For the next several decades the resting place of the Archbishop was in the crypt beneath the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin in San Francisco, the construction of which Archbishop John had himself been instrumental in bringing about. The great veneration in which he was already held in his lifetime continued after his repose, indeed growing as the wonderworking power of his prayer continued to manifest itself long after his death. Archbishop John had in life been, in the true sense, an ascetic, his whole life spent in contemplation, fasting and prayer. He was a monk, a pastor, a profound theologian and diligent administrator of Church affairs, a holy hierarch and a miracle-worker, as well as a highly educated man and an aristocrat — manifestly one of the greatest hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. And so it was the he was glorified as a saint in 1994, shortly after his precious relics were found to be incorrupt. The celebration of his glorification was one of the most joyful occasions of the Orthodox Diaspora in the twentieth century, during which his relics were transferred into a shrine in the main Cathedral; and the glorious memory of St John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco is revered today throughout the whole Orthodox world. But there remains a special veneration for him in the Diocese of Great Britain and Western Europe, where for nearly twelve years the great saint of God served as our Ruling Bishop, and where the imprint of his archpastoral love remains everywhere enshrined in Diocesan and parochial life.

St John’s principal feast day is celebrated on the Saturday nearest to 2nd July (the day of his repose), with a secondary feast on 12th October.