On the Coming Centenary of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR)

 Introduction: The Decisions of the June 2019 Synod of San Francisco

At the meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Church Outside Russia in San Francisco at the end of June 2019 a number of decisions were taken. Notably the title of Bishop Irenei (Steenberg) was determined as ‘of London and Western Europe’ – a striking title against the political background of Brexit. The archpastors also agreed to have a special Icon painted for the 2020 centenary of the establishment of the Church Outside Russia. The Church was founded on 7/20 November 1920, as expressed in the words of Decree No 362, issued by the holy confessor Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and the Synod in Moscow.

The hierarchs approved the text of the announcement of a competition to paint the Icon in honour of the centenary. They called on all diocesan bishops to organize celebrations and devote youth and music conferences, diocesan assemblies, clergy retreats, symposia and other events to the centenary. Finally, the Synod agreed to call a Council of Bishops on the centenary to be held in Germany. The Synod concluded with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the canonization of the ‘Abbot of the Russian Diaspora’, St John of Shanghai and San Francisco on 28 and 29 June.

Our Suggestion

It is our humble suggestion that on the anniversary all celebrate a service of thanksgiving, with special petitions of thanksgiving for the past and present and entreating God for his guidance for our Church in the future. These petitions would express the spirit of the twofold task of the Church Outside Russia at its best: a deep love for and faithfulness to the authentic Russian Orthodox Tradition, all the while witnessing and preaching before the Non-Orthodox world around us.

As regards a special Icon, we suggest the following. Let us recall how a thousand years ago, controversy surrounded the question as to who is the greatest Father: St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian or St John Chrysostom. As the question had no issue, following a vision, in the year 1084 the Church established the Feast of the Three Hierarchs on 30 January, after the January feast days of all three of them. Let us now do the same. This new Icon should specifically portray the Three New Hierarchs of the Church Outside Russia, who have all been canonized in the last generation. These are St John of Shanghai, canonized first, St Jonah of Hankou and St Seraphim of Boguchar. The Icon would show them against a world map, with, going from west to east, St John in California, St Seraphim in Bulgaria and St Jonah in China.

St John of Shanghai (Canonized in 1994)

St John of Shanghai and San Francisco, also called St John of Shanghai and Western Europe or simply St John the Wonderworker (1896-1966) was a pastor and spiritual father of high reputation and wonderworker, known for his powers of prophecy, clairvoyance and healing. He is the most international of saints, having visited every continent, except Oceania (though he had and still has many spiritual children there who had known him personally in China). The first global saint, he served in Slavonic, Chinese, French, English, Dutch and other languages.

He was born in 1896 in the village of Adamovka in the present-day Ukraine. He came from the same family – not of Serbian origin (a common myth) – as that of St John of Tobolsk. From 1907 to 1914 he attended Poltava Military School and then received a degree in law in 1918. His family took him to Belgrade in 1921, where in 1925 he graduated from University with a degree in theology.

In 1926 he became a monk and was ordained hierodeacon by Metr Antony of Kiev, who gave him the name of St John after his saintly relative. Later that same year he was ordained priest. For several years afterwards he worked as a teacher of theology and in 1929 he was appointed to teach in the seminary in Bitola. The principal of the seminary was the future St Nicholas (Velimirovich). In 1934 he was consecrated bishop by Metropolitan Antony (the last bishop he consecrated) and assigned to the Diocese of Shanghai.

In Shanghai Bishop John found an uncompleted Cathedral and an Orthodox community deeply divided for nationalistic reasons. Making contact with all the various groups, he quickly involved himself in the existing charitable institutions and personally founded an orphanage and home for the children of the poor. Here he first became known for miracles attributed to his prayers. As a public figure it was impossible for him to completely conceal his ascetic way of life. Despite his actions during the Japanese invasion, when he routinely ignored the curfew in pursuit of his pastoral activities, the Japanese authorities never harassed him. As the only Russian hierarch in China who refused to submit to the authority of Soviet atheists after the War, in 1946 he was made Archbishop of China.

When the Communists finally took power, the Russian colony was forced to flee, first to a camp on the island of Tubabao in the Philippines and then mainly to the USA and Australia. Archbishop St. John travelled personally to Washington to ensure that his people would be allowed to enter the country.

In 1951 St John was assigned to the Archdiocese of Western Europe with his see first in Paris, then in Brussels. Thanks to his work in collecting Lives of saints, several pre-Schism Western saints became known to Orthodoxy and continue to be venerated to this day. His charitable and pastoral work continued as it had in Shanghai, now among a much more widely scattered flock.

In 1962 St John was once again reassigned, this time to San Francisco, where there were apparently intractable problems. Here too he found a divided community and a Cathedral in an unfinished state. Although he completed the building of the Cathedral and brought some measure of peace to the community he became the target of slander from those who became his political and sectarian enemies. They went so far as to file a lawsuit against him for alleged mishandling of finances related to the construction of the Cathedral. He was naturally exonerated, but this lawsuit was a great cause of sorrow to him.

On 2 July (on the secular calendar) 1966 St John reposed while visiting Seattle at a time and place which he had foretold. He was entombed beneath the altar of the Cathedral he had built in San Francisco, dedicated to the Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow. In 1994, the 28th anniversary of his repose, he was canonized. His relics occupy the shrine in the Cathedral and his feast day is celebrated on the Saturday nearest to 2 July.

St Jonah of Hankou (Canonized in 1996)

St Jonah (Pokrovsky), Bishop of Hankou (1888-1925), served in Northern China in the years immediately following the Bolshevik Revolution. Born in Kaluga in Russia with the name Vladimir, he was orphaned at the age of eight and was taken in by a kindly deacon who ensured he received an education. He went on to attend, graduate and eventually teach at the Kazan Theological Academy. While a student, he became a monk of the Optina Brotherhood and was given the name Jonah.

In 1918 the Revolution forced the young hieromonk to leave Kazan. He was arrested by the atheists and suffered beatings to the point of losing consciousness and imprisonment. Thus, sharing the fate of the New Confessors of Russia, by Divine Providence Fr Jonah was freed by the White Army beyond the Ural Mountains. Fr Jonah withdrew to the borders of Western China and was subjected to all kinds of hardships while crossing the Pamirs, often forced to grab on to jagged ledges and the sparse shrubbery of the ice-covered cliffs with wounded hands. After crossing the Gobi Desert, the group finally reached Beijing, where Fr Jonah was received into the Mission there and soon consecrated Bishop of Manzhuria. (St Jonah was officially the bishop of Hankou in Hubei province, but actually worked in the town of Manzhuria, the modern day town of Manzhouli).

During his short time as bishop, St Jonah transformed the Orthodox community in Manzhuria. He established an orphanage, a school and a dining hall for the poor. He worked tirelessly for his flock and was deeply loved by them. At the end, Bishop Jonah had been caring for a priest who died of typhoid fever, but subsequently contracted chronic tonsillitis and then developed blood poisoning. As he was dying, he wrote a final epistle to his flock, reminding them of the need to love one another, confessed one final time to Archbishop Methodius of Beijing, received communion, blessed those around him. Then he put on vestments which had belonged to St Ambrose of Optina and began, loudly and with prostrations, to read the canon for the departure of the soul. Finally overcome with weakness, he lay down on his bed and said, ‘God’s will be done. Now I shall die’, and indeed within minutes he reposed.

That same evening a ten-year-old crippled boy, who had been suffering from an inflammation of the knee joints, had a dream. All medical efforts had proven fruitless. He was unable to walk or even to stand. In his dream he saw a hierarch vested in white who said, ‘Here, take my legs. I don’t need them any more. And give me yours’. He woke up and was miraculously healed. From a photograph he identified the hierarch in his dream as Bishop Jonah who had reposed that very night on 7/20 October 1925. Though his life was short, his memory endured long after his repose. His feast is on October 7/20.

St Seraphim of Boguchar (Canonized in 2016)

The future St Seraphim (Sobolev), Archbishop of Boguchar (1881-1950), is known as an ardent defender of the purity of the Orthodox Faith and Tradition, standing up for the monarchy and denouncing the Bulgakov heresy, modernism and ecumenism, and is known as a wonderworker. Before his death, he said to his spiritual children, ‘If I find boldness before the Lord, I will not leave you’. The night after his burial, he appeared in a dream to one of his spiritual sons, a monk, and said, ‘Why are you weeping? I have not died, I am alive.’

Born in Ryazan on 1 December 1881, his mother called him Nicholas. An excellent student, after attending the local parish school he entered the local seminary and in 1904 Saint Petersburg Theological Academy, during which this brilliant and already learned student became a monk, taking the name Seraphim. Fr. Seraphim taught for a year at a priest’s school in Zhitomir before being appointed assistant supervisor of the diocesan school in Kaluga. The pupils there loved Fr. Seraphim greatly. While he was still in Kaluga, he often went to the Optina Hermitage, where he visited the elders Anatoly, Barsanuphy and Joseph. Fr Anatoly treated him with special love and was his father confessor. After two and a half years, Hieromonk Seraphim was transferred to the seminary in Kostroma. In 1912, Hieromonk Seraphim was appointed rector of the seminary in Voronezh. Within a year he had so transformed the seminary that it was judged by the Synod inspector to be the best in the country.

On 1 October 1920, on the feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, in the Cathedral of Simferopol, Archimandrite Seraphim was consecrated bishop by Metr Antony of Kiev. It was a great comfort for him that on this occasion, by God’s inscrutable ways, the great sacred treasure, the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God ‘of the Sign’, was present in the Cathedral. Soon after this, to his sorrow, he had to leave his native land. He spent a short time in Constantinople before moving to Bulgaria where, in August 1921, he was appointed Director of the Russian Orthodox monastic communities there.

Living in ceaseless ascetic endeavour and difficult conditions in Bulgaria, he caught tuberculosis. Despite his serious illness he cared for his flock with fervour. He served frequently and gave sermons three times a week, calling his flock to repentance, to grace-filled reformation and to the most basic virtue – humility. Especially noteworthy were his sermons on Forgiveness Sunday, when, after his appeal, many people who had quarrelled with each other for years tearfully begged forgiveness of one another.

As an archpastor he made the rounds of the Russian parishes in the Bulgarian provinces, and visited Russian schools. His talks and his warm and loving personality left a lasting, grace-filled impression everywhere. In difficult material conditions, he also cared for poor and sick Russians. For some he arranged free hospital treatment, others he placed in homes for invalids, for some he obtained pensions, some he fed at his place, and some he settled in his monastery. Nor did he overlook destitute Russian monks on Mount Athos. He formed a committee to collect help for them and in his sermons he appealed to parishioners to donate to this holy work.

In 1934 he was given the title of archbishop. Spiritually gifted from his early years and constantly engaged in a fiery struggle with the passions, while still a relatively young bishop he attained spiritual heights. Several of his spiritual children recorded cases of his clairvoyance, which manifested itself even at great distances. For his angelic purity he received the gift to perceive the most subtle deviations from Orthodox Christian truth. He watched over Orthodox Christian life and was its conscience, as it were. Where he observed irregularity, he uncompromisingly exposed it, not fearing to suffer for the truth. As a result, he produced some priceless theological works.

H e refuted the heresy of name-worship, but his major work was the refutation of the modernist Sophianist Parisian philosopher Fr Sergius Bulgakov, for which in 1937 he received a Master’s Degree in theology. He was rushing to complete this work by a certain deadline when he fell ill with a fever. He implored the Mother of God, to whose prayerful intercession he had resorted all his life, begging her to heal him. And what happened? His temperature dropped immediately and he was able to finish his work within the allotted time.

He poured out all his love for the Saviour in his theological works, fervently defending the truths of Orthodoxy. ‘My books are my blood’, he declared. And truly he lay down his life for Christ in the struggle with heretics, sparing neither his strength nor broken health. He constantly worked at night. This upset his brother, Archimandrite Sergius, in view of his weak health. Knowing this, he wrote secretly. In the evening he would lie down and when everyone else had fallen asleep he would get up and continue writing, taking advantage of the night-time quiet, considering it his pastoral duty to defend the truth. It is not by chance that the Lord called him to the next world on the day when the holy Church celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy and its defenders, on 13/26 February, his feast-day.

The Three Temptations

The Church has always faced three temptations, both past and contemporary, but they have never been as strong as in our day. These temptations are: ritualist and sectarian nationalism (phyletism); corrupting mammonism; secularist liberalism.

Ritualist and Sectarian Nationalism (Phyletism)

The first global saint, St John was entirely international and politically free, not fanatically narrow, sectarian, racist or ritualist. He faced down the temptations of nationalist flag waving, uniting the Orthodox communities in Shanghai, Western Europe and San Francisco. He always placed Christ above any nation and people and was never influenced by any worldly political pressures, either from the Japanese Empire, the Soviet Empire or the American Empire. He was always faithful, resisting sectarianism of all sorts. He strongly disliked the ritualizing tendency of some to cut services short, reading and singing very quickly, with the result that people cannot understand the services.

Corrupting Mammonism

St Jonah transfigured Church life in Manzhuri, establishing an orphanage, a school and a dining hall for the poor. He worked tirelessly for his flock, and was deeply loved by them. We see that he was loving, he did not seek to amass money, but worked voluntarily, showing the Church to be a community, that we are saved together. He thus avoided the temptations that tempted the Church before the Revolution and today, especially perhaps, though also in many Local Churches, in contemporary Russia: the idolatry of Mammon, chasing after money, setting tariffs for every sacramental action, which so discredits the Church and repulses the people. He was utterly detached from love of money, love of ‘gold and marble’, remaining incorruptible.

Secularist Liberalism

St Seraphim was faithful to the Tradition, not modernist and ecumenist. He never suffered from the immigrant inferiority complex of conformism to this world. He was profoundly Patristic, filled with the grace that comes from ascetic life. He was not in any way afraid to stand up to heresy, as in the case of his resistance to the fantasies of Bulgakov. And at the Moscow Council of 1948 he stood up for Orthodox unity, resisting the tide of Secularism, which the Western Powers were trying to impose on the Orthodox world through the Greek-speaking Churches, notably standing up for the Orthodox calendar and also the Orthodox, not absolutist, principle of the monarchy.

Conclusion: The Three New Hierarchs

All three hierarchs expressed the Unity, Holiness, Catholicity and Apostolicity of the Church, all having the essential in common, however each having a special ‘hypostatic’ characteristic. This characteristic put them above the world and its triple temptations. St John resisted through his humility, St Jonah through his non-possession and St Seraphim through his obedience to the Tradition.  If these temptations are resisted, the Church Outside Russia will continue. If ever it forgets them, it will face extinction.

The feasts of these Three Hierarchs are evenly spaced throughout the year, approximately every four months, in February, June/July and October. We suggest that their commemoration and celebration of their Icon be introduced on 7/20 November, after their three feasts, on the anniversary of the foundation of our Church. Eventually, a special service, based on the separate services to the three saints, or an akathist, could be compiled, entitled to ‘The Three New Hierarchs’.

Holy Hierarchs John, Jonah and Seraphim, pray to God for us!

Archpriest Andrew Phillips,

Church of St John of Shanghai, Colchester, England

St Alban’s Day, 5 July 2019