Tell the people: although I have died, I live.
St John the Wonderworker (1)
St John of Shanghai. St John of Western Europe. St John of San Francisco. We do not quite know what title to give St John - which is why many call him simply St John the Wonderworker. Wherever he went, he was ‘ours’. Whatever the dilemma faced by the Church, people all say: ‘If only Vladyka John was alive, he would know what to do’.
St John was adored by his Russians, he was loved by the Serbs. When he arrived in Shanghai in late November 1934, the first thing he did was to restore Church unity, establishing contact with Ukrainians, Serbs and Greeks (2). Wherever he went, he did something for the people around him, whether they were Chinese, Greeks, French, Dutch, English, Americans, and they returned and return his love. This was because he was not ethnically narrow and he took people into his broad, loving and compassionate heart.
That is why in Felixstowe, where we still have two parishioners who knew St John personally, we commemorate him as Archbishop in London. And that is why his icon is one of the eight icons on our iconostasis. Together with them are four of the local English saints, St Felix, St Edmund, St Audrey and St Botolph - saints he would have venerated, had he been alive today. And it is precisely of St John and of those local Western saints that we would like to speak here. For as we have said in our previous article, To the Native Orthodox of Western Europe, we are hoping that one day an Association for the veneration of these Western saints can be established under the high patronage of St John, an Association of St John. Below is the account of St John’s views and decisions regarding the veneration of the Western saints.
First of all, there is St John’s report on the Russian Emigration at the 1938 Council of Bishops of the Russian Church in Yugoslavia. Here he wrote: ‘In chastising the Russian people, the Lord also showed it the path to salvation, by making it a preacher of Orthodoxy all over the world’. However, St John himself was to go far beyond the ‘unconscious preaching of Orthodoxy’ that characterized most of the Emigration. In fact he was to become a conscious Apostle of the Western lands which, formerly enlightened by the Christian Faith, had now for centuries lain in the shadows of error.
It was in 1951 that St John was providentially appointed Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Western Europe of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Here he showed special concern for the several young movements of return to Orthodoxy. It may be said that as a direct result of his actions the first Western country to have translated all the Orthodox service books into its native language was Holland. Similarly he received and ordained others in France, Spain and elsewhere in Western Europe, giving as much encouragement as he could to them. Consequently, native Western Orthodox everywhere look to him and revere him as their protector in more difficult times.
Over fifty years ago now, one of the first actions of St John as Archbishop concerned the Western saints. This was to revive and establish the veneration of those saints whose names had not yet been included in Orthodox calendars, owing to the later apostasy of the official Western authorities. Out of his great love for all the Church’s saints, he began to collect the lives and icons or portraits of these Western saints.
A decision regarding the veneration of Western saints was taken at the Conference of Bishops of the Western European Archdiocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. This was held in Geneva on 16-17 September (Julian calendar) 1952, and was chaired by Archbishop John. The acts of this Council read as follows:
In 1950 the last Council of Bishops (of the whole Russian Church Outside Russia), discussed the question of permitting the veneration of St. Anschar (Oscar), Enlightener of Denmark and Sweden. It decreed that it should be left to local bishops to clarify the question of each local saint separately. With this as a basis, the Geneva conference took up the question. Archbishop John related briefly the Life of St Anschar, who had his See in Hamburg and Bremen. From this it is evident that there are no reasons to doubt the holiness of his life, his apostolic labours and the miracles from his relics. If the Lord Himself has glorified him, it would be brazenness on our part not to revere him as a saint. The Archbishop considers it essential to acknowledge that St. Anschar is, in reality, a saint pleasing to God, who was glorified by the Orthodox Church in the West before it fell away into Catholicism. Therefore he should be glorified equally with other saints. His memory is celebrated on 3 February (+ 865). The name of St. ANSCHAR should henceforth be introduced into church calendars as a bishop of the Church.
There are a number of other saints in the West who should likewise he glorified equally with those saints who have been glorified by the Orthodox Church in the East, since their veneration was established in antiquity. Among such saints (3) are:
1 . St. VICTOR of Marseilles, Martyr, + 304. Feast: 21 July.
2. St. POTHINUS, predecessor of St. lrenaeus as Bishop of Lyons. Martyr, + 177. Feast: 2 June.
3. Martyrs of Lyons:
Sts. ALEXANDER. Feast: 24 April.
St EPIPODIUS. Feast: 22 April.
St. BLANDINA and others. Martyred with St. Pothinus in 177. Feast: 2 June.
4. St. FELlCIAN, Bishop of Foligno in Umbria, Italy. Martyred 252. Feast: 24 Jan.
5. St. GENEVIEVE, + 512, Patroness of Paris who saved France from German conquest in 1914. Feast: 3 January.
6. St. GERMANUS of Auxerre, + 448. Feast: 31 July.
7. St. LUPUS of Troyes, + 479, Bishop of Troyes for 52 years. Feast: 29 July.
8. St. GERMANUS of Paris, + 576. Feast: 28 May.
9. St. CLOUD (Clodoald), + 560, 7 September.
10. Preachers in Ireland, then in France. Switzerland, Italy, etc.:
St. COLUMBAN + 615, founder of monasteries in France and Italy. Feast: 21 November.
St. FRIDOLIN, + 7th century, monk in France and Switzerland. Feast: 6 March.
St. GALL, hermit in Switzerland, + 646. Feast: 16 October.
11. St. CLOTILDE, Queen, + 545. Feast: 3 June.
12. St. HILARY Of POITIERS, Church Father, Bishop and Confessor; led the battle against Arianism in the West, + 368. Feast: 13 January.
13. St. HONORATUS of Lerins, founder of the Monastery of Lerins, then Archbishop of Arles, + 429. Feast: 16 January.
14. St. VINCENT of Lerins, Church Father, author of the Commonitorium, + c. 450. Feast: 24 May.
15. St. PATRICK, Enlightener of Ireland, Bishop and Confessor, + c 461,. Feast: 17 March.
The following decision was taken concerning the veneration of the Western saints:
Revering the memory of the saints who have pleased God, and finding in the places of our Diaspora missionaries and ascetics of antiquity, whose names were not known to us, we glorify the Lord, wondrous in His saints. We venerate those who have pleased Him, extolling their sufferings and ascetic labours and call upon them to be our intercessors and intermediaries with God. In view of this we establish that the above-named righteous ones be revered by the entire Orthodox Church, and we call upon pastors and flocks to revere these saints and to hasten to their intercession in prayer.
O lover of the saints of the East and the West, thou didst restore to the Orthodox Church the saints of the West, which had fallen away. Now with them thou prayest to God for us, as we on earth cry out to God: Alleluia
Akathist Hymn to St John, Kontakion 7
1) The dream of M. A. Shakhmatova, as related in Blessed John, P.55, Platina, 1979. We are indebted to this pre-canonization publication for the text of the conciliar decisions which forms the basis of this article.
2) Blessed John, P.38
3) The list of 1952 given here should be understood as a provisional and very incomplete one.