There are so many saints who even now walk the Russian land and also martyrs who were not killed but cruelly tortured; they still walk the land and a martyric light shines in their eyes. Sometimes that martyrdom is on-going, not necessarily ending in a terrible death but is a slow death over the course of one’s life. These are the pastors which you meet now in Russia in the Russian Church; inside and outside of churches you see a batushka who is rushing to the hospital with the Holy Gifts in order to comfort someone who is dying, in order to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. For what does it mean to prepare for the Kingdom of God? What a huge responsibility lays on that pastor, that martyr, because every hour, every minute, every breath of his he gives to the one who needs him. And this is how the one was whom I cannot forget, who gave me life, who snatched me out of the terror of this world and directed me according to the path intended by Christ the Savior, according to His plan, disregarding all my unworthiness…
I had been introduced to the administrative-command system [i.e., bureaucracy] very early in my life. I then met it also during the war and after the war in its variations: both Hitler’s and the opposite. But I had already had my vaccinations in childhood. You know how vaccines were given; and so I had good vaccinations… But, nevertheless, all of it could have ended very, very sadly if the Lord hadn’t have arranged it so that Fr. John turned out in my path. It was when I entered into the gymnasium, our middle school in Belgrade. As my parents remained in the village, where my father was in charge of farming on an estate which the Serbian government seized from a Hungarian magnate who emigrated during the First World War, I was placed in a boarding-school and we, in distinction from other students, were called boarding-schoolers. But this boarding-school, of course, for me, with my already established complex in my soul, was a difficult place. And this was evident. Fr. John most likely also noticed it. For the first time in my life I saw a man with they very kind eyes of a big child. He was even younger than me in that sense, a smaller child. Immediately a common, children’s language was established with him, although he was, of course, not just a child. He was that one about which the Savior said, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3), and for of such is the kingdom of God (Mark 10:14).
He took into his hands all my life, from that first blessed, holy moment right up to the very end when, after his death, he came to me. I don’t know if that was in sleep, in half-sleep, or in wakefulness but I only remember how, in early morning (this was in London), I was already a priest but still young, suddenly he…someone hit me in the side rather firmly. I woke up or threw my head up, I don’t know which. I see Vladika standing there (at that time he was already Vladyka John) looking at me with the very same kind eyes but strictly tells me, “Get up, go serve the liturgy right now!” I jumped up and went and served liturgy alone in my little home Church of the Cross just like he served all his life. He served liturgy everyday always starting alone. But always, almost always someone came to liturgy. But if no one came then he himself would say that angels and saints had been there. In any case, the liturgy is never in isolation, it can not be in isolation. Liturgy was his life, he lived by it and in it. It was his cover and protection.
In general, our lives passed in such a way that I met him in the very beginning when he was waiting for some documents and was being transferred from one place to another in Belgrade. And then, it was still in my childhood, that he gathered us around him and there was something wonderful in it. When he narrated to us children all that he could from Holy Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Holy Fathers, he spoke in such a children’s language so that we understood everything. Not only things from the lives of saints but sometimes also just from live. This was always very interesting, although he was not an orator, spoke indistinctly, and one had to pay attention well to understand what word came out. But he generally was someone completely special. There was something blessed about him; he really was a fool-for-Christ but in a very good sense of the word, so simple and direct like a child. He just said it like it was. And so we met when the Lord granted us to meet. Very soon he was made bishop of Shanghai in that city. This was in the Russian Church Abroad which had their own parishes, churches, and eparchies, literally, throughout the world. After he ended up there, only very rarely did a letter from him come. When he found out that I was planning on getting married, he wrote a very touching pastoral letter about this and what kind of path it is.
Our next meeting was already after the war. I was, actually, in a Serbian parish; not one of my parishioners left at all because that was their homeland, it was their village and they lived there. For them, paradoxically, the arrival of the Soviet Army (at that time it was still called the Red Army) was liberation and truly was liberation from those who conquered them, the Germans who occupied their land and did unbelievable crimes. Well, how could a pastor leave such a flock? Of course the conditions were different for the White Russian emigres and for those simple Serbian peasants. But if I was the pastor of that flock then I had to stay with it. And I remember how I read the Gospel just in that place where it says But he that is an hireling…seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep…and scattereth the sheep. …the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep (John 10: 12, 11).
For me it was a very pointed question. I knew well that the Serbian Church had already established eucharistic communion, that is, communion in liturgical service and in Holy Communion, with the Russian Orthodox Church and as soon as complete liberation came there would be established complete communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. But all my family and all of that White emigration, as is well known, was in the Russian Church Abroad. By request of the Serbian Church I was ordained into the priesthood by Metropolitan Anastassy who was the head of the Russian Church Abroad. And although I immediately went to a Serbian parish, nevertheless, ordination is ordination and I felt, in that sense, that I was mysteriously, in the very depths of the mystery of the priesthood, connected to the Church in which were my parents, my brothers and sisters, and all my family. Therefore, here was, of course, an issue for me because I knew what the theory was of those of the Church Abroad in relation to the Moscow Patriarchate after the declaration of Metropolitan Sergei on loyalty to the Soviet power. This was all, of course, on a political foundation but, nevertheless, there was something spiritual in it also. And, therefore, this question was very pointed for me: I knew that, remaining with my flock, which was directly according to the command of Christ in the Gospel, I was, by that fact, actually going from communion with the Church Abroad into direct communion with the Russian Patriarchal Church, the Moscow Patriarchate. When I decided that question for myself, I understood that it was a fundamental issue about the fact that the Divine Grace of the Eucharist, that is, Holy Communion, is higher than Church jurisdictions, that is, being subject to this or that Synod, Council, or bishop. And, having stood on that path, I did not step off it at any time because the Church was higher for me than earthly paths. The Divine nature of the Church, expressed in the hierarchy and in the Mysteries, was higher for me than the human nature of the Church, which can sometimes be mistaken.
I thought that I would just remain forever cut off from my parents, behind the Iron Curtain, and never see them again. But then I suddenly travelled to Paris, after they let me out of a Yugoslavian communist prison and, you could say, “advised” me to leave Yugoslavia (this was after Tito had argued with Stalin), and from the Paris train station went where? To the Russian Church Abroad where I was asked to serve. And the first thing that I said after our first meeting and mutual tears, I said directly and openly to Vladyka John that I cannot, according to my conscience, throw stones, as many in the emigration did, into the Russian Orthodox Church, its Patriarch, and hierarchs. Do you know what he said to me? He said, “Everyday during Proskomedia I commemorate Patriarch Alexey. He’s Patriarch. And our prayers, all the same, remain. Owing to circumstances we ended up separated but liturgically we are one. The Russian Church, as with the whole Orthodox Church, is eucharistically united and we are with Her and in Her. Administratively, for the sake of our flock and well-known principles, we have had to act in that way but that in no way breaks our mystical unity of the whole Church. Therefore, being a Serbian cleric, you can serve where you want, of course, in canonical Churches, so come and serve with me.” And such, according to his holiness and his truly blessed vision, the unforgettable Vladyka John (Maximovich) treated me.
We returned to Paris from London where we had traveled for two months in the summer to meet with my sister who lived there at the time, as well as many relatives and friends. And my matushka, my now deceased wife, fell ill. Something unclear happened, she had a terrible pain in her hip, she was not able to walk, she was not able to move, and we barely brought her there, to the school, where we lived in Versailles and immediately called a French doctor. The French doctor looked her over for a long time, shook his head, took me to the side, and said, “You’re going to have to get used to the idea that she will not be able to walk anymore. You will have to buy her a special chair on wheels. And this is for the rest of her life. But, in any case, we’ll send her to the hospital for a full and complete exam.” Well, can you imagine, after all the trials, which we had already had, after my being in prison, after all the difficulties that my deceased wife had, can you imagine that?
Vladyka John at that time was away. When he arrived and found out about it, he immediately called me and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll come tomorrow and commune her. Then you can take her to the hospital.” He served liturgy alone; I was with my wife at the time. After liturgy (this was the school-house church), completely vested, came with the chalice. With the chalice, from liturgy he came, just so. He stopped at the doors and says, “Maria, get up! Come and commune.” And she suddenly stood and went. He asks, “Does it hurt?” “No.” “Well, now commune.” “You’ve communed? Now go and lie down again.” She laid down. It was as if in a dream. He left to consume the Holy Gifts back in the church and I remained with her. She says to me, “The pain has left. I don’t feel anything.” But, nevertheless, in the afternoon the ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She was there for a few days and then they sent her back with a note from the doctor: “Why did you sent her to us? She is completely healthy and has nothing at all.” What it was, how it was, only God knows. I’m only saying that it was. [The preceding is a slightly longer version of the miracle about which Felix Culpa recently posted.]
After that, we stayed for a little more time with Vladyka John there in that school, with those children, in that church. I served there with Vladyka and it was an unforgettable time. And at the time when we traveled to London to meet with relatives I also met there with, we’ll say, one of the great fruits of the Church, Serbian Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic. I could also say a lot about him but at present I’ll just say that we met with him and he just gave me an obedience: “come here to London, we need a Serbian priest and you are one, although you’re Russian you’re also Serbian; you know Serbian, so come.” We had been acquainted with him already for a long time in Yugoslavia. And, well, I said that to Vladyka John (he revered Vladyka Nikolaj very much, knew him closely, and served in his eparchy in Yugoslavia). And Nikolaj about him, about Vladyka John said, “Here walks on the earth a living saint.” Well, those two saints, so to say, collaborated, met, and both decided that I needed to be in the London Serbian Church and I went there. And I remember how we departed. How Vladyka John stood and saw how we left in a taxi and he made the sign of the cross with both hands, non-stop, until we had gotten to the end of the road. Such is how I see him now with his tender smile, with his astounding glance, child-like, loving, and fatherly, and blessing us on our new path.
After some time in London suddenly there was a phone call. Vladyka John was calling, “I’m here, in London, come and serve with me!” And I straight away went. At that time he was the head of all the Church Abroad parishes in Western Europe, including London, while I at that time had met and formed a good friendship with my new spiritual father, Vladyka Anthony of Sourozh, who is even now in London. I served permanently with him. And there, of course, (it was a Patriarchal Church) we commemorated Patriarch Alexey. That in no way hindered Vladyka John from inviting me to serve in London in the opposite, so to say, Church. My friend and spiritual father did not prohibit this. Vladyka John even rejoiced in it, and Vladyka Anthony did as well. So, through me, a sinner, at that time, there was complete peace and love between both Churches, which officially were in discord. The saints sometimes perform just such type of miracles.
The next meeting happened there, in that very apartment in London, when he appeared to me after his death and returned me, in the full sense of the words, to the liturgical path. As there were trials and temptations at that moment and he knew it, he had to, you could even say, coarsely wake me up, jab me under the rib and say, “Go and serve the liturgy!” And I went and served. Well, Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16).
Перевод: Яков Александр Ручьёв