St John of San Francisco
For all the Saints: John of San Francisco
Father John, then a priest-monk, met a friend on a train in Serbia, who asked where he was going. John replied, “I have to straighten out a mistake. I got a letter intended for some other John whom they want to make a bishop.” On the return journey they met again and the man asked how it went. “Even worse than I thought,” said John, “they did make me a bishop.”
Bishop John Maximovitch was born in Russia on 4 June 1896. After the revolution his family fled to Serbia where he became a monk, then a priest. He became the Bishop of Shanghai in 1934 and served in China with distinction until the Communist takeover in 1949, when he led many of his flock to safety in the Philippines. John was named Archbishop of San Francisco in 1962 and he served there until his death on 2 June 1966.
Archbishop John was a simple man of great humility and without affectation. He went barefoot in all seasons and when serving the Divine Liturgy, which he did daily. The Metropolitan, his overseer, ordered him to wear shoes after he suffered a foot infection; undaunted, he turned to sandals. His cassock was ragged and made of Chinese peasant cloth, covered with crosses embroidered by orphans he cared for in China. For his bishop’s miter he wore a simple cloth cap. As you can imagine, his appearance threw a lot of people off, especially those who want bishops to look elegant and refined. No doubt in the San Francisco of the sixties he looked like a proto-hippie. But during his lifetime, many people already saw in him something much deeper – his life in Christ that overpowered them with its depth and profundity. His prayer life was significant; he would often pray for others through the night. At his funeral, the eulogist told those who gathered that John had accomplished something thought impossible: to live an authentic Orthodox Christian spiritual life in our secular, modern, western culture. Because of his achievement, the rest of us are without excuse.
Saint John Maximovitch was declared a saint in 1996, on the thirtieth anniversary of his repose. He is buried in his Cathedral, Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco, and people beat a path to the door to be in his presence, which continues to bring healing and hope long after his earthly departure.
Published 21 July 2007