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Πέμπτη, 29 Ιουλίου 2021

HOW THE RELICS OF ST. JOHN OF SAN FRANCISCO WERE OPENED

 


..,,,It was Vladyka Anthony who succeeded St. John in the San Francisco Diocese, and he became the main inspirer for his glorification. He did all the preparatory work for his glorification and composed the majority of the service to St. John.

 

Under his guidance, on the evening of September 17/30, 1993, on the day of the holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, and Love, and their mother Sophia, we went to St. John’s sepulcher. There were five of us: Vladyka Anthony, Protodeacon Nikolai Porshnikov, Reader Vladimir Krasovsky, the sepulcher caretaker Boris Mikhailovich Troyan, and myself. We had to carry out the preparatory work for opening his relics: checking how to open the sarcophagus and what state his coffin was in. I think Vladyka Anthony took me, an unremarkable priest, as a technician who could be responsible for the technical side of this holy work.

 

Vladyka Anthony served a litiya, we read the prayer for before a good work, and received an archpastoral blessing. I well remember with what trepidation we did our examination. We removed the heavy lid of the sarcophagus, weighing about 400 pounds, and saw the saint’s mantia draped over it. It looked like new. There was no smell of corruption.

 

Under his mantia was the old metal coffin. It was rusted in several places, and I was blessed to prepare a new pinewood coffin. By God’s grace, I also helped with the woodcarving for the saint’s future reliquary and canopy in the cathedral. After the inspection, we closed the sarcophagus.

 

 

 

We have no other help…

 

The next step was the actual opening of the precious relics, which happened ten days later, on the day of St. Chariton the Confessor. Archbishop Laurus (1928-2008) came, the future Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, the First Hierarch of ROCOR. Altogether, three hierarchs, seven priests, three deacons, one reader, and one layman took part in the opening of the holy relics.

 

We prepared for this holy work with fear and trembling. We fasted, prayed, and communed. After Vespers and Matins in the cathedral, we went down into the sepulcher and took turns reading the Gospel. At nine in the evening we served a panikhida. Then Vladyka Anthony made a prostration, asked everyone for forgiveness, and called us, as participants in this holy work, to be reconciled with everyone.

 

We sang, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us,” and removed the lid of the sarcophagus. Hieromonk Peter (Lukianov), who came from Holy Trinity Monastery (Jordanville), now Archbishop of Chicago and Mid-America, and took out the key he’d been holding on to for twenty-seven years after the blessed repose of St. John. I should note that Fr. Peter was born in a family that came together with St. John from Shanghai. He was an altar boy for St. John and accompanied him on trips.

 

Fr. Peter tried to open the coffin, but the lock was rusty and wouldn’t budge. I tried to work on the rusty lock, and it started to crumble in my hands. But at the same time, the coffin lid opened a little.

 

Then Vladyka Anthony stopped us—he didn’t want us to do this holy deed by force. He started praying to the Most Holy Theotokos, singing:

 

“We have no other help, we have no other hope, but thee, O Lady. Help us, for in thee do we hope, and of thee do we boast, for we are thy servants. Let us not be put to shame.”

 

Then the coffin lid opened the whole way.

 

We came to a dead stop in complete silence, afraid to breathe. Vladyka Anthony read Psalm 50, lifted the aer, and we tremblingly beheld the incorrupt face of St. John of Shanghai, the Wonderworker of San Francisco.

 

We felt an inexplicable joy. When they lifted St. John up to revest him, I was standing right across from him and I saw how a smile appeared on his face. I rarely talk about it. This might even be the first time. As I recall it now, I’m reliving the trepidation, the tender emotion, and deep reverence that I experienced then: a wonderful world of thoughts; the tranquility of all spiritual powers; spiritual joy.

 

I very acutely felt then that what the Church says through the mouths of our righteous ones is all true. The afterlife truly exists! The Church on Earth is militant, and the Church in Heaven—triumphant! We are soldiers here on Earth, fighting for spiritual truth, and everything that surrounds us is the sea of life…

 

Then we cleared the sarcophagus and holy relics of the rusty dust and dirt that was poured into the coffin twenty-seven years prior, at the end of the funeral service. We carefully transferred the holy relics to a new coffin. We all wanted to just stand in the sepulcher and pray, and nothing else—such a high moment in the acutely-felt presence of the grace of God. Then we placed the new coffin with the holy relics into the tomb, sang the troparion to the saint, served a litiya, and were anointed with oil from the perpetually-burning lampada.

 

Finally, we parted, thanking the Lord for His mercy and realizing that we just had perhaps the most precious, most moving spiritual experience of our lives.

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