Living places of Saint John Maximovitch (+1966)



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Reminiscences of his Spiritual Daughter

by Zinaida V. Julem

The period of Blessed John’s life in France has so far been rather obscure, and not much information about it has been available. A devoted spiritual daughter of his, the author of these memoirs, Zinaida V. Julem, fills in this gap, giving us a view from the “inside” and disclosing the mystical world of perhaps the holiest man of the 20th-century. Surely a prophet of such calibre could not get by without evoking envy and hatred, just as did the prophets of old. But to conceal this righteous man from the view of the thirsting new generation would be a sin, because the glory of God, revealed in the lives of the righteous, serves to enkindle that divine fire which Christ our Lord wishes to have burning upon this earth. (St. Luke 12:49).

In anticipation of the forthcoming 20th anniversary of Blessed John’s repose, which will occur on June 19/July 2, 1986, we here present a spiritual portrait of this wonderworker who once walked among us. This account comes from a simple loving heart, guarded by the Patristic awareness of sobriety. Realizing that Blessed John was touched by Divinity and was in contact with the mind of his Creator, the author was able to peer into the mystery of his sanctity. Although her observations only give us glimpses, they offer clear testimony to the close presence of the other world for which the Holy Orthodox Church prepares its children, and to the ability of God’s saints to penetrate that realm even while on earth. That mystery, that revelation beyond our glimpses, remains hidden in God. It is opened to those who, like Blessed John, ascend on the wings of divine love for God and their neighbor. And those of us who watch from below are given renewed hope and the inspiration to increase our upward striving.

Abbot Herman of Platina



from THE ORTHODOX WORD, No. 189, pp. 176-181


There were always wars in China. The Chinese had large families with many children, and there was very little to eat. To save on food, they would get rid of newborns, placing them out on the street to freeze to death. Vladika John would pick them up and bring them to the orphanage. On these outings, the deacon of the cathedral would follow him in order to help and protect him. Once Vladika said to this deacon about a child, “Pick him up.” The deacon objected, “But he’s Chinese.” “But he is made in the image of God,” said Vladika. 

Thus the orphanage grew. Vladika John asked my mother Lydia to help in the orphanage. She was not able to, since she already had six children of her own, but she said, “I will help in other ways.” She went to the orphanage asking what she could do, and was told, “We need to feed them.” She said, “I will take Wednesdays and Fridays.” So she would go on her bicycle to the market with me beside her on another bicycle, and we would load her bicycle with food to take it to the orphanage. On the assigned days, our family was entirely focused on helping the orphanage. That was how the orphanage was supported: by various families in the parish helping out. 

The orphanage was always very busy. New orphans were coming all the time. All of them would come to the Saturday-night Vigil and would stand together.


My father, a seminary graduate, read and sang in church, and my brothers served in the altar. All of them were close to Vladika John. Vladika would say after the service, “Come, let us see if there is something,” and he would treat them to some food. If someone misbehaved before leaving church, he had to make prostrations. Vladika would be there and would count the prostrations, which were done before the feast-day icon. Since my whole family walked to church together, we would have to wait while my brothers made their prostrations. Vladika would explain to them what they had done, how they had offended God. Then, after the prostrations, he would smile and stroke their heads–and what a smile! Then we would go. Whenever my father would ask what they had done, Vladika would say, “It’s all forgiven.”

He had so much on his mind. At night he received phone calls all the time. He always remembered the age, character and personality of the boys. Once he had a discussion with my brothers and others. “We are strong, we can take care of that,” they said about something or other. “I can take on two or three of you!” Vladika said, challenging them. They didn’t believe him. In his kellia, Vladika took off his cross and podrasnik (cassock) and said, “Let’s go!” and he wrestled all over the kellia.


Once on my name day, I came to church, received Holy Communion, and after the service went to kiss the cross. Vladika said to me, “Do you know the meaning of your name?” (At that time, my name was Ludmila.) “‘Ludi’ means ‘people,’ and ‘mile’ means ‘kind and gentle..’ So be kind and gentle to all people.” This stayed with me all my life.

I always had the feeling that Vladika knew exactly what was going on. Once I had a burden on my heart: maybe it had something to do with school. That evening, all through the service I secretly prayed to the Mother of God about my problem. When I came to kiss the cross after the service, Vladika said, “Your prayers will be answered.” It had been revealed to him.

In church, my father was coming to receive the blessing at the end of the service, when a gentleman came up just before him. He handed Vladika an envelope and said something, and Vladika blessed him and thanked him. The man departed, then my father came up, and then another family; and Vladika gave the envelope unopened to this family. The man who had given it saw what had happened and was concerned, because he had not told Vladika how much money was in the envelope, and it was a huge sum. He immediately went up to Vladika, thinking that Vladika had unknowingly given away such a large amount. But Vladika paid no heed. “I know,” he said. “That family needs it.”


Vladika John’s cathedral in Shanghai was dedicated to the Icon of the Theotokos, Surety of Sinners. There Vladika held an Akathist service once a week, on a weekday. One Sunday, after my mother kissed the cross at the end of the service, Vladika said to her, “I’ll see you at the Akathist.” Mother said, “Father and the children will come, but not me, I have nosebleeds.” These nosebleeds would come at certain times and were extreme. Mother suffered greatly from them. Vladika blessed her and said, “Lydia, that was the last time you’ll have a nosebleed.” She came to the Akathist; but, doubting what he said, she brought with her a big towel, just in case. But she didn’t need it and never had another nosebleed.

2) Shanghai was humid and hot. Sometimes Mother and Father would take us children to Tientsin in the mountains for a short vacation. There was a Russian church there, and my family never missed a service. In fact, we would not vacation in a town where there was not a Russian church. Sometimes Father would have to stay at home and miss the vacation, but this year he went. Mother fell ill in Tientsini she had typhoid. We felt maybe we would lose her. Father called Vladika John and told him that Mother was very ill, thinking he might have to bury her there in Tientsin. Vladika consoled him, saying “You will all be back, and the children will soon return to school.” He even mentioned the date. “She will be well,” he said. I remember that that night, Mother had a fever of 42 degrees C and was delirious, and we tried to keep her comfortable. Father came home later after talking to Vladika, and after that she began coming to. She had a bad night but pulled through.


There was another incident in which our family suffered in China. Since our family lived in the French sector of the city, we attended the French school along with many other Russians. French came easily to us. Some of the Russian students excelled, higher than some of the French students, and the French teachers praised the Russian children for this and tried to encourage the French to do better. This created friction. Sometimes there were fights. Nothing drastic: a little cheating while playing marbles, for instance. Instead of the children saying, “I’m sorry,” there were insults.

My older brother, Eugene, was very good at soccer. Somehow, the French boys wanted to belittle him, so they said, “The Russians think they can do anything.” Eugene said, “Yes!” They wanted to find something he couldn’t do, so as to put him in his place. “Eugene,” they said, “we have something you cannot do. Swallow a razor blade!” “Yes, I can,” he said, “but you have to give me time.” “When?” “Tomorrow.” Eugene went home, took his father’s razor blade and started practicing. He learned to chew the fine steel into sand. “So, I can do it,” he said. The next day, they gathered on the recreation field. “Here is the razor blade.” He chewed it up in the way he had practiced, swallowed it, and washed it down with water. The kids got very scared, and ran and told everyone. The school wrote a note to tell my parents, and sent Eugene home with it; and I followed. The most difficult thing for him was to face our parents. He said to Mother, “I’ve done it before.” Mother called the doctor, who at first did not believe he had done it. Then the doctor became concerned. “If even a little piece sticks into the intestine, death will occur.” For three days they waited. Mother turned completely gray during those few days. The doctor said, “I will send opium, to help with death.” That petrified my mother. “What will we do?” she asked my father. “You follow the doctor’s directions,” he said. Then he called Vladika John, and Vladika prayed, and assured him that Eugene would be alright.The pieces in Eugene came out without harming him.

At another time, Vladika saved me by his prayers. Once father bought a piece of leather and made shoes with it. He pounded the nails, and I was right next to him. While he pounded, he held the nails in his mouth. I copied him, but somehow swallowed one. Vladika John prayed, and I was all right. This time the doctor also felt it was a miracle.


I was still young when Matushka Rufina, the Abbess of the Convent of the Vladimir Mother of God in Shanghai, passed away. She was dressed as a nun in the coffin. The little orphan girls were in blue, with white headcoverings. Vladika served, and Matushka Ariadna, the successor of Abbess Rufina, took care of everything. Vladika loved that convent so much. He would serve there on the feast days, and we would also go since my brothers would serve as acolytes with Vladika. Matushka Ariadna would bring the novices and little girls to the cathedral.


Vladika wore sandals; I never saw him barefoot. But he wore sandals in all weather. In the fall there were typhoons, and the water would gather in the streets where there was no sewage system. Vladika would walk with the water and sewage up to his knees. He refused to use the rickshaws which were all over Shanghai, because he said it was not right to make human beings, made in the image of God, serve as beasts of burden. Interestingly, these rickshaws disappeared after that.

It was very difficult when the time came to leave Shanghai. But we had Vladika John. When the communists came, everyone had to leave; all the consulates were closing. Russian immigrants had no country to go to; they were stateless, so they would have to endure whatever happened in Shanghai. When the Synod said that Vladika had to leave, that he was being transferred, he said, “What about my flock? I will not leave without my flock.” They went to the Philippines, where they lived in tents; the largest tent was the church. He went straight to the White House to obtain special permission for them to come to the United States. He pleaded there, speaking in Congress, and was granted his request.

Many years later, when my younger brother Nikita went to Moscow for a year as an exchange teacher, taking with him his wife and family, Vladika blessed him, embraced him and said, “I will not see you again.” And it was so.


Vladika John would point out that you cannot teach something if you do not have it yourself. He fulfilled the commandments that he taught. Always he read and reread the Lives of Saints. They are living examples, he would say, of people who were like us. Perhaps some were even greater sinners than us and had even more weaknesses than we do, but they still made it. Therefore he had the right to demand of us what he did.

He was attacked and persecuted because he was a saint, but he returned good for evil. We saw him do it.

It is hard for me to imagine that this great saint is the same man who used to stroke my head.


Archbishop John Maximovitch


Netherlands Orthodox Church

Archbishop John is honored as the Founder of the Netherlands Orthodox Church, and the first Life of him to appear after his death was in the Dutch- language periodical of this Church (their article that follows appeared in the same issue).

Later, the major Life to date of Vladika (The Orthodox Word, Nov.-Dec., 1966) was translated in full into Dutch and printed in the same organ. The veneration and love of the Orthodox Dutch for Vladika was summed up in Bishop Jacob’s Foreword to their Life of him: “I have no spiritual father any more and shall indeed find no other, certainly not one like him, who from up in the middle of the night to say: Go to sleep now, what you are asking of God will certainly be all right. Vladika, thank you for everything, and remember us, your Dutch Church, at the Throne of God.”

VLADIKA JOHN, nicknamed Shanghaisky, was a person of the type one longs to meet, even if it is only for once in a lifetime. When then such a meeting has become reality, the remembrance remains unforgettable. He was literally a unique personality, completely his own type, because many characteristics, in themselves already rare, were united in him to an exceptional degree. 

Still ever do I see before me how he came to look us up in our church about fifteen years ago. To the eye he made no great impression: small, a dumpy figure, an irregular face in a mess of tangled head- and beard-hairs. A serious speech impediment made him extremely difficult to understand, even though he spoke German, French, and English. But he did not say much. Very calm, without taking any notice of the people who were waiting for him, he inspected the whole church. He went to kiss the altar and looked in detail at and into everything that was on it. After 3PM he studied by one the surrounding icons and the books, the printed as well as the handwritten ones. After a full hour he made his departure: he had wanted to make acquaintance with the Dutch priests, and when we had difficulties we had only to make our way to him.

A year later we indeed had serious ecclesiastical difficulties.. After having for a long time made fruitless attempts in various directions, we decided to hazard a chance with him also. That was the beginning of a long and friendly relationship that has been full of blessing, both for us personally and for the Netherlands Church, which he then took under his omophorion. For with him this meant that he really took us under his protection as well, and he generously defended us against all the attacks which from lack of understanding and sometimes even out of ill-will were leveled at the young and vulnerable community.

In this way we also received the opportunity of learning to know him better, including his unbelievable way of life. For he often came visiting, and during his visitations of the Russian Church in the Netherlands he always used to stay with us in she monastery, where he felt completely at home. Furthermore, we were repeatedly with him in France, in the monastery of Lesna or in his room at the Russian Cadet Corps in Versailles.

What struck one first of all was his unbelievably strict asceticism. It was as if a desert saint out of the first centuries had come to life again. Never did he go to bed; he even possessed no bed. On some occasions, during heavy illness, he was nursed somewhere else. He slept in short snatches, sometimes for a few minutes while standing praying, at night for a few hours sitting upright in a chair and–very disturbing for many-for a few minutes also during a conversation which did not interest him, but of which he nevertheless never lost the thread of the discussion. He used to walls barefoot, even over the sharp gravel of the park at Versailles. Later this was forbidden him by the Metropolitan, after serious blood-poisoning through a piece of glass. He took only one meal a day, towards midnight — at least when that was looked after for him; otherwise he omitted that also.

But still much more impressive was the living example of his prayer. He celebrated the Divine Liturgy daily, however few people there were present. At this service he took much time over the preparation of the Gifts. The diskos was full to overflowing because of the many commemorations. From every pocket he pulled out pieces of paper with names, and every day new ones were added out of letters from all parts of the world in which people asked for his prayers, especially for the sick. In addition, be kept a sharp image in his memory of each of the many people whom he had met in his active life. He knew and understood their needs and that was already a comfort. At the Great Entrance with the Gifts he began again, with the commemorations that had been sent inside to him in the meantime, so that the choir sometimes had to repeat the Cherubikon three times. After the Divine Liturgy be was still for hours in the church. With minute care he cleansed the chalice and disk, the table of preparation and the altar. At the same time he ate some prosphora and drank much hot water.

He did the different Hours of Prayer of the day aloud, wherever he happened to be, often standing in the train or on a ship, in between the other passengers (for he traveled much). He read the morning mail in the afternoon, after the Divine Liturgy, but a trusted person had to open his letters in order to see whether there were any urgent intentions. Sometimes he gave announcements of the contents beforehand, even of affairs about which he had heard nothing for a long time. He took strict care that in church and especially in the altar nothing was said about anything else than what related to the service.

His attention went out in the first place to the sick and the lonely, whom he visited even in the remotest places. For this he carried on a strap around his neck a flat leather case with a heavy icon of the Mother of God, a copy of the wonderworking Icon of Kursk, which the emigrant Church had brought with it out of Russia. There he sang with his broken voice at the sick man’s side the little office of the Mother of God (Moleben) and eventually brought the Holy Communion as well.

His preference went for children, whom he so readily had around him. He always informed himself about them, he catechized them, sent them cards and brought presents for them with him. He could look at them in their eyes for minutes at a time with that warm, radiant look, which encompassed you completely, as a mother puts her arms around her baby.

This look is something unforgettable for everyone who came in contact with him. As badly as he could express himself in words, so were his eyes full of meaning. A chance bodily contact made one think of something hard and massive, like a knotty tree trunk. But if he looked at you, then you knew yourself for that moment to be the most loved person in the world.

Naturally, many who only knew him superficially were offended at his appearance. He knew no way of outward worthiness, he was under all circumstances only himself: the monk who thought only of prayer and the needs of those in trouble. But much greater! is the number of those who admired him indeed for that and loved him, even though he was tiresome to them with his requests. The story is famous of how he stayed in Washington for many days in succession in the waiting of the ministry of external affairs until he extracted the entry permit for his thousands of Russian refugees from China, including the sick, which no one had managed to do previously. Everywhere he went people appeared who wanted to speak with him. If he walked in Paris, then people hurried to him from all sides to ask his blessing and to kiss his hand. Then you saw the elegantly-dressed ladies often first wiping their mouths clean, because they knew that he had a dislike for lipstick. In addition, the train to Dieppe (where the cadet corps had later been housed) left too late from the Gare Saint Lazare on many occasions, because the conductor saw from afar the Russian Monseigneur, who was held up by people every time. Nevertheless, he also often missed trains on his journeys, for time was for him but a vague concept.

There would be many other such anecdotes to tell. There is for example that tramp in Lyons, who so enthusiastically told how Vladika John used to walk through Shanghai at night during the difficult years in order to give out bread and money, even to drunkards. He remembered Vladika kindly, regardless of how much bitter criticism he had toward others.

In the same way as he lived he has also died, completely unexpectedly, alone in his room, when he had just gone to sit down in order to rest after the church service, during his visit to Seattle, in the far north of his extensive diocese. We shall always be grateful for having known him and for having been taken up into his wide love. We trust that this bond of love will still work continuously for our good, now that he is yet more directly linked with his Lord, of Whom he has been one of the most faithful servants on earth in our time.




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