FAITHBOOK – ORTHODOXY
The Uncovering of the Honorable Relics of the Hierarch and Wonderworker John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco (+1966)
“The Lord keepeth all their bones, not one of them shall be broken” (Ps.33)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the year 1993 from the Nativity in the Flesh of God the Word, on the feast of St. Chariton the Confessor, October 11, the All- merciful Lord revealed to us sinners the greatest mercy through the uncovering of the holy and much-healing relics of the Hierarch and Wonderworker John, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco who rests in the beautifully embellished and prayer-filled sepulchre, untouched for twenty-seven years after burial, under the Cathedral of the Most Holy Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow.
Monday was a strict fast day for all those who took part in this holy obedience to the Church. Many prepared by serving the Divine Liturgy and through Confession. In the evening, after Vespers was served at the altar of our Holy Father John of Kronstadt, Wonderworker of all Russia, in whose canonization the ever-memorable Vladyka John took part, a blessing was taken from the ruling Archbishop Anthony around eight o’clock in the evening by Priest George Kurtov, Priest Alexander Krassovsky, Protodeacon Nikolai Porshnikoff, Deacon Alexei Kotar, and Reader Vladimir Krassovsky. After the blessing these participants entered the holy sepulchre in order to make the necessary preparations which earlier had been blessed by His Grace, the ruling Archbishop. In the sepulchre the caretaker, Boris Michailovich Troyan, was already working and waiting.
A long table was prepared on which was later placed the new, temporary, pine casket. Crowbars, hammers and other instruments were brought in. All candle stands, analoys, and flowers were placed aside to make more room for the work. Candles were burning on the candle stands and the entire sepulchre was fully illumined.
After the initial preparation work was completed, and after the exclamation “Blessed is our God,” and the beginning prayers, they began to read the Gospel from St. John over the casket, In the beginning was the Word. Around nine o’clock in the evening during the reading of the Holy Gospel, the ruling bishop of Western America, Vladyka Archbishop Anthony, Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, Bishop Kyrill of Seattle, Archpriest Stephan Pavlenko, Archpriest Peter Perekrestov, Priest Sergey Kotar, Hieromonk Peter (Loukianoff), Priest Paul Iwaszewicz and Hierodeacon Andronik (Taratuchin) arrived at the holy sepulchre. All together there were fifteen people: three hierarchs, seven priests, three deacons, one reader, and one layman.
All three bishops, as well as all the priests, read from the Holy Gospel. Around 9:07, after the Gospel readings, the bishops began to serve a full Pannykhida which was sung by the clergy. This ended around 9:45 P.M. Before the chanting of Memory Eternal the “Prayer Before the Beginning of Every Good Work” was read. Vladyka then turned to all those present with the following words, “Honored Vladykas, Fathers, and Brethren; the Lord has sent us in holy obedience to our Church in order to examine and report concerning the honorable remains of our good instructor, Archbishop and father, Vladyka John. Let us approach this holy work with love for one another… with one mouth and one heart.” Vladyka Anthony then asked forgiveness of all present, then made a prostration, which was repeated by all with the words, “God forgive you and us. Pray for us, Holy Vladyka.” The Protodeacon then intoned “Memory Eternal.”
The new, temporary, pine casket was then brought in. The inside of the casket was lined with satin. On top of the casket was fixed a Cross. Inside the casket was placed a new, white sheet. The casket was blessed with a prayer.
All of the sacred objects and the brocade were taken off the holy sarcophagus. An explanation was made to all those present concerning the former investigation which had taken place during the night of September 17/30, the commemoration of the Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, Love, and Wisdom. We then proceeded to remove the cement lid from the sarcophagus which weighed around four hundred pounds. This took place during the compunctionate singing by all of the troparion, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.” The lid was taken into the corridor outside of the sepulchre. All those who had not been present at the initial investigation now saw that the mantle which covered the casket was like new.
Taking into consideration that the initial examination had shown that the casket was severely rusted, all present proceeded to tie the casket in four places because it was not known what condition the bottom was in. During the singing of the ekos “Thou alone art immortal,” the holy casket with the remains of Vladyka John was very carefully raised from out of the sarcophagus. It was initially raised higher in order to examine the underside. Then boards were placed underneath, and the casket was placed on the sarcophagus. During the examination of the casket, it was noticed that the casket had severely decomposed, and in many spots rust had eaten through. The casket which was a silver-gray color at the burial was now golden, due to the tarnished lacquer coloring. Vladyka Anthony then blessed Hieromonk Peter (Loukianoff) of Holy Trinity Monastery to open the casket. After the casket was closed at the burial, Fr. Peter had kept the key during these past years in memory of Vladyka John. After a few attempts had been made to open the lid of the casket, it became apparent that the lock had rusted through. In spite of all careful attempts the lock would not open. The lock was finally broken by the Protodeacon’s earnest prying. It was necessary to use crowbars, screwdrivers, and pliers to separate the lid. The casket began to break up and fall apart in front of our very eyes. Calling to aid the Most Holy Mother of God, we sang “We have no other help, we have no other hope but thee, O Sovereign Lady…” Finally, after approximately ten minutes of work, the lid was separated from the casket. It is difficult to describe in words that trembling state which overcame all of us. Vladyka Anthony lifted the half lid at the upper end of the coffin during the singing of, “The door of compassion open to us, O blessed Theotokos,” and the holy relics of Vladyka John were revealed to us. The most devout feeling of peace and quiet reigned. Those present clearly saw the outline of the reposed bishop’s form vested in brocade Paschal vestments which, due to dampness and humidity, had turned a greenish color. On Vladyka’s head was a white miter with hand-painted icons. Vladyka’s face was covered with a white chalice cover embellished with painted Seraphims. Under his right hand there lay a wooden staff. The remains were sprinkled with a considerable amount of earth. The author of these lines who at the time of the burial served as a staff-bearer for the ever-memorable Savva, Bishop of Edmonton, recalls that before the closing of the casket His Grace, Vladyka Savva, sprinkled earth over Vladyka John out of a rather large container. At the same time another bishop, the ever-memorable Vladyka Leonty of Chile, poured oil from the Service of Unction on the body.
The dry, incorrupt hands of Vladyka John were raised slightly in the air since the lower part of the torso had sunk in. We could see skin and nails. The prayer rope on his left hand had decayed. The wooden cross from Jerusalem on which was glued a paper icon, as well as the “Prayer of Absolution” were still preserved in Vladyka’s hands. His Cross and Panaghia also remained. A small gospel book from Kiev, bound in leather, was still intact despite the fact that the inner binding had disintegrated and fallen apart. There was another Cross in the casket by the left shoulder which fell apart when examined. A small icon of the Holy Archangel Michael (Vladyka’s patron in the world) had almost entirely disintegrated. All of these holy objects were then taken out of the casket and put aside. It was known that at the burial the material lining the inside of the casket was a light blue; now, due to mold and dampness, it had turned green.
Vladyka Anthony crossed himself and while reading aloud the fiftieth psalm, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy..,” very carefully raised the chalice cover from the face of the reposed Vladyka John. Now the most honorable face of Vladyka John was uncovered. All present felt deep devotion and total peace in their souls. No one acted surprised or expressed amazement, but with great compunction we gazed upon the incorrupt visage of the reposed Vladyka. The skin color was light, almost white. The hairs of the head and beard as well as the eyebrows were grey and preserved intact on the face. Even the eyelashes were preserved. Vladyka’s mouth was slightly open and teeth were visible. The miter and inscription were preserved, though the icon of St. John the Baptist on the left side of the miter had fallen off and was lying on the pillow. A clean aer was brought to cover the face. We then commenced to uncover the lower half of the casket which was very rusted. It was necessary again to use crowbars and screwdrivers to separate it. When it was opened all present saw that the lower part of the vestments had been fully preserved. Leather sandals were visible on Vladyka’s feet and it was noticed that on part of the left heel the bone was visible. As much of the feet as was visible were preserved, revealing darkly colored skin. It was decided that the relics could not remain in the old, disintegrating casket and that it would be necessary to place them in the newly prepared one. We began to sing the eirmosi of the Great Canon of Repentance of St. Andrew of Crete from the Service for the Burial of a Priest: “A helper and protector was He unto me for salvation…,” “Attend, O heaven, and I will speak…,” “Behold, behold, that I am God…” During the singing the holy relics were prepared for transfer to the new casket. The table with the new casket, which was next to the fresco of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God, was moved closer to the head of the old casket. “On the immovable rock of Thy commandments, O Christ…” was sung while the holy relics were lifted in our hands and transferred. They were lowered into the new casket during the singing of the troparion, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.”
They were cleaned of the earth, dust and rust that had covered them. As all could see and feel, the holy relics were whole and did not fall apart. The tendons between the bones had been preserved. The relics were very light. All present saw that the vestments on the underside of the holy relics were also totally preserved. After cleaning off the dust the holy relics were placed in the new casket and wrapped in a clean sheet. During the singing of the kontakion, “My soul, my soul, arise, why steepest thou?”, the old casket was taken out of the sepulchre and placed in the neighboring room. The odor of dampness and rust disappeared and all sensed that there was no odor of corruption whatsoever around the relics. During this time the Priest Yaroslav Belikow was waiting with his two year old son not far from the sepulchre. His son Vsvelod was suffering from an illness of the kidneys and was brought into the sepulchre in order to be placed on the incorrupt hands of Vladyka John. Then all commenced to clean out the cement sarcophagus in which much rust remained. During the singing of the ninth Eirmos of the Great Canon, “A seedless conception…,” the casket with the relics was placed on the cement sarcophagus. The holy objects that were in the old casket were put in an envelope and put in the new casket. Then it was lowered into the sarcophagus and the lid was placed on the casket. Vladyka Archbishop Laurus tied a cord around the casket and Vladyka Anthony sealed it with the diocesan seal and the mantle was placed on top. During the singing of “A seedless conception” the cement lid was placed back and the sarcophagus was again covered with the brocade cover. All the other objects, the icons, ripidi, trikiri, dikiri were returned to their place. After this work a litiya for the dead was served and all were anointed with oil from the ever-burning lampada on the sarcophagus. Following the example of Patriarch Paul of Serbia, all of the clergy sang the troparion to a hierarch, “Teacher of Orthodoxy,” which the Patriarch has sung last year when he visited the cathedral. Vladyka Anthony then expressed his gratitude to all for their labor and zeal. Around 11:15 P.M. all began to return to their homes in an exalted, prayerful state of trepidation, sending up gratitude to the Lord God for the mercy, comfort, and spiritual joy which He had sent. Amen.
Wondrous is God in His saints! Holy Father John pray to God for us!