Saint John Maximovitch in the Netherlands





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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