Vladimir Krassovsky on St John of Shanghai and the discovery of his relics

"It is with pleasure that I will talk to you about these holy moments in my life," Vladimir Krassovsky, Director of the Archbishop’s Choir of the Cathedral ofhte Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in San Francisco, said in response to my request to talk about his connection with St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. These days we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the relics of Vladyka, in which my interlocutor took a direct part. I had prepared my questions in advance, but as soon as we started communicating, I realized that it was better not to interrupt this single narrative, but just to listen and learn about the saint.

My whole life, since my baptism, has been connected with St John

– My whole life, starting from my baptism, is connected with St John. I was born in Bangkok, Thailand, where my family moved after China and the Philippine island of Tubabao. There was no priest there, and my father wrote to Vladyka John, whom he knew from Shanghai, asking him what to do with the baptism of his first-born son. Vladyka John sent a very detailed letter, which I still have, explaining that in the absence of a priest, any lay person can baptize. He even wrote this letter in different ink: the liturgical texts are the same color, the inserted parts are red, and also in pencil. And he sent me a cross.

So, according to his instructions, my father baptized me on Pascha in 1951. Vladyka went on to write that the chrismation should be performed in Hong Kong. The former sacristan of the Shanghai Cathedral, Father Elias, who died in San Francisco at the age of 110, served there.

That's how my life became connected with Vladyka John. I knew him personally, took his Law of God exams in a Russian school, served him as an acolyte, and finally attended his funeral and touched his body, which was warm. I attended all the funeral services, spent the night in the cathedral, and stood next to the coffin when Vladyka Leonty of Chile, a friend of Vladyka John, covered it with earth. I witnessed all of this.

I remember that the first thing he always asked during exams was, "How do you believe?" The answer was to recite the Creed by heart. And the second question, which he asked absolutely all students: "Who is your saint? When the feast day celebrated? Tell me about it." Vladyka said that we should make friends with our heavenly patrons, always carry them in our hearts and know about them. He believed that one’s namesday is much more important than a birthday, that you need to take communion, if not right on this day, then on the next Sunday. That's how he taught us at the Russian school.

In addition, Vladyka hosted school parties for us in the basement hall of the St Tikhon Zadonsky Orphanage in San Francisco. He believed that children should gather and communicate under the wing of the Church: then Orthodox families will turn out, society will stick together, and everything will be near the Church.

Vladyka spent only three and a half years in San Francisco. But he often came here to the orphanage of St Tikhon of Zadonsk, and every time I served under him, I spent the night there on my namesday and on his, sleeping on the sofa – my mother let me go on such occasions.

I once had the privilege of confessing to him. It was just before my namesday. We were talking in his cell. During the conversation, Vladyka sometimes dozed off, and I tried to slip away quietly, because my own eyes were already closing. But he would wake up and stop me. In the end I asked: "Vladyka, may I go to confession?" Of course, he immediately got up and we walked down the hall to the church. It was a house church right in the orphanage, and Vladyka lived in a small room five steps away from it.

At that time, we just had the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God, which was lying on the lectern in the middle of the church. Vladyka opened the lid of the case where it was kept and told me to stand by and wait, while he went to the altar and stayed there for quite a long time. And I was standing there in my pajamas, because it was night. Finally, Vladyka came out in a small vestment, that is, he put on a mantle, a small omophorion, an epitrachelion and a mitre! And he brought out five or six arks with relics. He placed them in the lid of the icon case and said: "Here is the Mother of God and the saints. Repent! What have you done? " And so the confession went.

Several miracles were performed in my family through the prayers of Vladyka. My brother, now Archpriest Alexander, rector of the Peter and Paul Church in Santa Rosa, California, was very seriously ill with mononucleosis as a child. There was a very high fever, and the doctors said that he would not be able to go to school for a whole month. At that time, a Synod meeting was being held in New York, where Vladyka John was also present. My father called him and asked him to pray. Of course, Vladyka John prayed, and my brother recovered and went to school three days later. The doctors were surprised and couldn't believe what had happened.

Another case occurred with my then future wife Natalia, who is prone to asthma. One day she came to visit friends, where Vladyka John was also present. There she had such a strong attack that they were even going to go to the hospital. Vladyka patted her on the head and said: "Everything will be fine." And indeed, the attack passed, she recovered very quickly – also to everyone's surprise.

Vladyka gave me his blessing in a dream to become a choir director. Without going into details, I will say that then he asked me: "I heard you want to be a choir director?" - I answered him: "Yes, Vladyka, I really want to." He gave me a great blessing, and after a very short time, our Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) appointed me choir director – this happened in 1970.

But the apotheosis of my entire connection with Vladyka John was the discovery of his relics in 1993 and his glorification in July 1994. All these moments are one of the greatest celebrations of Orthodox Christianity. For the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, this was not its first glorification, but it was the first time that a person who was in exile and worked for the glory of God among emigres was canonized. I remember it now as if it all happened yesterday, and yet 30 years have already passed – a considerable chunk of any life.

I must say that the movement to glorify St John came from the people. This was not a decision of the leadership: the entire Orthodox world, be it Greeks, Serbs or Romanians, all revered him. In the end, the ROCOR Council passed a decree on canonization, and intensive preparations were made in the following months.

Vladyka Anthony (Medvedev) did not want to open the relics in advance, saying that their incorruptibility is not a prerequisite for glorification. But the diocesan consistory had a letter from the funeral company stating that Vladyka John's remains were not decaying, as is usually the case with the body. Personally, I was convinced that the relics would be incorruptible. In the end, Vladyka Laurus (Skurla) said that he would come to us and we would examine the relics. And so it happened.

We all confessed and took communion beforhand. Vladyka Anthony, being a man of holy life, imparted to us a prayerful spirit and the right mood before fulfilling this obedience from the Church.

I was very sensitive to the events that were taking place. I remember that before the all-night vigil on the eve of the glorification, which took place on July 2, 1994, we went to transfer the relics from the temporary coffin to the already prepared shrine for transfer to the church. At that moment, I couldn't help but cry. It was like everything exploded inside me. Others also had similar feelings, and it was with this incredible lofty and profound mood that we moved the relics to the church. First, we laid Vladyka as a deceased person – facing the altar, served the last memorial service, at the end of which we turned the shrine around as it should be for holy relics. You can watch the internet movie "The Glorification of St John", where all this is well shown.

I was honored with another miracle associated with Vladyka – to paint his first large icon, which is now above the reliquary. To do this, I took his portrait from the orphanage of St Tikhon of Zadonsk by the artist Nikolai Alexandrovich Papkov. Nikolai Alexandrovich understood Vladyka John better than all icon painters and portrait painters.

I had this portrait in my icon-painting studio, and I felt Vladyka John looking over his shoulder and telling me what to do. It was also an incredible moment in my life, and in memory of it, Archbishop Anthony gave me the aer that covered the face of Vladyka John for almost 30 years, until he was glorified.

From the choir, I look directly at him and talk to him, feel his closeness, his reality. Vladyka's presence in our cathedral is felt very strongly, and he is always here for us. It's amazing how busy he is in the next world and how much people bother him. They beseech and pray to him. Thank God, our cathedral has been open all day in recent years, anyone can come in. And people come, even non-Orthodox: Catholics and Protestants. Everyone prays to Vladyka. They put little notes with requests in a special box under the crypt – there are thousands of them, from all over the world. We send thousands of bottles of oil from his relics around the world. There are simply no words. We don't even realize what a treasure we have.

Vladimir Krassovsky
Recorded by Dmitry Zlodorev



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