Often, documents which by rights belong in a climate-controlled archive will appear as if out of thin air, preserved by God’s grace to open a window onto history in danger of being forgotten. We offer one such record below — a petition from one Laurence E. Campbell to Archbishop John of Western America and San Francisco (glorified by the Church in 1994 as St John of Shanghai and San Francisco) for reception into the Orthodox Church. We have preserved the author’s original text, despite some deficient transliterations of Russian names, and added footnotes for context where appropriate.
San Francisco, California
June 8, 1966
The Very Eminent John
Archbishop of Western America and San Francisco
St Tikhon’s Home
598 – 15th Avenue
San Francisco, California
It is with much trepidation – and hope – that I request your permission for entrance into the Russian Orthodox Church.
At your suggestion I discussed my desires in this matter with Archimandrite Ambrosy. I trust that he will have communicated to you his impressions of me by the time you receive this letter.
My reasons for wishing to join the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church arise out of the following experiences:
I am religious by nature, having been reared according to the teachings of Protestantism, specifically the Methodist Church. Being of an inquisitive nature, I examined all other varieties of religious teaching with which I came in contact. This searching led me to affiliate with the Mormon Church during my twentieth year. This association seemed to fill my needs for several years. During my academic career I began to study the philosophers; this in turn led me to conclude that all of my religious experience was invalid, i.e., superstition, fables, etc. I arrived at the conclusion that Marx was basically correct in his estimate of religion. I began to live according to standards of my own making, doing things which were sinful under the old, rejected standards. But purposeless living began to depress me, and the idea of purposeless existence drove me at times to despair.
One evening at dusk I followed an intention which I had carried with me for a long time; I went to the Old Sobor on Fulton Street1Russian for cathedral; the Russians in San Francisco colloquially refer thus to the original ROCOR Cathedral of the Holy Virgin “Joy of All Who Sorrow”, which was founded in 1927. Construction of the “new sobor” on Geary Street, given the same dedication, had been completed only the year prior to this letter’s writing to see how the Russians worshipped. I had studied all religions in the world, either superficially or carefully, had attended the worship services of all the various Christian Churches – Protestant, Roman Catholic, even the Greek Orthodox – and found little or nothing to commend them to my searching mind. I had, on one previous occasion, dropped in on the spur of the moment at the Green Street Sobor2Holy Trinity Cathedral, today the see of the Diocese of the West of the Orthodox Church in America during a Sunday Liturgy and was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the service and much puzzled at all I did not understand. Through the telephone directory I learned of the existence of the Holy Virgin Cathedral and since it was nearer to where I lived I chose to go there. I was hardly prepared for what I found. When I entered the Church I entered the realm of timelessness. There in the light of flickering candles, in the presence of God and His Mother and myriads of Saints portrayed in the Icons, I saw Your Eminence and the other Clergy (Father Ilia, Father Spiridon, Father John, Father Nicholai, Father Metriphon [sic], and Father Constantine) chanting the Vesper Service. I felt that I was in the presence of The Holy – I knew no other way to express it at the time. This experience took place in October 1964. I have been attending your Church continuously (though at first sporadically) ever since. I discovered the Orthodox Book Store on Geary Boulevard not long afterward. Through many and long discussions with Eugene Rose and Gleb Podmoshinsky,3the future Hieromonks Seraphim and Herman, founders of St Herman Monastery in Platina, California. Fr Seraphim is widely revered as a strong defender and teacher of Orthodox Faith and Tradition. through reading their magazine and many of their other books and pamphlets available in English on Orthodox Subjects, through careful study of the Service Books available in English, through gradually learning how to pray and how to worship (even though clumsily) through being allowed to be present at all of the Beautiful Services, through being allowed to feel with my sin-blunted sensitivities that I am associating with individuals like Your Eminence who seem to have a grasp on Eternity and to know exactly what they are doing and where they are going, I have acquired a desire to join the fellowship of Christians, to participate fully in the life of the Church, to receive the indispensable blessing of the Sacraments and their help in the battle with sin. I am convinced, although my faith is very weak, that Orthodoxy, as it has been lived and witnessed to by all of the Holy Fathers and the Saints and as it is presently witnessed to by God’s Appointed Servants, the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Abroad and all other truly Orthodox people throughout the world, is that Church which Christ established Himself when in the flesh, and that my salvation can come through no other means.
On this basis, although acutely aware of my manifold wickedness and weaknesses, I earnestly ask that you consider my request and grant me the blessing of your approval.
Laurence E. Campbell
6340 Geary Blvd. #16
P.S. I can be contacted through Eugene Rose at the bookstore, or by mail
Laurence Campbell was granted his request and received Holy Baptism two days after composing this letter. His sponsor was Eugene Rose, the future Fr Seraphim. Eventually he embarked on the monastic path, being tonsured into the riassa at Holy Trinity Monastery, in Jordanville, in 1979. In 2012, just two years before his blessed repose, he was tonsured into the lesser schema with the name John, in honor of the saintly bishop with whose blessing he was received into the Church 46 years prior. Monk John reposed in the Lord on November 3, 2014. He is remembered throughout the English-speaking Orthodox world as a prolific translator of liturgical texts.