St John of Shanghai and San Francisco

Lantern of Grace

Below we pub­lish an excerpt from the expand­ed sec­ond Eng­lish-lan­guage edi­tion of Lantern of Grace, by the new­ly-reposed Pro­to­pres­byter Valery Lukianov. Part II, titled “Vla­dyka’s Chil­dren,” recounts per­son­al rem­i­nis­cences of youth to whom St John min­is­tered through­out his life. Here, a stu­dent recalls her days as a pupil at the Sts Cyril and Method­ius High School in San Francisco.

Vlady­ka John took an active part in the life of our school com­mu­ni­ty, and sup­port­ed Father Afanasy1 in every­thing. To under­score the high school’s impor­tance, he gave the bless­ing to re-name the school after Sts. Cyril and Method­ius, since they were already the patron saints of the old school chapel. Vla­dy­ka John held Father Afanasy in great esteem, and this was to be expect­ed, since both of them were “not of this world,” and our chil­dren were sim­i­lar­ly attract­ed to both of them, feel­ing their gen­uine care and love. The joint, unit­ed effort, mutu­al trust, one­ness of mind, and broth­er­ly Chris­t­ian love of these two men was a wor­thy exam­ple to our stu­dents. The won­der­ful spir­i­tu­al accom­plish­ments of these two right­eous men are touch­ing­ly revealed in exam­ples from their lives, which we now offer through the fol­low­ing rem­i­nis­cences of their co-work­ers and students. 

Photo of Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov
The late Pro­to­pres­byter Valery Lukianov

Final Exams

Father Afanasy taught reli­gion at the Col­lege of Com­merce in Shang­hai dur­ing World War II and con­tin­ued to do so until approx­i­mate­ly 1947, when he moved to the Unit­ed States… 

Dur­ing final exams, Vla­dy­ka John asked the ques­tions, while Father Afanasy was next to him. Vla­dy­ka was always tired because he nev­er slept in a bed, but instead slept while sit­ting in his chair. When Vla­dy­ka John asked a dif­fi­cult ques­tion to which you didn’t know the cor­rect answer, you would speak around this top­ic for as long as you could and wait until Vla­dy­ka John would start doz­ing off. Once he fell asleep, the infi­nite­ly kind Father Afanasy would ask in a low and gen­tle voice, “Don’t you know the cor­rect answer?” and would give you a hint. 

St John and the Young Daredevils

Vla­dy­ka John was undoubt­ed­ly the best per­son that I have known in my entire life. He was tru­ly a man of God. He nev­er regard­ed any task in his life as more impor­tant than prayer and worship. 

One day in Shang­hai, my friend Peter Khol­mogorov and I decid­ed to kiss — of all things — the cross locat­ed at the very top of the biggest dome on the “Sure­ty of Sin­ners” Cathe­dral. I don’t remem­ber exact­ly how we got this idea into our heads, but we did. In order to accom­plish this very risky and dar­ing plan, we had first to climb to the choir loft and then climb a lit­tle stair­case at the cor­ner of the roof that led all the way to the top. To us it seemed that those stairs led to heav­en itself. 

When we start­ed climb­ing the stairs, some­one noticed us, and as we were com­ing down they report­ed this to Vla­dy­ka John. He invit­ed us into his cell and ordered us to make three hun­dred pros­tra­tions before the cross. He then went into the room next door and began to pray before the icons, while we were mak­ing pros­tra­tions and count­ing… We had giv­en him great cause to worry! 

Ascetic quarters

Father Afanasy lived in a small room not far from the old cathe­dral. He would wake up ear­ly in the wee hours and serve noc­turne. There was a lit­tle chapel in the school, which is still remem­bered by those who went to the school on Ful­ton Street. Only the stu­dents attend­ed ser­vices there. 

Some­times when they got tired, the younger chil­dren would say to him, “Father Ananasy (that’s what the lit­tle one’s called him), we can’t do this any longer.” To which Father Af­ anasy would smile and soft­ly mum­ble, “All right, say ‘Amen.’ Let’s go and eat some rolls.” He had a won­der­ful rela­tion­ship with his lit­tle charges. 

I remem­ber his lit­tle room very well. Once he invit­ed me to have din­ner with him. He baked a pota­to in the lit­tle stove that heat­ed his room, rather than in the oven. I don’t know why he lived such a mea­ger life. He nev­er spent any­thing on his own needs. He owned two or three cas­socks, and you could see his old officer’s boots from under the robe. Every minute he was busy doing “some­thing,” and all these lit­tle things added up and became the great sum of his life’s work — that of teach­ing chil­dren. He sim­ply loved chil­dren and under­stood that Russ­ian chil­dren sep­a­rat­ed from their home coun­try need­ed to be edu­cat­ed in the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian Faith and in Russ­ian cul­ture. He could not do otherwise. 

Pastoral Resourcefulness

The school prin­ci­pal as well as the teach­ers all had to teach in rather dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, with a con­stant short­age of funds. A seem­ing­ly small issue became a major prob­lem — the trans­porta­tion of chil­dren to the school and back to their homes. But, as the say­ing goes, “neces­si­ty is the moth­er of inven­tion.” The resource­ful Father Afanasy saved enough of his own mon­ey to buy a very old used bus, took class­es and passed the test for a bus driver’s license, and began to trans­port us back and forth him­self. Every one of our stu­dents remem­bers that lit­tle rusty old pale blue bus. When sum­mer came and class­es end­ed, he would take his stu­dents to the sum­mer scout camp, and often vis­it­ed them there. In the sum­mer­time, Fr. Afanasy would also serve at the chapel at the Russ­ian Riv­er. It is im­possible to thank him prop­er­ly for all the things he would do, espe­cial­ly for the chil­dren from poor fam­i­lies, for whom he would secret­ly buy cloth­ing and shoes with his own money. 

Many oth­er inspi­ra­tional sto­ries could be told about how these two great holy men — Father Afanasy and his labors in the area of edu­cat­ing chil­dren, and Vla­dy­ka John, with his heart­felt con­cern for the care of orphans. Both of them gave their entire lives and efforts for the lit­tle ones, fol­low­ing the words of our Sav­ior, who said, Take heed that ye despise not one of these lit­tle ones (Matthew 18:10). Father Afanasy estab­lished schools; Vla­dy­ka John — orphan­ages and shel­ters. In both places, the chil­dren saw sin­cere love and care, and in return, opened their grate­ful hearts to these two great and right­eous men — for the rest of their lives. 

Com­piled on the basis of mate­ri­als about the Sts. Cyril and Method­ius High School: 
“The 50th Anniver­sary Album,” (San Fran­cis­co, 1998) 
T. Zhilk­i­na, “Stead­fast in Truth,” (Moscow 2005)


Lantern of Grace, Revised 2nd edition

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