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.
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!
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.
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)
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