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July 2, 2024

Address Delivered by Saint John Maximovitch at his Ordination as Bishop of Shanghai (1934)

Bishop John upon his arrival in Shanghai (December 1934)

On May 20/June 3, 1934, the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR determined John Maximovitch to be Bishop of Shanghai, Vicar of the Chinese and Beijing Dioceses.

On May 27/June 10 of the same year, in the Russian Church of the Holy Trinity in Belgrade, he was ordained as bishop. The ordination was done by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who at the same time sent a letter to Archbishop Dimitri (Voznesensky) of Hailar, where he wrote: "I am already so old and weak that I can't think of any travel, except for a trip to the cemetery. But instead of myself, I, as my soul, as my heart, send to you Bishop John. This small, physically weak person, in appearance almost like a child, is a miracle of ascetic perseverance and rigor in our time of universal spiritual relaxation."

On December 4, 1934, Bishop John arrived in Shanghai, where about 50,000 Russian refugees had been living. He quickly settled the differences between the Orthodox parishes.

Address at the Ordination as Bishop of Shanghai

By St. John Maximovitch

(Delivered in Belgrade on May 27/June 10, 1934)

“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), said the Lord, calling His first apostles. In my early childhood I did not think that the same call would be addressed to me, although from the first days that I began to realize myself, I wanted to serve justice and truth. My parents kindled in me a desire to stand steadfastly for the truth, and my soul was captivated by the examples of those who gave their lives for it, fighting against kings when they were persecutors of the saving faith, and for kings when they were bearers and defenders of piety.

At the beginning, I had a poor idea of the path I needed to take. Growing up, I thought of devoting myself to military or civil service to the Fatherland, which was then the stronghold and guardian of true piety.

I entered an educational institution dedicated to one of the glorious pages of Russian history (Petrovsky Poltava Cadet Corps), but there I felt that I needed to choose a different path. This was especially facilitated by communication with our teacher of the law (Archpriest Sergius Chetverikov) and with the rector of the seminary (now Archbishop Varlaam).

The day I graduated from a secondary educational institution coincided with the day a new hierarch (now Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev, then Archbishop of Kharkov) assumed the department of the city where I was to undergo higher education, who became forever the leader of my spiritual life. While studying secular sciences, I delved deeper into the study of the science of sciences, into the study of spiritual life. The monastery where the archpastor lived and the church attracted me more than the place where I studied the highest secular sciences. The complete collapse of the state power of our Fatherland finally convinced me of the fragility of everything earthly and the weakness of human strength and abilities, and I decided to renounce the vanities of the earthly world, devoting myself solely to the service of God.

But serving God, authoritatively calling on my soul to “deny myself, take up my cross and follow Christ” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 9:24), at the same time imposed an internal necessity to become a fisher of men. Even before my external connection with the secular world was completely severed, a thirst for theological knowledge attracted me to the school, which had the great Saint Sava as its patron, and then to the path shown by him.

Now, through the mouth of the Archpastors of the Church, I am called upon to accept the archpastoral ministry. I do not dare to think of myself as worthy of this dignity, realizing my sinfulness, but I am afraid to renounce it, hearing the words of the Lord addressed to the sinful yet repentant Peter: “If you love Me, ... feed My lambs, ... feed My sheep" (John 21:15-17). Saint John Chrysostom, explaining the present place of the Gospel, draws attention to the fact that as proof of love the Lord demanded no other feat, namely the feat of shepherding. Why is pastoral ministry so great in the eyes of the Lord? Because shepherds, in the words of the Apostle Paul, are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Christ came to earth to restore the defiled image of God in man, to call people, to unite them into one person, glorifying their Creator with one mouth and one heart.

The task of every shepherd is to attract people to that unity, to regenerate and sanctify them. What could be greater than recreating God's creation! What greater benefit can you bring to your neighbor than by preparing him for eternal life! It is not easy to accomplish this task - you have to fight against human nature, corrupted by sin. There is often misunderstanding, and sometimes conscious resistance, hatred on the part of those you love and care about. Great should be the self-sacrifice of the shepherd and great love for his flock. He must be ready to endure everything for his benefit, and each sheep must find a place in his heart, he must apply appropriate healing to each, in accordance with the characteristics of the character and circumstances of each. If the duties of an ordinary shepherd are so difficult and complex and his responsibility for the salvation of his flock is great, what can be said about the archpastor? Truly, the words of the Lord, once spoken to the prophet Ezekiel, are addressed to him: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel” (Ezek. 3:17).

The archpastor is responsible not only for all the lambs given to him by God, but also for the shepherds. He will be exacted from Him for every sinner whom he did not bring to his senses in time, for everyone who walked the path of righteousness, but turned away from it. It is his duty to suffer from the illnesses of his sheep and thereby heal them, like the Chief Shepherd Christ, “by whose stripes we were healed” (Isa. 53:5). He has no personal life; he must devote himself entirely to the cause of saving human souls and leading them into the Kingdom of Heaven. He must be ready to endure all bitterness, persecution and death itself for the sake of the truth, drink the cup of Christ and be baptized with His baptism (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:39). He must take care not only of those who come to him, but also look for and return lost sheep to the flock, carrying them on his shoulder. It is his duty to proclaim Christ’s teaching to those who do not know him, remembering the commandment of the Lord: “Go into the whole world, preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Being imbued with the consciousness of the universality of the Church, he should not limit himself to caring only for those who are directly entrusted to him, but must look with a spiritual eye at the entire universal Church of Christ, desire the enlightenment of all peoples and their success in the true faith, for in the Church “there is neither Greek nor Jew, ... barbarian, Scythian” (Col. 3:11), but all are equally dear children of the Heavenly Father.

Concern for the salvation of people must be applied to their concepts; in order to attract everyone, imitating the Apostle Paul, and like him, you need to be able to say: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; ... to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:20-22).

When caring about the salvation of human souls, we must remember that people also have bodily needs that loudly declare themselves. You cannot preach the gospel without showing love in your actions. But at the same time, we must be careful that concerns about the bodily needs of our neighbors do not absorb all the attention of the shepherd and do not come to the detriment of caring for spiritual needs, remembering the words of the apostles: “We are not pleased to have left the word of God to serve meals” (Acts 6:2) . Everything must be directed towards gaining the Kingdom of God and the fulfillment of the gospel of Christ. True Christianity does not consist in abstract reasoning and teachings, but is embodied in life. Christ came to earth not to teach people new knowledge, but to call people to new life. We prepare for eternal life in earthly life. Circumstances and events of temporary life also influence human spiritual life. The strong in character overcome the influence of the environment, while the weak succumb to it. The strong in spirit are strengthened by persecution, but the weak fall. Therefore, it is necessary, as far as possible, to create conditions in which as many people as possible can be spiritually created.

A pastor cannot shy away from participating in public life, but he must participate in it as a bearer of Christ’s law and a representative of the Church. A clergyman does not dare turn into an ordinary political or public figure, forgetting the main essence of his ministry and its purpose. Christ's Kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36), and Christ did not establish an earthly kingdom. Without becoming a political leader and without getting into party feuds, a shepherd can give spiritual sanctification to the phenomena of life, so that his flock know the path to follow and become Christians both in their personal life and in public life. An archpastor must be able to give spiritual advice to everyone: to a hermit monk who cleanses his soul from thoughts, to a king who builds a state, to a military commander going to battle, and to an ordinary citizen. This is especially necessary for the pastor of the Russian Church, whose personal life is now closely connected with events in the Motherland.

Few Russian people remained unaffected by phenomena that deeply shake the soul of every person who thinks about them. Is it possible to look indifferently at how the bitter words of the prophet Isaiah were fulfilled over the sacred Kremlin: “How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers” (Isa. 1:21). What believing soul would not shudder, reflecting on the desecration of holy places and unheard-of persecution! All the sons of Rus', in one way or another, feel the breath of the red beast, which is at enmity against the Bride of Christ.

From the first centuries, Christians endured persecution for Christ, but never rejoiced at them, but raised their voices against them. A whole series of apologists and martyrs exposed the persecutors in the first centuries, and they were followed by a great host of saints and confessors. In times of peace, hierarchs and ascetics taught, and in times of evil, they denounced those who bore authority. Russia was established under the direct influence of its great pastors and men of prayer. We cannot but grieve when we see the destruction of the great house of the Mother of God, which was once the name of the Russian state. We cannot but experience pain when the souls and bodies of our loved ones are tormented, when our archpastors and pastors in the Homeland are forced to silence by the fear of death. And outside of Rus' we remain its sons. Expelled from the earthly Fatherland, we continue to be the spiritual flock of Saints Peter, Alexis, Jonah, Philip and Hermogenes. We remain part of the Russian Church, suffering and persecuted, drenched in the blood of the holy martyrs Vladimir of Kiev, Benjamin of Petrograd, Hermogenes of Tobolsk, Mitrofan of Astrakhan, Andronik of Perm and countless other holy new hieromartyrs and martyrs. Their legacy is our holiness, which we must preserve until the time when it pleases God to manifest His power and lift up the horn of Orthodox Christians. Until then, we must remain in spiritual unity with the persecuted, strengthening them through prayer.

We kiss their bonds in absentia, we mourn for those who wavered. We know that the ancient confessors of the truth sometimes hesitated. But we have examples of steadfastness: the example of Theodore the Studite, who exposed any deviation from ecclesiastical truth, the example of Maximus the Confessor, the example of Patriarch Hermogenes.

We are afraid to deviate from the paths they followed, for if those under the yoke use human weakness as an excuse, what will we say if we are afraid of mere threats? Being in comparative safety, we must strengthen ourselves in spirit in order to rebuild what was destroyed, if the Lord deigns to “bring back the captivity of Zion” (Ps. 125:1), or ourselves to follow in the footsteps of those who suffered for the truth, if necessary. For this reason, first of all, we must maintain unanimity and unity among ourselves, representing the united Russian Church, and at the same time continue its great work among other peoples. From the very first centuries of Christianity in Russia, preachers went from there to other lands. First, the Venerable Kuksha, Leonty of Rostov, then Stephen of Perm, Innocent of Irkutsk, and already in our times the Apostle to the Altai Macarius and Nicholas of Japan shone. Now the scattered Russian people have become preachers of the faith in all corners of the universe. The task of the Russian Church Abroad is to take care of enlightening the greatest possible number of people from all nations. For the sake of fulfilling this goal, the Russian Synod Abroad is sending me to a country from where the visible sun rises, but which needs enlightenment by the rays of the invisible Sun of Truth.

I am aware of my weak strength; out of obedience to the Church authorities and my spiritual leader, I submit to this election not for the sake of honor and power, but devoting myself entirely to the service of the Church.

I pray to the Lord God that He will help me and strengthen me to strive for the truth until death. At this great hour for me, I pray for those who raised me and edified me with their instructions and example, I pray for those among whom my Church service has taken place until now, for the youth whom I raised, for my future flock, for the universal Church, for the suffering Russian land! I trust in the prayers and intercession of the great host of heavenly champions of the Christian race. I ask you, Saints of God, and in absentia also my Archpastor, His Grace Bishop Victor, to pray for me and grant God’s blessing.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
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