St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco

The life of St. John Maximovitch is a very full one, but I’ve chosen to extract the parts of his life that have to do with his rescuing of orphans.

St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco  +July 2, 1966

St. John, Rescuer of Orphans

St. John was consecrated bishop and sent to Shanghai in the 1930’s. Among other things he started a home for orphans beginning with eight children. At great personal risk he would walk the streets and alleys at night and rescue starving children he found there. 

There were always wars in China. The Chinese had large families with
many children, and there was very little to eat. To save on food, they would
get rid of newborns, placing them out on the street to freeze to death.
Vladika John would pick them up and bring them to the orphanage. On
these outings, the deacon of the cathedral would follow him in order to help
and protect him. Once Vladika said to this deacon about a child, “Pick him
up.” The deacon objected, “But he’s Chinese.” “But he is made in the image
of God,” said Vladika. (source)

At the end of the 1940’s as the communists came to power, Russians in China
were forced to flee again, most via the Philippine Islands. In 1949 almost 5000
refugees from China were located in a camp of the International Refugee
Organization on the island of Tubabao. They lived there in tents under the most
primitive circumstances. All of the children of the orphanage were brought there,
as were the elderly and infirm. They lived under the continual threat of fierce
hurricanes, since the island is located in the path of seasonal typhoons which
pass through that part of the Pacific Ocean. During the twenty-seven-month
existence of the Russian encampment, only once was the island threatened by a
typhoon, which, however, changed its course and passed around the island. Every
night Saint John would walk around the entire camp blessing it with the sign of
the Cross on all four sides. Later, when the people had departed for various
countries and the camp had been almost completely evacuated, a fierce typhoon
swept over the camp and leveled it to the ground. (source)

 The entire orphanage was again moved in its entirety, this time to America. St. John made a personal trip to Washington D.C. to make sure all of the people in his care would be allowed to enter the country.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the memoirs of a woman who worked in the orphanage:

M.A. Shakhmatova witnessed the saint’s ascetic exploit in Shanghai
almost from the very moment of his arrival there in 1934, on the feast
of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. She saw Archbishop
John crucify himself in both founding and managing the orphanage. Living
conditions were terrible, and the needs of the children, whose parents
had escaped Communism, were overwhelming. The young Bishop, almost from
the start, gathered concerned ladies from his parish, asked them to
found a committee, rented a house, and opened up a hostel for orphans or
children whose parents were in need. The children would often be
underfed, abused, and frightened, until Archbishop John would come
and personally take them into his orphanage and school. Each child – and
there were over three thousand who went through the orphanage – had a
traumatic story.

There was, for example, a boy named Paul who
had witnessed his father and mother being killed and chopped into pieces
by the Communists right in front of his eyes. Because of the trauma the
boy had become mute and could not even pronounce his own name. He was
like a trapped animal, afraid of everyone, and trusted only his fists
and spitting. He was brought into the orphanage at a time when it was
packed and had no place for him. Due to the fact that Paul was so
frightened, the ladies there thought that he was abnormal and refused to
accept him lest he scare the other children.

When Archbishop John found out about him, he insisted on immediately dropping
everything and going to meet the boy personally. They did not even know
that he was a Russian boy and spoke Russian, for he only mumbled and
hissed like a caged animal. When Archbishop John arrived, he sat down
before the boy, who was still trembling, and said to him the following:
“I know that you have lost your father, but now you have found another
one – me,” and he hugged him. This was said with such power that the boy burst out in tears and his speech returned to him.

the slums of Shanghai there were cases in which dogs would devour baby
girls who had been thrown into garbage cans. When the newspapers
announced this, Archbishop John told Mrs. Shakhmatova to go and buy two
bottles of Chinese vodka – at which she cringed in horror. But her
horror increased when he demanded that she accompany him into these very
slums, where it was common knowledge that grown-up people would be
murdered. Fearless as ever, the young Bishop insisted on going there,
walking through dark alleys in the worst neighborhood. She recalled what
horror seized her heart when they, n the darkness of night, walked and
encountered only drunkards, shady characters, and growling dogs and
cats. She held the bottles in her hands, following him with
trepidation, when suddenly a growl was heard from a drunken man sitting
in a dark doorway, and the faint moan of a baby was heard from a nearby
garbage can. When the Bishop hastened towards the cry, the drunkard
growled in warning. Then the Bishop turned to Mrs. Shakhmatova and said,
“Hand me a bottle.” Raising the bottle in one hand and pointing to the
garbage can with the other, Blessed John, without words, conveyed the
message of the proposed sale. The bottle ended up in the hands of the
drunkard, and Mrs. Shakmatova saved the child. That night the Bishop returned to the orphanage with two more babies under his arms. 

 “Once during the war,” she continued, “the poverty of the orphanage
reached such immense proportions that there was literally nothing with
which to feed the children, and there must have been at least ninety of
them at that time. Our staff was indignant because Archbishop John kept
bringing in new children, some of whom had parents, and we were having
to feed someone else’s children. Such were his ways. One evening when he came to us – worn out, tired, cold and silent – I could not resist telling him off. I said that we women could not tolerate this any longer, that we could not bear to see hungry little mouths and not be able to put anything into them. I could not control myself and raised my voice in indignation. I not only complained, I was full of wrath at him for putting us through this. He looked sadly at me and said, ‘What do you really need?’ I said, right off the bat, ‘Everything, but at least some oatmeal. I have nothing to feed the children with in the morning.”

Archbishop John looked at her sadly and went upstairs. Then she heard him making prostrations, so vigorously and loudly that even the neighbors complained. Pangs of conscience bothered her, and that night she couldn’t sleep. She dozed off in the morning, only to be awakened by the doorbell. When she opened the door, there stood a gentleman of English extraction who said that he represented some cereal company, and that he had a surplus of oatmeal; and he wanted to know whether they could use it since he heard that there were children here. They began to bring in bags and bags of oatmeal. While this was going on, with the commotion of banging doors, Blessed John began to descend the staircase. Hardly could Mrs. Shakhmatova utter a word to him when she saw his glance. He did not say anything, but with his eyes, with one single glance, he reproached her for her unbelief. She said she could have fallen on her knees and kissed his feet, but he was already gone to continue his prayer to God, now of thanksgiving. (source)

 Troparion Tone 6

Glorious apostle to an age of coldness and unbelief, invested with the
grace-filled power of the saints of old, divinely illumined seer of
heavenly mysteries, feeder of orphans, hope of the hopeless, thou
didst enkindle on earth the fire of love for Christ upon the dark eve
of the day of judgement. Pray now that this sacred flame may also
rise from our hearts.

3 thoughts on “St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco

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