Archpriest George Larin:
“I Think of the Joy of Knowing St John of Shanghai My Whole Life”
The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia celebrates two anniversaries this year connected with one of the most venerated saints of the diaspora: St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. June marks the 125th anniversary of his birth, and the 55th anniversary of his death is this July.
Archpriest George Larin, the Rector Emeritus of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY, is a treasure-house of the history of St John. He met Vladyka as a boy in his native Shanghai in the early 1940’s, and has felt his patronage his entire life. This is the second part of a two-part series.
I would like to share the remarkable content of a few letters from Vladyka John during those years, filled with pastoral care and love, to honor the memory of this righteous man of God, through whose prayers and ascetic feats we all survived that path of exile.
23 October, 1949, St Apostle James, Brother of the Lord.
Dear Zhora and Sima:
Being far from you and having many cares, to expedite the departure from the island of Samar to different countries, I always remember you kids, whom I knew back in Shanghai when you served as altar boys in the church.
I often remember you, I ponder with concern-what’s happening with you, how are you now?
Much in our lives depends not on us, but a lot still does. To become and remain good-is to a great degree dependent on ourselves. True, without the help of God it is impossible, but God’s help is given when we ourselves strive, when we force ourselves to do good and pray to God for that.
You were good kids in Shanghai, you served in the altar with dedication… You had faults back then, but you corrected them. However, when I arrived in Tubabao, I noticed that you became neglectful and let yourselves go. From my visit you quickly returned to the usual ways. In leaving, I left you as acolytes in church, hoping that you don’t abandon that.
Are you keeping up with it? Do you always come promptly, not missing a single holiday service? Remember that holidays are days of God. In the commandments on the feast day it doesn’t say: “the seventh day is for you, to do as you wish,” but “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” And so, as St John Chrysostom says, whoever does not give these hours to God will be stealing from God that which belongs to Him.
Everything given for our use is created by God, and in thanks to Him we must respect that which God gave to Himself, for our benefit as well. And all that we are commanded to do by God through the Church must be held sacred by us. If we stray from the ways of the Lord, we can only enjoy the pleasures of our body, but later we will feel bitterness from that which seems sweet to us now.
I hope that you will always walk upon the path of good.
How are your sisters? Let them read this letter. I await a letter from you. May the Lord God preserve and bless you all.
Johan, Archbishop of Shanghai
23 April, 1950, Holy Great Martyr George the Victory Bearer
I congratulate you on your namesday, the day of your Heavenly Patron, St George the Victory-Bearer. May he help you become better and better, conquering all your weaknesses and strengthen you in good. Thank you and Sima for your letter. I often remember you, and the other kids who were with me in Shanghai. I think about you very often. I am saddened that you no longer serve in church. And it is time that you, Zhora, read on the kliros, too, and Sima should also learn to.
I met many here whom I knew as altar boys in the Russian Church in Belgrade; there were some who were like you and are now adults. Some of them became priests with me, so on one of the days of Bright Week I served with the priest Fr Georgy and Hierodeacon Antony, both of whom were among the altar boys when I was in Belgrade last. And here are also older priests who only recently made their way out of Russia, having experienced all the “pleasures” of life there.
Do you read the Gospel every day? That is a necessity-to read the Gospel of the day (which you can find in the calendar), or (if you don’t have one), then in order, about 20-30 verses, and so eventually to read the entire Gospel. How are Tanya and Svetlana? Did you receive the two books I sent at the beginning of Great Lent?
May the Lord keep and bless you and Sima, your parents and sisters.
John, Bishop of Shanghai
22 January 1952, Holy Apostle Timothy and Holy Martyr Anastasia Persyanina.
Dear Zhora and Sima:
Three years have now passed since you left Shanghai. I haven’t heard from you in a long time.
Do you continue to serve in the altar regularly, attend church, are you studying the Law of God?
May the Lord preserve and bless your parents, you and your sisters.
23 April 1960, from Brussels, Belgium
I congratulate you on your patron saint’s day. May he direct your life according to God’s will and to your benefit and that of others! May he preserve you and guide you on the good path! I would very much like for you to return to those yearnings that you had in your childhood.
The lack of clergymen is becoming dire. Entire regions are left without priests, churches hold no divine services, parishes have no ministry. Every year the spiritual starvation is felt more and more. With pain in my heart we must deny people Communion, or to provide a priest for Pascha, simply because we have none. Just think about that. If once you subconsciously desired this, think about it now, how much you could achieve if you consciously went to serve Christ and His Church. That work is in fact the highest good deed in the name of Christ. No earthly occupation would bring others and you yourself as much benefit as this.
May the Lord bless you!
18 January, 1961, SS Athanasius and Cyrill of Alexandria.
I received your letters. I couldn’t answer you right away, but I always pray for and remember you on a daily basis. I think that you properly understood yourself. Of course, you could follow an earthly career, make good money, have a family and enjoy this temporary life. It would satisfy you for a time, and you would then consider your dreams of the spiritual life nothing but a childhood fantasy.
But everything is temporary. A harsh wind may blow, the storms of life may come, they would break you, and even without that you would eventually feel that everything that you have just isn’t what your soul sought; that it didn’t possess what it needed. Such an awakening is terrifying, when there is no longer an opportunity to return to the former path, when it is lost forever though personal fault.
Of course, the other path, the spiritual one, is not easy. There can be many sorrows; sometimes it seems (and sometimes it is in fact) that the whole world, even those closest to you, take up arms against you. But then, as the sorrows mount, blessed strength likewise grows, and help which bolsters and grants consolation, peace and even joy. The sorrows of earthly life are joyless and bring us no benefit.
When I meet and observe the lives of those whom I met as youngsters, who are now in senior years, I see them burdened with earthly cares and illnesses, passing their days darkly, if they lack loftier goals. Those who give themselves over to service to God, even if they suffer for it, are bold in spirit and sense the Hand of God protecting them.
What should you do, where should you look? I think that I already wrote to you that though serving God and living righteously is open to all-both scholar and uneducated-the Church now needs servants who can guide people in the faith and deflect attacks upon it. I would be very happy if you would be with me, but I think that it is more beneficial to the Church for you to receive a theological education and so you should enroll in Trinity Seminary, where Adrian Gan is studying.
May the Lord help you and bless you upon this path! May the Lord’s blessings be on all those dear to you.
30 May, 1962, St John the Damascene
How are things with you?
I am late in congratulating you on your namesday and since then keep trying to write to you. When Sima told me that your departure to America in November was postponed, I immediately wrote to the State Department in Washington, asking that they grant you permission to enter.
I received a response, I think, in two months, but it was vague. I told Archbp. Averky about you. God willing, everything will work out, but the devil is meddling, so do not lose your fervent desire to serve God. May the Lord bless you, Sima, your parents and your whole family!
Thomas Sunday-Sunday of Thomas, Anti-Pascha
Christ is Risen!
Beloved in the Lord Fr Cyprian:
To my profound dismay, your letter found itself in a pile of other letters, and only now, looking through them I discovered it. I am responding to it immediately, which I would have done had I read it earlier.
I have known George Larin approximately since he was eight years old, when, noting his piety in church, called him to serve in the altar. I know his family and entire family well. From that time, George would constantly visit me, and I knew his inner life and his behavior. He was exceptionally religious, which was noticed by the parishioners of the cathedral, and even them many thought that he would follow the spiritual path.
The school he attended was Catholic; in the past there were instances of Orthodox boys converting to Catholicism, but by the time Larin enrolled, such occurrences almost ceased entirely, and on the contrary, those who studied there saw the negative aspects of Catholicism and were alienated from it. I knew many boys who went there, some served with me as acolytes in the cathedral and would visit me.
After we left Shanghai I saw the Larins in the Philippines, and my contact with them continued when they moved to Australia, and I constantly received letters both from the father and the boys, George and his brother, I knew what was happening, their state of mind. One of my letters gave a little push for him to make the decision to head for the seminary. When I saw him at Trinity Monastery, he also spoke openly with me, hiding nothing. I have no doubts in his good decency and earnestness, and I am prepared to bear witness before all. The accusations against him are low slander, and probably in order to push away from the Orthodox Church those you could later be her faithful and good servants. George works on improving himself, trying the develop not only mentally but spiritually, clearly seeing his own faults. We can only pray to God that he continues in the future.
I thank you very much for writing to me, and only regret not answering you earlier.
I ask you to pass on my greeting to the newly-tonsured monks and relay my blessing, also to my spiritual son G. Larin and the other seminarians I know, and to the brethren.
I send this letter along with a copy so that you can give it to whomever needs it. May the Lord bless you!
Your earnest well-wisher
Archpriest George Larin
Recorded by Dmitry Zlodorev
8 June 2021