A “MISTAKE” IN THE LIFE OF ST JOHN OF SHANGHAI
A story from Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko
From the Author: This is the third recording of our discussions with Mitred Archpriest Stefan Pavelnko, Rector of the Church of All Russian Saints in Burlingame, CA.
My mother, Maria Dmitrievna Shatilova, was born in 1916 in Petrograd. Her father, my grandfather, was an officer in the Russian Imperial Army and fought on the battlefields of World War I, awarded three medals including the Order of St Anna “for bravery.” After the Revolution, my grandfather, a former cadet and junker, one of the first to join the Volunteer Army. My grandmother was from an ancient noble family: born a Tolstoy, she was a third cousin of both Leo and Alexei Tolstoy.
I’d like to talk about how my mother, as a child, sang and read on the kliros next to Mikhail Maximovich, the future St John of Shanghai.
The Shatilov family fled Crimea together with the army, and my mother was reared in Serbia. My great-grandmother and grandmother sang on the kliros of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Belgrade, and of course took my mother, who was still a little girl. There the Shatilovs met and befriended the Maximoviches.
When Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) ordained the 28-year-old Mikhail Maximovich as a reader in 1928, when he was a student of the Theological School of Belgrade University, my mother was 8 years old. So my gread-grandmother, grandmother and 8-year-old mother sang and read together with Vladyka John on the kliros, and my mother knew him as a young man, then as a hieromonk and finally as a bishop.
A “mistake that turned out not to be a mistake
The future Bishop John of Shanghai, then Mikhail Maximovich, was tonsured a monk on the feast day of the Entrance Into the Temple of the Most-Pure Mother of God in 1926 in Milkovo Monastery, which at the time was the only monastery in Serbia that had the Russian monastic rule and Russian brethren, who gathered there from Valaam and other monasteries.
The abbot of the monastery was the former novice of Optina Hermitage and the spiritual son of Elder Nektary of Optina, Hieromonk Amvrosy (Kurganov), and among the brethren were future bishops, as well as the great elder Fr Thaddeus (Vitovnitsky) (1914-2003). Elder Thaddeus remembered the abbot of Milkovo Monastery:
“He never punished anyone, never though ill of anyone, he was never irritated by anyone. He loved every person as he was, and prayed to God that He illuminate him."
Mikhail was tonsured in honor of his relative, St John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk, canonized a saint in 1916 by the Russian Church. Soon after his tonsure he was ordained a deacon, then a hieromonk.
From 1927, St John of Shanghai lived in Bitola, where he taught pastoral theology and Church history in the local seminary. When the seminarians were released for summer vacation, Fr John often visited Milkovo Monastery, so he could be met either in Bitola or there.
So my 18-year-old mother, seeing Fr John on a streetcar in June of 1934, was very glad and asked him what he was doing in Belgrade. The humble and meek Fr John explained that there was some sort of mistake, since another Hieromonk John was supposed to be consecrated to the episcopacy.
The next day, Mama again met Fr John and asked if the mistake was corrected. He replied that everything turned out to be much more serious than he imagined and that the bishops were prepared to consecrate him after all. When he tried to resist and explain that he has poor diction, they responded that Prophet Moses was also a stutterer, but that did not prevent him from being a great prophet.
And so Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) and the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad elected Hieromonk John to be Bishop of Shanghai, to a cathedra where a significant number of Russian refugees lived.