The Lord has an ambitious plan for all of us. He wants us to acquire sanctity, become His likeness and achieve unity with Him. But does our modern world have any room for sainthood? How much chance do we have, knowing how much our world prizes comfort and expects a practical benefit from everything, including faith and the Church? Are saints still relevant when no one seems to believe in miracles any longer?
We are preparing to celebrate the memory of a saint who showed us beyond all doubt that sainthood is still a worthy goal to pursue, even in our hectic times. His name is Saint John of Shanghai and San-Francisco. In 1926 Saint Nicholas Velimirovich of Serbia wrote of him: "If you wish to see a living saint, visit Father John in Bitol." Almost two decades later, a Catholic priest said of him in a sermon for a congregation of young people, "You say that there are no miracles or saints. You are asking me for proof. Why do I need to prove that in theory, when a living saint is walking in the streets of Paris right now - Saint John the bare-footed!"
To Saint John of Shanghai, sainthood was more than righteousness; it was reaching such a level of it the Grace of God would fill people to such an extent that it would overflow to all the others who come in contact with them." His prayers and actions saved thousands of lives; his sermons and example saved millions of souls. To quote Apostle Paul, we see in him an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and purity.
His virtues benefited many lives and strengthened many hearts during his service as the Bishop of Shanghai. The majority of his flock were immigrants from Russia who lived in great need and suffered from joblessness, loneliness and despair. The saint's service was their source of hope, reassurance and practical help. In Shanghai, he established an almshouse. He conducted services and sacraments among prisoners and ran an orphanage for children that gave refuge to hundreds. During the Japanese occupation of China and the subsequent revolution, he never stopped caring for his flock, organising their evacuation to the Philippines. He worked hard to advocate for changes in the emigration law to bring the Russian refugees to the United States. He succeeded just days before a typhoon razed their camp on a Philippine island.
Yet the saint's works of mercy were very different from the work of a secular charity. On many occasions, he relied on his gift of dar-sightedness and worked many miracles. A teacher at the orphanage in San Francisco recalls the difficult times when there was nothing to give the children for breakfast. She told the saint about it and soon heard him pray fervently. The next morning, a man from a grain company came and announced that the company was donating to the orphanage its surplus stock. One of his spiritual children remembers his phenomenal ability to know people's needs. "He was walking out of a church as a Russian immigrant was going by. He stopped him and gave him a stack of paper money. 'Take it, pay your rent so they do not evict you. He gave him the exact sum that the man owed." In the description of his life, we find multiple examples of miraculous healings and relief in difficult circumstances that occurred through the prayers of the saint.
All of these miracles were made possible by the saint's piety and dedication to the Lord. "The power of God is effective when a person asks for help from God, acknowledging his own weakness and sinfulness," wrote the saint. "This is why humility and the striving towards God are the fundamental virtues of a Christian." Saint John celebrated the Divine Liturgy each day, never missing a single one. He had no bed in his cell. He spent the whole night in prayer resting briefly in a chair. At each service, his face shined with heavenly joy shared by every member of the congregation.
His miracles did not stop even after his physical death. Thousands across the world have experienced them, including the sisters of our convent. The saint's intercession stopped one of our sisters from making the hasty decision of leaving the convent. The saint appeared to her in her sleep, and she changed her mind. We consider it a miracle that our beautiful church of Saint John of Shanghai was completed so fast.
Many patients of the nearby national mental clinic attend the services at this church, and many find relief from their ailments. Saint John of Shanghai always found the rights words to reassure and encourage every tormented soul that came to him. He still prays to help our sisters in their ministry among the ailing.
Our roads to sainthood are different. It may not be possible for us to repeat the great exploit of Saint John, but we still praying that our striving for righteousness will enlighten our neighbours and bring God's grace to their souls.
On August 4, we commemorate Mary Magdalene, the Holy Myrrh-bearer Equal of the Apostles, in the Belarussian Orthodox Church. There is so much one can learn from the life of this strong, devoted and brave woman.