Vladyka Michael (Donskov)
On 2 June 2019, a long-awaited event took place at St Elisabeth Convent: the church in honour of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was consecrated!
Among our guests was Bishop Emeritus of the Russian Church Abroad Michael (Donskov). He shared with us his childhood memories of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco whom he had known personally. Here is an excerpt from his story.
"When I was to go to my first confession, I was very excited. I remember, Vladyka John turned to us, the children, and beckoned someone with his finger. My classmates told me to go to him. I was confused and focused on my feelings, therefore I did what they had told me and boldly approached Vladyka.
He asked me strictly why I had come up to him so I answered that I wanted to confess. He told me that I knew nothing about sins. I did not agree as I knew it meant not to obey one's elders and so on. Then Vladyka John took me under his omophorion. I do not know how long I was under it, but I can only say that it was light there, the elderly Archbishop seemed both handsome and young to me, and I felt great joy.
“Tell whatever you want to,” he told me. “Describe everything that is in your heart, and I will explain to you what sin is.” It was the first time an adult was saying something like that to me. He then began to explain to me what the love of God is, that the sin is when you refuse this love when you leave Him. At which point you get unhappy because you yourself moved away from love, you are already without love, you are already abandoned because you yourself went away. It was something new and amazing for me, and I felt that the infinite love he was talking about was present there.
It is hard to tell how long our conversation lasted, we were left alone there. I did not want to leave because I had never experienced such a state before. I felt that I should keep this state. Vladyka explained the meaning of the prayer of absolution to me and then began to pray - he had a very clear speech, every word was easy to understand. Later, I repeatedly noticed that whatever he said in his sermons would easily enter the heart of everyone listening to him, regardless of education and degree of churching. Then Vladyka told me that it would be dark as soon as he took off the omophorion, and it really was so. There was only one vigil lamp lit in the church.
Since everyone had already gone, Vladyka John offered to walk me to the school. But I refused. Later I came to clearly realize that it was my pride speaking in me, and I got very much ashamed. Then Vladyka gently let me go on my own. My senior classmate was standing outside waiting for me. All our way back to school he was scolding me for my having been delayed and his having been made to wait for me. He expected that his mockery would hurt me and I would cry and was very much surprised that it did not bother me anymore - I had such a joyful feeling.
I will remember this confession for the rest of my life."
With so many nice things about Christmas, its joy is easy to recognize. Yet it is much harder nowadays to see Christmas as a miracle. In our rational world, we have become too accustomed to putting everything to the test of reason.
To the monastics of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, the New Year is an occasion to reflect on the value of the Lord's generous gift of time and making the best use of it so we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven