The man who has served Man and God

By The Very Rev. Boris Geeza

"A guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, a teacher to the unreasonable, an instructor to the foolish, a flaming torch in the world."

These words, taken from the consecration service of an Orthodox bishop, will be inscribed on a specially designed tablet and presented to His Eminence, the Most Reverend Archbishop John of San Francisco and Western States, as a tribute to his Christian mission to Christ and the World.

The beautifully inscribed tablet is a gift from the Diocese of San Francisco to their beloved Archbishop who this year is celebrating 50 yeas of ordination.

This Western Diocese of the Orthodox Church in America is honoring their distinguished churchman with a testimonial banquet tonight (Dec. 1) at the Marines' Memorial Club on Sutter Street.

To show their love, Orthodox Christians from the far flung diocese - comprising 28 parishes, missions and institutions - are sending their monetary gifts to be accumulated into an Archbishop John Seminary Scholarship Fund which will be presented to him as a project and a continuing Diocesan gift for Orthodox theological education in his name.

As a further distinct honor to this 75-year-old hierarch, a special visit is planned to the West Coast by the newly elected Metropolitan and Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, his Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius.

Archbishop John of San Francisco, born August 23, 1902, into the family of Prince Alexis and Anna (Knian) Shahovskoy in Moscow, was baptized and christened as Dimitri Alexeevich.

He received his secondary education in the Russian Imperial Lyceum in St. Petersburg and later studied at the University of Louvain in Belgium.

A very religious man from his earliest days, he decided for monasticism as a way of life, and was tonsured a monk on Mt. Athos, the Holy Mountain, on his 24th birthday.

Under the guidance of his "Staretz" - religious director - John was instructed to enter the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris where he continued his theological education. In 1926 he was ordained a monk-priest of the Russian Orthodox Church.

For the next four years he was a priest in Yugoslavia in the city of Belaya Tserkov (White Church) where he assumed duties as an instructor in the Crimea Corps and the local pastoral school. At this time he began writing, a pursuit and a love he never relinquished. It was in Yugoslavia that he founded his first Orthodox Missionary publication, "For The Church."

From Yugoslavia, Hieromonk John continued his missionary work in Western Europe, and in 1932 was appointed by his ruling hierarch, Metropolitan Evlogios, to St. Vladimir's Church in Berlin where he served during the devastating war.

Often he was severely harassed by the Nazi Gestapo. The Nazis eventually managed to confiscate all his religious works, including the translation of the Bible into Russian, over which he labored long and hard. He writes of those trying times in a book published in 1954, "The Age of Faith."

Elevated to the religious rank of Archimandrite John was evacuated to Paris in 1945 with the Americans, where he resettled until the end of the war.

In 1946, under the sponsorship of Igor Sikorsky, John came to the United States where he was already well known for his monastic life, his genuine love of God and man, his deeply spiritual writings, and his mystic, intuitive sense of the eternal.

After a short rest, Archimandrite John was canonically released by his former diocesan authority and was accepted into the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of North America which in 1970 received autocephaly and became the Orthodox Church in America.

His first assignment was with the Tolstoy Foundation, the New York State haven for persons deported to America. Shortly he was called as Rector of the Russian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, but that assignment lasted only one year.

Suddenly, in 1947, he was elected to the episcopacy by the Holy Synod and was consecrated in New York City on May 11 at the Protection of the Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral on Second street, and given the title Bishop of Brooklyn.

His duties included being Dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary, the fledgling Orthodox Institution of higher theological education.

It was in 1950 that Bishop John was transferred to the See of San Francisco and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the oldest parish of the Orthodox faith in the continental United States. He was elevated to Archbishop in 1961, and has remained the Diocesan Authority until the present time.

His Eminence has long been active in the Ecumenical Movement, has served as a member of the World Council of Churches on the Central Committee and has contributed numerous articles to religious publications here and abroad.

As a religious leader, mystic, poet, writer, missionary and pastor, Archbishop John has also distinguished himself as a broadcaster for the Voice of America where his religious talks are beamed to the Soviet Union as the Word of God in the context of the Christian faith.

Truly, this hierarch is a guide, a light, a teacher, an instructor, "a flaming torch in the world." The Orthodox people of San Francisco - and the world - honor him, pay tribute to him, and respect him for his work and his life as a man called by God.

Es Polla eti, Despota!

The Very Rev. Boris Geeza, a retired navy chaplain, is dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral and Chancellor of the Western States.

San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 1, 1977

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Modified 8/20/97-