An Orthodox friend of mine recently invited me to join him and some parishioners from his previous parish on a pilgrimage to St. John monastery in Manton, St. Herman monastery in Platina (resting place of Blessed Seraphim Rose), and finally to Holy Virgin cathedral in San Francisco (resting place of St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco). All of my fellow pilgrims had been to other monasteries and on other pilgrimages, while this would be my first time doing either.
Fr. Innocent prepping for Matins
Last week we departed for Manton and were greeted by the guileless and pleasant superior of the monastery, Fr. Innocent. After we met some of the other monks and settled in, we attended vespers. The next day we went to liturgy at 6 AM, and afterward had breakfast with the monks who ate in silence as one of them reads from the lives of the saints, as is customary. Later we pilgrims helped with some of the monks obediences as they fixed fences, retrieved honey from beehives, and made candles in the workshop (unfortunately I was busy during this time and didn't get any pictures).
Frescoes in the lower church at St. Herman.
The solitude and beauty of the monastery along with the simple, humble lifestyle of the monks was quite a change of pace from our normal hectic lives, and a welcome one at that. It's conducive to prayer, spiritual reading, and directing of one's attention toward God and heavenly things. It also gives one a different vision on the way that life can (and should) be lived and experienced.
Our next stop was St. Herman of Alaska monastery in Platina, which was founded by Fr. Herman and Fr. Seraphim Rose, with the blessing of St. John. St. Herman monastery is on a peacefully secluded piece of land, and the monastery is quite rustic, without any electricity or hot water. Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Herman wanted to live the fully Christian monastic life, in the tradition of the early Orthodox desert monastics, completely forsaking the comforts of the world for Christ's (and their soul's) sake.
Fr. Nicodemus showing us Fr. Seraphim Rose's kellie
It was a joy to experience the beautiful services at Platina in the magnificent Church building -- even when they began at 4:30 in the A.M. When we weren't attending services we took a tour of the grounds with the delightful Fr. Nicodemus as our tour guide, explored (and patronized) the bookstore -- stocked with the writings of Fr. Seraphim and other material that the monks of St. Herman publish themselves, such as Fr Josiah's (my own priest's) newly published book -- or venerated and prayed at Fr. Seraphim's grave.
Abbot Damascene was eminently hospitable and gracious as were all the monks, showing themselves to have hearts of humility and service.
While the treasures of the monastery could continue to be expounded upon, let us turn to our final destination: San Francisco.
When we arrived in San Francisco we first went to the orphanage that St. John started, which is now a parish. As a very welcome and pleasant surprise, Archimandrite Irenei -- an incredible Orthodox scholar whom I had met at my home parish of St. Andrew once -- was serving at the orphanage (which is now a parish) and gave us a tour of St. John's living quarters, while telling the history of St. John and the orphanage. We took turns sitting in the chair that St. John would sleep in (he never slept in a bed). A chair which has, since his repose, imparted miraculous grace to some sick and injured people. Fr. Irenei went on to serve vespers in the chapel inside the orphanage, which was beautiful and mostly in Russian.
The next day we went to the spectacular Holy Virgin cathedral, where the incorrupt relics of St. John reside. After venerating the relics of St. John and placing a letter containing petitions for intercession under his casket -- it's said that he reads them all -- a hierarchal liturgy took place, presided over by his Eminence Archbishop Kyrill, which was as stunningly gorgeous as the iconography on the walls.
Afterwards we talked with one of the chanters who served during liturgy, a 16 year-old Romanian son of a priest, and he told a remarkable story of how St. John healed his grandmother. She had acquired muscular dystrophy, which had made it difficult for her to get around and caused her to fall down often. This caused grief for the entire family. One night she said the Akathist to St. John before falling into a sweet sleep. While sleeping, she dreamed that St. John came to her with a censor and censed her body. When she woke up she ran around the house and was healed! The family returns to the cathedral once a year to show their gratitude to St. John for his powerful intercession. This is just one of countless such stories that testify to St. John's wonderworking ministry.
Oh Holy Saint of God, St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco, intercede with Christ on our behalf!