“Pray to St. John of San Francisco for your husband. St. John was a very holy man,” the priestmonk told me as I turned the door handle to leave the room.
“Okay,” I said shrugging, not fully realizing just how holy St. John was.
I had wanted to become Orthodox for a couple months, but was wary of converting while my husband was a candidate for ordination in the Anglican church. My struggle to remain in the Anglican church was the source of much tension in our, so far, four month long marriage. I remember, like it was yesterday, explaining to my husband why I thought it was best for him to wait to be ordained: I felt I was not mature enough to be a priest’s wife. And although I truly didn’t feel mature enough at that stage in my life (I was only 22 years old), the real reason I wanted him to wait was because I secretly wanted us to convert to Orthodoxy. John agreed to wait and humbly put his four-year-long desire to be ordained to the side.
Let me take a step back however, and briefly explain our history. Although I was raised Catholic, when I went to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 I felt that it was time for me to find a more traditional church. My brother – whom I deeply loved and respected – had converted to traditional Anglicanism and his conversion had planted a seed. (We had never heard of the Orthodox Church at that point in our lives). I began to think: Perhaps there is a better form of Catholicism outside the Catholic Church. During University I too became Anglican and grew closer to my brother’s friend (who was also a convert to Anglicanism from, well, nothing). We were married. Eventually he became an Orthodox deacon, Fr. John. For what felt like an eternity however, he was just
stubborn John, not interested in Orthodoxy while my brother, sister-in-law and younger sister committed to becoming Orthodox. I was left longing to join them.
As time went by my desire to be Orthodox grew ever stronger and my conviction to remain in the Anglican church ever weaker. After only five months of marriage I became a catechumin in the Orthodox Church and stopped going to the Anglican church altogether. Tensions rose, a lot of people were upset with me, but I needed to follow what I thought was right for my soul.
So, needless to say, I sought guidance from a priestmonk and was advised to pray to St. John. On my way home to New Brunswick I was asked if I would be willing to take a later flight in exchange for a flight voucher. I had a long stay-over at my next destination so I didn’t mind sticking around the airport a bit longer. I thought nothing of the voucher since we were moving to South Korea in a month or so and didn’t expect to fly anywhere in North America in the meantime. (We decided to move to South Korea – together with my brother and sister-in-law – to teach English since until that point our future plans only consisted of John being ordained in the Anglican church).
Once I arrived home I started reading the biography of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Late one night I read a story about a nurse who started to go blind and felt that if only she could put some water from the pool of Siloam in her eyes she’d be healed. The next day, while the nurse was visiting St. John’s tomb, a woman who had just returned from Jerusalem gave the nurse some water she brought back from the pool of Siloam. The woman put the water in her eyes while standing over St. John and was healed. She believed the water was brought to her through St. John’s intercession.
I suddenly had this strong feeling that if only I could visit St. John in San Fransisco my John would become Orthodox. Then I remembered the flight voucher. I didn’t think there would be any available flights to California since the voucher seemed quite limited. I wanted to get out of bed and check online for a ticket right then but I made myself practice a little self-control and wait until morning.
The next morning I found an available flight to San Fransisco that the voucher covered. We were about three weeks away from moving to South Korea, so I knew I needed to act fast. I checked the dates for that coming weekend and lo and behold, what day would I arrive? July 2. I was flabbergasted, the saint’s own feast day. St. John had set that up, I felt. I couldn’t believe it, truly I was being shown just what a “wonderworker” this holy man was.
I arrived at the cathedral and spent as much time there as I was able – whenever the doors were open. I prayed and lit candles. I lovingly kissed the saint’s relics. And I simply stood and looked on him with a great deal of awe and admiration. I felt reassured that through the prayers of this great saint my husband’s heart would be softened and his mind would be enlightened.
On my last visit to the Joy of All who Sorrow cathedral (where St. John rests) I met a wonderful priestmonk, Fr. James, and even greater blessings unfolded. He was there with a Greek family from Canada and he took us all to the Old Cathedral (where St. John served), served a moleben, prayed over us individually with St. John’s Bishop’s mantle, and then took me to St. Tikhon’s orphanage where I was able to see St. John’s cell, sit in his chair, and venerate in his chapel. I was so overwhelmed with all the blessings St. John sent me. How could I doubt for a second that my husband wouldn’t be completely transformed through this saint’s prayers? Of course in the months that followed I was impatient and discouraged my husband didn’t seem changed. But I didn’t understand that we become blind to the spiritual transformation of a person when we have particular expectations of them.
John took longer to come around than I wanted, but in October of the same year he began coming to the Orthodox church where we were living in South Korea, and even started fasting. The day I saw him using a prayer rope on our way home from work, however, was the day I realized St. John’s prayers had finally fully penetrated my husband’s heart and I was ashamed I ever doubted the saint, that great wonderworker and superb servant of Christ. I wish I could say my “unbelieving” husband was sanctified by his “believing” wife, but in truth my husband was “sanctified” by the prayers of one who became sanctified even in our latter times.
And that is how St. John Maximovitch became, or rather offered himself as, our “slava.” May we have his blessing!
UPDATE: Here is a wonderful video about the uncovering of St. John’s incorrupt relics. I highly recommend it.