On September 28/October 11, in connection with the approaching glorification of Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco (which is to take place June 19/July 2, 1994), with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Anthony of Western America and San Francisco, Vladika John's tomb was opened in his sepulchre beneath the Diocesan Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos "Joy of All Who Sorrow" in the city of San Francisco.
Before the opening and examination of the honorable remains of the venerable Vladika John, preparation both practical and spiritual was required. From the practical aspect it was necessary to determine how complicated it would be to open the sarcophagus which held Vladika's coffin, in what condition was the coffin, and was there free access to it. This work was carried out on September 17/30, on the day of commemoration of the Holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, Charity and their mother, Sophia. That evening, Archbishop Anthony, Priest George Kurtow, Pro-todeacon Nicholai Porshnikoff, Reader Vladimir Krassovsky and Boris M. Troyan descended into the sepulchre and, after Vladika Anthony served a litia, they set to work. In the course of two hours they managed to remove the lid on the sarcophagus and placed it on the floor. The lid weighed approximately 400 pounds. Having removed the lid, the first thing they noticed was Vladika John's mantia, shining like new. Underneath the mantia was his coffin. There was no odor of any kind. On the lid of the coffin there were several rust spots. After inspecting the coffin, the sarcophagus was closed in anticipation of the examination of the very remains of Vladika John.
His Eminence, Archbishop Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, a member of the Committee which was established by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad for the preparations of the up-coming glorification, arrived for the examination of the relics, which took place on the day of the commemoration of Saint Chariton the Confessor. Another member of the Committee, Archbishop Alypy, was unable to come because of two parish feast days in his diocese. His Eminence, Bishop Kyrill of Seattle, as Vicar of the Western American Diocese, was also a member of the Committee. Several of the clergy from the Diocesan Council, as well as clergy of the cathedral, were likewise assigned to participate in the examination. In all, three bishops, seven priests, three deacons, one reader and one layman participated in the examination. All of the participants of this sacred work observed a strict fast that day. Several prepared through the Mystery of Confession, others by serving the Divine Liturgy and receiving Christ's Holy Mysteries.
After Vespers and Matins in the cathedral, those taking part in the examination of the relics gradually descended to the sepulchre. The participants were Archbishop Anthony, Archbishop Laurus, Bishop Kyrill, Archpriest Stefan Pavlenko, Arch-priest Peter Perekrestov, Priest George Kurtow, Priest Sergei Ko-tar, Priest Alexander Krassovsky, Hieromonk Peter (Lukianov), Priest Paul Iwaszewicz, Protodeacon Nicholai Porshnikoff, Deacon Alexei Kotar, Hierodeacon Andronik (Taratuchin), Reader Vladimir Krassovsky, and the custodian of the sepulchre, Boris Troyan. All of the archpastors and priests in turn read the Gospel over the tomb. At precisely 9:00 p.m. a panikhida for Vladika John was served by Their Eminences. After the panikhida, Archbishop Anthony gave a brief sermon calling all of the participants of this sacred work to be at peace and then, having bowed to the ground, asked forgiveness of everyone.
With reverence, vested in epitrachelia, with the singing of the Troparion, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us," they began to open the sarcophagus. A wooden coffin, which had been brought to the sepulchre, had been constructed in advance by Priest George Kurtow. Thanks to the preparatory work on September 17/30, the lid of the sarcophagus was removed without any difficulty. After wrapping straps around the bottom of the coffin, the clergy lifted the coffin and placed it on a board, laid over the top of the sarcophagus. It turned out that the coffin had rusted through in many places, including the base. Hieromonk Peter produced the key to Vladika John's coffin, which he had kept for the past twenty-seven years, but because of the rust, he was unable to open the coffin. An attempt was made to unscrew the hinges on the side of the coffin opposite the lock, but the screws had also rusted. Not wishing to apply crude force in such a sacred task, the clergy tried to slowly pry off the lid. Vladika Anthony, seeing that there was difficulty, sang "We have no other Help …" and almost immediately the lock was opened. Everyone stepped back, giving Archbishop Anthony way to the loosened lid of the coffin.
At 10:10 p.m. Vladika Anthony, with trembling and fear of God, opened the coffin with the honorable remains of the Ever-memorable Archbishop John. With the exception of Bishop Kyrill, who had participated in the uncovering of the relics of the New Martyrs Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara in Jerusalem, not one of those present had ever been a witness to the uncovering of relics, and this intensified the awe with which everyone surrounded the coffin. The face of Vladika John was covered, and everyone immediately turned their attention to his white, incorrupt hands. (This whiteness turned out to be a mildew. Later, when the relics were washed with a mixture of rose water and white wine, they proved to be a dark bronze color). The white vestments and miter had turned green. Having blessed himself and reading Psalm 50, Vladika Anthony removed the aer from Vladika John's face and everyone saw the incorrupt face of the Ever-memorable Hierarch. The skin on his face was white. His beard had been completely preserved. In the place of the eyes were small openings, but this was barely noticeable since the miter on Vladika John's head was set very low. Vladika's under-vestment was almost completely decayed and his legs were visible. They were dark. (It is well known that Vladika John had poor legs, and during his life they were dark from wounds.) A spot was noticed on Vladika's leg in the place where there had been an open wound. There was neither a fragrant nor unpleasant odor. However, a slight smell of dampness was detected, that of earth or rust. After the uncovering of the face, there was an extraordinary silence. Then everyone attentively began to examine the sacred relics and quietly remark on the condition of the remains, the vestments, the cross, etc. In turn everyone venerated the incorrupt relics.
It was decided to place the relics in the new wooden coffin. The clergy did not know how fragile the body was, and so they laid a sheet underneath it and only then did they transfer the relics to the new coffin, while singing the irmoi of the Great Canon of St. Andrew [from the Service of the Burial of a Priest], "He is my Helper and Protector, and has become my salvation …. Establish Thy Church upon the rock of Thy commandments, O Christ." With the remains of Vladika John now in the new coffin, the clergy began to clean them of the decayed lining (and pillow) from the old coffin. The body of Vladika John, when it was lifted up high, turned out to be relatively light in weight and stiff, not flexible or fragile as would have been expected. It is worth noting what was experienced by the participants of the examination: after the uncovering of Vladika John's face an extraordinary spiritual peace and reverent silence were felt. No one was amazed, no one spoke. All sensed a feeling of well being and how grace-filling it was to stand by the relics. There was no hurrying or fussing. No one wanted to leave the relics; there was a desire simply to stand by them, pray, and touch them.
Having cleaned the relics from the decayed lining and also from earth which had been sprinkled over them during the funeral, the clergy again laid the relics into the wooden coffin. During the reading of the Kondakion of the Great Canon, "My soul, my soul, arise …" Archbishop Anthony covered the face of the Ever-memorable Archbishop John with a new aer and his body was covered with a shroud. Then, Vladika Anthony informed everyone that the two-year-old son of one of the diocesan clergy, Priest Yaroslav Belikow, was very ill, and father and son were waiting not far away to venerate the relics. They sent for Father Yaroslav, and shortly thereafter he came down into the sepulchre, carrying his son Vsevolod, and touched the child to Vladika John's incorrupt hands. The wooden coffin was then lifted into the sarcophagus, which had been cleaned of rust. The coffin was closed and sealed and then covered with the mantia. The lid of the sarcophagus was brought in and put back in place. After the clergy sang the general Troparion to a hierarch: "Teacher of the Orthodox Faith and good instructor of piety …" a litia for the dead was served. Everyone venerated the tomb of Vladika John and was anointed with oil from the vigil lamp on top of the tomb. At 11:15 everyone began to disperse, thanking the Lord God for His great mercy to us, revealed in the incorrupt remains of the Ever-memorable Archbishop John, of which all of the undersigned were witnesses.
(and signatures of the other members of the Commission)
28 September/11 October, 1993
Missionary Leaflet # EA37
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)