John (Maximovitch) the Wonderworker (1896–1966) was a prominent Eastern Orthodox ascetic and hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) who was active in the mid-20th century. He was a pastor and spiritual father of high reputation and a reputed wonderworker to whom was attributed great powers of prophecy, clairvoyance and healing, and he is often referred to simply as “St. John the Wonderworker.”
St. John was born Mikhail Borisovich Maximovitch in 1896 in the village of Adamovka in the Kharkov Governorate (in present-day southern Ukraine). He came from the same family of Serbian origin as that of St. John of Tobolsk whom he was said to resemble in several respects. From 1907 to 1914 he attended Poltava Military School. He received a degree in law from Kharkov Imperial University in 1918. His family brought him to Belgrade in 1921, where in 1925 he graduated from Belgrade University with a degree in theology.
In 1926 he was tonsured a monk and ordained a hierodeacon by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), who gave him the name of John after his saintly relative. Later that same year, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Gabriel of Chelyabinsk. For several years afterward he worked as an instructor and tutor. In 1934 he was ordained a bishop by Metropolitan Anthony and assigned to the diocese of Shanghai.
In Shanghai, Bishop John found an uncompleted cathedral and an Orthodox community deeply divided along ethnic lines. Making contact with all the various groups, he quickly involved himself in the existing charitable institutions and personally founded an orphanage and home for the children of indigents. It was here that he first became known for miracles attributed to his prayer, and as a public figure it was impossible for him to completely conceal his ascetic way of life. Despite his actions during theJapanese occupation, when he routinely ignored the curfew in pursuit of his pastoral activities, the Japanese authorities never harassed him. As the only Russian hierarch in China who refused to submit to the authority of the Soviet-dominatedRussian Orthodox Church, he was elevated to archbishop by the Holy Synod of ROCOR in 1946.
When the Communists took power in China, the Russian colony was forced to flee, first to a refugee camp on the island ofTubabao in the Philippines and then mainly to the United States and Australia. Archbishop John travelled personally toWashington, D.C. to ensure that his people would be allowed to enter the country.
In 1951 John was assigned to the archdiocese of Western Europe with his see first in Paris, then in Brussels. Thanks to his work in collecting lives of saints, a great many pre-Schism Western saints became known in Orthodoxy and continue to be venerated to this day. His charitable and pastoral work continued as it had in Shanghai, even among a much more widely scattered flock.
In 1962 John was once again reassigned by the Holy Synod to the see of San Francisco. Here too, he found a divided community and a cathedral in an unfinished state. Although he completed the building of Holy Virgin Cathedral and brought some measure of peace to the community he became the target of slander from those who became his political enemies, who went so far as to file a lawsuit against him for alleged mishandling of finances related to construction of the cathedral. He was exonerated, but this was a great cause of sorrow to him in his later life.
Deeply revering St. John of Kronstadt, John Maximovitch played an active role in preparation of his canonization.
Death and veneration
On July 2, 1966 (June 19 on the Julian calendar) St. John died while visiting Seattle at a time and place he was said to have foretold. He was entombed in a sepulchre beneath the altar of the Holy Virgin Cathedral he had built in San Francisco dedicated to the Theotokos, Joy of all who Sorrow on Geary Boulevard in the Richmond district. In 1994 he was solemnly glorified on the twenty-eighth anniversary of his death. His unembalmed relics now occupy a shrine in the cathedral’s nave. His feast day is celebrated on the Saturday nearest to the 2nd of July. He is beloved and celebrated worldwide, with portions of his relics located in Serbia, Russia, Mount Athos, Bulgaria, Romania, United States, Canada (Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Kitchener), England (Dormition Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church, London) and other countries of the world.
Photo: Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco, 1954.