I was not sure wether I will go or not, I saw the sign-up list at the candle stand in our church, but finally decided that I can not go - too many things to do, too long a drive, perhaps too crowded too. (Those who witnessed the million people crowd in Holy Trinity-Sergius Lavra in Russia, during the fiest days know what I am talking about - the state when you can not even think about lifting a hand to cross yourself, and where you will not be able to fall onto the ground even if you tried hard). So I did no arrangements and was quite unprepared. Nevertheless, since sviatitel' Ioann is one of those saints whom I always mention in morning and evening prayers (along with two dozen others), and whose sanctity I stopped doubting long ago, I sort of left this matter to circumstances - Lord willing, I will be there. Most of the people going from our parish went by plane. So on Friday, somehow I've got the feeling that I should go - sort of had to. The problem was, my tires looked really bad for the last month, I neglected to change them and there was no way they will last to SF. So I went and changed these, which took me until noon, on Friday. In addition, for reason unclear to me, I did not eat anything Thursday evening and Friday morning, and in fact until Friday evening, ir turned out. Quite an unusual thing, I did not even wanted to, despite that it is fast now. So I left Los Angeles at about 12:40 Friday, taking I-5 north and then through garlic-smelling Gilroy to San Jose, and to San Franscisco proper.
All the way there, for 5+ hours, it was extremely hot and dry weather, but in San Franscisco it felt like in a cold cellar. Quite a contrast to LA - humid, cold, clowded. I arrived there about 7 pm, the Vigil has started already long ago, There were less people than I expected, but it was becoming dark slowly, and cold. So I parked on a street nearby, changed into a suit and went to the cathedral. Lots of police, people in riassa's, with monastic headdress - I do not know what the English word for these is, and laypeople as well. A huge screen on a trailer outside, re-translating the service in color, with sound. I was told that some tv crew from Moscow was also filming this.
At first I could only stand at the level of outside doors, then during the next 2-3 hours I slowly drifted inside, as some people were moving around of leaving. There was almost a crowd of Bishops, a rare occasion in the US, many priests, deacons, monks, nuns, of apparently very diverse origin. I noted Greek-style monks headdress, Romanian style too. Besides the Bishops and priests of ROCA there obviously was a large number of clergy and several bishops from other church jurisdictions, our priest later said that there were people from all over the world, Greece, Western Europe, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Australia, South America, etc. The large carved coffin containing the body of st. John was in the center of the cathedral, I entered some time before his Image was lifted up at the vigil. Then Metropolitan and other Bishops and priests and everyone else were giving their respect to the relics, receiving the anointment with the myrrho from the Iveron image (the miracle working image, myrrh-bearing, that I saw once before when it was brought to LA, which image is personally very important to me and my family as well), and also receiving a print copy of an icon of st. John. This veneration outlasted the Vigil service, and continued even as I left, in 11:30 at night. After the end of the vigil people largely remained in Church, some went to eat (I think clergy mostly, who must have been there in church for the most part of the day). It was announced that there will be 3 liturgies next morning - one will start at 2 in the morning (and Hours will be read in 1:30 AM), then one at 5 am, then the main one, at 7:30, with participation of our First Hierarch and the rest of the Bishops. Funny thing - even though I have not really eaten, and had driven 400 miles (about 650 km), and than stood for about 5 hours, I was not tired at all. So I went back to inspect my car (if it was already towed away by now, or not :0)), then sat there for a short time and again for reason unclear - (I decided to sleep first, and was not going to receive Holy Communion) - somehow I went back to the cathdral, and found myself standing in a relatively short line for confession - at the right side, close to the future sepulcher for st. John, still empty at that time. People were still coming to his coffin in the middle of the church - I noticed several nuns wearing what appeared to be Roman Catholic attire, perhaps from Europe. At that point it occured to me that I am going for confession, there were two priests there, one I knew, from Santa Rosa, another one I did not. I hesitated - I was not prepared, did not read repentance canon, but was instead driving like crazy and before that in sorrow about that discussion we had Thursday, about "accepting" people who insist on rejecting God. At this point I noticed, again with surprise, for the first time since I was in the US, a large image of my saint, in whose name I was baptised, Metropolitan Alexis of Moscow (and Kiev of course). [I do not know how others do this, but I am usually greatly helped by prayer before such image as I am standing in that line, in preparation. In my parish church, this would be a big image of st. John of Kronstadt. Somehow consciousness is very easy to analyse when you do it in light of such saints]. Anyway, st. Alexis's was the first I saw in US, it was hanging at 45 degree angle, right next to the place where that confession was being taken, 1 meter from my face. At which point I decided, I will go, only if my turn will fall on the priest I knew. And it seemed unlikely - just before me a boy went to the other priest, and it looked like my turn is next. I was prepared to step aside. Then an altar server came to me and asked if he can steal my turn, because he will serve very soon, at 1:30. I said OK, and that is how I went to confession. Very curious thing, all that day, in a hindsight, it appears like I was doing very unlikely things, somehow beside my planning or intentions. Probably I was just tired. I came outside about few minutes before midnight. Priest told me to read the pre-communion rule, since that is what I usually do. So I went to the car, read it (having that paper icon given at the vigil was very good), and then slept in a car from about 1:15 to almost 5 am (good to have a vagon!) I noticed several other such "sleep cars" there, and inside the cathedral back rooms and the compound, it was reportedly hard to walk - people covering the floor, mostly altar servers. Too bad I slept through the first liturgy, I was congregational singing. So I read morning, dressed up, went to the service. It was concelebrated by about 12-14 priests, no bishops this time. Communion was from the 3 chalices, many people. Again, as the evening before, there were 3 famous miracle-working images present - the Kurskaya-Korennaya image of the Mother of God (of Sign, "Znamenie") - the image that was used, among thousands of other cases,by Lord to heal one boy Prochor Moshnin - who is better known by his monastic name st. Seraphim of Sarov. There was Iveron image of Theotokos (myrrh-bearing, usually residing in Montreal), and another smaller image that I had not a chance to see, because it was frequently taken outside, perhaps visiting sick. It could have been the one from the Vladimir Mother of God convent in San Franscisco. At about 7:30 preparations began for the main liturgy, meeting of the First Hierarch and other bishops. It was very magnificent, I was present for the first part of the service, vesting and liturgy of the word. On the ROCA part, 12 bishops were present, slightly over 100 priests and 30-40 deacons. My parish priest served at that liturgy too. There were many monks and nuns, I did not realise that there were so many in North America - probably many from Canada.
About 9 or 9:30, I decided I should leave, took my prosphora, sneaked out, bought a book about desert fathers, "spiritual meadow", by blessed John Mosch, in russian, at the bookstand; read post-communion rule, got some bagels and coffee and went back to the "desert" of LA.
This time I returned by highway 1 and 101, along the Pacific coast. Initially I thought I would stop at our churches in Monterrey, Santa Barbara, and maybe Oxnard - but then I realised that most likely priests would be still in SF. It turned out to be much longer way to go, I arrived to LA in 6:30pm, just as the Saturday evening service was beginning in our church here, right in time.
It was the eve of All Russian Saints Sunday, and I got back home after 9pm. Quite a journey, considering how unprepared I was to go - 880 miles roundtrip. On my way back, for the most part I could not stop singing for myself - mostly "velichaem..." interspersed with everything else I could manage. Some form of insanity I suppose. A pity, I could have arranged to meet other people there, but it really was a very spontaneous trip. Another funny thing, is that (probably due to oil change) my car has aquired an amazing gas mileage - it used to be 23-24 mpg on the freeway - this time it was 30 mpg roundtrip. 2 new tires perhaps.
Apparently after I already left, there was a procession around the cathedral, and placing of the relics into the special place at the right side of the church.