We arrived at the Cathedral of the Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow (my thanks to those who so gently corrected my previous confusion) Thursday evening, just as the Parastis was ending. Even then the cathedral was packed and many were praying and singing hymns as this commemoration ended. There in the cathedral were the eagle rugs on the oversized cathedra marking the places of all the participating bishops. Many people were moving about, greeting old friends and new and indeed I also found old friends I had not seen in quite a while and met others face to face for the first time whom I had only known by voice or reputation.
After settling in for the evenings rest, my family and I prepared to attend the commemorative Divine Liturgy on Friday morning. We took the opportunity to visit the sepulchure under the altar one last time and there venerate the relics of Vladyka John as pannyhidas were served continually. Still able to get into the main cathedral, we took advantage of the opportunity to lift up our prayers surrounded by the impressive iconography of the cathedral and immersed in the music of the hymns. For the first time this visit, I entered the altar and was greeted enthusiastically by my brother priests as another member of the spiritual family which included Vladyka John as well as each one there.
All this was only preparatory, however, for the celebration began in ernest that afternoon with the final pannyhida. Even then the cathdral began to be crowded and space inside was at a premium. The altar itself was filling fast as bishops, priests, deacons and alter servers began to take their places to transfer the relics from the sepulchure to the main Church. At the appointed time the clergy, headed by the bishops flowed out of the altar like a river of gold (all the vestments were gold), and singing, we descended the steps to the sepulchure and accompanied the relics, carried by the bishops and senior priests, into the main Church where they were laid to rest in the center before the royal gates. The icon of St John, veiled in preparation of its revealing was laid on top of the closed reliquary. The pannyhida began.
There was no end, no pause, but the last pannyhida flowed into the Vigil service where for the first time ever, the hymns recalling the life and struggles of Vladyka John were sung. And again, after the readings from the prophets, the gates of the altar were opened and the clergy emerged, in ever greater numbers to celebrate together the Lity. The ranks of priests were 4 deep from the iconostasis to the cathedra and the circle of gold with the bishops and the relics in the center was completed along the back by the deacons and servers.
Along with nearly all the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad was the representative of the Old Calendar Romanians concelebrating on this joyous occasion. In addition, standing nearby were the representatives of the Old Calendar Bulgarian Church and of Metropolitan Cyprianos of the Old Calendar Greek Church of Oropos and Fili. These latter did not vest and concelebrate, but were invited into the altar and were seated always with the Russian bishops.
After the lity, the clergy returned again into the altar as vespers ended and matins was begun. Here the expectation began to build so that it could be felt by all present and after the reading of the Kathisma, the polyelei was begun and the river of golden vested clergy again emerged to gather around the relics of Vladyka John. The polyelei was finished and the moment had arrived to begin the singing of the velichayim (the mangification). This hymn was begun first by the clergy - hundreds of strong, deep voices proclaiming for the first time our request of Vladyka John's prayers. Archbishop Anthony, who had labored long and hard in preparation for this glorious event, was given the honor of approaching the relics first and of taking the icon from its wrapping of white cloth and holding it up for all the faithful to behold - a new saint had entered the choirs of heaven and stands even now praying for us! The icon was taken by two priests and held high behind the reliquary as the other bishops and senior priests began to unfasten its cover. And even as we sang the praises of Archbishop John, the cover was removed, revealing to all the incorrupt relics of the Saint. The gospel was proclaimed and the prayer of intercession of all the saints was read including for the first time, the name of Archbishop John Maximovitch.
The bishops, led by Metropolitan Vitaly, all came down to venerate the relics of the newly glorified saint and the icon was brought around and laid on top of the reliquary to be venerated as well. Then, as the canon was read, the rest of the clergy and all the faithful approached to venerate the relics and icon of the new saint. Each one received anointing and a print of the icon of St John as a memorial and a blessing. So great was the crowd that even the remainder of matins, sung in its entirety was not sufficient time for all the faithful to venerate and that veneration continued long after the end of the service. But noone was turned away and just as in life, Vladyka John reached out to all, so also now everyone was received at the initial veneration of his relics.
The next morning was filled with the Divine Liturgy, in order to accomodate the crowd, there were 3 liturgies served and multiple chalices offered at each liturgy. At 2am, (the only liturgy I attended in full), Bishop Ambrose of Switzerland presided and 20 or more priests along with a half dozen deacons concelebrated. There was no choir, but the congregation sang, half in English half in Slavonic. A sermon was given in English at the clergy communion and later on Vladyka preached in Russian. Three chalices, one at each gate were brought forth and over 400 faithful communed at that liturgy. At 5am, more than 200 communed from 3 chalices and at the main liturgy, presided over by Metropolitan Vitaly, there were 7 chalices and so many communicants that I have yet to get an official number.
The Divine Liturgy ended around noon and the molieben was begun. This molieben started with again the river of gold as all the clergy vested in their brightest vestments and flowed out of the altar and around the relics, where they were raised on a litter to be carried in procession. Out the front door of the cathedral and standing in the street, the hymns of praise were begun. Proceeding this time not just around the cathedral itself, but around the entire block, the procession filled the street as choir and clergy and faithful all accompanied Vladyka John's relics. At each side of the temple we paused, sang the litany and the icon, relics, and crowd were sprinkled with holy water. Finally back in front of the cathedral, the gospel was proclaimed and the canon ended. To the last hymns of the molieben the relics were returned to the center of the cathedral where the final hymns were sung. Archbishop Anthony and Bishop Kyrill knealt before the relics and prayed the newly composed prayer to Archbishop John, first by Vladyka Anthony in Slavonic and then by Vladyka Kyrill in English. And again, one more time we all gathered, led by our archpastors to venerate the relics. The miraculous Kursk icon and the Myrrhstreaming Montreal icon of the Mother of God which had been present throughout and which had been carried in procession along with the relics, were now brought down and placed on either side of Vladyka John's relics also to be venerated by the faithful.
The celebratory luncheon was marked by the reading of a short account of Archbishop John's life in Russian and in English and the dinner was ended by a brief address by Archbishop Mark of Berlin, reminding us that as we departed, each to his own home, we each took with us some little portion of the grace of God and of the prayers of Archbishop John. Metropolitan Vitaly said his goodbyes and Archbishop Anthony came down from the head table to greet the living relatives of Vladyka John who were present. Returning to the Church, the relics were placed in their permanent resting place in a shrine on the South wall and the vigil for All Sts of Russia (the Sunday feast) was begun, bringing to a close the glorification of our own Vladyka John. However, with the end of the service, it is not over, rather it has only just begun.
Holy Archbishop John, pray to God for us.
Unworthy priest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church