(Updated version – October 26, 2005)
In the polemics on the process of the unification of the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate within the past few months, evidences have been presented to indicate that St. John of Shanghai after the end of World War II led his diocese towards a reunion with the MP.
As one example of this assertion, in his discourse on Internet of August 5, 2004, entitled: “It’s About Time for Us to Know Our History”, Father Alexander Lebedeff cites “Ukaz #650, dated August 24, 1945 by St. John directing that the name of Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and All Russia be commemorated at all divine services.” In his further Internet report to the ROCA clergy, dated July 15, 2005, Father Alexander unequivocally asserts that “the current process is in keeping with the thinking of the great luminaries of the Church Abroad in the past”, proof of which he attests by the citation of the Epistle of St. John of Shanghai, dated August 2, 1946 on the favorable approach to the canonical-prayerful communion with the Moscow Patriarchate. The quoted epistle (as it turns out the quotation is only an excerpt) reads:
"The news concerning the reestablishment without any hindrance of canonical-prayerful communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, which was received by Archbishop Viktor on Great Saturday in response to his appeal to His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei in August of the past year (1945), sincerely gave us joy, because in it we perceived the beginning of mutual understanding between the two parts of the Russian Church, divided by the border, and the opportunity for mutual support of the two centers which unite the Russian people, inside and outside of our Fatherland. Striving toward our single mutual goal while acting separately, in accordance with the conditions in which each of them are found, the Churches inside Russia and abroad can more effectively meet both their mutual, as well as the unique challenges, which each of them has, until the time will come when complete unification will be possible. At the present time, the Church inside Russia must heal the wounds which were inflicted on Her by militant atheism, and free itself from the bonds which hindered the internal and external fullness of Her activities. The challenge of the Church Abroad is the preservation from dissipation of the children of the Russian Orthodox Church and the preservation of those spiritual riches which they brought with them from their Motherland and also the spread of Orthodoxy in those countries in which they live."
Not questioning the authenticity of the cited documents, I feel it is my duty as a live witness of the post-war political situation in Shanghai, to show how tremendously difficult and confusing that situation was in the years 1945-1946. One must realize that following the end of the war, as a result of the unsettled situation in Europe, the ruling bishop in Shanghai was not able to establish contact with the First Hierarch Metropolitan Anastassy and the Synod of the Church Abroad. Meanwhile, the political squeeze of Russian émigrés by the Soviets in Harbin, with proximity of the Soviet troops at the border, forced that northern diocese to seek recognition by the Moscow Patriarchate.
On July 31, 1945 Bishop John sought direction from Archbishop Viktor, head of the Orthodox Mission in China, but the latter had already made himself available to change jurisdictions and was received by the MP soon after. Devoid of contact and direction from Metropolitan Anastassy, St. John decided that for the time being the Shanghai diocese, not having an autocephalous status, would commemorate the Patriarch, until the time when communication with ROCOR could be established and his position clarified.
It must be understood that the political climate in Shanghai at that time was electrifying and uncertain. The Communist forces were approaching the city. At the same time the Soviets launched an intensive campaign of propaganda to entice the Russian émigrés to repatriate to the USSR. Thousands did – to later pay dearly for their decision. In October 1945 St. John was able to establish relations with the ROCOR Synod. The Sobor of Bishops, convened in Munich in May 1946, installed an independent Shanghai diocese and elevated bishop John to the rank of Archbishop. His overseer Archbishop Viktor immediately (June 1946) responded by suspending Vladyka John from serving. St. John reiterated by announcing to his flock that his allegiance was to ROCOR. It is paramount to understand that the epistle of August 1946 is a recount of all the turbulent post-war events within the Shanghai diocese, events that had caused no little confusion in the hearts of the clergy and the laity. The transient allegiance of St. John to the Moscow Patriarchate occurred in the summer of 1945 and extended only into the autumn of that year. The date of the epistle (August 2, 1946) is not to be construed as the time when St. John was commemorating the Patriarch. It was the date of the overall accounting of the archpastor to his flock.
It is also noteworthy that St. John signed the quoted epistle not as bishop, but as archbishop of Shanghai, the new rank that was granted him by the Sobor of Bishops of the Church Abroad three months before the time of writing of his address. It is also interesting to note that St. John was the only Russian hierarch in the Far East who did not send congratulations or gratitude to J. Stalin on the occasion of the victory over Germany. After the situation is Shanghai deteriorated to the point of an imminent massive tragedy, St. John championed the exodus of Russian anti-communist emigrants from the burning land through the tropical island of Tubabao in the Philippines into the free world of the diaspora.
This Chinese saga of the suffering Russian people can be illustrated by a personal narrative of a witness, explicitly trusted by St. John, who played a decisive role in defending his holy hierarch against the snares of the Soviet political machine. The following account of Iona Seraphimovich Ma is provided by his daughter-in-law Lydia Ionin, a pious and trustworthy member of the San Francisco church community, who asked me to publish it, so that the truth might be made manifest:
"I was born in Beijing, China in 1905 and baptized at birth into the Christian Orthodox Faith. For eight years I studied in the Russian Orthodox Mission School in Beijing. Bishops Innokenti and Simon were my teachers. They taught me how to be a Christian. Archbishop John instructed my sons. I am forever grateful for their teachings and prayers.
Archbishop John came to Shanghai, China from Yugoslavia to be the governing bishop of Shanghai in 1934. I was a party member of the Chinese National Ruling Government and worked for the Department of Counter-Intelligence. Working underground, my primary objective was to collect information on Japanese and Soviet espionage in China. I became closely acquainted with Archbishop John immediately.
At that time there were approximately 100 Chinese Orthodox Christians living in Shanghai. The Archbishop appointed me as the Secretary of Chinese Affairs. Archbishop John’s prayers and conduct influenced the life of Orthodoxy in China in many positive ways. All of us respected and loved Archbishop John.
In October of 1940, during the Japanese occupation of China, my underground activity in counter-intelligence was discovered and I was captured by Japanese forces in Shanghai, where I was held captive. Fortunately, I was rescued after a year in jail and fled to Chongqing (the capital of China during the war). Unfortunately, I had to leave my family behind in Shanghai. During this period, Archbishop John provided assistance to my family.
In 1945 Japan surrendered and I returned to my military service in counter-intelligence and anti-Soviet work in Nanking (the post-war capital of China). At this time, the Governing Archbishop of China, Viktor, became a Soviet citizen and worked as a Soviet spy in Beijing. Archbishop Viktor began encouraging Russian immigrants in China to apply for Soviet citizenship and return to the Soviet Union. Many took his advice and did just that. Archbishop Viktor was rewarded with Stalin’s medal.
During this period, there were more than ten Russian priests in Shanghai. Some (Father Gabriel, Father Michael and some others) had applied for and received their Soviet citizenship. Others left China by other means.
There were approximately 15,000 Russian immigrants living in China at the time. About one third or approximately 5,000 immigrants acquired Soviet citizenship. However, Archbishop John refused to join the Soviet Party as Archbishop Viktor had insisted that he do. Therefore, the Soviets ordered Archbishop Viktor to come from Beijing and forcefully occupy the Sobor in Shanghai. Their immediate plan was to have Archbishop John murdered. Another plan to dispose of Archbishop John was to first physically restrain him, remove him from the Sobor in Shanghai and deliver him to a Soviet ship waiting to take him to the Soviet Union.
Most of the Russian priests had already made arrangements to flee China and therefore there was no one able to protect the security of Archbishop John and the Sobor. However, there still remained some that stayed with Archbishop John. Among them were: Fathers Ilia Wen, Nikolai Lee and Elisei Zhao. Together with this small group, Archbishop John decided to contact me in Nanking.
Archbishop John sent Father Nikolai Lee, with all the pertinent documentations, to Nanking in order for him to present the problem to me and ask for my advice. After learning of the plan to kidnap and assassinate Archbishop John, I developed a plan to protect him and the Sobor in Shanghai, as well as other Orthodox churches in China. The same night I learned of the horrific plan of the assassination, I presented my proposal to the Chinese government. I must add that the Americans also supported Archbishop John and made a report similar to my own to the Chinese government; they were of great assistance in this endeavor.
Archbishop Viktor was immediately arrested by the Chinese police, and a patrol of armed guards was dispatched to protect the Sobor in Shanghai and the person of Archbishop John day and night. The Chinese government recognized Archbishop John as the governing bishop in China.
Later, I advised Archbishop John to apply for Chinese citizenship; finally he agreed. After processing all of the necessary documents for the Archbishop, I personally delivered to Archbishop John the government approval. Only after the Archbishop acquired Chinese citizenship did the Soviets abandon their plans to capture Archbishop John and take over the Sobor in Shanghai. Our beloved Archbishop John and the Sobor were saved.
In 1949, on the eve of the Chinese New Year along with several others, I received the Gramata Award from Metropolitan Anastassy. In that same year the Chinese National Government fled to Taiwan. At that time I was a colonel (now a special agent); I was left behind in Shanghai to continue my work underground.
In 1958, I was captured by the Chinese Communist Government and sentenced to 15 years in a Shanghai prison plus six years of house arrest. My crimes were my “Activities against Stalin and the Soviet Union.”
In 1979, I was freed and able to join my son in the United States in 1983.
Now, everyday I stand before the portrait of Master John and pray to him and God to banish all evil in this world and grant love, peace and happiness to all."
(Blessed John, the wonderworker, died in 1966 and was canonized in 1994).
(Iona Seraphimovich Ma died in 1997 in San Francisco, California).
Written by Iona Seraphimovich Ma, July 5, 1989.
Translated from Chinese text by Peter Ionich Ionin, September 2004.
One cannot but notice the vivid contrast between Iona Ma’s testimony and the bishop’s epistles. Whereas, on the one hand, the quoted assertions seem to bring out St. John as a person having difficulties aligning allegiances in his diocese, Iona Ma’s testimony and my personal witness to those merciless years, must bring out Archbishop John as a true and fearless leader, faithful to his pastoral oath in the Church Abroad. To the thousands of White Russians in China St. John is a champion and a redeemer and we shall forever remain grateful to him for teaching us to remain steadfast, despite forced adjustments to the post-war years of havoc and turmoil. That is why it seems hardly prudent and fair that a politicized statement should find its way into the official documents of the Commissions for negotiations between ROCOR and MP, to wit:
"The activity of the bishops and pastors of the Russian Orthodox Church during the years of World War II, blessing the people in their self-sacrifice in the battle against fascism, became a shining example of the fulfillment of Christian and patriotic duty. Also recognizing the terrible danger of German Nazism were the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who also suffered grief from the tragic fate that befell the Russian people. It is known that Archbishop John (Maximovich), who was included among the host of saints by the Russian Church Abroad, while beyond the reach of the godless regime, performed services of supplication for the victory of the Fatherland, and made monetary collections for the needs of the troops in action" (Commentary No, 4).
St. John was praying for the Russian people in their suffering and helping those in distress. He was always known to be a staunch and convinced Monarchist.
Let those who read this testimony of witness decide for themselves what sort of man was our wonderful hierarch Saint John and how sensitively and with awe one should attempt to use his sacred name.
Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Lakewood, New Jersey