On Thursday May 30, 2019, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in San Francisco to mark the 30th Anniversary of the repose of the outstanding hierarch and former archpastor of the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of San Francisco and the West, Archbishop John [Shahovskoy], who served as the diocese’s ruling hierarch for nearly three decades.
The Liturgy was celebrated by Priests Philip Halliwell and Timothy Winegar at Christ the Savior Church, a parish founded by Archbishop John as well as his former residence. Father Philip shared a sermon of Archbishop John, offering a sense of his poetic and vivid preaching style. Father Timothy spoke of the Archbishop’s monastic cross, which he had received on Mount Athos and which contains a number of relics, and how it came to be enshrined at the Elevation of the Holy Cross Church, Sacramento, CA—a parish also planted with Archbishop John’s blessing.
A prolific writer and poet, Archbishop John remains widely known for his classic treatise on the priesthood – The Orthodox Pastor: A Guide to Pastoral Theology—which continues to inspire seminarians and clergy to this day. Most of his publications appeared in Russian and await translation into English. His life reflects the stormy path of the Church during the 20th century, taking him from his native Russia to western and central Europe and finally to the United States, where he fell asleep in the Lord in Santa Barbara, CA and was interred on June 1, 1989, in San Francisco’s Serbian Orthodox Cemetery.
Born Prince Dimitry Shahovskoy in Moscow on August 23, 1902, Archbishop John was educated in Saint Petersburg. The Russian Revolution engulfed his family with its endless tragedies. He served in the White Army during the Civil War, after which he was evacuated from Crimea to France. He received his higher education a Louvain University in Belgium, studying in the Faculty of History and Political Economy. In the years 1923 through 1926, he published three collections of his poetry, and in 1925 and 1926 he served as editor of a journal dedicated to philosophy and literature. Some of the most prominent writers, poets, and philosophers of the Russian emigration contributed to this publication.
In 1926, the young Dimitry left all to follow Christ. He went to Mount Athos, where he was tonsured to monastic orders with the name John, after the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. From Mount Athos, he returned to France, to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogy, and studied at the Saint Sergius Theological Institute. Soon after his ordination to the diaconate by Metropolitan Evlogy, he was ordained to the priesthood in Yugoslavia by Bishop Benjamin. Assigned by Metropolitan Anthony [Khrapovitsky] to serve in Belaya Tserkov, Yugoslavia, Hieromonk John began his life-long priestly, missionary, and educational ministry. He established a publishing house which disseminated religious tracts throughout Yugoslavia, attracting many young Russian refugees to the Church. After returning to France once again, he was assigned by Metropolitan Evlogy to serve as pastor of Saint Vladimir Church, Berlin, Germany, where he greatly expanded his missionary and educational work, thereby reaching far beyond the boundaries of his parish. In 1937, he was elevated to the dignity of archimandrite.
During the Second World War, he and his flock assisted many “workers from the East”—people brought by force from Russia and Ukraine as laborers in Germany—and refugees, and provided assistance to missionaries going to the German-occupied territories of the USSR to reopen churches that had been closed during the Soviet Union’s relentless religious persecutions.
After the war, Archimandrite John came to the United States. For about one year he served as pastor of Los Angeles’ Holy Virgin Mary Church, where he organized the faithful to provide help to refugees in Europe, both in the form of CARE packages with food, clothing and medicine, and in the form of sponsorships to refugees who were immigrating to the United States as displaced persons.
In 1947, Archimandrite John was elected Bishop of Brooklyn, NY, and appointed Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, New York, NY. At this time he began his 40-year ministry as a religious broadcaster to Russia. He also pursued his love of writing, authoring numerous books, articles, and poems.
Elected to the See of San Francisco in 1950, Bishop John accepted pastoral responsibilities in a far-flung diocese while continuing his enormous labors as broadcaster and writer. From 1954 through 1968, he represented the American Metropolia in the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. It was in the midst of this work that Bishop John—elevated to the dignity of Archbishop in 1961—established contacts with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had joined the World Council of Churches in 1961. He was instrumental in beginning the conversations which led to the reestablishment of canonical relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Metropolia, culminating in the granting of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America in 1970.
Archbishop John retired in 1973, only to be called back to active episcopal ministry in his diocese in 1975. At his final retirement in 1979, despite declining health, he continued to grow in his spiritual clarity, his goodwill to every person, and his prayerful insight.
May the memory of Archbishop John, especially as we prepare to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Granting of Autocephaly in 2020, be eternal!