SHOWDOWN IN SAN FRANCISCO

Written by Vladimir Moss

SHOWDOWN IN SAN FRANCISCO

 

     In 1961 the foundation stone for a new ROCOR cathedral in San Francisco was laid. However, ROCOR Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco fell ill, so Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles was appointed to be temporary administrator of the diocese and in charge of the building of the cathedral. He discovered a scandal involving the financing of the project, - it appears that more than $150,000 had been stolen by the warden of the parish, Eugene Khrapov, - and demanded that fund raising should be stopped and that the money necessary to complete the building should be secured and accounted for in a bank account before they proceeded any further with the construction. A new parish council was elected; but Archbishop Tikhon, at the request of Khrapov and other former parishioners of Archbishop John (Maximovich) when he was ruling bishop of Shanghai, petitioned the Synod to appoint Archbishop John to come to San Francisco and solve the problem.[1] Archbishop John duly received the blessing of the ROCOR Synod to transfer his see from Brussels to San Francisco at the end of 1962.

 

     Upon his arrival, Vladyka took the side of his former Shanghai parishioners, and permitted the founding of a “Society of Laymen” which, according to the secretary of the Synod, Fr. George Grabbe, constituted an authority parallel to, and in rivalry with, the diocesan authority of the bishops. “Vladyka Metropolitan wrote to Vladyka John, that he should not permit this organisation. He was silent and accepted from them the organisation of a festivity on his namesday. This society, headed by dark personalities, is intending to seize power over the whole of the Church Abroad through Vladyka John. After this society has developed in California something similar will follow in other countries, too, for these people have large resources from somewhere or other. In complete secrecy, for example, they have bought Vladyka John a house, about which he has told nobody anything, but it has become known from the newspaper… The editor of Russkaia Zhizn’ (Russian Life) Delyanich, who is connected with the solidarists and Shakhovskoy [the Metropolia Archbishop of San Francisco] has, with another woman, bought this house for $62,000 with a cash down-payment of $9000, and within a month transferred it into the name of Vladyka John.”[2]

 

     However, Archbishop John reported to the Synod that on his arrival he found the affairs in the community in a state of “paralysis; the parish council consisted mainly of supporters of Archbishop Anthony, who refused to acquaint him with the documentation, and when they finally gave it to him, it was in a state of “deliberate disorder”.[3]

 

     But Fr. George had a different story: “The parish Council elected under Vladyka Anthony at first tried to cooperate with Vladyka John, although they were unhappy with his appointment. But then came complaints that Vladyka was ignoring the Council, was handing over its functions to outsiders, was not agreeing to call for contributors to the building of the cathedral, was trying to fill up the parish with supporters of Khrapov who did not have the right to vote so as to have a vote at a general assembly, and was doing nothing to correcdt the charter on the instructions of the Cathedral, etc. One has to say that it appears that the majority of the complaints were justified.”  Fr. George concluded: “Vladyka John, instead of reconciling the parties… introduced an unheard of exacerbation of relations. Such spite as exists now has never and nowhere been seen among us. Moreover, the parishioners were divided approximately 50/50.”[4]

 

     In May, 1963 Vladyka John was summoned to a session of the Synod. The discussions went on for four hours behind closed doors. Finally, it was decided by a majority of votes to remove him from San Francisco.

 

     When Vladyka returned with this news to San Francisco, there was massive unrest and a petition with many signatures was sent to the Synod asking that their beloved archpastor not be removed. The opposing party also redoubled their efforts. In his report to the Synod of July 23, Vladyka John wrote: “There was a danger of massive fights, I tried to hold people back as far as I could, my presence restrained this zeal not according to reason, but to my profound sorrow everything that was done to establish peace in my flock in the course of four months was destroyed at one blow in one day.” Metropolitan Anastasy telephoned Vladyka John and spoke with him for one hour, as a result of which conversation the temporary administration of the diocese was given back to Vladyka John for another six months…

 

     But passions did not cool. On July 9 there was due to take place the re-election of the members of the parish council and the warden. But Vladyka Anthony’s supporters were categorically against this. The Synod decided to send its observers to the election. “However, St. John publicly declared that neither the Synod nor the Sobor had the right to interfere in the internal affairs of his diocese.”[5] The situation by this time was getting out of hand… Among the many telegrams sent to the Synod in support of Vladyka John, it was found that more than 1000 of them had been signed several times by the same people, including reposed people!

 

     Khrapov and Vladyka John was now sued for financial mismanagement. The court ordered that the building of the cathedral be stopped until the end of the trial. The opponents of Vladyka John summoned his enemies among the bishops to the trial: Archbishops Nicon (Rklitsky), Anthony (Sinkevich) of Los Angeles, Vitaly (Ustinov) of Canada and Seraphim (Ivanov) of Chicago. On the opposing bench with Archbishop John were Archbishops Averky and Leonty, and Bishops Savva and Nektary. Also appearing for the opposition was Fr. George, who had been sent by Metropolitan Anastasy to declare during the trial that the Synod had the complete right to be involved in diocesan affairs. “This elicited shouts in the ecclesiastical public that ‘Grabbe is judging the saint’”.[6] In his report to the Synod Vladyka John wrote: “At the first hearing there arrived the secretary of the Synod, Protopresbyter George, one of the most influential members of the clique. His constant meetings with lawyers for the plaintiffs attracted attention to himself… It is with pain that I have to see and observe the collapse of the Church Abroad, which is beneficial only for her enemies. We, her hierarchs, cannot allow this, nor that one organized group should lord it over the rest of the episcopate and should by any means introduce that which it desires…”[7]

 

     Archbishop John was acquitted of financial mismanagement, and on August 13, the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR decided to confirm him in the see of San Francisco. However, on August 18, there was an “Extraordinary meeting of the Initiative group of the opponents of Archbishop John”. At this meeting a “Group standing for the purity of the Synod” declared that they were not alone, that “the American Council of Churches [a mainly Protestant organization] has already taken note of Archbishop John’s entourage, and has promised support” (Novaia Zaria (New Dawn), № 8618, 20 August, 1963). Vladyka John was accused that already for half a year he has been conducting negotiations with the Greek and Serbian Churches… so as to join one of them… and for this aim he is trying to take possession of the property of the Joy of All Who Sorrow cathedral… Vl. John has surrounded himself by people with a communist past. 

 

     Nun Cassia writes : « It turned out that St. John was more right [as regards the rights of a diocesan bishop vis-á-vis the Synod], but from a practical point of view his links with the ‘laymen’ almost brought the Church Abroad to a schism – which, of course, would only have played into the hands of the enemies of Orthodoxy. The ‘Society of Laymen’  created by Khrapov pursued far from peaceful ends ; its members were linked with circles inimical to ROCOR and wanted in any way possible, if not to destroy, at any rate to weaken it – in particular, through introducing a schism into it. Insofar as Khrapov and the « laymen » possessed very large finanical resources, they were able to unleash a whole campaign in the newspapers blackening the ROCOR Synod and attacking individual hierarchs. The ‘Society of Laymen’ proclaimed the thesis that not one of the resolutions of the Synod or Sobor could be valid if it was not confirmed by the laymen, and tried in every way to undermine the authority of the hierarchy, demanding reforms in the Church that were completely mindless from a canonical point of view. On the other hand, the ‘Society of Laymen’ even as if were to buy up the Synod, contributing through St. John a cheque for $250,000 for the needs of the Synod. However, the Synod refused to accept this contribution until the Society was reorganized into a Church Brotherhood…. In the end Metropolitan Anastasy understood that he was not capable of dealing with the administration, and, having summoned an extraordinary Council, suggested electing a new First-Hierarch, who became St. Philaret.

 

     « In his first speech at metropolitan at the Council, the holy hierarch Philaret declared as regards the activity of the ‘laymen’ : ‘They will not frighten us,’ quoting Stolypin. After this the ‘laymen’ and their supporters among the hierarchs, in particular Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Archbishop Leonty of Chile, were quiet for a time, but then their activity was renewed. The ‘laymen’ denounced not only Fr. George Grabbe, but also Metropolitan Philaret, and in general the hierarchy of ROCOR. »[8]

 

     The bitterness caused by this affair lingered on, and in 1966 Archbishop Averky wrote to Metropolitan Philaret: “A tendency has appeared among a small group of bishops to create ‘its own party’ and strive for all power in the Church. Scandals have begun among us which, alas, are leading our Church to destruction, all the while broadening and deepening their activity from that time until now.”[9]

 

     On the other side, A.G. Shatilova, the daughter of Fr. George, declared that Archbishop John, by his continued support for Khapov, was preparing to create a schism in ROCOR. But “God saved him through his sudden death” in July, 1966. For Metropolitan Philaret had just signed an ukaz banning him from serving, and had bought a ticket to San Francisco. “But in the end the metropolitan flew on this ticket to the funeral of the archbishop...”[10]

 

     Whatever the truth about this affair, - and there is much that remains obscure about it, - there can be no doubt that Archbishop John is a saint, as was accepted by many of his opponents in this affair, and as is witnessed by his incorrupt relics and the extraordinary abundance of his miracles. [11] His tomb, which is located in the crypt of the cathedral he was finally able to build, to the Mother of God “The Joy of All Who Sorrow”, in San Francisco, has become a major place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians of all nationalities. Archbishop John remains probably the best-known and most universally loved personality in the whole history of the Russian Church Abroad.[12]



[1] Archbishop Tikhon had recovered from his illness by this time, but according to Archbishop Averky the ROCOR Synod “laid a ban on his return to the flock that loved him and was devoted to him… This is very dangerous precedent, which must be subjected to unreserved condemnation, so that it should not be repeated in the future” (Report on the Affair of the Church Disturbance in San Francisco, in Monk Benjamin, Letopis’ Tserkovnykh Sobytij (Chronicle of Church Events), part 5, http://www.zlatoust.ws/letopis5.htm, p. 9).

[2] Fr. George Grabbe, letter to Archbishop Theodosius (Samoilovich) of Brazil, 12/25 June, 1963. See also the letter of Protoprebyter George Grabbe to Bishop Anthony of Melbourne, June 7/20, 1963, in Tserkovnie Novosti (Church News), July, 2002, № 8 (109), pp. 7-8.

[3] Senina, Stolp Ognennij, op. cit., p. 36.

[4] Grabbe, op. cit.

[5] Senina, op. cit., p. 38.

[6] Senina, op. cit., p. 38.

[7] Monk Benjamin, op. cit., part 5, pp. 11-12.

[8] Senina, op. cit., p. 39.

[9] Archbishop Averky, letter of September 14/27, 1966. See also Sergius Nosov, "Drugaia Pravda" (Another Truth), Moskva (Moscow), February, 1993. On April 21, 1967, Averky again wrote to the metropolitan: “I am inexpressibly sorry for you, Holy Vladyko, that you are being so skilfully and cunningly cajoled by dishonourable people who have clearly lost their conscience, if they are able so disgustingly and horribly to slander others who see them and know them and whom they for that reason fear. After all, besides a small bunch of personal friends and relatives, who are also bound to each other by a commonality of interests of the same base character, absolutely nobody supports them. The true Church people is not with them, for it sees and knows them thoroughly and does not believe them. By slandering others, they think they can in this way whitewash themselves… Everything would be peaceful, quiet and friendly with us in the Church if it were not for the striving of this bunch to seize dictatorial power into their own hands” (Personal Archive of Archbishop Averky; Monk Benjamin, op. cit., part 5, p. 33).

[10] Senina, op. cit., p. 40.

[11] Archbishop Anthony of Los Angeles objected to the glorificationn of St. John in San Francisco in July, 1994. As he declared to the Sobor of ROCOR in 1993: “I am convinced that Vladyka John was not a saint. From a purely theological point of view, miracle-working is not a sign of sanctity. There is no doubt that Vladyka John worked miracles, I even experienced his wonderworking on myself. But together with that, we have to remember the words of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) at the consecration of Vladyka John: ‘God has given you many gifts, see that you do not become proud…’ In San-Francisco his fall took place, because Vladyka John supported that group of people which did not deserve to be trusted…”Protocols of the Hierarchical Council of ROCOR, 22 April / 5 May, 1993, p. 3; in von Sievers, “Proslavlen li u Boga Arkhiepiskop Ioann (Maksimovich)?” (Was Archbishop John (Maximovich) Glorified by God?), op. cit., p. 37. Archbishop Anthony confirmed this opinion of his to the present writer at Lesna in November, 1994, saying that he thought Archbishop John had been wrong in insisting on the innocence of those accused of financial corruption on the grounds of a personal revelation. He told Elena Alexandrovna Petrova something similar, that Archbishop John had defended his opinion on the basis of a personal revelation from God, which was incorrect (personal communication, November, 1994).

[12] For an account of the controversy from an anti-Synodal point of view, see Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen), Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood Press, 2003, chapters 41 and 42.

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