Archpriest Sergiy Baranov



This saint is called Saint John of San Francisco and sometimes, Saint John of Shanghai. He is our fellow countryman, who was born in Rus. The history of our great Motherland went the way that after the revolution, the great persecution of our Church began. Saint John had, together with a large number of the Russian intellectuals, to leave the country first for China; this is why there is such a prefix to his name as the Bishop of Shanghai. He served in Shanghai and guided the flock of our immigrants, who lived in an alien land and suffered hardships. He took care of little orphans, who by circumstance were left parentless in the foreign country. A big community of parentless children gathered around him there.   

When the Cultural Revolution started in China and the Church was persecuted as fanatically and terribly as in Russia, Saint John had to take all his children, who were gathered around him, and leave for the Philippines. They lived for some time in the Philippines, but circumstances made them leave the country and move somewhere else. 

They decided to move to America. In those days, America was not as ungodly as it is now, it was a bit different country. America, of those times, harbored a great number of our immigrants. However, in those times, America passed a law prohibiting him from coming into the country together with such a big community. The Lord helped Saint John, and for his sake, another law was signed, valid for just one day, as an exception, and Vladyka John with all his numerous flock, including the parentless children, settled down in San Francisco, the West coast, California. There he lives his last years, he builds new churches, he guides our immigrants, and he dies there. Some time later, he is glorified as a saint for his exceptional feats. These feats do not include only the feats of good deeds, but also a mystic feat, his life in Christ. 

In thirty years, when his relics were discovered, they appeared absolutely incorruptible. By good fortune, I had an occasion to visit San Francisco and this church, which was built by Vladyka John, and to pray by his relics. He was lying there incorruptible, only because he had been lying for thirty years there, his relics became brown, as dark wax. As I have already said, his relics rest in the church that he built and dedicated to the Icon of the Theotokos “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” and the old church there is also preserved, where the orphanage for his children was located.  Some of his children are still alive. They were children then, when Saint John saved and guided them but now they are very old people. 

You know, there is one peculiar thing about them. Everyone of them, remembering Saint John, said one and the same thing, “Vladyka John loved me more than the others.” Perhaps, this might sound subjective when everyone says, “he loved me more than the others,” but in fact, there was so much love in him that everyone who met him thought that Vladyka loved him or her more than the others. This is what an abundance of love he had. By the way, his love was not something sentimental, it was spiritual and he could even be very strict.   

Some modern people imagine, as our notion of love has changed, that love is only some funny business when you pamper your object of love. In fact, if a person is truly in love, he or she is worried about the fate of the beloved. To pamper and leave your beloved to die in this damaged state. How can a loving heart permit this? This is why we say that Vladyka John had much love, but some people think about sentimentality. 

Today we have just read the Gospel dedicated to the Enlightener and we found the following words there, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”* This means that true love is not only a relationship, communication and the feelings of joy and delight. It appears that the one who loves gives his or her life for the beloved. He literally dies for the beloved in life circumstances and misfortunes every day. It is related to the fact that the object of love sometimes behaves in a way that brings him or her to destruction and this hurts the one who loves. The object of love, for example, our children, do not only bring us joy but also make us sad. We give them our whole life, our whole soul, and they often upset us by their inexperience in life. Don’t they? They upset us by their naughtiness and disobedience. Meanwhile, we have to give our life for them.  

In other words, when we speak about love, some people expect only a kind of inspired delight and flight, but actually, the highest understanding of love is on the cross. The Highest Love is Christ on the Cross. This is the meaning of the highest love.  In this meaning, the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep, the sheep who might be butting, disobedient, and wandering off in different directions.  Poor shepherd, he gets blisters on his feet trying to gather them! But the sheep might be ungrateful. In this very meaning, this is the highest manifestation of love. It is easy to love the one whom you like and who is obedient. But it is hard to love the one who brings you much sorrow, discomfort and even great pain. 

This is the kind of love Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco had. By his prayer, let us understand the meaning of love a little, let us see the point of love and bring ourselves to it. I say “bring ourselves” because it is sometimes scary to go ahead with the love I am talking about. It is painful and brings discomfort and uneasiness. Nevertheless, we should go in for it looking at our Originator of the Feat Jesus Christ.  

Glory to our God, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen! 

Thank you for today’s service. It was a pleasure to pray together with you. May God help you!

*Jn. 10:11



Archpriest Sergiy Baranov

The Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron monastery of Orsk 

June 18, 2023


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Today we celebrate the day of All Saints who have shown forth in the land of Russia. For ten centuries, Orthodoxy in our land has probably given thousands, or even millions of saints. We venerate all these people for having fulfilled God’s commandment. I will tell you a surprising thing. Well, more than likely you expect that I will tell you that they fulfilled God’s commandment of love. Of course, we know that this is the main commandment of God, “Love one another”. But today I want to tell you something else. They fulfilled God’s commandment to be holy. They fulfilled the commandment of God, Who said, “Be holy, for I am holy and your Heavenly Father is holy.” 

Why do I put this commandment first and foremost, and prefer it to the commandment of love? Well, love as a concept can be understood very relatively, indeed, everyone has their own understanding of love. And some people, who are really damaged, may call anything love. Well, why did people become saints?  Because they were able to fulfil this commandment, the main one, “Be holy.” And this commandment includes the commandment of love. It is impossible for a man who is not holy to fulfil the commandment of love. Why? Perhaps, this is a very complicated thing that I will say, but I will try to explain and want you to understand it. 

When Pontius Pilate before the crucifixion of Jesus asked with slight sarcasm and irony, “What is truth?” And Jesus answered, “I am the Truth.” Thus, He emphasises that the truth is not “what”, but the truth is “Who”, I am the Truth, the Truth is in Me. The whole world, the cosmos, is Christ-centred. Take away this main link – Christ, and everything will collapse. 

The same can be said about love. What is love? Love is not “what”, but love is “Who.” God is Love. Christians learned this truth. This truth is very complicated and awkward for many people. But there is no other way. The Holy Gospel gives us this key phrase: God is Love. Love is not a feeling, love is not a state, love is “Who.” God is Love. If we try to find love outside of God, we will keep falling  into the perverse understanding of love. I tell you again, now modern people in the West are ready to call love any disgrace, and for them this is also love. It is so because the main truth of love was taken away. Love is not “what”, love is “Who,” God is Love. 

The Russian saints fulfilled the commandment to be holy. They managed to do it. They managed to do it because of the main and very important reason. Modern Christians have lost this reason. Therefore, they constantly find themselves in delusion or spiritual disorder. They wish for better things but do the worse. And, well, this word “delusion” has somehow become the main word in Christianity. We use this word most of all. We think about this topic most of all. Even more than about Christ. Even more than about love. Because we can somewhat see such disorder in Christians. 

Christians begin to understand holiness as a state, as righteousness. They think that holiness is about being righteous, being positive, and being a good person. And they are mistaken. Holiness is not a state. Holiness is Christ. If you have Him inside you, He will sanctify you. Neither your good behaviour, kind thoughts, nor ascetic feats can make you a saint. Some people, Christians, seek in their prayer, in their spiritual exercises, a state of lightness, peace, some kind of pleasure. And they are confused again, as they are looking not for Christ as the key link of holiness, but they are looking for some state. But Christ for them is somewhere apart.  

Forgive me, maybe I am telling you some complicated things. But it is hard to speak about God, isn’t it? God is a very complicated topic to discuss, it is not easy. So sometimes we need to talk. Saint Symeon the New Theologian wrote many volumes of books about God. If we open it, we will say, “But what did he write about here” – well, it was hard for him to explain. I would like to climb a bell-tower and shout to our modern Christians, “Stop being afraid of the commandment about holiness!  God created us and endures us for the sake of our holiness.” What is the mistake? When we think that holiness is our achievement, our effort, our so-called good deeds, our kind behaviour, our self-compulsion to love one another. Without Christ, no matter what high moral goals you set, without Christ holiness is impossible. Because He is holy. Holiness is the prerogative of God. We can fulfil the commandments of holiness only in union with Him, through Him, if we let Him enter into us – that is we are in the process of deification. 

We have now partaken of Communion, what does it mean? We let Christ enter into us. Of course, we take Him really only if we are sincere, but not if we desecrate Him by our state, our… indifference, our absence of reverence.

When praying, when we keep holding Him inside of us: Jesus, Jesus, – this process can also be considered as taking Christ inside of ourselves. Fulfilling the commandments without Christ is a state of Antichrist. Only with Christ, for the sake of Christ. Christ – everything is Christ-centred. Nothing is possible without Him. That is why we do not experience holiness. We confuse holiness with searching for some states. Even the highest moral virtue, if it is without Christ, will be only kind, light but not holy. It is happening because only Christ is holy, not us, but Christ is holy. Once some people came to me and said, “Our relative died, he was a nice person but he was not faithful.” Well, he died as a nice person and that is it, he did not unite with God, and that is why he did not go to the good eternity because good eternity is Christ, holiness is Christ. And again this word  delusion… but what does this mean?  It’s essence is when a person looks for holiness outside of Christ but in himself. I am righteous, I am virtuous, I am reverent, I am hard working, I, I, I… There is no, no place for Christ here. Take away the “I” and give this place to Christ, and in an instant some seedlings, green branches will appear, life will begin. 

Millions of our predecessors, who became our Russian saints, differ from us not in their zeal, many of us have it also, but the direction of our zeal is wrong. This main notion distinguishes them from us, they sought holiness through Christ, not in themselves – this is a key point here. They became saints, great saints, the greatest saints, who are as different from us as the earth is from Heaven. 

Do not be afraid of this commandment. I often say, it is a shame to say this phrase, “I am not holy.” It is a shame to say such a  phrase when Christ is hanging on the Cross for you to become holy. We can say it crying, with tears, “unfortunately I am not holy,” – we may say it this way. But if you say it “you know, actually I am not holy,” so this way it sounds rude, insolent, this is disgraceful behaviour. Christ is hanging on the Cross but you stay here and say this, “You know, actually I am not holy.”  Why are you not holy? Because you are neglectful, because you are indifferent. You must become a saint. But do it not on your own but through Christ. Everything is in Christ. Glory to Him, always now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.