text is primary based on a
text by Vera Kencis which was published in Orthodox Life. It is supplemented in a few places by a
text which was also based primarily on the text by Vera Kencis, which was
distributed at the time of St. Jonah’s glorification. A few additional details were taken from the
official Decree for the Glorification of St. Jonah. Some corrections of the names of places
mentioned in this text have been made based on information from Dr. Jeremias
The path of Bishop
Jonah's earthly life was short. Born in 1888, the boy Volodya Pokrovsky was
only eight years old when he became an orphan. A kind village deacon took him
in and helped him to acquire an education, first at a seminary in his native
Kaluga and then at the Kazan Theological Academy. In his third year he received
the monastic tonsure with the name Jonah and became a member of the Optina
brotherhood. He was a brilliant student, and upon graduating he was elected to
teach New Testament scriptures at the Academy, a position he reluctantly
accepted in obedience to his spiritual father, the righteous Elder Gabriel.
In 1918 the Revolution forced the young hieromonk to leave Kazan. He was
arrested by the communists and suffered beatings to the point of loss of
consciousness, and imprisonment. Thus, sharing the fate of the New Confessors
of Russia, by God's providence Hieromonk Jonah was freed by the White Army,
which was situated beyond the Ural Mountains. Having been quickly raised to the
rank of Igumen, he was assigned as the senior priest of the southern volunteer
troops. With the army of Ataman Dutov, Fr. Jonah withdrew to the borders of
Western China, being subjected to all kinds of hardships while crossing the
Pamir cliffs, often forced to grab on to jagged ledges and the sparse shrubbery
of the ice covered cliffs with wounded hands. After crossing the Gobi Desert,
they finally reached Beijing, where Fr. Jonah was received into the
Ecclesiastical Mission there and soon consecrated bishop for Manzhuria [St.
Jonah was officially the bishop of Hankou, in the Hubei province, but actually
ministered and worked in the town of Manzhuria].
At the time of his arrival in the fall of 1922, the border town of Manzhuria
(present day Manzhouli, which is in the region of Manchuria) was bursting with
Russian refugees who had barely any more than the clothes on their backs. The native
populace helped as much as it could, but its resources were inadequate to meet
the needs at hand; there was not even enough bread for the children. Existing
charities were poorly organized, and the spiritual structure of the community
was too weak to offer much support. Suddenly, the town was electrified. The
transformation - both spiritual and physical - which Bishop Jonah effected in
three short years with his flock, revealed his tremendous stature as a man of
action, a man of prayer and an apostle of love. In that short time he established the following:
orphanage that held up to 30 children ranging from the ages of five to
children's school accommodating up to 500 students
dining hall for the poor, feeding up to 200 people daily
ambulatory care and medicine for the poor of Manzhuria
library spiritually feeding the citizens of Manzhuria
He was a true archpastor.
The extraordinary dimensions of his field of activity and spiritual
personality are described in memoirs written by his spiritual children and
persons close to him. Alexey Ivanovitch Budeyev writes:
"What impressed me most were his broad horizon
of interests, his tremendous intelligence, and his boundless love for people in
general, with no distinction between classes or nationality. His special love
was the children. In all my life I never met a man like him. He was indulgent
toward all, even his enemies.
'When starting a new project he sometimes became involved
with people of uncertain allegiance, who did not inspire much confidence. I
tried to warn him, as the town of Manzhuria was only four miles from the Soviet
border, and in my job I met people with different viewpoints and leanings.
Bishop Jonah would look at me: for a moment a shadow would cross his face, but
then his smile would take over again and he would say, 'That is all right,
Alexey Ivanovitch; we will accept him with kindness, for if we reject him he
will go to the Soviet Consul and surely become our enemy.
"The Bishop served magnificently; each word
penetrated the heart of his listener. The Liturgy would end at noon or one
o'clock, but no one would want to leave the church earlier. His sermons were
delivered with great pathos; one could feel the great power of his words. Each
sermon was different, and no one wanted to miss a single word.
"In his short time in Manzhuria, the church
building was put into proper condition, an addition was built, everything was
repaired or renovated. A high stone wall was erected around the church. An
orphanage was founded, and a classical high school of seven grades and
vocational classes was established; the best teachers to be found among the
refugees were invited to teach. A large library was opened and books were
gathered from all along the railway line. A soup kitchen was opened, as was a
free health clinic staffed by good doctors.
"How did Bishop Jonah gather the necessary
funds? When I introduced him to the district manager and the head of the
administration, he made a very good impression and they donated money, flour
and coal. In Harbin he paid a visit to the railroad administration, and the
director of the Chinese Eastern Railroad Lines designated a monthly stipend of
six hundred dollars. Often the Bishop held lectures at Harbin's Polytechnical
Institute and in return he received railroad car loads of coal.
"When the Bishop attended the religion class
and spoke to the students, the entire class was captivated. Asked afterwards
what the Bishop had spoken about, any one of the students could accurately
repeat the whole lesson. The students loved him more than their own parents.
When he walked through the hallways of the school, the young ones would run to
him. He would bless all from afar with a huge sign of the cross. The older
students met him with respect and a smile, and always received a wise answer to
In collecting funds for his many projects, Bishop Jonah often traveled to
Harbin where there was a sizeable Russian colony. He would stay with Archbishop
Meletius at the Ecclesiastical Mission. It was there that Archimandrite
Polycarp came to know him:
"When Bishop Jonah was appointed to Manzhuria,
the people there were not pious; they did not love the Church or support it or
the clergy. Bells rang to announce the beginning of the service, but the church
remained empty until the Cherubic Hymn. It did not take long, however, for
things to change. Bishop Jonah possessed a remarkable gift of speech. When he
was speaking, he could be quite formidable, but he inspired and convinced. He
spoke with such force that even those whose conscience was asleep would awake.
Infrequently he would bang his staff, looking around as if to seek those who
might be sleeping. At those times he seemed a stern accuser and it was fairly
terrifying to stand before him.
“Bishop Jonah often came to visit us in Harbin.
Usually he came right after the Liturgy, about ten o'clock. Archbishop Meletius
would be having his tea; suddenly the doors would open and in would come Bishop
Jonah with his childlike laugh. Archbishop Meletius would also smile and then
start picking on him. 'What are you doing, acting like a fool-for-Christ?
Honestly, why can you not have a more decent cassock; it is hanging in shreds,
you ragamuffin!' Bishop Jonah would laugh: 'This is good enough for me; I have
a lot of children who need to be fed and dressed.' The archbishop would invite
him to the table for tea. After tea Bishop Jonah would drive into the city to
visit some acquaintances-benefactors.
"The evening would again find both hierarchs
deep in discussion. There were memories of the Kazan Academy, the professors,
fellow students. Often Bishop Jonah would speak of his benefactress, the
"Tea Queen Litvinova." She helped greatly; I do not think he would
begin a new venture without consulting her. Those evening discussions lasted
sometimes until midnight; I was ready to listen to those two angelic
inhabitants of the earth until morning. Afterwards they went to rest. Bishop
Jonah usually read the evening prayers. Occasionally they also read an
akathist. The next day fund raising was again on the agenda. The Bishop never
liked to stay too long, saying, 'I have the children, the church, the high
school, the orphanage; I must go home.'
"In the matter of education, the Bishop often
phoned the Soviet Consul, asking his help in supplying his orphanage and high
school with the necessary paper, pens, pencils, chalk and slate boards. The
consul was obstinate, but the Bishop would press his case: 'For whom am I asking?!
These are your children; poverty is your child! I repeat: I need... (such and
such). I ask that you send these things to me by eight o'clock tomorrow.' And
he would hang up... The consul used to tell people close to him: 'If among us
we had only five people like him, we could turn the whole world around.' Such
was Bishop Jonah's impact."
In the words of I. Borosov, Bishop Jonah was "the ideal pastor":
“Bishop Jonah arrived and immediately galvanized
all that was with withered and dying. There was a cafeteria, an orphanage and
school, but they were in a poor state. He gave new life to the endeavors and
they blossomed in the light of his massive energy, will power, ingenuity and
intelligence. And he did it so seemingly effortlessly, as if he were playing
divine music on the most ordinary instruments.
"He was exceptionally gifted. His mind,
accustomed to constant and complex work, was always active. For days he would
be subjected to extreme mental pressure, but never did any of his ideas remain
incomplete or give any indication of not being thoroughly thought out.
"Another characteristic mental gift was Bishop
Jonah's immediate perception of the essence of a question put to him, and his
unerring solutions to the knottiest problems.
"By nature he was far removed from any kind of
commercialism. Although by no means a businessman, Bishop Jonah displayed
remarkable acumen and business strategy. It seemed that he was able to turn
each dying enterprise into a flourishing one, whose profit would go to his
ultimate purpose feeding and sheltering his orphans."
Raised without parental affection, Bishop Jonah was especially attentive to
the needs of children battered by poverty and dislocation. One of his helpers
at the orphanage, K. A. Terekhovskaya, describes his personal involvement in
what was his favorite project, his "special child":
"... Vladyka's plans for the orphanage
attained such colossal proportions as to defy comprehension. Only the power of
faith and love helped him to overcome all the difficulties which stood in his
way. Under his direction the orphanage grew very rapidly; at the end of the
first year it numbered 28 orphans. The raising and educating of children in
faith, active love and genuine Christian charity require the constant attention
of instructors and guardians. These qualities were concentrated in Vladyka and
"One of the principal occasions in the life of
the orphanage was the annual fall collection of food stuffs, clothing and other
necessities. On the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of Cod, after a short
moleben and Vladyka's blessing, a chain of carts, accompanied by members of the
Children's Sector, wound its way through the streets of Manzhuria. Posters
called for donations. The carts returned to unload the donations and set off
again. And this was repeated until late evening. The city's residents willingly
donated surplus supplies they had prepared for winter, vegetables, produce,
clothing, etc. When the collection was finished, those items necessary for the
orphan age were separated out, while the rest were distributed to children of
refugees who inhabited the city's outskirts in large numbers. The soup kitchen
alone, organized by Vladyka, fed 200 refugee children daily. Vladyka himself
took an active part in these collections; he fretted, emerging every few
minutes from his quarters to inspect the donations brought by each cart, and
helped the women sort through the collected goods.
"The second major event in the life of the
orphanage was the summer departure of the children for vacation in one of the
nearby villages on the East China railroad line, a station called Tzagan. The
rail line connecting Manzhuria and Tzagan was managed jointly by the Chinese
and Soviets. It was not easy to arrange free passage for the orphans and the
staff. But thanks to Vladyka's persistence, the strength of his connections and
his favorable relations with the Chinese administration, he was able to obtain
free passage; provisions and other supplies were to be sent by carts. This is
how it was the first year. The following year free passage was refused; only a
school was offered for shelter.
"Tzagan, the place chosen by Vladyka, was
lovely. On one side were mountains, not large; there was light, clean,
sparkling sand; small shrubs; and in front stretched the steppe green and
covered with feather-grass; there also wound the river Argun, the pride of west
Manchuria, with a marvelous bottom for swimming. It was some 35 miles from the
station, but neither the distance nor the difficulty of getting there, nor all
the complications involved stopped Vladyka. The orphanage prepared to go with
Vladyka in the lead on foot.
"The residents of Manzhuria, bowing before
Vladyka's decision, came to the rescue, offering the use of their carts and
"At five a.m. on the second day after
Pentecost, twelve carts with drivers stood at the gates of the St. Innocent
metochion, ready to be loaded with provisions, clothing and other necessities
for the orphans.
"After a moleben and light breakfast at six
o'clock, the orphanage set off. It was a touching caravan. Vladyka led the way
in his usual grey cassock, a kamilavka on his windswept hair; he wore plain
Chinese slippers and carried a staff. He was surrounded by children. Even the
little ones refused to ride on the carts, preferring to walk alongside Vladyka.
Behind them came the train of carts.
"It was a hot day; there was no sun but a warm
wind blew from the steppe. A long road lay ahead. They had to cover twenty
miles the first day to reach Tzhalainor where they planned to spend the night.
They walked slowly, pausing for the first time at nine o'clock. After feeding
the children and resting for an hour, they set off again, accompanied by the
children's singing. At four o'clock they stopped for a hot meal and another
rest. Although there was no direct sun, the wind blew and burned the skin,
necessitating the use of medication. At last it was evident that the children
were beginning to tire, and Vladyka likewise. They had to make several more
short rest stops. Finally, at sunset, after eight o'clock, they came to the end
of the first leg of their journey. Unaccustomed to such a long walk, everyone
was glad of a chance to rest. There in Tzhalainor, sleeping quarters, a sauna
and supper were prepared for them at the home of M. Okladinkov. They ate
quickly and went to sleep, unsure of whether they would be able to continue the
next day: everyone's feet ached and they had sunburns on their faces and
bodies. The pharmacist was roused and measures were taken to alleviate the
burns. After all, with the exception of the three youngest children, all had
walked the entire way behind Vladyka. Everyone slept soundly. Vladyka gave
orders to be ready by seven to continue the journey.
"Awaking the next morning at six o'clock, we
discovered that Vladyka was gone. He had left at sunrise, but where no one
knew. Having lost ourselves with guessing, we served the children breakfast,
graciously prepared for them by the Okladnikovs. Suddenly, on the road, there
appeared a procession of wagons. In the front one sat Vladyka. It turned out
that he himself had not the strength to walk another twenty miles and had
gotten up early to knock on doors and ask if people would not be willing to
give the orphans a ride. The people gladly answered his request, and at eight
o'clock, under the scorching rays of the sun, the orphanage moved towards its
destination. The people of Tzhalainor accompanied the unusual caravan to the
outskirts of the village, supplying the children with little pies and sweets.
"And so, as always, Vladyka found a solution
to a difficult situation, and did not deprive the children of their vacation in
the spaciousness of the steppe and swimming in the refreshingly cool water of
"After Vladyka Jonah's repose, under his successor,
Fr. Vladimir Izvolsky, the children spent only one more summer in Tzagan before
they were refused living quarters and had to spend summers in Manchuria."
Death's arrival was unexpected. Bishop Jonah had been caring for a priest
who died of typhoid fever. He himself contracted chronic tonsillitis just days
before the scheduled fall collection for the orphanage. Suggestions to postpone
it were of no use. Feverish, barely able to stand, Vladyka blessed the carts
from the window of his study and remained there as the carts returned, calling
each driver for a report on the result of his expedition.
Due to complications, Bishop Jonah developed blood poisoning. His doctor
suggested he avail himself of the archbishop's presence to have confession and partake
of the Holy Mysteries. Bishop Jonah understood that his hours were numbered.
After having communed himself, he went into his study and typed out his final
"...I began here with the words of the Apostle
of Love: Children, love one another... And I am ending with these same words:
Love one another. This is your archpastor's commandment.
"Do not abandon the children... Forgive me for
the sake of Christ. Do not forget me in your holy prayers... And so until
eternity when we shall all stand at the Dread Judgment."
Meanwhile, a moleben for the health of the Bishop was being served in the
church. There one could hear the insistent cries of the children: "Dear
God, please, do not take away our Vladyka!"
Returning to his room, Bishop Jonah individually blessed those tearfully
crowded in his quarters. He then put on the epitrachilion and cuffs which had
belonged to Elder Ambrose of Optina and began loudly and with prostrations, to
read the canon for the departure of the soul. He asked to be buried in his
white, embroidered vestments, simply, without pomp. Then, overcome with
weakness, he lay down on his bed: "God's will be done. Now I shall
die." He then was given a cross
and candle to hold and died within minutes, surrounded by many of his close friends. His soul was transported to that other
world, which knows neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life
everlasting in the joy of the Lord
Manzhuria's entire populace – Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike – mourned the
Bishop's death. It brought an immense moral loneliness, an emptiness which even
grief failed to satisfy. The mass of burning candles at his gravesite reflected
but dimly the light he had brought to the hearts of men. In this light his
memory is preserved for all eternity.
His funeral was held by Archbishop Methodius. Many clergy and 8,000
prayerful people attended. (The population of Manzhuria at that time was
Leaving this world did not keep him from being with his spiritual children.
A ten year old boy, Nicholas Dergachev, who was crippled, had been suffering
from an inflammation of the knee joints. Efforts to straighten his legs caused
unbearable pain. It was impossible for him to stand, much less walk. Early one
morning he had a dream. A hierarch vested in white appeared to him and said,
"Here, take my legs. I don't need them anymore. And give me yours."
The boy woke up, miraculously healed. From a photograph he identified the
hierarch in his dream as Bishop Jonah, who had died that very night, October
The convening Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, on
August 20/31, 1996, blessed his glorification.
Through the prayers of our holy father Jonah, may the Lord God preserve us
from every evil, strengthen our faith, and help us to journey upon the true
path to salvation. To our God, who is wondrous in His saints, be all glory,
honor and worship now and ever, and unto the ages of age. Amen.
The Tomb of St. Jonah