Among the members of the Orthodox Church, there are countless examples of men and women who lived their lives in piety and righteousness. Jonah (Vladimir Pokrovsky), a young bishop and missionary, stands out among them as a man whose sainthood was evident to all around him during his lifetime. He died when he was only 37 years of age, but his service changed multiple lives and in such a profound way that many considered him a saint during his lifetime.
Bishop Jonah was born in Kaluga in 1888. Already as a child, he lost his parents and knew much grief. He received his education at the religious seminary in Kaluga and the theological academy in Kazan. In his student years, he was a disciple of Elder Gabriel of Optina Pustyn. At his graduation, he was offered a teaching position at the academy. He turned down the offer, saying that he was not ready for it. He shared the incident with his spiritual father, who saw the offer as a calling from God. He instructed Jonah to accept it, and do 300 prostrate bows with Jesus’ prayer as penance for his premature response.
In 1918, Father Jonah left Kazan, fleeing persecution from the Soviets. In Perm, he was arrested. He suffered beatings to the point of loss of consciousness. Finally, his captors sent him to Tyumen for trial, along with many other new Russian confessors. En route to Tyumen, he and his fellow prisoners were freed by the White Army. At Omsk, he became the chief chaplain of the Southern army of the White guard. After the defeat of the white army in Siberia, he retreated to China with the army of Ataman Dutov. There he began a new chapter of his life. He joined the Peking Religious Mission, and in 1922 he became the Bishop of Manchuria. In his new service, he displayed his abundant gifts at preaching, pastoral care and teaching. He establishes a school for 200 children, where he works as a teacher and conducts worship. He also opens an orphanage and launched a training course in philosophy and theology in Kharbin. He dedicated himself fully to the service of others to the point of forgetting about his own needs. Jovial, outgoing and fun-loving, he lived a very simple and humble life. In 1925, he caught quinsy but continued to conduct worship offices at church as usual. Despite a fever, he still celebrated liturgy on the feast of the Exaltation. On the day of the Protection, he served liturgy with a bad sore throat and gave his sermon in a whisper. He rinsed his throat with kerosene and had sepsis. On 19 October, a doctor who saw him advised him to confess and take communion as soon as possible. The Vladyka’s disciples and children gathered to see him for the last time. He confessed before his spiritual father Alexis, put on a new gown and orarion and made multiple prostrate bows before the Holy Gifts before taking communion. After the communion, he sat calmly at his table and typed his will, in which he asked his spiritual children to love one another and stay with their children. Then he talked to each person in the room privately and asked everyone for their forgiveness. Thirty minutes after midnight, he rose from his table, put on the orarion and armlets from Elder Ambrose of Optina read a prayer of departure for himself, with intermittent prostrate bows. He left his last instructions on the dress, asks to serve a burial service for him according to the monastic order, and put a wooden cross above his grave. All were in tears, and his children were pleading, “Lord, please leave us our Vladyka!” At 1.30 in the morning, Father Jonah rose from his bed and said, “I am going off to the church to die there.” The people tried to talk him out of it, but he still went. He lay down, cross and icon in his right hand, and a lighted candle in the left. Three minutes later, he departed to God. His three-year service as a bishop ended.
Scores of people attended the vigil services for their beloved bishop. The faithful from all across Manchuria gathered for his funeral service. On the day of his interment, he appeared in a vision to a ten-year-old boy who could not stand or walk because of a weakness in the legs. In the vision, he commanded to the boy, “Give me your legs and take mine. I do not need them anymore.” The boy woke up, rose to his feet and went to the kitchen crying to his mother, “Mama! Mama! Open the door!” The faithful knew it was Father Jonah from the boy’s description. From 1994 to 1996, some members of his flock who had emigrated from Manchuria and were living in San Francisco when to China to look for the remains of their beloved shepherd. They did not succeed. Still, the memory of Father Jonah’s life, his exploits and death is alive. For over sixty years, he had been venerated as a saint in the minds of the faithful. They glorified him for his ability to attain the grace of God in his prayers for all those who invoked his name.
Bishop Jonah was glorified by the Church on 19 October 1996.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds