Saint John, Metropolitan of Tobolsk and All Siberia, the Wonderwonder, in the world was named John Maximovitch, and he was born in the city of Nezhino in 1651. His father Maxim Vasil’evich and mother Euphrosyne had seven sons, of which John was the eldest. Upon his completion of the Kiev-Mogilyansk College (afterwards the Kiev Spiritual Academy), the future hierarch emerged from it as a teacher of the Latin language. Thereafter, in 1680, he accepted monasticism at the Kiev Caves monastery and became absorbed in inner spiritual activity. With the general consent of the brethren, the young monk was given the obedience of preaching. From this period he demonstrated an exceptional eloquence. He attached a special significance to inner religious knowledge. The chief theme of his life can be defined at a stroke as, “How ought man to conform his will with the will of God?” He developed this theme both in his preachings, and in his subsequent missionary service. In answer to it appeared the work, published towards the end of his long ascetic life, and entitled “Heliotropion” or “Sunflower,” or “Conforming the Human Will to the Divine Will.” Of the many works of the holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, this work gives a very thorough answer to this great question of Christian soteriology.
In 1688 they sent him on a mission to Moscow. There he was appointed by Patriarch Joachim (1674-1690) as vicar of the Briansk-Svensk monastery, which was then under the Kiev Caves Lavra.
Saint Theodosius, Archbishop of Chernigov, in 1695 shortly before his own death (February 5) appointed Hieromonk John as Archimandrite of the Chernigov Eletsk monastery, and designated him as his successor as bishop. (Saint John revered the memory of Saint Theodosius, believing in the power of his prayerful intercession before the Lord. Because of his faith, he received healing from a serious illness through the prayers of Saint Theodosius. At the very height of the sickness, Saint Theodosius appeared to him and said, “Serve tomorrow, you will be well.” On the following day Saint John, completely well and to the amazement of everyone, served the Divine Liturgy. This miracle of Saint John’s healing marked the beginning of the veneration of Saint Theodosius as a grace-bearing saint of God.)
On January 10, 1697 Patriarch Adrian of Moscow and All Rus (1690-1700) consecrated Archimandrite John as Bishop of Chernigov, in the Dormition cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
Upon entering into the administration of the diocese, Bishop John created a Collegium near the archbishop’s cathedral, similar to the Kiev Academy, which the saint intended should serve as an “Athens at Chernigov,” a school of pious enlightenment.
In view of its high level of theological education and training, Saint John’s school received wide renown. In essence, this was the first seminary in Russia. Seminaries on the model of this one began opening in other dioceses of the Russian Church.
The saint also later opened a printing press, at which he and his successors published many works of spiritual and moral content.
The life of Saint John was illumined by lofty virtues, and especially humility. It is reflected also in his works, “The Moral-Didactic Reflector” (Chernigov, 1703 and 1707); “The Alphabet, with Rhymes Added” (1705); “The Virgin Mother of God” (1707); “The Theatre, or Moral-Didactic Disgrace” (1708); “Excursus on Psalm 50” (Chernigov, 1708); “Excursus on the “Our Father” and “The Eight Gospel Beatitudes” (1709); “The Royal Way of the Cross” (Chernigov, 1709); “Thoughts on God to the Benefit of Right-Belief” (1710 and 1711); “Synaxarion Commemoration on the Victory of Poltava” (1710); “The Pilgrim” (in manuscript); “Spiritual Thoughts” (Moscow, 1782).
At Chernigov in 1714 the saint also first published his chief work, written in the Latin language. It was a peculiarity of the graduates of the Kiev school was that they wrote their works in classical Latin. Professor I. A. Maximovich in 1888 translated the “Heliotropion” into the modern Russian language and published it at first in parts in the “Chernigov Diocesan Newsletter”, and later on in a separate book (Kiev, 1896). With his name is connected also “The Latin-Greek-Russian Lexicon.”
Saint John was known to have connections with Mount Athos. He had a special interest in the fate of Russian inhabitants on the Holy Mountain, and sent them substantial material aid during these difficult years. His archbishopal grammota to the Russian monastery of Saint Panteleimon has been preserved, and it testifies to his concern for those on Mount Athos.
On August 14, 1711, after his elevation to the dignity of metropolitan, Saint John arrived at the see of Tobolsk and All Siberia. The saint concerned himself constantly with the enlightening of his diocese. There he continued with his work, started at Chernigov. He improved the school which had been opened by his predecessor, the renowned missionary Metropolitan Philotheus (Leschinsky, + 1727), and he continued the apostolic preaching among the pagans of Siberia, converting many thousands to Christ. In 1714 Saint John set off to Peking to head a mission with Archimandrite Hilarion (Lezhaisky). At Tobolsk he again undertook publishing activity, using the printing press he set up at Chernigov. To this time belongs also the publication by Metropolitan John of the “Heliotropion” in the Slavonic-Russian language (1714), so that the Siberians could also understand it.
The chronicler describes the life of the saint in Siberia: “He was quiet and unpretentious, graciously considerate, sympathetic to the poor, and merciful.” He often helped people secretly, and sometimes in the garb of a simple monk, he would bring generous alms to the homes of the needy saying, “Accept this in the Name of Jesus Christ.” His home at Tobolsk was always open to all those in need of help or a word of comfort. Even on the day he died, June 10, 1715, after Divine Liturgy Saint John had set up a dining-hall at his home for the clergy and the impoverished, and he himself served at table. Later on, having taken his leave of everyone, the saint withdrew to his chambers. When the church bells rang for Vespers, he died at prayer on his knees. The saint was buried in the chapel of Saint John Chrysostom at the Tobolsk Dormition-Sophia cathedral.
Saint John has long been venerated in Siberia. In light of numerous miracles and the longstanding local veneration of Saint John, in 1916 the Church established the all-Russian celebration of the saint on June 10, the day of repose.
Saint John’s memory is fervently kept by Siberians and by all the believing Russian people. He at present rests in the Tobolsk cathedral of the Protection of the Mother of God. The service to him was republished, with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexis I, by Metropolitan Bartholomew (Gorodtsov) in 1947 at the city of Novosibirsk.