Bishop John (Stephen Mitropolsky) was born in Kaluga on September 27, 1836 into the family of a sexton. Following studies at the Kaluga Seminary, he graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy in 1862 and, while still a student, was tonsured a monk on August 29, 1861. On Junse 21, 1862, he was ordained to the priesthood. That September, he was granted a master’s degree and a fellowship at the academy, first in church archaeology and later in general church history. He was raised to the rank of archimandrite on October 27, 1868. On July 5, 1870, he was consecrated Bishop of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, a new episcopal title which indicated that the Alaskan bishop was no longer an auxiliary but a diocesan hierarch. While in San Francisco en route to Sitka in November 1870, Bishop John met his predecessor, Bishop Paul, who was on his way back to Russia.
Bishop John was a scholarly church historian and spiritual author proficient in theological and historical writing. He was fluent in the English language, and perceived his task as a missionary in North America not only to preach to the natives of Alaska, but also to convey the truths of Orthodoxy to the heterodox throughout North America. He strove to defend and proclaim Orthodoxy by scholarly methods. This is evident in his five-volume work, From the History of Religious Sects in America (a review of Congregationalism, Episcopalianism, Methodism, Presbyterianism and sectarianism). His fluency in English also enabled him to debate the heterodox in the American press. Other writings by Bishop John include his four hundred-fifty page history of the Ecumenical Councils and his published translation of the Akathist to the Sweetest Jesus.
With the missionary undertakings he envisioned, Bishop John sensed that the Church’s mission throughout North America could be enhanced by the relocation of the diocesan see to San Francisco. In 1872, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Russia approved the transfer of the diocesan administration, mission school and episcopal see from Sitka to San Francisco. After the relocation of the diocesan see to San Francisco, Bishop John oversaw the construction of a new cathedral on Pierce Street in honor of St. Alexander Nevsky.
On April 12, 1877, Bishop John was appointed to the staff of the Holy Synod office in Moscow and left America. From August 12, 1889 until his retirement from active episcopal service on April 9, 1910, he served as Bishop of Aksaisk, Auxiliary of the Don Diocese. He then became head of the Protection Monastery in Astrakhan. On November 8, 1913, he retired from this position and died on May 2, 1914.