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His Fame Spreads


HE LIVED in a sparsely furnished cottage on the seaboard. Soon he found he was unable to go out of his house without being attended by a crowd, which would wait at his door or the door of the cathedral, and would follow him through the streets. Early each morning, after a period of intense prayer before an icon at home, he would go to church - as usual, through a crowd - and there sing the liturgy in a deep, clear, and powerful voice. He usually celebrated the Eucharist or at least communicated every day. Afterwards he would make twelve or fifteen sick calls, fulfill teaching engagements, and often go into Saint Petersburg for more of the same. His renown as a powerful intercessor and healer grew very rapidly, and spread throughout the country. He continually received appeals for spiritual and material assistance, none of which went unanswered. He received scores of visitors daily, and hundreds of letters, while the crowds pressed round him wherever he appeared - in the streets of Kronstadt or Saint Petersburg, at the railway stations, everywhere. In summer he would talk with the poor in the fields outside the town, sitting on the grass, with the children by him, and the adults standing or sitting around. Rich and poor, he was ready to help all, and he treated all alike - often some important personage, with whom he had an appointment, had to wait for Father John who was delayed by answering the urgent appeals of the crowds of poor people. It is not surprising to learn that he habitually walked fast!

In 1857 he was invited to teach the scripture in the municipal school at Kronstadt, and he accepted with joy, for he loved children, and always took great pains with them. He was much loved in return by his pupils - some delightful anecdotes survive on this score, which unfortunately we have not the space to recount - and on this he based his authority; he never needed to use either severity or mockery. The bible, he held, should not be taught just like any other subject, but with faith and love, to awaken faith and love in others, and the measure of his own success may be estimated from the fact that, while he never insisted that his pupils must go to church, they all went when he celebrated. When his fame had spread and he was constantly visiting Saint Petersburg, then to his own, his colleagues and pupils great regret, he was forced to abandon his teaching post. Another object of Father John's concern and labor was the removal of the widespread poverty that afflicted Kronstadt. At first he gave these beggars money for food and shelter, but he soon came to see that this was not merely useless, but positively harmful. In 1868 he conceived the idea of founding a House of Industry, comprising a number of workshops, a dormitory, a refectory, a dispensary, and a primary school. He formed a committee, and appealed for funds. His appeal was answered by rich and poor from all over Russia, and the House of Industry was founded in 1873. Father John administered a total of over $25,000 a year in numerous charities, half of it in Kronstadt.

How did he manage to do it all? He had the ability - acquired, no doubt, by prayer and patience - to snatch a short period of deep sleep wherever and whenever he got the chance; and he had a great love of the early morning hours for prayer and meditation, but his early morning walks in his garden were soon discovered, and then - farewell to solitude! Often, indeed, he could barely save half-an-hour for his own prayers. On the rare occasions when he was able to pass a whole day in Kronstadt he liked to walk in the streets toward midnight, praying and meditating: if he saw a light, however, he would knock - often to comfort someone ill or dying, but just as ready to join in laughter and cheerful conversation, if that should be what he found. It is not surprising that he had moments of depression through sheer fatigue; he had been beset in the same way in his student days, then later he overcame them, as he overcame all, as he achieved all, by prayer and, above all, by devout reception of the holy communion.

He himself declared that only by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ every day was he able to accomplish tasks, otherwise beyond human powers. When he came to partake of the Blessed Mysteries he would be utterly transfigured: all weariness, all burden of trouble and sorrow gone, and every line of his face reflecting an extraordinary spiritual joy, heavenly peace, and a great feeling of strength and power. Is it any wonder that his church was packed to the doors, Sundays and weekdays alike? The great cathedral of Saint Andrew at Kronstadt could hold seven thousand people, and when Father John celebrated the liturgy it was so crowded that, as the Russian saying has it, "even an apple could not have found room to fall to the ground".

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