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The Influences


What influence shaped the world view of Father John? He himself speaks concerning this.

The basic structure of his world view was the Sacred Scriptures. "From the first days of my high service to the Church," writes Father John, "I began reading the Sacred Scripture of the Old and New Testaments, drawing from it all that is edifying for myself as a human being in general, and as a priest in particular" (Brief autobiography in the journal North for 1888). In his talk with pastors he relates: "When free from personal service and duties, I read the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and especially the New Testament - the invaluable good tidings of our salvation. While reading I try to ponder over every paragraph, every phrase, even separate words and expressions, and then through this careful attentive relation to the Sacred Book, there arises such a wealth of thoughts, such a wealth of themes for sermons, that no preacher can exhaust this vast depth of God" (A talk with clergymen at Sarapule in 1904). When reading the diary of Father John, we notice that all the books of Sacred Scriptures are presented in the diary by extracts, but in such a manner that nowhere can one feel intentional grouping of texts, there is no overstatement with texts; unusually natural is the union of the personal and divine elements. The usual method of Father John is to conclude his own personal talks with an extract from the Word of God, and close his writings in the same way that the word amen confirms the words of prayers taken from the service book.

The other part of the structure of Father John's world view was the reading of the lives of saints. "Having read the Bible, the Gospel, and many of the writings of St. John Chrysostom and other Ancient Fathers, and also of Philaret of Moscow - the Russian Chrysostom, and other Church writings; I felt a special attraction towards the calling to be a priest, and began to ask God that He might make me worthy of the grace of priesthood, and worthy of being a pastor to His sheep..." (A talk on the 25th anniversary of his priesthood). Father John rarely mentions the Fathers of the Church in his diary and one must at least be somewhat well acquainted with their writings in order to feel the power of their influence on the formation of Father John's thought, and on the very style of expression in the diary, in particular the influence of Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and the writings of the great Ascetics. In his often-used conversational form of writing, one feels the spirit of St. John Chrysostom.

We know how highly Father John valued all the Church service books. He himself said: "I always read the canons at Matins myself. What riches are found here; what deep content, what wonderful examples of fervent faith in God, patience in sorrow, self-denying fidelity to conscience under conditions of merciless torture the Church daily presents to us! By reading the canons the soul gradually becomes filled with the inspired feelings and mental attitudes of those Saints whom the Church praises; it lives within a perpetual church environment, and thereby it becomes accustomed to church life. I was trained, it may be said, in the church life by this reading, and for this reason I advise all who sincerely desire to acquire spiritual riches to pay serious attention to the reading of the canons according to the church service books - the Octoechos, Menaion, and Triodion."

All these influences so affected the person of Father John that God, Faith, and Church became the foundation of his entire life, so that these contents united with his pure, healthy, harmonious development, and the full lively energy of his physical and spiritual being. These exalted contents filled a worthy vessel. One of the consequences of this was that for Father John the truths of Faith were presented not as abstract propositions, but as life forces, expressed in practical living. Father John thinks in terms of images, and he teaches us this manner of thought. He writes: "They say that we soon get tired of praying. Why? It is because you do not picture before yourself the Living God as being nearby, on your right side. Look upon Him always with the eyes of your heart, and then you will be able to stand all night in prayer, and you will not become tired. What am I saying - night! You will stand three days and three nights and not become tired. Recall those who stood in prayer on pillars for long periods of time." He writes elsewhere: "In praying, it is necessary to imagine all creation as nothing before God, and the one God as all, upholding all, omniscient, active, giving life to all." For this reason his thoughts are so rich in comparisons, likenesses, and symbols dealing with the most exalted objects of faith.

As a lens can burn wood when it has concentrated the rays of the sun at its focus, in like manner during prayer the heart is set afire when "the Sun of the Mind, God; images of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the saints; and the angels with fullness and power; are concentrated at the center of our soul, at the heart."

The spontaneous incarnation of faith in corresponding Christian activity, the moral application of each point of faith to life: these comprise the characteristic feature of Father John's understanding of the world and of life. In him man meets theology in thought and in practice.

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