Saint John of Kronstadt (Ioann Kronstadskij) (Ioann Ilyich Sergiev) was born on 19th
October 1829 to a poor family in the village of Sura, an Arhangelsk district.
On the day of his birth, fearing that he may not live long, he was baptized
immediately with the name of Ioann (John) in memory of St. Ioann of Rylsk,
whose life was celebrated by the Orthodox calendar that very day. However, the
boy developed and grew stronger. Although his childhood was spent in poverty
and deprivation, his devout parents established a strong foundation of faith in
him. He was a quiet, focused boy that loved nature and church services.
When John was nine, his father collected their remaining scant resources and
took the boy to the diocese school in Arhangelsk. Lamenting the fact that
learning did not come easy to him, the boy turned to God for help. Once, late
at night when everybody was asleep and he was going through one of his mournful
moments, he got up and started to pray fervently. God heard his prayer and
bestowed him with Divine Grace, and according to his own expression ó 'it was
as if a curtain had suddenly been raised from his eyes.' He remembered all that
was taught in class and somehow, everything became clear in his mind. From that
point on, he made big progress in his studies. In 1851 John Sergiev graduated
from the Seminary with distinction and enrolled in the St. Petersburg
Life in the capital did not corrupt the youth and he stayed as religious and
focused as he was at home. Shortly after his fatherís death and in order to
support his mother, John joined the chancellery at the Academy, as a clerk, on
a monthly salary of 9 rubles which he sent to his mother. In 1855 he graduated
from the Academy with brilliant marks. The same year saw the young graduate
ordained and appointed as parish priest to St. Andrews Cathedral at Kronstadt
(not far from St. Petersburg).
From the very first day of his ordination, Fr. John dedicated himself
entirely to God and began serving the Holy Liturgy daily. He prayed fervently,
taught people to lead a righteous life and assisted the needy. His eagerness
was amazing. At first some people laughed at him, regarding him not quite
At one time Fr. John taught the Holy Testament. He had an overwhelming
influence on his students, and the children loved him dearly. He was not a
tedious educator but an interesting interlocutor. He treated his students with
warmth and sincerity. He would often side with them and did not flunk them in
their exams. While his dialogues were simple, the students remembered them for
the rest of their lives. Father John had the ability to kindle faith in people.
Father John had great compassion toward those suffering and destitute. He
despised no one and responded to the first call of the mendicant and the fallen.
He would pray in their homes and then often give them everything he had.
Sometimes, upon arriving at the house of a needy family and seeing the existing
poverty and sickness, he would personally go to the shop for purchases or
summon a doctor at the chemist shop.
He never refused to pray for anyone, whether they are rich or poor, famous
or unknown. And God received his prayers. During Divine Liturgy, Fr. John
prayed fervently, exigently, and boldly. Here is what Archpriest Vassily
Shustin wrote after attending as a youth, one of the Liturgies conducted by
Father John, "During Great Lent, my father and I traveled to Kronstadt in
order to prepare ourselves for the partaking of the Holy Sacraments from Fr. John.
As it was impossible to have a private confession on an individual basis,
we had to participate in a general confessional. My father and I arrived at St.
Andrew's Church long before the first toll of the bell. It was dark ó 4 o'clock
in the morning. Although the church was closed, there were quite a lot of
people gathered. The day before, we managed to get a pass from the
"starosta" (churchwarden) to enter the altar. The altar was quite
large and could accommodate up to 100 people. Half an hour later Fr John
arrived and commenced the morning service (Matins). By this time the church was
packed, even though it could hold about five thousand people. There was a fence
in front of the pulpit to hold back the people. Fr. John read the Matins canon
At the conclusion of Matins, the communal confession began. At first the
priest read the prayers before confession. Then, after saying a few words about
repentance, he called out loudly so that the whole church could hear ó
ĎRepent!í Something unimaginable started to happen. Sobs, cries, and vocal
confessions of concealed sins erupted among the people. Some tried to exclaim
their sins as loudly as possible so that Fr. John might hear and pray for them.
Meanwhile, kneeling in front of the altar table and touching it with his
forehead, Fr. John prayed ardently. Gradually the cries and shouts turned into
crying and sobbing. This continued for 15 minutes. With perspiration pouring
down his face, Fr. John stood up and walked out onto the pulpit. Entreaties to
him for further prayers broke out from some of the people, but others silenced
them and finally the church grew quiet. Lifting up high his epitrachelion and
moving it above the bowed heads of the people, Fr. John read out the prayer of
absolution. He then re-entered the altar and began the Liturgy.
There were 12 priests serving before the altar table, on which there were 12
huge Chalices and diskoses. Fr. John served very tensely, exclaiming some of
the words loudly and appeared to be displaying a particular boldness before
God. After all, how many atoning souls did he accept upon himself! Prayers read
before Communion were long and many as there were many particles to prepare for
the Sacraments. A special reinforced enclosure had been prepared for the Holy
Chalice so that it can be supported and protected from being accidentally
overturned. At 9 oíclock in the morning, Fr. John began to administer the Holy
On a number of occasions, Batushka had to call out to the people not to push
one another. The passageway to the enclosure was maintained by a chain of
policemen who controlled the multitude, allowing the communicants to approach
the Chalice. Despite the fact that there were two other priests ó at the other
two altars ó administering Holy Communion, Fr. John did not finish till after 2
PM, having gone for additional Chalices a number of times. I remained till the
end of the Liturgy.
After everyone had partaken of Communion, there were some Holy Sacraments
left in the Chalice. Fr. John then called for all those who had not yet taken
after-Communion wine to come inside the Altar and form a semi-circle in front
of the Table of Oblation. Holding the Chalice in one hand, he administered the
remaining Holy Sacraments to them for the second time. This scene of Mystical
Supper of Love was incredibly moving. There were no traces of fatigue on the
father's joyful face as he congratulated all the communicants. The service and
Holy Communion gave us that much enthusiasm and strength, that my father and I
did not feel any fatigue. Having received Fr. Johnís blessing, we had a hurried
meal and departed for home."
There were people who were unfriendly to Father John ó some out of ignorance
others out of jealousy. Once, a group of lay people and a number of clergy
being unhappy with him wrote a letter of complaint to the Metropolitan of St.
Petersburg, Isidor. The Metropolitan opened the letter and saw before him
nothing but a blank sheet of paper. Summoning its authors he demanded an
explanation. Their emphatic response was that he was holding the letter that
they wrote. The perplexed Metropolitan then called Fr. John to explain what was
going on. After Fr John prayed to God, the Metropolitan began to see that what
he was holding was indeed a letter of accusation and not a clean sheet of
paper. Realizing the miracle that God Himself was defending Fr. John from
calumny, the Metropolitan shredded the letter and angrily drove the
perpetrators out of his quarters. Then turning to Fr. John, he gently said
"Serve God Batushka, and do not be distressed."
Father Johnís prayer was exceptionally powerful. He could heal thousands of
people both attendant and those not present. Knowing the power of his prayers,
people from not only Kronstadt but from all the corners of Russia and indeed,
from overseas turned to him for help. The volume of telegrams and letters to
him was so great that the post office in Kronstadt allotted him a personal
section. Usually, Fr. John would read his mail (sometimes with the assistance
of his secretaries) after Liturgy and then begin to pray fervently for the
petitioners. Fr. John healed people of any age and social background, Orthodox
and Catholics, Jews and Muslims. These are some of the accounts of healing
performed by Fr. John.
One day, a Tartar woman brought her ailing husband in a cart and asked Fr. John
to pray for him. Fr. John asked the woman whether she believed in God. When she
answered in the affirmative, he said, "Let us pray together. You pray in
your way and I shall pray in mine." Upon finishing his prayer, Fr. John
blessed the Tartar woman. Getting back to her cart, the woman stopped in wonder
because her husband was walking to meet her.
In Kharkov, there lived a Jewish solicitor whose only eight-year old
daughter was ill with scarlet fever. Although the best doctors were summoned,
the girlís organism could not cope with the illness. The doctors informed the
family that the girlís situation was hopeless. While the parentsí grief was
profound, the father suddenly remembered that Fr. John of Kronstadt had arrived
in town. Having heard of his miracles a long time ago, he ordered a coach and
requested to be driven to the street where the gathering multitude awaited to
meet Fr. John. Forcing his way through the crowd, he threw himself at Fr.
Johnís feet with a plea: "Holy Father, I am a Jew, but I beg of you ó help
me!" Father John asked what had happened. "My only daughter is dying.
But pray to God and save her," exclaimed the tearful parent. Placing his
hand on the father's head, Fr. John lifted his eyes to the sky and started to
pray. A minute later he said, "Stand up and go home in peace." When
the solicitor neared his house, he saw his wife standing on the balcony,
shouting joyfully that their daughter was alive and healthy. Entering the
house, he saw his daughter conversing with the doctors ó the same ones who just
a few hours ago sentenced her to death and now, not comprehending what had
taken place. Later, the girl became Orthodox and was baptized as Valentina.
One possessed woman could not stand Fr. Johnís presence and every time he
walked past her home, she would start struggling violently, requiring several
strong men to contain her. Nevertheless, one day Fr. John came to her one day.
He knelt before the icons and immersed himself in prayer. The possessed woman
went into fits of convulsions, began to curse him and blaspheme, and then
suddenly went quiet as though lapsing into unconsciousness. When he stood up,
his face was covered with perspiration. Approaching the woman, he blessed her.
The previously possessed woman opened her eyes and sobbing freely, stooped in
front of his feet. This unexpected healing created a powerful impression upon
all those present.
However, sometimes Fr. John would apparently foresee Godís will and refuse
to pray for a person. One day Fr. John was called to Smolny Hospital, to the
bedside of seriously stricken Duchess of Chernogor. Some ten steps away from
the hospital, he turned around sharply and spoke in a deep voice: "I
cannot pray." The Duchess died a few days later. Other times he would
reveal great perseverance in his prayer as he himself witnessed: "Nine
times I approached God with all my prayerful zeal and finally the Lord heard
me, and raised the stricken."
Father John was not a skilled preacher. He spoke simply and clearly, without
the use of rhetoric but from the heart and through this, prevailed and inspired
his listeners. His sermons were serialized in print and issued in vast numbers
throughout the whole of Russia. Fr. Johnís works made up of several large
volumes were also published.
Especially cherished is his diary "My life in Christ." Despite his
enormously busy schedule, Fr. John would record daily his thoughts that came to
mind during prayer or meditation. These thoughts became the substance of his
diary. At the end of this brochure, we will bring some selected contemplations
from his diary.
In order to understand the enormity of Fr. Johnís labors, one has to imagine
how one of his days passed. Fr. John got up around 3 oíclock every morning and
prepared for Liturgy. Around 4am he would go to church to serve Matins. Here,
an eagerly awaiting crowd waited for his appearance to receive his blessing.
Among them were a large number of beggars seeking alms from him.
Immediately after Matins, Fr. John held a common confessional, as there were
always a very large number of participants. Afterwards he served Divine
Liturgy, with the administering of Holy Sacraments to the large number of
communicants taking up a great deal of time. Immediately after the Service, his
mail would be brought to him inside the altar, where he would read it without
delay and pray for the petitioners. Then in response to the pleas of countless
afflicted people, he would travel to St. Petersburg accompanied by thousands of
the faithful. He would seldom return before midnight. Some nights he spent
without any sleep ó and so it went day after day, year after year without any
respite. To live and work like that could only be possible with Godís
supernatural help. His very fame was Fr. Johnís greatest encumbrance.
Irrespective where he appeared, a multitude of people would gather instantly,
eager to at least catch a glimpse of him.
Hundreds of thousands of rubles passed through Fr. John's hands. He never
attempted to count them: he took with one hand and gave away with the other.
Beside this instant benevolence, Fr. John established a special relief
organization. It was called the "House of the Industry" and opened in
Kronstadt in 1882. It had its own church, an elementary school for boys and
girls, an orphanage, a hospital for anyone who came there, a boarding house, a
free public library, shelter for the homeless that accommodated 40,000 people
each year, a variety of workshops where the impoverished were able to earn some
money, a cheap public canteen which served about 800 free dinners on holidays,
and a hostel for the travelers.
Through his initiative and material support, a rescue station was
established on the foreshores of the gulf. He built a beautiful church in his
home county. His care and help extended to so many places and districts that it
is impossible to enumerate them all.
There are many examples of Fr. John's perspicacity. Once, he was serving a Te
Deum (moleben) in a house in the town of Kazan. Among the many present
supplicators, there was a professor who disliked Fr. John. At the conclusion of
the service, the professor tried to avoid kissing the cross and meeting Fr.
John. However, Fr. John addressing him through the crowd said, "Why do you
fear the cross, professor? Soon you yourself shall have to give the cross to
kiss to others." Under the watchful gaze of those present, the confused
professor came up to Fr. John and venerated the cross. Some time later his wife
left him, whereupon he entered monasticism and went on to become Bishop and
Dean of the Theological Academy in Kazan.
Father John reposed on the 20th of December 1908 on the eightieth
year of his life. Accompanied by an innumerable crowd of people from Kronstadt
to St. Petersburg, his body was interned in the Ivanovskoe Cemetery ó one that
he himself established. People from all the corners of Russia converged to pray
at his tomb while the requiem services conducted at his grave were endless.
Strong in faith, fervent in prayers and in his love of God and people, Fr. John
will always enjoy the love of the Russian people while there are believers
among them. Even after his righteous death, he quickly answers all those that
pray to him, seeking his help.
Fr. John was of medium build, withered and lean. His hair was fair while his
face had a bright rosy freshness. The most outstanding features of Fr. John's
face were his clear blue eyes. Some people were even afraid of his piercing
gaze because it seemed to them as though Fr. John could look into their very
soul. There was an instance where a man flatly refused to meet him face to face
as he was afraid that Fr. John might expose something about him in public.
While Fr. Johnís eyes were piercing, they also radiated great love and
compassion. Through the eyewitness of people who knew him well, the majority of
portraits of Fr. John fail to capture the warmth of his gaze.
Troparion: Wherefore, O wonderworker,
who livest in Christ forever, / lovingly have mercy upon those amid
misfortunes, / and hearken unto thy children that call upon thee with faith, /
O Righteous John, // our beloved pastor.
Kondakion: O thou who from infancy
wast chosen by God, / and in childhood didst miraculously receive from Him the
gift of learning, / and wast gloriously called to the priesthood in a vision
during sleep, / thou didst prove to be a wonderful shepherd of the Church of
Christ, / O Father John, namesake of grace. / Pray to Christ our God // that we
all be with thee in the kingdom of the heavens.
St. John of Kronstadt is celebrated on the 1st of November and 2nd
of January according to the contemporary (Gregorian) calendar.
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