The Proskomedia. St. John begins it with calm concentration. For freedom of
movement he does not put on the chasuble. He always performs it himself,
surrounded by clergy. He is full of triumphant joy. With what thoroughness,
assiduity, loving attention does he prepare the Host — straightens and
reverently places It, measures It a few times, making sure It stands well on
the patten. "Look," he would suddenly remark to his fellow priests...
"Father Paul, Father Nicholas!.. Where else is there anything to compare
with what we have! ... Look! There He is — Christ! Here, amidst us — and we are
next to Him, like the Apostles..." All in the altar are filled with
reverent awe and fear: as though angels are hovering here with their wings....
Attentively, without haste, the priest takes pieces out of the other
prosforas as well. St. John mentions the living and the dead, sometimes saying
the names in full, with patronymics. Prosforas are carried in by the basketful
— out of each one St. John himself takes out at least a few, reading only a few
of the great number of notes and books present. He prays with the prayer of the
spirit. Pieces from the prosforas are also taken out by the other priests
around him — there are a great many prosforas. Finally, St. John’s voice rings
out: "Censer!" The deacon presents it — always "not smothered,"
i.e., with coals burning and a sufficient amount of incense. In this regard St.
John would sometimes say to the deacon: ‘This censer is an image of our hearts.
They, too, are sometimes "smothered," cold and unfeeling... Warm up
out hearts, O Lord, so that they may burn with love for you..." In
finishing the Proskomedia, St. John did not pronounce the set prayers aloud,
but prayed silently, while asking the deacon to make his exclamations aloud.
Divine Liturgy is beginning. St. John is heading a whole sobor of priests.
He is miraculously transformed — in chasuble, miter, with a gleaming cross on
his breast. "Let us pray, my brother priests," he is saying,
"for Our Lord to grant us to perform the God-saving and soul-saving Divine
Liturgy in a God-pleasing manner."
The Royal Gates are opened. The first exclamation. Firmly, acutely, from the
bottom of the heart, sound the words: "Blessed is the kingdom of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages
of ages." The accent is on the words "blessed" and
"ages." St. John goes deeper within himself. Seldom does he open his
eyes — he is already in another world, and he does not resemble anyone on earth
at this moment. He does not open his service book — reads the prayers by heart,
often in a low voice. He loved services to flow smoothly — not to drag, either
in the singing or in the deacon’s exclamations. During the last period of his
life this was also dictated by the poor state of his health. Distinctly,
loudly, "heartily, "but without dragging, did he himself make his
exclamations — and expected the same from others. During the prayer: "O
only-begotten Son," at the words: "wast crucified..." he would
determinedly grasp the cross from the altar-table and kiss it, and remain with
it until the end of the singing. It happened that at other moments he would
also suddenly grasp it, covering the crucifix with kisses, as if embracing it
in his arms, look at it in exaltation, press it to his forehead, to his mouth,
murmuring prayers... He would listen to the reading of the Apostle and the
Gospel in rapt attention — sometimes nodding his head... He demanded that the
reading be accessible not only to the ears of the body, but also of the heart.
"The gospel," he was wont to say to the deacons, "is not read merely
to beat upon the air with a thunderous voice, but to beat upon hearts
In this part of the whole liturgy, up to the Great Entry, St. John is
absorbed in prayer for mankind. How many have been entrusted to him!
"Lord," he prays, "many of those presently standing in Thy
church have empty hearts, like empty vessels, and do not know for what to pray:
fill their hearts now, in this day of salvation, with the grace of Thine
All-Holy Spirit, grant them to me, to my prayer, imbued with the knowledge of Thy
Holy Spirit, Which Itself make the intercession for them with groanings which
cannot be uttered."
How many have been entrusted to him! How many eyes are directed in prayer
toward him, with hope of receiving assistance, comfort, deliverance from grief
and sickness. St. John carries all of them in his heart — the well-being of
their bodies, the well-being of their souls, their salvation; and he is as if
in a hurry to present their needs to Our Lord, Who is listening to him; he is
as if hurrying to beseech mercy and aid on their behalf... He is praying in
outbursts, insistently, demandingly even — at times it seems as if he is not
even asking, but wresting from the Lord, is grasping the edge of the Lord’s
robe with all the authority which he, as a priest, has vested in him.
The other priests serving with him are taken in by this all-conquering
prayer; it is transmitted to everyone in church as well. What is now being
experienced by the people is quite indescribable ... And yet this is far from
the peak of enthusiasm!
But now begins the singing of the Cherubic Hymn.
Extending his arms toward the Divine Sufferer, depicted on the opened
communion cloth, St. John retreats further within himself. Tears flow down his
cheeks — he wipes them off with his handkerchief... With sorrowing solemnity
(in the expression of deacon Father M. Antonov) the Great Entry is performed —
the setting out of Our Lord Jesus Christ to His agony on the Cross.
Beginning with the Great Entry, St. John is wholly absorbed in prayerful
contemplation of Our Lord’s last days on earth. He introduces himself to this
round of thought by pronouncing the following words during the transferring of
"And they cast Him out of the vineyard and there slew Him."
In general during this part of the Liturgy, St. John begins to introduce
many of his own prayers, sometimes saying them aloud. To the silent prayer
before the Litany of Supplication, after the Great Entry, he would add:
"Make us worthy of obtaining grace before Thee that our sacrifice may
be favorable unto Thee and that the Spirit of Thy grace may dwell within us and
upon these present Offerings — and upon all students, and upon all monastic
spiritual nurseries... upon all who have entrusted me, unworthy one, to pray
for them and upon all Thy people, for all are Thine own. For Thou hast created
them in Thine own image and likeness. Thou hast restored them to life with
water and the Spirit; Thou hast granted them the grace of being Thy sons; Thou
hast placed the pledge of the Spirit within their hearts, and nothing is more
valuable, more blessed, more perfect, than Him. Thou feedest them with the Body
and Blood of Thy Son, and nothing is sweeter than that: Thou givest them all
that is good by nature and by grace, and of Thy gifts there is no end. At last
attach all of us to Thee, being alienated from Thee by sins and the enemies who
fight us, so that none of us becomes an acquisition and food for the alien
(devil). Save us Thou Thyself, O Father of bounteous-ness and God of every
To the words: "Christ is amongst us," during the exchange of
kisses between priests in the altar, St. John would add:
"Living and acting..."
By this he would fill the hearts of those who served with him with
trepidation. "I was on the verge of falling in front of the holy
table" — recalls one of them.
Having read the Symbol of Faith, St. John would add the following extensive
"Confirm in this faith my own heart and the hearts of all Orthodox
Christians; enlighten us to live worthily of this faith and this hope; unite in
this faith all the great Christian bodies which have disastrously fallen away
from the unity of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, which is Thy Body and
whose Head art Thou and Savior of the Body; subdue the p ride and opposition of
their teachers and their followers; grant that they may comprehend with their
hearts the truth and salutariness of Thy Church and unite with Her without
laziness; join also to Thy Holy Church those ailing from ignorance, error and
stubbornness of the schism, breaking their obstinacy and standing up against
Thy Truth with the power of Thy Spirit’s grace, that they may not perish in
their resistance as did Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who opposed Moses and Aaron,
Thy servants. To this faith attract all the nations which inhabit the earth, so
that with one heart and one mouth all nations will glorify Thee, the One God
and Provider of all; unite all of us as well in this faith with the spirit of
humility, piety, meekness, simplicity, impassibility, patience, forbearance,
mercy, compassion, and the sharing of joyfulness."
"Let us lift up our hearts!" to these words St. John would add the
‘Thyself, O Lord, lift up our earth-bound hearts."
As witnessed by himself, he would also say the following words silently:
"Lift up all those who are here standing before Thee, O God of our
lives, and cast out of our hearts all physical and spiritual passions."
St. John added a great deal to the silent prayers as well during the Canon
of the Eucharist. Thus in the prayer: "It is meet and right to hymn
Thee...," to the words: ‘Thou hast brought us out of non-existence into
being," St. John, continuing the thought in this prayer, would add these
words: "into intelligent being and with an immortal soul."
To the words: "Us fallen hast Thou raised up again," St. John
would also carry on the thought of the prayers and add: "and Thou raisest
us up a hundredfold each day as we sin and repent." After the words:
"until Thou hast raised us up into heaven and hast granted us the future
Kingdom," — he would also say: "Even in our very Communion of Thy
Holy and life-endowing Mysteries, Thou art already raising us up into heaven:
for where Thou art, there is heaven and the heaven of heavens, and having
granted Thou Thyself to the faithful, Thou hast also already with Thyself
granted the Kingdom of Heaven — the future Kingdom, in the pledge of Thy
Precious Body and Blood." During the next silent prayer: "And we also
with these blessed hosts ..." at the words: "He Himself for the life
of the world," St. John would add: "Above all, myself, a sinner, so
that I may be rid of mortal sin and live forever."
Repeating the words of Our Savior, spoken by Him during the Last Supper, St.
John experiences a holy rapture: "How can such words be hidden!"...
He turns to face the people and loudly proclaims: "Take, eat..." He
touches the chalice a few times and proclaims with special force and
expressiveness: "which is shed for You and for many..." Now
trepidation fills all and each one in the church! St. John appears to place
into each heart the penitent awareness: "For You was the Divine
Blood shed. You have rejected God and forgotten Him — and it was for You
that the Most Holy Blood was shed! For your sins, for all here present, did
Christ suffer — and You, how do you repay Him?!"
‘Thine own of Thine own."
St. John stands before his Heavenly Father in all the indescribable majesty
of his priestly calling, offering up to Him the propitiatory sacrifice of the
Son of God, the Only thing worthy to redeem the world and to obtain for the
faithful the remission of sins and blessings, while for those who are departed
in faith and with hope of resurrection, eternal rest with the saints...
"For each and every one."
These words also embrace all those present... O! How strongly do they feel
St. John touches the patten with his lips. He can already hear the winnowing
of approaching grace, he is awaiting it, calling it... the most important point
in the Liturgy is approaching: triumph and victory! And in this rapture of
triumph St. John is once again transformed. Awe envelops those who are serving
with him with renewed strength: through St. John they, too, come into communion
with the Heaven of Heavens ...
"O Lord, Who didst send down Thy Most Holy Spirit..." — begins St.
John this prayer for the first time, solemnly, confidently, victoriously, but
in a relatively calm voice. The voice rises during the second repetition of
that same prayer, it begins to tremble — St. John is anticipating the Miracle
of the Consecration. A triumphant authoritativeness grows in the sound of the
voice... Now his eyes are widely opened: what do these eyes see? This is not
known to those who serve with him: with shuddering and trepidation, shaken and
pale, they listen to St. John...
The world-saving mystery has been completed... On the altar table — the Body
and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ...
‘There were days," recalled Bishop Seraphim (who knew Batiushka well)
soon after St. John’s death, "when he would turn into some motionless
shadow during these moments, as one dead on his feet, and his face gradually
turned from being alive to pale, and then even dark. As soon as the time came
for him to make an exclamation, he immediately came back to earth, and large
tears would roll down his already lively features. During such moments in his
services those present would be filled with dread and fear."
St. John had Holy Communion — he draws life from the Source of Life Eternal,
is filling himself with It. During these moments he says to himself: "The
Lord is within me personally, purifyingly, blessedly, victory-creating,
God-endowing, miracle-working (which I feel within myself)." As witnessed
by himself, he would add nothing further of his own words to this.
The strength which, it seemed, was exhausted to the end, has been returned.
No longer is there even the faintest trace of fatigue, of exhaustion. The mark
of sorrow which lay upon St. John when he was seen entering the church has
vanished. He is filled with childlike happiness — imperceptibly, he softly
clasps his hands! "Prayer is the constant, grateful frame of mind" —
he would say. Never will it be capable of reaching such soaring strength as at
this moment: his heart is bursting from the grace which fills it! Spiritual
happiness, peace, rest, tranquility — those around him can only guess at the
felicity they bring; all this is written on St. John’s face, on his entire
being. He is glowing, shining...
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