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A typical day.


St. John of Kronstadt

Let us turn our minds to Kronstadt, St. John’s place of permanent residence and service. What would be his typical day? He would rise at 3 AM and prepare himself for divine services. He would spend some time walking around his yard, silently saying his prayers. Around 4 AM he would set out for the cathedral, for Matins. A crowd of pilgrims would be waiting at the gates of his house. Batiushka was unable to speak to almost anyone individually — all were limited to receiving his blessings; they were happy even with this; they caught his hand so as to kiss it, they tried to touch his garments, to catch the tender gaze of St. John upon themselves. At the cathedral, Batiushka would be met Saint John with his wife Elizabeth (on the right), surrounded by family and friends by a crowd of beggars, to whom he gave alms in accordance with a procedure he had established.


At Matins, St. John read the canon, and then, without leaving the cathedral, began the Liturgy. The cathedral would be full and there would be so many communicants that the services would last until noon. During the services, letters and telegrams received would be brought to Batiushka in the altar, and he would pray for the senders. Surrounded by thousands of the faithful, he would walk out of the cathedral, to set out immediately for Petersburg, in response to countless requests from the sick, returning not before midnight, and having time to rest only on the train from the capital to Oranienbaum — a period of one hour!

Let us recount the personal impressions of a priest who visited Kronstadt not long before the death of St. John.

In the room where he had spent the night was a photograph of St. John with his autograph: "Let men think of us as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" [I Cor 4:1]. He went to Vespers. About two hundred people were present. St. John was absent. He walked into the altar — St. John’s service book! On the front cover — the image of Our Savior and a few words in the owner’s handwriting. He noticed that at the end of the service, to the cast-iron grating near the ambo, other high, massive wooden barriers were moved out on rollers, being clamped together in sections by locks: preparations for tomorrow’s services! This made him recall how once in Kharkov, the people had occupied the solea, pushed the singers out from their choir places, and stood as a solid wall before the Royal Gates: the "entries" were made in the altar next to the holy table. In the evening there were groups of people near St. John’s house. Suddenly the people rushed forward — St. John’s carriage! The people threw themselves forward, grasping at the carriage’s fenders and back — the gates of the house opened and, having let the carriage through, swung shut. In the morning, the same thing happened to the cathedral: the entrance to the church-yard was opened for a moment to let St. John’s carriage in. He went into the cathedral through the altar-door. Matins was not served by St. John. He read the canon. He read the lists of names of persons to be commemorated and heard confession. Listening to the reading of the lists of names of persons to be commemorated, the priest noted that foreign names were also read. It was an ordinary day, but at that time the daily services were no longer ordinary. The cathedral, which could accommodate over five thousand worshippers, was always full and services were conducted by many priests at once. This time there were seven priests. This priest noticed St. John’s inclination to face the people This was how he made the exclamations: ‘Take, eat..." He noticed that St. John filled the ciborium with fresh particles of the Holy Gifts. This occurs daily, while the ciborium hangs in a velvet bag, at his right side, and St. John parts with it only during the Liturgy. He noticed that St. John gave Holy Communion in large pieces. All the priests participated in consuming Holy Communion.

Let us stop somewhat in more detail on how St. John performs church services.

First of all — the canon!.. This reading is inimitable, unforgettable... Batiushka did not perform daily Matins, but merely read with the chanters and sang with the choir. Up to the canon he usually prayed in one of the cathedral’s chapels, while for the canon, "with his light but firm step," came out, so as to read it himself. Only in the last year of his life (1908) did St. John stop doing this because of his extremely weak condition.

"Everyone remembers," witnesses Fr. Deacon M. Antonov, who served with St. John right up to his death, "the small figure of Batiushka, inbreathing with giant strength of spirit, in the midst of six or seven chanters, with his favorite gesture — closed fist pressed to his chin ... Everyone recalls his special, sporadic reading (closer to speaking), which amazed all by its voice intonations — now sharply vocal, then quick and intense, now slow and divided, then tenderly lilting ..."

Not one word was read but a special meaning would be imparted to it. He pronounces individual words while facing the people, as if offering them for special attention — and even, at times, accompanying them with short but strongly expressive comments. He is completely absorbed into what he is reading. He happily relives the victories of the saints over evil and sin; grieves over the falls of human frailties; relives with deeply emotional gratitude the signs of God’s benevolence toward people. Much of what he reads he attributes directly to himself! Agitation is written all over him; it is expressed in his intonations, in his gestures. A beatific smile lights up his face when he reads of the heavenly glory of the Mother of God, about the triumphs of the saints. But now a shadow of distress comes over his face — his spirit is directed in entreaty to God’s mercy, penitently reliving sinful falls. Suddenly, holy anger lights up his eyes — the words "satan" or "devil" are on his lips! He is transformed into the depths of emotion and exaltation when he views, spiritually, the victories of martyrs and saints over "the enemy" ...

After the sixth song and litany, he exclaims: "Kontakion!" — recalls one pilgrim. He announces it like a victory song, and having finished, runs into the altar and falls before the altar table in deep prayer. Strengthened by it, he returns to the choir ...

At times, he also read the hymns of praise (stikhera).

After the canon, St. John usually read alone the "entry prayers" which are appointed before Divine Liturgy, and then would vest himself in priestly vestments.

"I shall never forget," — recalls one observer, "how, once the hymns of praise (stikhera) were being sung. Father John had by that time almost finished vesting, so as to celebrate Divine Liturgy. Only the chasuble was not on him. Quickly, in a swift movement, more running than walking, he came out of the altar to the choir, joined the singers and began to sing together with them. He sang animatedly, with deep faith, himself acting as choirmaster, again stressing individual words and slowing the tempo where that was required by the logical meaning of what was being sung. Experienced singers instinctively guessed these words, this tempo and rhythm, and followed him with no small skill and animation. The singing, not very harmonious at first, quickly became melodious, strong, sonorous, mighty, animating, flowing over the whole church, wholly filling the hearts of those who were praying. It was touching to look at the singers at that moment. It was as If some holy early Christian family, with its father at the head, were singing, singing Its victorious, holy and great hymns."

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