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
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
"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
"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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