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Athos Monks[play]
Th. Vassilikos[play]

Saint John of Kronstadt
by Bishop Alexander (Mileant),
translated by Marina Vraciu / Seraphim Larin

His Life

The Man, the Times, the Beginnings

THE NINETEENTH CENTURY in Russia was a time of considerable religious revival, and one of the most notable features of this revival was the way in which many thousands of ordinary people, of all classes and callings, flocked for spiritual advice - and, indeed, for temporal advice as well - to elders or startsi, who exercised in this way a remarkable ministry. But while all the startsi were monks - among whom special mention must be made of the greatest of them all, Saint Seraphim of Sarov (born 1759, died 1833, canonized 1903), and the several great spiritual directors of the monastery of Optino, the last of the famous spiritual teachers of imperial Russia was a married parish priest. On the eve of the revolutionary upheaval, in which the Russian Church was to be tried in the fires of a persecution unequaled in extent or fury by anything the church had suffered in sixteen centuries, it was no monk, but an ordinary priest of an ordinary parish, no elder in some sheltered conventional retreat, but a man who had to find Christ in the hustle and bustle, - squalor and misery - of a great seaport, whom God sent as a sign to his children, to strengthen them for the horrors to come. The teaching of this man reflects him and his circumstances - it is as down to earth, yet as caught up to heaven, as the man himself: intensely practical, intensely demanding - and, inescapably, possible for all.

John Ilyitch Sergieff, the son of poor peasant folk, was born on the 19th of October 1829 in the little village of Soura, in the province of Arkhangelsk in the far north of Russia (typically, in the midst of his amazingly full life, Father John never forgot Soura: he visited it every year, and bestowed many gifts upon it, among them a new church and a school). The beauty of the natural environment of his early life - for Soura was situated amid majestic scenery - greatly impressed the boy, and throughout his life he was acutely aware of the spiritual witness of the material world to its Creator.

His parents, poor and simple though they were, took great pains with his education, both spiritual and temporal. From the first he displayed understanding of, and love for, the services of the church; but his intellectual development was delayed, for he had great difficulty in learning to read - he himself tells us that he could still read only block capitals when, at the age of nine, he was sent to school in Arkhangelsk. Still making little headway, and grieving bitterly over it, for he knew how difficult it was for his parents to find the money for his education, he prayed earnestly for divine enlightenment, and one morning, after he had risen during the night and prayed while his companions slept, he found himself able to read easily, and to understand what he had read.

From school, where he had gone to the top of his class, he went to the seminary. From there, once more at the top of his class, he was sent in 1851, at government expense, to the Theological Academy of Saint Petersburg. While he was there his father died, and it was with great thankfulness to God that he accepted the post of registrar - offered to him on account of his perfect handwriting - and was able to send his little honorarium of ten rubles a month to his mother.

Having considered becoming a monk, and going to eastern Siberia as a missionary, he came to the conclusion that there were many people around him as unenlightened as any pagan, and he decided to work for their salvation, after a dream in answer to prayer, in which he saw himself officiating in some unknown cathedral.

Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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