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

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 Theological Academy.

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 normal.

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.

Icon of Saint John of Kronstadt

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 himself.

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 Sacraments.

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.

Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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