Father John of Kronstadt, one of the most well known saints of recent history, possessed an evangelical fervour, and, above all, was 'flesh of the flesh' of the Orthodox tradition and of the faith and life of the Orthodox Church. Father John was an expressive and impressive preacher, an promoter of frequent communion, a man who moved the hearts of hardened sinners to repentance, a man with a great depth of love, and a spiritual healer. Huge crowds flocked to him from all parts of Orthodox Russia to hear him and to be healed by him (in body and soul).
Father John believed in indulging people with love. To indulgent people with love means not to judge, not to take revenge, and to endure and forgive. "Do not confuse man -this image of God - with the evil which is in him, because evil is only his accidental misfortune, a sickness, a devil's dream; but man's essence - the image of God - is always there". This recognition of God in others is the rule he used in relating to others. He also said, "As far as is it possible, be gentle, humble and simple to all, considering yourself, without hypocrisy, to be spiritually below everyone. Pride is the reason for a cold, pompous and insincere manner towards those whom are considered to be below us, or those from whom we hope to derive some benefit. When people speak ill of you and you feel resentment, it means that you are proud, and pride must be eliminated from your heart by worldly dishonour. Therefore, do not resent and hate those who speak ill of you, but try to love them as you would love people who benefit you, and pray for them. Maintain a peaceful and loving disposition towards your brother even if he deprives you of your last shilling; show him that, above all, you love God's image in him. However most people are angry when they are deprived even of a very small part of their property!"
One of the basic aims of love is to see everyone saved, transformed and united to true, divine love. This is impeded by what he called "malicious joy" when he said, "Oh, how disgusted I am by this devilish malicious joy over the sins of one neighbour! People cast a slur on someone's whole life because of one sin that he has committed. They forget that love extenuates everything. A Christian must truly wish for himself and others, that God's name should be constantly glorified in both himself and others, that all should become Temples of God".
However, sobriety from evil is not enough. We should also seek to obtain inner peace, since "without inner peace and harmonious coexistence with others, one cannot have peace and harmony within oneself. In acquiring inner peace, let us also be peacemakers in relation to our fellowmen".
To attain peace and love, and to preserve them, "Do not be put out of countenance when you are angry and when this anger prepares to manifest itself in worlds, command it to be silent. When you allow anger to express itself, it will pour out with great force and may overwhelm your defence". He continued, "Do not expose all your impurities, not to contaminate others with the breath of evil concealed in you. It is better to speak of your illness to your spiritual father or your friend in order that they may direct and restrain you".
On reproaching others of their evil he said, "It is better not to pass on reproachful words, but to keep silent about them or, even if it is not true, convey words of love and goodwill; then our spirits will be at peace" and, "if you wish to correct somebody's faults of your own accord, restrain yourself, because, usually, through our pride and irritability, we do more harm than good... Pray to God that He Himself will enlighten the mind and the hearts of men; if God sees that your prayer is full of love, He most certainly will grant your wish. An embittered person is ill; to cure him we must apply to his heart a plaster of Love", and finally, "Look at every human being as if he were unique in God's world, a great miracle of God's wisdom and grace, and do not let the fact that you are accustomed to him serve as a ground for neglect".
"Our Saviour bids us to love our enemies which is extremely difficult; but for a heart which is reborn through grace, it is easy to do so because God helps the believer in everything".
The reader is refer to The Life of Father John of Kronstadt by Bishop Alexander, published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, as a good introduction to his life and as an outline of his spiritual message.
The feast day of St. John of Kronstadt is October 19.
Holy Father John of the Kronstadt
Saint John (whose full name is John Il’ich Serguiev) was born on October 19 in a poor family living in the village of Sura in the province of Archangelsk. Fearing that the infant would not live long, his parents had him baptized immediately after birth with the name of John in honor of the Venerable John of the Rylsk, whose day of celebration it was. But the child grew stronger. The family lived in extreme poverty and deprivation, but his parents laid a strong foundation of faith in the boy. He was a peaceful and determined child, who loved nature and church services.
When John turned 9 his father spent his last money to take him to a parochial school in Archangelsk. The difficulties in learning would sometimes make him feel despondent. At such times the boy prayed God for help. Once during one of those hard moments, deep at night when all the scholars were asleep, he got up and started praying, entreating God very fervently. And the Lord heard his prayer; heavenly goodness dawned upon him and according to his description it was "as if a veil blocking his vision dropped off his eyes." He remembered what was told in class and somehow everything became so clear in his mind. From that time on he started doing great progress in his studies. In 1851 John Serguiev graduated from the seminary with merit and entered the St. Petersburg ecclesiastical academy.
The capital did not spoil the young man, he remained as devout and focused as he had been at home. His father died not long after that and in order to support his mother John started working at the office of the academy with a salary of 9 rubles per month. All this money was sent on his mother. In 1855 he graduated from the academy with excellent marks. That same year the young graduated was ordained by laying of hands and appointed as a priest to the church of Saint Andrew in Kronstadt (not far from St. Petersburg).
From the very first day of his ordinance Fr. John devoted himself entirely to serving the Lord and the people. He served the Divine Liturgy every day. He prayed, taught and helped many people. His zeal was amazing. In the beginning and even later, people sometimes criticized him, mocked him and regarded him as an abnormal person.
During the liturgy Fr. John was praying fervently, demandingly and daringly. He never rejected a request to pray from anyone who asked him; a rich person or a poor one, a nobleman or a commoner. And the Lord accepted his prayers. Innumerable wonders would occur, some of them recorded — some not. People from not only Kronstadt, but from St. Petersburg and later from all of Russia and foreign countries started to turn to him.
Hundreds of letters and telegrams were coming to Kronstadt. Father John usually started praying fervently immediately after reading them. Tens of thousands of people would come to him for a prayer and a blessing.
Father John was not a brilliant orator. His speech was simple, clear and heartfelt, it was coming right from his soul, which charmed and inspired his listeners. The sermons were published in separate issues and spread all over Russia in enormous amounts. A collection of Fr. John’s works was also published in several big volumes.
Especially popular with the believers was his clerical dairy "My Life in Christ." It was a recount of Fr. John’s spiritual life, a record of graceful thoughts and feelings, with which he was blessed, according to his own words, "by God’s enlightening Spirit in times of deep vigilance and trial of himself especially during a prayer."
Those thoughts and feelings were addressed to the Lord God (in the form of a prayer), or to his "self" (in meditation), or to other people (in the form of teaching). They pertain to various aspects of faith, and being of great moral value, they are a school of spiritual life.
Fr. John was also a scripture teacher. His influence of the students was charismatic. Children loved him. Fr. John was not a dogmatic teacher, he was an inspiring interlocutor. He treated his disciples in a warm and hearty way, often stood up for them, and did not give homework nor fail them at exams, but just spoke to them. And the students for the rest of their lives would remember those conversations. Fr. John had a gift of awakening true faith in the soul of a child. He often read Lives of Saints and the Bible at the lessons, he would also tell them about his ministerial work.
From the first days of his priesthood Fr. John was a very compassionate pastor. He never cast off anyone, visiting when first called the most poor and degraded people. There he prayed, instructed and helped, often giving up the last of what he had, which at first evoke some reproaches from his family. Sometimes on a visit to a poor family struck with destitute and illnesses, he himself would go to a grocer of a drugstore to fetch a doctor.
Later Fr. John was to handle hundreds of thousands of rubles. But he did not count the money; he would take it with one hand and immediately give it away with the other. In addition to such direct charity Fr. John created a special organization rendering assistance. In 1882 a "House of Industriousness" was set up, which had its own church, elementary school for boys and girls, orphanage, polyclinic for visitors, hospital, free public library, people’s home which provided shelter for up to 40 thousand people a year, various work shops which provided the poor with some source of income, cheap public cafeteria which gave up to 800 free meals on holidays, and a boarding house for travelers.
On Fr. John’s initiative and with his donations a life guard station was built on the bay shore. He built a beautiful church in his native place. It is impossible to enumerate all of the spheres and areas where he reached out caring for people and helping them.
Fr. John reposed at the age of 80 on December 20, 1908. Innumerable crowds joined the burial procession going from Kronstadt to St. Petersburg where he was buried in the Ivanovski monastery which had been founded by him. From all over Russia, believers would come to the place of his repose and requiems were constantly served there.
God blessed Father John of Kronstadt granting him veneration of the whole of Russia for his strong faith, zealous prayers and great love to God and all people.
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