In her canonization and glorification of St. John of Kronstadt, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad not only confirms for her own faithful the sanctity of their beloved and venerated pastor and father, but now holds up his holy example of a life in Christ for the whole world to see. Up to this time, one might say, he had belonged to the Orthodox Russian people. Few outside of faithful Russians were aware of the last flowering of Holy Russia, of the profoundest Orthodox spirituality that occurred just before the Revolution; St John was the most fragrant blossom of this flowering. In his life of asceticism and constant prayer, in the spiritual care he devoted to the thousands and millions of Orthodox believers who comprised his flock, and above all in the untold miracles he worked during his own lifetime and after his death, miracles which continue to the present day, – St. John is revealed to be beyond doubt one of the greatest of Russian and, indeed, of all Orthodox Saints.
This great Saint has had a special role to play in the life of the Orthodox Russian people. He was a prophet who foresaw the fall of the Russian Empire and the exile of the Russian faithful. Seeing the spiritual cause of this fall in the worldliness and lack of living faith that were so widespread in the last days of the Empire, he called Orthodox faithful to repentance and renewed awareness of their Christian vocation and responsibility. His appeal is still heard today, and if the Orthodox Russian people dispersed in exile throughout the world are still faithful to Holy Orthodoxy – even if only a small remnant – it is in part due to his still-living example and his holy prayers.
But now St. John, while remaining the spiritual patron of the suffering Russian people, has become a Saint of the universal Orthodox Church of Christ. It is no accident that his canonization has taken place outside of Russia, in the still free world into which he foresaw that the Russian people would be sent, and in which Orthodox churches would be erected, as a testimony of Christian Truth before a world that is, despite its pretensions, unbelieving. To this unbelieving world, in all the languages in which his words have been and will yet be translated, he now speaks the same message that he spoke to the Russian people in his own lifetime. This world, with its imposing outward structure that makes it seem to some so secure, is actually tottering, its foundation rotting away from the self-love and unbelief with which it is filled. Its fall is at hand, and the same godless beast that once swallowed the holy Russian land now stands ready to devour the rest of the world and complete his aim to exterminate the last Christians and lead apostate humanity in its worship of Antichrist.
This, perhaps, is what lies before us if we do not return to the path of a righteous Christian life. There are some who would consider such thoughts of the imminent Second Coming of Christ and the terrible Last Judgment, of which St. John constantly reminded us, to be too “negative.” But if his warnings were correct, then we have to fill our hearts not with fear and terror, but with tearful repentance, with zeal to lead a truly Christian life, and with fervent hope of attaining the Kingdom of Heaven, which is our true home.
It is to nothing but a genuine and profound Christian faith that St. John calls us. In an age when too many pastors preach a “new Christianity” that is only worldliness in disguise, his is a rare and much-needed voice – not for Russians alone, not for Orthodox Christians alone, but for the whole world, if it will but listen.
O holy Saint of Christ, John of Kronstadt, pray to God for us!
Father Seraphim Rose