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(100th anniversary of the repose of St. John of Kronstadt)

December 20, 2008 by the old calendar (by the new calendar the date will be January 2, 2009) marks the 100th anniversary of the day of repose of the great Russian luminary, the righteous priest St. John of Kronstadt. St. John occupies a special place in the list of saints, being of great significance not only in spiritual terms, but also on a historical plane, having been sent by the Lord as erstwhile Jonah was to Nineveh, in order to prophesy to the Russian people and to the whole world the coming universal cataclysm and the onset of apostasy, i.e. the end times.

The life of the pastor of Kronstadt
St. John of Kronstadt’s power of healing
St. John of Kronstadt and the patristic inner prayer
St. John of Kronstadt and the enemies of Christ
St. John of Kronstadt as server of the Divine Liturgy
St. John of Kronstadt and Russia’s spiritual crisis
St. John of Kronstadt’s prophecies about Russia
Memoirs of a Kronstadt resident
Pastor of all Russia
Orthodox Spirituality
St. John of Kronstadt

St. John of Kronstadt and the enemies of Christ

Beginning with St. Cyprian of Carthage, the majority of martyred Christian priests and monastics earned their martyric crowns precisely due to the vengeance of demons, whom they exorcized from God’s creations. Such a lot also befell St. John, who worked earnestly in this field and thus earned the demons’ violent hatred and lust for revenge. Since holy people like St. John no longer fear the demons’ visible appearance, having the power from God to exorcize them, the demonic vengeance upon St. John took place through the pagan people who serve them, through unbelieving priests, atheists, heretics, Catholics, and Jews, who slandered him in their press and used every opportunity to do him physical harm.

Let us first look at St. John’s false friends, who subsequently turned out to be his actual enemies, for they attempted to link their godless affairs with his holy name. In reality, guided by the holy principle that “for God there are neither Hellenes, nor Jews,” St. John generously offered charity to all who asked for his help, including those of other faiths. It is known for sure that in 1900 he donated an array of bells to a Catholic church and gave significant contributions to Jewish, Tatar, and Chinese charity organizations.

However, when an Imperial manifesto came out in September 1905 on the participation of political parties in the work of the National Duma, the first leaders of the nationalistic Black Hundreds party turned to St. John with a request to bless their activity as an “Alliance of the Russian People,” so that the organized left would not be the only party represented in the Duma. The saint gave them his blessing to preserve the unity of the Church and to faithfully and truthfully serve God’s commandments and the Orthodox Tsar. Subsequently, however, the Black Hundreds did not fulfill even a single one of his requirements. They immediately splintered into a number of small, conflicting groups which were far removed from government interests, but were immoderately fond of demagogy. The influence of Russian pagans was very great among them, for example the exposed sorcerer Iliodor, who bore the rank of hieromonk, yet threw people into confusion with his anti-government diatribes. In the Duma the Black Hundreds immediately adopted the role of the right opposition to the Tsarist government and did their utmost to hinder the reforms of Stolypin.

St. John could have equally been accused of personally promoting the Ioannite sect that sprang up around him. The fact of the matter was that his astounding miracles had an overwhelming effect on some Russian and Tatar pagans: they proclaimed him to be the Living God and venerated Him accordingly. The Ioannites continuously lay in wait for him and followed him, in order to steal some part of his clothing to serve as a talisman, and one time an especially fanatical sectarian attacked St. John himself, trying to bite off one of his fingers. The saint constantly explained to these sectarians that he performed miracles through the power of the Holy Trinity, while he himself was like all others – a sinful and unworthy person, possessing no merit without the grace of God. But they did not want to believe him and continued in their delusion.

Just as in our present times, during the time of St. John of Kronstadt’s service throughout Russia and the world, the Orthodox Church comprised quite a number of clergymen with lukewarm faith. The holy pastor said of such: “The present terrible decline in faith and morals is related to the coldness which many hierarchs and clergymen display towards their flocks.” He himself was continuously persecuted and harassed by them during his lifetime. Even Metropolitan Isidore of St. Petersburg himself often did not understand St. John’s situation, forbidding him to wear the holy vestments he received as gifts and trying to prohibit St. John from serving within the precincts of other parishes. The rectors of these parishes, being people of little faith, did not believe in the power of God being manifested through the saint, envied his popularity, and by means of slander tried to prevent St. John from serving in their churches.

St. John of Kronstadt St. John of Kronstadt

The primary target of St. John’s denunciations was the godless intelligentsia. In a 1900 sermon the saint referred to it thus: “More than ever before, heralds of false enlightenment have now appeared in Russia, having grown up on Russian soil; some of our scientists and writers wish to re-educate the youth in their own fashion, not on the basis of true Christianity, but on the basis of false faith and false freethinking; they cloud and defile the minds and hearts of young people with false concepts and worldviews; they create their own laws of life, so-to-speak, they write their own gospel instead of Christ’s, and with their lack of morality they completely corrupt the morals of our youth.”

The saint throws out a challenge to the growing atheism in Russia and to its apologists, declaring: “There are many who call themselves educators and teach young people that Christ was a mythical personality, that He did not exist at all. I am not a prophet, but I warn you that all of you will be erased from the earth by God’s judgment. Beware of the day when Christ, that “mythical personality,” will issue a command to his angels in regard to you, as He said in a parable in the Gospel according to Luke: “But those Mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before Me” (Luke 19:27).

According to the testimony of Colonel Krylov, in the city of Yaroslavl there lived a certain prosecutor, a veteran card-player and atheist, who constantly mocked St. John. When the saint served a liturgy in that city, the prosecutor was among those who came up to kiss the cross. However, the clairvoyant St. John did not give the cross to the blasphemer and pushed him aside. Such rejection served to bring the prosecutor to repentance.

In Moscow St. John once served a moleben in a certain home and then offered the cross to those who were present. All came up to kiss the cross except the children’s tutor – a student in a local university. Batyushka then said to him: “Are you a pagan, or a Moslem, or a sectarian, that you do not find it necessary to kiss our Lord’s cross?” Right away batyushka advised the master of the house to get rid of such a godless tutor, which the master did on-the-spot.

Another time St. John came to a pious family in Moscow, which had a student who was a follower of Voltaire, did not acknowledge God, and mocked the priesthood. Upon his arrival batyushka immediately went up to this student and commanded him to go to confession right away and to take communion. The saint’s penetrating glance and unshakeable conviction forced the freethinker to do all that was necessary for his soul. Several days later he died unexpectedly.

In analyzing the reasons for the defeat of the Russian army in the Russo-Japanese war, St. John said: “Nowadays members of the intelligentsia in the Russian army are infected with Western ideas, godlessness, and Tolstoy’s teachings, are ashamed to call upon the name of God and to venerate icons of the Lord and the Mother of God, do not believe in God, in His providence, in the invincible might of the Omnipotent Lord Who is strong in battle, and for this reason they suffer defeat after defeat from external and internal enemies – traitors and revolutionaries. Return, Russia, to your holy, pure, salvific, and victorious faith and to your Holy Mother Church, and you shall again be victorious and glorious as in the olden times of faith. Leave off believing in your vainglorious, clouded mind and in the insane counsel of your earthly idol – non-resistance to evil, – and battle with all evil, extinguish it immediately, fight it with your God-given weapons of holy faith, divine wisdom and truth, prayer, righteousness, the cross, courage, loyalty and faithfulness of your sons.”

In denouncing the soul-destroying ulcer of Tolstoy’s teaching, in a 1902 sermon the holy pastor said: “The adulterous and sinful world has proudly reared its head against the Church in the person of wickedly-philosophizing writers, headed by Count Tolstoy and his fans and adherents, and teaches our baptized people not to believe in Christ’s teaching, not to believe in the existence and immortality of the soul, in the resurrection of the dead, in Christ’s Dread Judgment, but to live according to one’s worldly will – disrespect the holy ties of matrimony, disrespect parents and elders, engage in adultery and drunkenness, lie, steal, murder, and willfully take one’s own life.”

Condemning parliamentary politicians, St. John cried out in 1907: “Keep silent, you illusionary constitutionalists and parliamentarians! Depart all who oppose God’s will! It is not for you to rule the thrones of earthly kings. Depart, audacious ones, who are incapable of controlling even their own selves, but who argue with each other and do nothing beneficial for Russia.”

In regard to the activity of the National Duma, the saint said in 1906: “We wish to rule our own selves without God, with only our proud reason; this is why we do not have a real, God-pleasing, firm, and rational government, we vacillate here and there, we have no peace, but everywhere only murders, thefts, robberies, arson, everywhere only iniquity, immorality, and insubordination. What will come next? If our godless ones, whom we have among all classes of people, do not humble themselves and do not turn to God in repentance, acknowledging their frailty and uselessness without Him, and that only in Him and with Him lies our might and our well-being, – then we can expect nothing good, but undoubtedly only the worst.”

And here are batyushka’s words concerning the year 1907: “We are not living in peaceful times, but in a time of strife and rebellion, a time of lawlessness and godlessness, a time of arrogant flouting of divine and civil laws, a time of a senseless wandering of minds which have tasted some human wisdom and have become overweening, because, according to the word of God, knowledge makes one vain, while love instructs. It is obvious to everyone that the Russian Kingdom is trembling and tottering and is close to falling. Why has the Russian Kingdom, formerly so great, so mighty, and so glorious, become now so weak, humiliated, agitated? Because it has derailed from its firm and unshakeable foundation – the true faith, since the majority of the intelligentsia has fallen away from God, Who Alone is an unshakeable and eternal power, by Whom both heaven and earth are held in wondrous harmony for so many millennia. Various kingdoms have disappeared from the world arena for their disbelief and lawlessness. And the longer this adulterous and sinful world exists and succeeds in its iniquities, the weaker and frailer it becomes, the more it totters, so that by the end of the world it will become a veritable corpse or cinder.”

And further: “Let us pay attention to our contemporary religious and political condition. Now is a terrible time of disbelief and apostasy, a time of all kinds of soul-shattering iniquities; many people have morally turned into wild beasts or evil spirits. There is nothing holy for them, there is no immortal soul, there is no God, there is no resurrection and retribution, there is no impartial, exact, and strict judgment for all words and deeds, and they therefore say: ravage, kill, burn, steal, violate others, lie, deceive, do not obey superiors, be your own boss – you will not be held accountable for anything. A well-known Russian godless writer (Tolstoy) is especially to blame for the corruption and godlessness of the Russian people, primary the intelligentsia, and generally all ill-intentioned publicists are to blame; their godless writings, scattered all over Russia in millions of printed pieces of paper, have flooded the Russian land and have pushed the youth off its foundations of religious and civil faith. May the iniquitous, evil, prideful Satan be damned for his conceit in regard to his Creator and for being the first to engender the arrogant idea of feeling equal to God and declaring war on Him and His eternal truth, holiness, infinite wisdom, beauty, and invincible power. This worldwide evil force has agitated the whole of Russia, has created and continues to create in it all kinds of troubles, rebellions, disbelief, blasphemy, insubordination, infamy. Turn to God, O Russia, thou who hast sinned before him more than all the peoples on earth, – turn to Him in tears and repentance, in faith and virtue. Thou hast sinned above all others, for thou hast had and still hast the most priceless treasure – the Orthodox faith with its salvific Church, which thou hast trampled and spit upon in the person of thy vain and arrogant sons and daughters, who believe themselves to be educated, but true education in the image of God is impossible without the Church.”

In his book “The Living Sheaf,” St. John expressed the opinion that the greatest enemies of Orthodoxy were Leo Tolstoy and the Catholics. In regard to Papism he wrote: “The Catholics have come up with a new head of the Church, having humiliated the sole true Head of the Church – Christ. The most damaging thing in Christianity, in this divinely-revealed and celestial religion, is the primacy of man in the Church, for example the Pope, and his imaginary infallibility. It is precisely the dogma of infallibility that contains the greatest error, since the Pope is a sinful man, and it would be a great misfortune for him to imagine himself to be infallible. How many great errors, harmful to men’s souls, have been thought up by the Catholic Papist Church – in dogmas, in customs, in canonical rules, in the service, in the deadening pernicious attitude of Catholics towards the Orthodox, in the blasphemy and slander of the Orthodox Church, in the abuse directed towards the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Christians! And for all of this it is the supposedly infallible Pope who is to blame, together with the doctrine of his Jesuits, full of their spirit of deceit and hypocrisy. The Lord Himself is forever present in His Church; what need is there for a deputy – the Pope? And can a sinful man be the Lord’s deputy? He cannot. There can be a king’s deputy, a patriarch’s deputy, but no one can deputize for the Lord, the eternal King and Head of the Church. The Pope has fettered the spiritual freedom and conscience of Christian Catholics. The Catholics are concerned with the Pope and not with Christ, they battle for the Pope and not for Christ, and their ardor in faith often turns into a passionate, man-hating, frenzied fanaticism, a fanaticism of blood and sword, of bonfires, of intolerance, hypocrisy, deceit, and cunning.”

Of Protestants and heretics in general the holy pastor said: “Without Christ as the Head, the Church is not a church but a self-ruling mob. Such are the Lutherans, the Russian dissenters, the followers of Tolstoy. Human frailty, blindness, human passions have now surfaced in the churches that have fallen away. The Lutherans do not pray for the deceased, nor do the Anglicans. The Protestants have a totally distorted conception of the Church, because they do not possess the grace of lawful clergy, they do not have the sacraments, except for baptism, and they do not have the most important thing: communion of the Body and Blood of Christ; they do not have the celestial branch – the Heavenly Church, since they do not acknowledge the saints; neither do they have the underworld branch, since they do not recognize departed souls and do not pray for them, believing it to be unnecessary. The Anglicans and the Lutherans do not want to have any icons, nor venerate them! This is also bizarre and absurd. The saints are God’s friends, His members in whom He resides. Why are we not to venerate their images? The Lutherans have fallen away from the Church and have remained without its Head, and the Anglicans as well: they have no Church, their union with its Head has been severed, they have no omnipotent aid, while the devil battles with all his might and cunning, and holds everyone in his enticement and perdition. There are many who are being destroyed by godlessness and depravity.”

Concerning St. John’s relations with the Jews, it should be noted that he believed the policy of the Russian Tsars in regard to non-baptized Jews, in terms of isolating them from the mass of the Russian people in the Pale of Settlement, to be a very wise decision, since he thought that only such a policy would deliver the Russian people from inevitable subjugation to the Jews, which subsequently did happen in Russia. For this reason batyushka did not give his blessing in 1890 to V. Solovyev’s project to expand the rights of the Jews in Russia, which project was later rejected also by the Tsar himself.

Meanwhile, a direct confrontation between St. John and the Jews arose only during the revolution of 1905. St. John’s detractors asserted that his activities were directed only towards making money, that all his molebens and blessings were done strictly for pay. Crude slander! He never asked for anything. He took only what was given him, and even that only to pass on to the poor. He was hardly ever at home, and thus his home furnishings were extremely modest, even though more than a million rubles a year passed through his hands. Only Pharisees and hypocrites manage not to have any enemies and be respected by all. Christ and His apostles had many enemies and died from their terrible malice. The righteous one of Kronstadt could not but likewise have enemies.

The great pastor’s dirtiest and lowliest enemy was the Jewish press. For three years (1905-1908) it daily mocked the pious pastor, mocked his miracles, his charity, the veneration of his followers. Slanderous stories were made up, feminine veneration of him was vilified, popular ardor towards him was spit upon. St. John courageously spoke out against the revolution, and in his homilies he reminded the authorities of their duty to suppress rebellion. The Russian leadership amazedly learned from him that Apostle Paul himself obligates the use of the sword. The Jews could not forgive St. John for this. Becoming supporters of Leo Tolstoy, who rejected the church and state, the Jews rained down a whole torrent of dirt upon St. John, who had stood up for the defense of the Orthodox Church and the Russian state.

Once, during the bringing out of the Holy Gifts from the altar, a Jewish student approached the saint and hit him in the ear with all his might, as a result of which St. John lost hearing in that ear and spilled the Holy Communion. Later on there was an armed seamen’s rebellion in Kronstadt, instigated and fanned by revolutionary Jews. These latter decided to use the event in order to make short work of St. John. However, the saint guessed at their trickery and did not allow himself to be talked into going and persuading the rebels to lay down their arms. After the failure of their plan, the revolutionaries decide to lure St. John into a trap and, taking advantage of his incessant concern for the sick, passed his entourage a message that an ill person was in need of the saint’s prayers. The saint had a foreboding that he would be met by enemies en route, and several times he warned his entourage, but they continued to plead with him for the supposedly sick person. The saint was led into a very rich house and was taken to the ailing person in the next room. When St. John went in there, the room was locked from the inside and the noise of a struggle could be heard. Then the women who had accompanied batyushka immediately remembered his foreboding of misfortune, tried to break into the room, and finally had to send for the coachman, who broke down the door. By that time St. John’s iniquitous attackers had managed to give him several knife wounds and had almost suffocated him. The coachman delivered St. John from his attackers and took him home. As soon as the saint regained consciousness, he immediately made the witnesses swear a terrible oath not to tell anyone of what had happened until his death, in order to avoid a pogrom.

St. John of Kronstadt
St. John of Kronstadt

The remaining three-and-a-half years of his life the holy martyr suffered such terrible pain from his wounds that he could not sleep at all. Only the Divine liturgy allowed him to have a couple of hours of relief from the unbearable pain, and so despite his frailty he continued to serve daily until his very death, and when he could no longer walk at all, he lay in the altar and took communion.

Thus during the Divine liturgy on 20 December 1908, at which the saint was present together with all the people who were praying for him, he quietly reposed in the Lord. He was buried in the burial vault of St. John’s monastery.

I.K. Surskiy

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