St. John of Kronstadt as server of the Divine Liturgy
St. John of Kronstadt was a great intercessor for the Russian land. He was renowned for his pious and holy life, for his multidinous miracles, for his extensive aid to the needy. While engaging in constant prayer, he placed the Divine Liturgy above all else, regarding it as an eternal great miracle, and gave himself up to it entirely. In his “Reflections on the Orthodox Church Services” St. John wrote: “There are people for whom the Liturgy is everything on earth.” And undoubtedly, when he wrote this, he obviously had himself foremost in mind. It was well-known that from his very first days of priesthood he strived to serve the Divine liturgy as frequently as possible, while in the last 35 years of his life he served it daily, except for those days when he was very sick.
He apparently vividly felt and clearly realized through his personal life’s experience the supreme significance of this great sacrament in his life and work. And in fact, he always said and wrote that all his vigor, his indefatigable energy, his activity, which was beyond the strength of a common mortal and which left him not more than 4 hours out of 24 for sleep and rest, could only be explained by the fact that by the grace of God he daily served the great sacrament and partook of the Holy Mysteries.
In his diaries he often turns in thought and pious feeling to the Divine liturgy and does not even find sufficient words to express its majesty and its fruits for the faithful.
“What is more majestic, moving, life-giving on earth than the commemoration of the liturgy? In it is expressed and realized the greatest sacrament of God’s love for mankind – the union of God and man.”
“Without the sacrament of the Body and Blood, without the liturgy, the greatest deed of our Saviour’s love, wisdom, and omnipotence could have been forgotten, the fruits of His suffering could have been lost; for this reason He has commanded us to commemorate the sacrament of His Body and Blood not only in remembrance of Him, but for the sake of close communion with Him. This sacrament is commemorated all over the world.”
We all love life, but there is no true life within us without the source of life – Jesus Christ. The liturgy is a treasure chest, a source of true life, because within it the Lord Himself, the Master of life, offers Himself as food and drink to those who believe in Him, and in His own words gives life in abundance to His communicants: “Whosoever eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life” (John 6:54). If the world did not have the Most-holy Body and Blood of the Lord, it would not have its greatest benefit – the benefit of true life.”
“The Divine liturgy is an unceasing and supreme miracle in the grace-filled kingdom of God; it is, so-to-speak, a perpetual sacrifice of the Lamb of God; it is the remembrance of His redemptive suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and His second coming; it is a perpetually continuing sacrifice on the part of the Son of God to God the Father for us, sinners, that will continue until the end of the world. ‘Thine own of Thine own we offer to Thee, in behalf of all, and for all’: for the Lord suffered for all of us, and died, and arose, and thus reminds and will remind all generations of mankind of His sacrifice, and will offer it to all sincere faithful and all seeking salvation as food and drink for sanctification and regeneration until the end of time, in order for all the faithful to be saved.”
“The idea of the liturgy is for all to be one in Christ. During the proskomedia and the liturgy all the saints, beginning with the Mother of God, are summoned to participate in the service together with the priest. Just think of the closeness to each other of all the celestial denizens, and earth dwellers, and the Mother of God, and all the saints, and all of us, Orthodox Christians, during the commemoration of the Divine, universal, all-encompassing liturgy!”
St. John’s words and attitudes never differed from his deeds and his life. As he understood the liturgy, so did he teach it, so did he serve it, serving it extraordinarily, living each word of the prayers, giving himself up completely to the remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is “both the One Who offers and the One Who is offered, both the sacrifice and the high priest” in the liturgy.
Watching him serve the liturgy both in Kronstadt and in the various churches of St. Petersburg, one could not but see that he served each liturgy as though it were the very first liturgy in his life. He lived spiritually from liturgy to liturgy. Everything else was secondary for him and did not engage and fill his soul as did the liturgy.
Being incredibly kind and sociable, he never refused to share a meal after the liturgy with his co-servers and parishioners. There he is, after having spoken separately with various individuals especially needing his comfort and help, quickly entering the room where the meal is being served, affectionately greeting all those present, and then invariably beginning to talk about the Church, about the temple, about the service. The idea of the union of all faithful in Christ continues to rule his actions, and he shares food and drink with those sitting near him. But St. John never stays until the end of the meal, since here he has already provided comfort, warmth, and illumination with his inner light, and now he must hasten to others, especially to the sick, the elderly, and the frail, who cannot come to him themselves, but who hunger for his presence.
It is extremely hard to describe how St. John served the Divine liturgy. He was an ardent flame before God; he represented the complete union of a pure image of God with its Original. During the liturgy the entire Heavenly Church – prophets, apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, venerables, and all celestial denizens were like close living friends to St. John. His praying was also unusual. He would suddenly completely forego making the sign of the cross and only bowed deeply or raised his eyes to heaven, or he would stand on his knees for a long time without moving.