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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 Russia’s Spiritual Crisis

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided within itself falleth (Luke 11:17).

Never before has so much been said or written about any of the saints or venerables as there has been of St. John of Kronstadt. Our aim, therefore, will not be so much to present a complete picture of him, who is so well-known to us, as to characterize his era and clarify the historical significance of St. John.

St. John lived at a time when the spiritual crisis being undergone by Russia was reaching its apogee: a fatal dichotomy reigned in all spheres of our nation’s life.

On one hand there was a great spiritual revival of asceticism, which began in the 19th century and embraced all religious Russian people, and which was now producing its rich harvest; on the other hand, the overwhelming majority of society was in the grip of an opposing movement, alien to us and coming from the West, of atheistic and revolutionary influences.

St. John emerged from the sphere of spiritual revival, he was completely enveloped by its spirit and its light, and the wave of this renaissance lifted St. John high onto the top of its crest. The Lord placed His flaming candle high upon the candlestand.

Another wave, that of godlessness and destruction, the wave of the spirit of the Antichrist, lifted to its crest Leo Tolstoy, who became its universally acknowledged prophet. St. John stood up sternly and imperiously against the enemies of the church and state, continuously accusing them, summoning them to repentance, threatening them with God’s punishment. In this lay his prophetic calling and service.


Road to holiness

After the reforms of Peter the Great and subsequent ones, which were all aimed against monasticism, Russian monasticism suffered an era of decline, but with the coming of the 19th century the outlines of a spiritual renaissance could already be seen.

The foundation of this revival was laid by Archimandrite Paisius Velichkovsky: from the second half of the 18th century he engaged in translating the writings of the Holy Fathers (Philokalia) from Greek into Slavonic and revived ancient Eastern asceticism in his monastery in Moldavia. In this asceticism the center of gravity lies not in external labors, but in inner endeavor, specifically in attaining impassivity. The end purpose of all these endeavors becomes a direct meeting with God – the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” In this regard, the guidance of elders in spiritual endeavor was also revived.

The renaissance of monasticism in Russia is also linked with the name of Metropolitan Gabriel of St. Petersburg, who published the “Philokalia” in 1793 and, moreover, appointed disciples of Paisius as abbots of many Russian monasteries, who subsequently revived ancient traditions in monastic endeavor that were almost forgotten in our land.

A multitude of holy ascetics appeared in this age of renaissance. In the early period we see that greatest of saints – St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833). “Saint Seraphim’s gift of holiness,” – says a church historian, – “like all gifts coming from above, issues from the Father of Lights, while the saint’s personal achievements come from his heroic endeavor. His spiritual philosophy arose from the same life-giving river of Russian ascetic revival, along which the saint led the boat of his life.”

Father John Sergiyev was born in 1829, not long before the repose of St. Seraphim and, similarly to the latter, wished to lead the boat of his life along the same shining currents of spiritual renaissance.

We do not know which religious individuals were close to St. John during his study at the Academy, nor who was his spiritual father, but we may assertively state that there was no dearth of experienced ascetic guides in those times. Moreover, one book of ascetic writings after another began to appear in print. Those times were the heyday of spiritual revival.

By that time the disciples of elder Paisius’ disciples became concentrated primarily at the Optina Hermitage, which became a spiritual center and was renowned for its clairvoyant elders and its propagation of spiritual writings. Beginning in 1847, a group of professors and writers, headed by Elder Macarius, translated and published patristic writings. Their activity coincided with St. John’s academic years (1851-1855) and the first years of his priesthood.

At the same time, the future hierarch Ignaty Bryanchaninov (1807-1867) served as abbot of the Sergius Hermitage near St. Petersburg, which he had founded. He represented an attractive and charming image of a true ascetic. St. Ignaty was a disciple of Elder Leo of Optina and the author of “Ascetic Efforts,” in which he described the path of inner endeavor on the basis of the teaching of the Holy Fathers and warned against falling into delusion. St. John was known to have ties with the Sergius Hermitage in his young years, and these ties continued into later life.

Another prominent contemporary of St. John was Bishop Theophanus the Recluse (1811-1984), who worked for almost twenty years on the Russian translation of the “Philokalia” and through his writings and letters provided guidance to the religious segment of his contemporary generation.

Although St. John was a lay priest and did not have monastic tonsure, his inner life consisted entirely of monastic endeavor in accordance with patristic tradition. He constantly spoke of inner spiritual endeavor, of “invisible warfare” – not only against passions, but also against the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places, and spoke of the prayer of the heart and of the power and efficacy of the name of Jesus.

He spoke in detail of his spiritual endeavor on December 12, 1900 in his homily for the 45th anniversary of his ordination into priesthood. Here he touched upon his first steps along the way of spiritual warfare, although self-testing, self-realization, and constant prayer were his life’s work until the very end. Deepest humility was his shield and his visor: “In body I am dust and ashes, while my soul lives and rests only in God. He is both the light of my thoughts and the strength of my heart, while by myself I am nothing.”

Here is what St. John says of himself in the above-mentioned “Homily”: “After being ordained a priest and pastor, I soon learned from personal experience with whom I was entering into combat in my spiritual field of endeavor – specifically, with the strong, cunning, indefatigable prince of this world, who breathed evil, destruction and the hellish flames of Gehenna, and the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places… This combat with a strong and cunning invisible enemy clearly showed me how many frailties, weaknesses, and sinful passions there were in me, how much the prince of this world had in me, and how strongly I must battle with myself, with my sinful inclinations and habits, and conquer them, in order to be as invincible as possible from the adversary’s arrows.

There began a spiritual combat, self-monitoring, the sharpening of spiritual vision, self-instruction on continuous inner prayer and the calling upon of the all-saving name of Christ; like the psalm-writer, King David, I began to constantly lift my spiritual eyes unto the hills – to heaven, from whence came obvious and immediate sovereign help (Psalm 121:1-3), and my mighty enemies were routed, while I received freedom and inner tranquility…

This warfare continues within me to this day; and the long duration of the spiritual warfare taught me much, especially the experienced perception of all intricacies of spiritual warfare, of all the numerous snares of the unseen enemies, and the firm and always assured calling upon the name of Jesus Christ, before which they are unable to stand; in this unseen warfare I came to know the constant nearness of the Lord to me, His immeasurable bounty, His quickness to hear me, the infinite holiness of His nature, for which even a single unrighteous thought is abhorrent, even an instantaneous desire for sin or pleasure in sin, since God’s holiness seeks and absolutely demands from all of us holiness in thoughts, holy zeal in feelings, holiness in all the movements of our will, in all words, in all deeds.

In this warfare I came to know the incredible depth of God’s longsuffering towards us, for He alone knows the entire frailty of our fallen nature, which He mercifully took upon Himself, except for sin, and He therefore commanded us to forgive the sins of others “sevenfold seventy times”; and He surrounded and continues to daily surround me with the joy of deliverance from sin and with inner tranquility. The mercy of God which I have experienced and the Lord’s customary nearness to me assures me of hope in my eternal salvation, and of all those who listen to me and follow my guidance towards salvation.”

St. John then speaks of how, while serving the wondrous services and communing daily of the most-holy and life-giving sacrament, he felt within himself “its life-giving nature for the soul and body, its victory over sin and death, and the feelings of redemption, peace, liberation, and fervor of the spirit which it engendered.”

St. John of Kronstadt
St. John of Kronstadt

Thus by means of inner endeavor and a daily serving of the Liturgy, St. John ascended from power to power, attained and was granted greater and greater gifts of the Holy Spirit. And all these gifts were abundantly poured upon St. John and testify to his holiness, his widely-known clairvoyance, miracle-working, and the countless healings he performed.


How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not (Matt. 23:37).

The 19th and early 20th centuries were a flourishing not only of monastic endeavor: this was an era of renaissance in all spheres of the nation’s life. In church art, after a period of decadence, one could observe a return to beautiful ancient images. The higher theological academies were becoming liberated from the alien influences of other religions and were stepping onto their own inherent path. An independent school of theology was being created.

Due to a continuous reign of Orthodox emperors, the canonical service of the monarch as loyal son of the Church and guardian of Orthodoxy was being reinstated. The anticanonical synodal structure was doomed, and things were progressing towards the restoration of the patriarchy.

An upsurge was felt in everything. Russia was taking great strides towards the flourishing of its culture, towards the pinnacle of its well-being, might, and glory.

But on a par with the creative and constructive forces, the centrifugal forces of destruction were developing even more rapidly.

The overwhelming majority of Russian society was infected with the corrupting, godless, revolutionary spirit that came to us from the West and was depicted with great genius in Dostoyevsky’s “Demons.” Moral decay was quickly spreading along with godlessness. Even some of the members of the destructive camp were aware at times of the impasse reached by the leftist intelligentsia and into which it was leading the whole of Russia.

In a paper read by him in December of 1908, Russian poet Alexander Blok speaks of it with great force and clarity. He perceives the intelligentsia’s doom: “It is condemned to wander, move, and degenerate in a vicious circle. Without a superior guiding principle, revolt and violence are inevitable, beginning with the decadents’ vulgar theomachy and ending with open self-destruction – all kinds of debauchery, drunkenness, and suicide.” Blok saw the dead-end to which the intelligentsia had come, to which it had led Russia, but there was no repentance in him: he immediately joined the Bolsheviks.

A vivid description of what was happening in Russia was provided in 1901 in the magazine “The Helmsman” by St. John’s great contemporary – Archbishop Ambrose of Kharkov. “What can one say about our so-called light literature, – says the elderly archpastor, – that is so assiduously being spread among the people? It is a conduit for inane and untalented works that corrupt the people’s taste and distract them from serious spiritual reading.

And what is the state of our educated society, which loves to judge so freely and with such self-assurance about all current events and manifestations? It is a market where all kinds of liberal ideas and judgments are offered and exchanged.

Numerous and severe reproofs will rain down upon me, of course, and accusation of offending high society and the most educated classes of our social system. But someone must open the eyes of these carefree and blinded people, who are rushing towards perdition and dragging and entire great nation after them!

I am an old man, over 80 years old, I am already living through a fifth reign, and I consider it a sin to die without telling my Fatherland the bitter truth. I saw with my own eyes the reforms of the last century, both favorable and unsuccessful, in the spheres of education, state and social institutions; I saw the quick change in social mores and was amazed that our thinkers do not notice the fall of our people from the firm mental and moral height upon which stood our ancestors, do not see how our spiritual resources are being dissipated, how the purity and stability of our family life and the simplicity and modesty of our customs are being lost.

Let me be reproved for my harsh speech. My words are justified by current events and inarguable facts: our higher cases and progressive estates are being permeated by a spirit of disbelief and rejection of Christ’s teaching. They are becoming lost to the Church and are tearing themselves away from the millions of Orthodox people of whom they are supposed to be the leaders. Their disbelief and liberalism are infecting the semi-educated officials, merchants, scribes.”

The archbishop then goes on to vividly describe the moral disintegration which with catastrophic speed was overwhelming the common people more and more, and the helplessness of the na?ve measures that were being undertaken to oppose this evil. “A sad picture,” – he says, and then continues:

“Have you ever seen what remains of luxurious fields of ripe wheat after a cloud of hale passes over them? – you see only naked straws and sheaves in the ground… Have you ever read of what remains in abundant fields after an enemy army passes over them, or they become the seat of battle? Only the bitter wailing of the landowners can testify to the force of the disaster that struck them…

Such is the danger that threatens our Church and our great people!”

The imminent destruction and its causes were also seen by St. John’s older contemporary, holy Bishop Theophanus the Recluse (1815-1894), already in the late 19th century, when he said: “They have become mired in Western dirt up to their ears, and yet they think: everything is all right!.. Within a generation or two our Orthodoxy will dry up… Orthodoxy, sovereign monarchy, nationality – that is what we must preserve! If ever these principles change, the Russian people will cease to be Russian. They will then lose their sacred tricolor standard.” With his sermons and letters Bishop Theophanus continuously fought against the putrid spirit of godlessness and revolution

Earlier our great ascetics and saints, such as the venerable Seraphim of Sarov, the ascetic of the Glinsky Hermitage Father Iliodor, who had had the famous vision about Russia’s forthcoming destinies, as well as the Optina elders and others warned of God’s punishment that was coming upon Russia for its abandonment of God. This was also foreseen and talked about by our great writers and thinkers, such as Dostoyevsky, Leontyev, who clearly indicated the causes of the collapse, and even before that warnings were issued by Kireyevsky.

There were many among St. John’s contemporaries who saw and spoke of the collapse and fought against it, but St. John’s denunciatory and prophetic voice rang louder than all others. He personally bore on his shoulders the entire burden of prophetic service.

In the days of the revolution of 1905, St. John was subjected to an extraordinary outpouring of hate and malice when he sharply and openly stood up against it and thus diverged from progressive society. The situation even came to insults and physical attacks, so that St. John was in constant danger. A society for the protection of St. John was organized under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow.

In his time, a whole galaxy of “progressive” writers ridiculed the Church and the government, trying to outdo one another in blasphemy and mockery. But Leo Tolstoy surpassed them all.

St. John addressed the following words to them: “Here are modern insolent abusers – Tolstoy and all his adherents and followers, true antichrists, liars according to Apostle John: ‘Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son’ (1 John 2:22)… Does Tolstoy believe in the Son? He does not! What follows then? ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God’ (Heb. 10:31). Let us all believe until the end of our lives and let us hold firmly unto our confession.”

In “The Helmsman” for the year 1901 we find the following words: “If we disregard all of Tolstoy’s other works and only look at the two chapters in his novel “The Resurrection” that describe a liturgy in a prison church, even this will be enough to become horrified at the Count’s malicious mockery of the greatest Orthodox sacrament – the holy Eucharist. And just think of all his blasphemy against our miracle-working icons! Before such blasphemy against Christ and His Church, the mockery of the Lord at His trial and especially on Golgotha by the Jews who had crucified Him truly fades into insignificance. The latter denied Christ’s divinity only conditionally.”

Professor Speransky wrote in the newspaper “The Russian Thought” of the fact that Tolstoy represented an unparalleled situation of a government within a government, that around him was circumscribed a circle of absolute immunity. And Suvorin justly remarks in his diary: “There are two tsars in Russia – Nicholas the Second and Leo Tolstoy. Which one is stronger? Nicholas the Second cannot do anything to Tolstoy, while Tolstoy continuously undermines the throne of Nicholas the Second.”

Tolstoy himself confirms it: “I did all that I could to achieve this goal (land in prison). Perhaps if I had taken part in a murder I would have achieved it, but as it is, I called their tsar a most hideous creature, a brazen murderer, all their divine and state laws – the vilest lies, all their ministers and general – poor slaves and hired killers: and despite all of this I still go free!”

St. John replies to him on behalf of the Lord: …“You are trampling abominably upon the New Testament blood that I shed in suffering on the Cross for the entire world, you are trampling upon My gifts like swine.” But God is not to be mocked. In His righteous anger He will scorn your foolishness, your stupidity, your malice, hate, and pride, and He will scatter you like dust in the wind”… “You will die in your sins if you do not believe in Me,” – said the Lord to the Pharisees. Woe unto Leo Tolstoy, who does not believe in the Lord and is dying in the sin of unbelief and blasphemy. ‘Terrible is the death of sinners’ (Psalm 33:22). And the death of Tolstoy will be a fearful lesson to the entire world. His family members will of course try to conceal this.”

St. John entreated the Russian people: “Learn, O Russia, to believe in the Almighty God Who rules over the world’s destinies, and learn from thy holy ancestors to stand strong in faith, wisdom, and courage. The Lord has entrusted us, Russians, with the great and salvific gift of the Orthodox faith… Arise, ye Russians!... Who has taught you insubordination and senseless revolts, which never existed in Russia before?... Cease your madness! It is enough! It is time for both you and Russia to stop drinking from the chalice full of poison!”

“O righteous God! Both the pastors and the flock are mute before Thee. ‘They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one’ (Psalm 14:3). What will finally happen under the disorder that now exists in our life? Lawlessness is spreading all over the earth; the kingdom of the enemy is spreading and Thy kingdom is growing smaller; there are few of Thy chosen ones left, in whose hearts Thou rests; there are many more slaves of the devil, in whose hearts is enthroned the man-killer of yore, sitting there like a thief. What willst Thou do with us, Lord? The blood of Thy Testament is crying out from the earth, but the voice of Thy Gospel is not penetrating the hearts of Christians. Thy commandments are being disregarded, church canons are being violated, – what willst Thou do with us, Lord?”

In 1907, during a quiet period in Russia, seeing the universal lack of sensitivity and repentance, and foreseeing with his prophetic gaze the forthcoming incredible suffering of the Russian people, St. John, though burdened with heavy illnesses and being on the edge of the grave himself, ceaselessly thundered out his prophecies, and with a feeling of ardent pity no longer spoke but cried out, raising his hands upward: “Repent! A time is coming that is horrible beyond imagination!” “The impression was overwhelming, all those present were overcome with dread, and crying could be heard all over the church. All of us, – said an eyewitness afterwards, – were perplexed: what would it be? War? An earthquake? A flood? However, from the prophet’s words we understood that it would be something much more horrible, and we surmised that the earth’s axis would turn over.”

“The people of the first antediluvian world, – said St. John, – were given 120 years to repent, and they were warned that for their sins there would be a punishment from God – the flood. Time passed, but the people became more depraved and did not think of repentance, nor did they believe the prophet of repentance, the righteous Noah, – and God’s words came to pass exactly. The Jews did not believe their prophets who told them that they would be taken into captivity by the Babylonian king and continued to worship idols, – and so they went into captivity, and Jerusalem was razed, and all their wealth was taken over by the Babylonians. The Jews who were Christ’s contemporaries did not believe in Christ as Messiah and crucified Him, and Christ’s prophecy concerning Jerusalem soon came to pass, and the Romans destroyed the Jews mercilessly.

And now in our present times the people have also gone mad, they do not listen to the call of the Church, they say – these are all fairy tales, the priests are deceiving us for the sake of income.

St. John of Kronstadt
St. John of Kronstadt

O ye blind and hardhearted ones, are not the events foretold by the Gospel coming to pass now in front of your very eyes? Here is the destructive war, the famine, the plagues. Do you not believe in God’s justice even now? But know ye that judgment is at hand, and that the Lord is coming soon in His glory to judge the living and the dead!”

Just as in ancient times the Lord sent prophets to urge the people to repent, so it was that during the time of the Russian people’s abandonment of God, a great prophet was sent to them to confirm by countless miracles and instances of clairvoyance his forecast of God’s forthcoming chastisement.

But the Russian people did not heed the prophet’s appeal, and thereby they were inevitably doomed.

The path to Russia’s renaissance, as well as to the personal salvation of each one of us has been clearly indicated by St. John, and this path – the path of universal repentance – is the only one; there is none other.

Continuation »

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