This sermon was delivered in the St. John of Rila Convent in St. Petersburg, where the relics repose of St. John of KronstadtSt. John of Kronstadt
“>Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt.
Photo: imonspb.ru In speaking of the service of the pastor of all Russia Fr. John of Kronstadt, we involuntarily recall the words of Apostle Paul from the first epistle to the Corinthians: For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ (1 Cor. 12:8–12). The apostle shows that different gifts are given to different people. For a gift is not a reward. A gift is given for service. The measure of development of God’s gift in a person depends on how zealously and self-sacrificingly he strives toward this gift, trying to develop it in himself. Therefore, gifts are given differentially—to each his own, inasmuch as the actualization of even one of them requires extraordinary efforts and self-sacrifice.
But what is amazing is that the entirety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated above were extraordinarily clearly and fully revealed in one man—in Fr. John of Kronstadt. He had fiery faith, he healed many, many people, he worked miracles, cast out unclean spirits, had the gift of clairvoyance and the gift of an inspired word. His sermons, so simple in form, bore an extraordinary homiletic message that reached to the depths of his listeners’ hearts. How could all of this have been combined in one man?
In our time, with the passing of a century, thanks to all the ever-emerging publications on the life of our dear Batiushka, we have a growing recognition of the uniqueness of his personality. Now, we have every right to speak of A Unique Phenomenon: On Righteous John of KronstadtHow did he, having begun his life as pastors of the Church usually do, become such a spiritual giant, a colossus of the spiritual life, the likes of which have been few not only in Rus’, but in the entire universal Church in general?
“>St. John of Kronstadt as a phenomenon.
Fame reached him towards the year 1883, when in the Petersburg newspaper, Novaya Vremya, an open letter was published by Batiushka’s grateful parishioners who were healed through his prayers. This was preceded by twenty-eight years of service in the priestly rank. Practically right after his ordination Fr. John began keeping a journal, and on its pages he set forth the twists and turns of his spiritual life. The fact that he kept a journal in itself presupposes a high inner culture and the capability for self-analysis. Now this journal is for us a priceless record that allows us to see at least some degree of the beauty of Fr. John’s character.
From the journal’s first pages we see before us a man of fiery prayer, a zealous pastor and benefactor. Why Is Charity Important?From the very earliest days of the existence of the Church, acts of mercy and charity were an essential part of church life.
“>Charity, if you will, was the clearest trait of the Kronstadt pastor’s first years of service. We usually consider the ability to be charitable as something proceeding from a person’s inner sacrificial attitude. But the apostle Paul (in the second epistle to the Corinthians) calls charity a grace, a charisma, a gift of God. We well know that Fr. John so cared about Kronstadt’s poverty as to take off his own boots or shirt and give them to a poor man. But the pages of the journal reveal to us how difficult it was for him to maintain a continually charitable disposition. In his childhood he suffered from poverty, and the fear of losing his last possessions, of remaining without means for existence, had stubbornly eaten their way into his soul. But remembering the Gospel call for love of neighbor, Fr. John struggled with himself, fanning the flame of the gift of grace in himself.
He ceaselessly conducted a spiritual battle. The infirmities of fallen human nature tried to subjugate him. But he took up arms against them like a warrior of Christ, not allowing himself any indulgences. He was inspired for this struggle by Holy Scripture. Fr. John related extremely seriously to the Gospel, striving to literally and uncompromisingly embody by his life the Gospel calls of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He was not alone in his struggle. The famous exclamation of Apostle Paul, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philip. 4:13), are often found in the pages of Fr. John’s journal. Communion with Christ—this was the foundation of Fr. John’s sanctity. This is precisely what lay at the source of the eucharistic revival in Russia. On the one hand, as a deeply religious man, Fr. John received in his childhood a religious education, graduated from the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, and was deeply rooted in contemporary Church traditions. But on the other hand, not everything about these traditions was ideal. Some of their aspects had taken on a clearly deformed character. We are talking here about the practice that had taken root as early as the sixteenth century of infrequent Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. This meant just once a year, or at best, four times a year.
The Church, the mystical Body of Christ, is comprised of people. And if the members of the Church rarely receive Communion, rarely partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the life of the Church becomes anemic, and loses its richness and fullness. Fr. John could not be at peace with this. He went against the entrenched practice not by force of “ideological convictions”. No. The call to receive Communion as often as possible became the natural continuation of his own eucharistic experience. Serving Divine Liturgy every day and partaking of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, he felt life renewed in himself and communion with God. Life is given from above as a Gift. He simply could not be silent about this!
Historical experience shows how hard it is to change a tradition, especially a bad one; but thanks to Fr. John’s effective sermons, a change took place in Russian church piety.
Greatness is seen from a distance. There was a time when Russian society was divided with respect to Fr. John. There were those who sincerely honored him, but there were also detractors. In fact, there were quite a few of the latter, especially amongst the “educated society” that had fallen away from the Church. Fr. John’s ill-wishers condescendingly called him a “village priest”. His short stature, his provincial dialect, and of course his “over-ardent” zeal for Christ evoked perplexity in many. But history puts everything in its place. And now before us stands Fr. John of Kronstadt as a figure of historical scope, as a man who had an enormous influence on the spiritual life of his era. But the fruits of his labors lie not only in the historical past. They are extraordinarily relevant to our own times. For by his whole life, he witnessed to God, Who gives us eternal salvation; he witnesses to the truth of the Church, which is timeless in nature. He himself was a true man of the Church. Amen.