The Life of St. John of Kronstadt

(Commemorated on December 20)

St.   John was born in a village in Russia in 1829. His parents were very poor but   were very dedicated to the Church. Even though he was poor, as a young boy John   learned to feel compassion for others in their misfortune. His neighbors frequently   asked him to pray for them, as they noticed this special grace-endowed gift   in him. When John was 10 his parents were able to raise some money and send   him to the local school which was attached to the Church. However, the boy initially   had an extremely difficult time with his studies: he worked days on end, but   still failed to keep up.

While writing about   his life he recalled once, it was evening, when everyone had already gone to   bed. “I could not sleep; I still failed to understand anything I was taught.   I still read poorly and could not remember anything of what I was told. I became   so depressed I fell to my knees and prayed. I don’t know whether I had spent   a long time in that position or not, but suddenly something shook my whole being.   It was like a veil had fallen from my eyes, it was as if my mind had been opened   up, and I remembered clearly my teacher of that day and the lesson he was teaching;   I also recalled what he had talked about and understood what he meant. I felt   so light and joyous inside.” After this experience he did so well he became   one of the first in his class to be chosen to go to seminary and after seminary   to the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg (a great honor at that time).

Throughout his studies,   John thought about the importance of forgiveness, meekness, and love, and came   to believe that these were the very center and power of Christianity, and that   only one path - the path of humble love - leads to God and the triumph of His   righteousness. He also thought a great deal about Jesus’ death on the cross   at Golgotha and tearfully pitied people who did not know Jesus Christ; he wished   to preach to them about His death and resurrection. He dreamed about becoming   a missionary to distant China but saw that there was a great deal of work for   a genuine pastor of Christ’s flock both in his own city and the surrounding   towns.

When John graduated   from the Academy he met Elizabeth Nesvitsky who lived in the town of Kronstadt.   They dated, he proposed, and they were married. After his studies John still   desired to learn more about his faith and his Church. It was in this frame of   mind that he prepared to receive holy orders and enter public ministry. He was   ordained a deacon on December 10, 1885, and then priest on December 12. He was   assigned to St. Andrew’s Cathedral in the city of Kronstadt. He said, “I   made myself the rule of being as sincere as possible in my work and of strictly   watching myself and my inner life.”

Fr. John wanted most   of all to earn the love of the people in his care because only a loving attitude   could provide the firm support and help he needed as he faced the difficult   work of the priesthood. His constant thought was how he would come before the   Last Judgment and have to give an account not only of his own deeds but also   the deeds of his flock, for whose education and salvation he was responsible.   To him no one was a stranger; everyone who came to him for help became a friend   and relative. He would tell people “The Church is the best heavenly friend   of every sincere Christian.” He conducted divine services daily and offered   the prayers of the faithful. He called all who rarely receive Holy Communion   to prepare themselves and live their lives in the way of Christ so that they   could receive more often. Listening to Fr. John, many people changed their lifestyle,   repented sincerely, and joyfully received Holy Communion on a regular basis.  

At that time the   government exiled murderers, thieves and other criminals to Kronstadt. Life   was horrible for the exiles. Even children of exiles would become thieves and   criminals. He would go to dugouts and basements to visit with many of these   exiles. Not satisfied with staying for five or ten minutes to administer some   rite and then leave, Fr. John believed he was coming to visit a priceless soul,   his brothers and sisters. He would stay for hours, talking, encouraging, comforting,   crying, and rejoicing together with them.

From the beginning   he also concerned himself with the material needs of the poor. He would shop   for food, go to the pharmacy for prescriptions, to the doctor for help, many   times giving the poor his last few coins. The inhabitants of Kronstadt would   see him returning home barefoot and without his cassock. Often parishioners   would bring shoes to his wife, saying to her, “Your husband has given away   his shoes to someone, and will come home barefoot.” He would also write   articles for the newspaper exhorting the people of Kronstadt to “support   the poor morally and materially.” These appeals touched the hearts of many   and Fr. John organized many charitable efforts. Realizing that his individual   charity was insufficient for aiding the needy, he founded the Orthodox Christian   Brotherhood Guardianship of Apostle Andrew the First Called. This brotherhood   coordinated many charitable efforts throughout the city and helped many needy   people.

In 1857 he began   teaching in the local city schools. He would tell people, “If children   cannot listen to the Gospel, it is only because it is taught like any other   subject, with boredom and indifference. Such teaching defeats the purpose of   the Gospel. It fails because it forces students only to read words and memorize   them instead of making them live in their lives.” To Fr. John there were   no incapable students. He taught in such a way that poor pupils as well as good   ones were able to understand. His attention was aimed not so much at forcing   students to memorize as to fill their souls with the joy of living according   to Christian values, sharing with them the holy thoughts which filled his soul.

When speaking to   other priests about their vocation he would say, “You are a representative   of the faith of the Church, O priest; you are a representative of Christ the   Lord Himself. You should be a model of meekness, purity, courage, perseverance,   patience, and lofty spirit. You are doing the work of God and must not let anything   discourage you.”

Fr. John labored   endlessly in his work for the Lord preaching, teaching, and helping all those   in need with whom he came in contact. Having spent his entire life serving God   and His people, Fr. John fell ill and died on December 20, 1908. Almost immediately,   people from near and far began to make pilgrimages to the monastery where he   was buried. Even today millions of Orthodox Christians in Russia and around   the world pray to him to intercede for them as he had always done from his childhood.