John of Kronstadt was born in cold lands, in a poor family. Nothing of the sort, magnificently great around him: poor childhood, hard life. From an early age he was a man of the Church. An ordinary little boy, was born in the family of the daughter-in-law. Through the prayers of zealous he was granted the understanding of the letter, just as Sergius of Radonezh received the understanding of the letter through a diligent prayer and the appearance of an angel in the form of a schema. Also, John received a certain revelation of the mind, the fall of the veil from his eyes after a fervent prayer for the granting of understanding of book science. Ordinary life in the Arkhangelsk province, parochial school, diocesan parish school, then a seminary, then an academy. He so lived to himself, not standing out among other people, he had just been diligent, maybe a little more serious than his peers, but nothing had foretold anything in him of some great lamp. And then in him the most serious desire flares up to serve God, to pray to God, so to speak, entirely. Do not just bring something to God (a little bit of God, a little bit of yourself), but surrender to God completely. And he decides to embody this desire in priestly practice.
By that time, by the end of the nineteenth century, the Russian Church begins missionary work. Missionary, in fact, not our fad. We have a difficult deal with this. We cannot understand in any way: how this is done correctly, who should help, who should organize – all of this rests on some select enthusiasts. It’s one thing when you preach with your own, and another thing when you have to go somewhere far away, learn a language, organize a mission among foreigners. This is quite a hard task. John flares up with a serious desire to preach Christ to people who do not know Christ. He wants to go to the distant frontiers of the fatherland, to China or to Manchuria, or to Japan. But then he looks around him and realizes that his native country, his compatriots – they did not run far from the pagans. They only bear the name of Christians, but in fact they are the same pagans in life, bowing to a golden calf, deifying passions, in one word – not serving God. What is a pagan? This is a man who does not serve God, serving himself and those gods who satisfy his self-interest. John suddenly realizes that he needs to serve here. Why go far when the same thing is here? He becomes a priest in Kronstadt.
The Kronstadt Fortress, the Kronstadt Port – the gate that locks Petersburg from the Baltic. There are sailors, people who are unreliable are sent there, there are a lot of, in our opinion, homeless people, thieves of everyone, lumpen, prostitutes, and everyone you want. And he begins to serve there, in Kronstadt, begins to give himself to the flock. He walks into the impoverished shabby cells in which people live, in basements and cellars. He keeps a diary in which he records in detail all the events of his inner life. He writes: “Remember, man, that the Lord was born in a cave. Do not hesitate to enter the cave in which people like us live today. Remember, man, that he himself was created out of the mud. Do not shun the filth of man. Go to those who are dirty, smelly, unwashed, poor, stupid. Go to them. Because you are the same. ” And here he goes there. Sometimes home without shoes comes back – gives their shoes to the needy. Sometimes he hangs his coat on the shoulders of a stripped man. Sometimes she comes to homes asking what they need: medicines, clothes, money, food. Leaves and comes back with packages of food, medicines, with some clothes. In essence, he distributes himself, completely, everything. It was very difficult for his mother, who was not ready to marry a saint. A normal woman wants to marry a normal person, and to marry a saint is against the rules, as it were. It must be the most holy. And who is ready to be holy? She is terribly tormented by all of this, but John goes forward without turning around. He is even called to Petersburg, to Pobedonostsev, the chief prosecutor of the Holy Synod. And Konstantin Pobedonostsev says to him: “You, father, took a high note. Many people took this note before you, but then they had to fake it. ” Father John replies: “Do not worry, I will not falsify, I will bring everything taken to the end.” He has a firm fervent conviction that he will carry his whole thing to the end. He reads the Bible daily, prays, wakes up early, goes to bed late, does not live by himself, but by others, and most importantly, he constantly serves the Liturgy. Liturgy was for him the beginning and end of all priestly activity. He drew strength from there and attracted people who had forgotten God. He was such a Eucharistic primate who served so ardently (as his contemporaries said, fire-inspired, that is, he was in service in the fire) that the people flowed to him. He was recognized as a saint, at first, these same homeless people, criminals, residents of the nightlife — the people we see in the movies, say, Charlie Chaplin. Such characters charlichaplinskih films: residents of sleeping accommodation, lowered, in sackcloth pants, not washed by the weeks. Or, say, like Gorky in “At the Bottom”. And these people – the inhabitants of the sleeping quarters, the inhabitants of the dens, the inhabitants of the stations, the inhabitants of the ports and the near-port poor homes – they suddenly recognized the saint in him.
The priests often envied father John, the spiritual authorities doubted him, they thought: “What is it? What kind of miracle-worker is there yet? ”Of course, there were a lot of female cliques around him, who then brought him much trouble. They called him almost the Lord of Hosts, striving to bite his hand, to drink blood, to partake of his blood. And many more did all sorts of nastiness, which very, very much prevented him in life and threw a shadow on his luminous image. But they recognized him as a saint, simple, forgotten by all, useless people who said: “If there are such priests, it means that heaven is alive, it means that heaven is not indifferent to us,” –
The times were not very favorable. The revolutions that subsequently broke out, first of the fifth year, then of the seventeenth – February and October – they were in the air, they were not an accident. Everything smelled of trouble. Because a whole range of false ideas got into people’s heads. People wanted an earthly paradise, people believed in science, people hated their Church, their past, they wanted something else, they wanted to “build our new world.” In general, it was a very serious test for the soul of any person, and many were “blown away by the wind”, as there is such a book – “Gone With the Wind”, many were simply blown away. And suddenly, John of Kronstadt showed the ideal of the priest to the world. In general, a priest in Russia is a person from whom the people do not expect holiness. This sounds paradoxical. People know that priests are burdened by family, need, the priest shares the peasant life with the peasants, or the urban life with the townspeople. He does not have to be a monk, fasting, priestess, wonderworker. If only he believed in God, served sincerely, loved people, well, he did not tear himself away from his flock. In general, here are all the requirements that were imposed on the priest. The people have never expected special holiness from the priests, and now they are not waiting. People know that the father is just the father, that God gave him grace, and through him the Lord himself creates all that is needed. And the father serves the Lord, and through him the Lord accomplishes. People are waiting for holiness, say, from monks, from holy fools, from the princes of the faithful, from bishops who are known to be holy men, that is, preachers, fasting men, and merciful fathers. And there are too many priests, they are full around. There are tales about priests, there are jokes about priests, there are jokes about priests – and that’s all right. And suddenly John of Kronstadt appears. And he shows how a priest can be. He constantly prays, constantly among people. Praying miraculously, praying fierily. And he invites many people of God to prayer. Lights faith in those in whom faith has gone out. It gives birth to faith in those in whom faith never happened. Strengthens faith in those who are tired of believing or leaning under the weight of the cross and stopped their way. He prays to God, and God answers him. And then, after the Liturgy, other things expire from the Liturgy – any concrete human help (millions of rubles flowed through the hands of Father John each year). Some brought it to him, and he distributed it to others. Distributed to anyone, but intelligently. He gave out, knowing the need of everyone: he gave the mother for the children, the merchant for the amendment of business, the priest to cover the domes, etc. He knew who gave what, received millions and gave millions. In his arms, they did not linger. He organized the “House of Diligence”, the so-called, in Kronstadt. He understood that idleness had taught a lot of malice, that people who were not engaged in anything, people who were accustomed to stretching their hands forever, who had become disaccustomed to work, who lived on alms were parasites, and would not improve until they began to work themselves. Therefore, he strongly taught people to work on their own. Women could sew, knit. Men could do carpentry, metalwork. Everyone had to do something. And the “House of Diligence” provided work, housing, money, bread earned by many, many people in Petrograd. The idea is very good. He was worried about the women on the panel, tried to bring them into normal life, so that they could earn a dowry, get married, start a normal family life and no longer foul and disgrace themselves and those around them. He was constantly engaged in teaching the law of God in gymnasiums, schools and colleges. Loved this thing. Distribution of work for the needy. He believed that the education of the younger generation must necessarily be coupled with the teaching of the law of God. Woe to the man who does not know the law of God. Woe to the man who does not know what God wants from man. Such a long-term activity of John (I repeat: everybody can start, and to prolong this activity and bring it to the end is a hard thing) lasted a very long time.
He became known outside of the fatherland among the heterodox, even among people of the non-Christian religion. For example, there were cases when John, sailing along the Volga on a steamer, along other large rivers, stopping at stations, performing prayers and preaching (by the end of his life he was already known as the world preacher of the Gospel), visited Moslems or Jewish villages where the crop failure kept people in hunger, or cattle put a great trouble to the economy. He prayed to God for these Jewish dwellings, for Muslim dwellings, his prayer was miraculous here, and grateful people brought him to their memorial books to thank God forever for him. Because he brought them a blessing with him. His prayer did not know such boundaries that divide humanity here, on earth, as if he no longer lived here, as if he already lived beyond the bounds of earthly reality torn by contradictions. He prayed for every man. Imagine that in Kronstadt there was a whole post office to which letters and telegrams came to Father John of Kronstadt. There were so many of them that it was necessary to create a whole post office, otherwise, in this pile of letters that came to him personally, the individual letters that came to someone else in Kronstadt sank and disappeared. Every morning a whole basket of notes and letters was brought to him in St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Physically, reading them out, he would have had to leave the altar for four, five, six, or more hours. Therefore, sometimes without having had time to read everything, he laid hands on all these notes and prayed to God for the Lord to have mercy, remember, purify, heal, strengthen, fulfill the good requests of people who addressed him in all this correspondence. And all this the Lord performed through his prayers. Thus, Father John burned brightly for a long time on the lamp of the Church, showing us that one simple priest could. Neither the bishop, nor the archimandrite of a large monastery, nor a professor at the academy, but an ordinary simple parish priest. He seemed to show the possibilities of the priesthood. As, for example, athletes show us the ability of a person in speed, endurance, strength, agility; how scientists show us the possibilities of the human mind in memorizing information, in processing information, in creative searching for answers to some questions; as any master of some special case shows us the capabilities of a person in general, so Father John showed us at the sunset of time, at the beginning of the twentieth century – a terrible century, who and how a priest can be. This, in fact, was his main life task. I repeat, what can a priest. It seems to be nothing. He should pray, preach, confess, baptize, marry, well, everything seems to be. Here we are thousands and thousands. And suddenly such a bright torch is lit, a certain shepherd is burning, burning like a candle, but set high. And we understand that wow. And how is it different from us? Yes, in principle, nothing. And why does he succeed, and we do not? We did not even think that it happens. Why is this so? Like this. So the Lord takes one to attract many. There is such a law of God: the Lord calls one person to himself, in order to attract many or all people through one.
Of course, Father John was not alone in the fact that he bore the cross of prayer for the whole world. He himself said that there is, for example, Alexei Mechev, who is known to him, his contemporaries, co-ordinator and soloist, Moscow wonderworker. It was already then that Matron of Moscow, who had already entered upon her path of prayer labor. And many, many more others were holy bishops, monks, who were all in some kind of spiritual communion, they were of one spirit. But as brightly as Father John, he did not burn from the priesthood, in principle, no one in history. He is completely unique from all the priests. But, and of course, where some admire, others grind their teeth. Where one is good, the other is not very good. Therefore, half of Russia loved him very much, and half didn’t love him very much. He was hated by a number of categories of people with fierce hatred; he was called both the croeker, and the magician, and the charlatan; many writers impartially spoke about him, unfortunately, for example, Nikolai Leskov was not the worst writer of the Russian land. He succumbed to this general mood, and with contempt, mockingly spoke of Father John of Kronstadt. He was ridiculed by the Jewish press, he was made a mockery of the plays: they wrote special plays in which everyone understood that it was about him, and thus he was mocked and attacked. In a word, they saw in him a great danger, and he carried the cross of such massive vilification on the eve of revolutions. This was not surprising in the then sick and ready for the tragedy of Russia.