Posted by: anna | January 31, 2010

St John of Kronstadt

Today I jump out of sequence with the saints’ lives! Yesterday I attended part of the OFSJB study weekend on the life, work and writings of St John of Kronstadt at the parish named for him just down the railway line in Bath.

I set off in a frosty pre-dawn; my early rising was rewarded with a beautiful red and gold sunrise, which I enjoyed watching develop from the train as I sipped my coffee (life is not so hard!), and the clear winter sunlight brought out the mellow colour in the Bath stone displayed in serried ranks on the hillsides as I arrived. I always rather forget about Bath – it’s such a gem of a place; an ideal Saturday destination! The sun had not yet reached the streets by the river where I was, so I climbed up a steep little terrace – wondering as I did so what on earth people there do in a heavy frost, or icy/snowy conditions! – and stood halfway up the hill enjoying the relative warmth of the direct sun and the light on the lightly dusted roofs below.

This was my first introduction to St John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), and I may say that my first impression was ‘this is a chewy one!’ I don’t know enough yet and haven’t thought about it enough yet to have organised thoughts but here are a few bullet points in no particular order, possibly to be refined and ordered another time:

  • Here is a useful page about the life and teachings of St John of Kronstadt from the Bath parish website.
  • also by Mp Kallistos
  • An (the?) English translation of (extracts from) My Life in Christ is available free online from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, which is not quite as airy-fairy as it sounds!
  • I was of course impressed by quotations of his writings about prayer, and especially the idea of seeing the light of Christ in every person. (a Quaker idea!) But how quick I am to judge! I had a lot of reservations about the stories of his rushing around, shouting, weeping, adding prayers to the Liturgy, introducing a General Confession (unheardof! what authority did he have?) etc etc.
  • I wonder if there is anything telling his wife’s story? I would be surprised if not – after all she was the closest human being to him (in some ways) and the one most constantly with him through the years. She must have been a very strong woman, very loving and close to God herself.

I am not sure how to reconcile the selflessness on the one hand of a man who ignored his own welfare in every way to be as close as he could be to God and his people in the Liturgy, in prayer, in pastoral care, and the selfishness on the other of a husband who imposed a white marriage on his bride, denied her a family, spent a great deal of time away from her, gave vastly of himself to so many others he must have had hardly any time left for just her, gave away the housekeeping money without any concern for her welfare… I guess that is a good illustration of humanity. I am tempted to think, how could a saint be so blind? Why did he marry at all? But I’m judging without knowing what his wife thought, and sainthood does not mean perfection. And he is not the only one. I know of husbands who assume that their wives are simply ‘on their team’ and expect them to make enormous sacrifices to theiw own agendas without discussion, acknowledgement or thanks, and I know of wives who refuse to make allowance for or respect their husbands’ dedication to their profession or vocation. So in fact this story is a very useful one for provoking thoughts about the nature of humanity and human sanctity and forgiveness and love and lots of other things.
John of Kronstadt has left LOTS of writings, both prose and poetry, full of realistic and practical encouragement for the disconsolate or wishy-washy or frightened soul. I look forward to delving more deeply.
Troparion (tone 1)
As a zealous advocate of the Orthodox faith,
As a caring Solicitor for the land of Russia,
Faithful to the rules and image of a pastor,
Preaching repentance and life in Christ,
An awesome servant and administer of God’s sacraments,
A daring intercessor for people’s sake,
O Good and righteous Father John,
Healer and wonderful miracle-worker,
The praise of the town of Kronstadt
And decoration of our Church,
Beseech the All-Merciful God
To reconcile the world and to save our souls!

Holy Father John, healer and intercessor, pray to God for us!


  1. St. John of Kronstadt is one of my favourite Saints!

    When I don't understand why a Saint did something (and this does happen for me from time to time) I find the best thing to do is to in prayer humbly ask them about it. In time we may be given the answer…

    I would think personally that he and his wife decided together to live as brother and sister; it is not unheard of in the stories of the Saints, but is a special calling for sure. I too think of his wife and how ascetical and selfless she was; how very deeply Christian…

  2. Thank you! (why was that not my first idea – go to the source, of course!) Fr Yves' talk did mention the pattern of their life together as something Elizabeth would not have chosen for herself – she always longed for children – but worked hard to accept and support. She must have been amazing. Fr Artemy of the Moscow Theological Academy is fairly clear but doesn't cite his sources.

    And perhaps I should start appreciating what happens to so many of the centuries-old saints' lives – so little is left that they're not nearly this complicated! though I do sometimes wonder how some of the extant fragments came to be the ones to survive…

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