St. John of Kronstadt, ca. 1870
Born in 1829 from pious parents of very modest means, St. John was quick to learn the power of prayer. As a child he was a slow learner, but one night after fervently praying for God’s help in his studies, he suddenly felt as if he were violently shaken, as if “the mind opened up in his head.” From then on he became a good pupil, graduating at the head of his class. He went on to seminary in St. Petersburg where he began to prepare for missionary activity in Siberia and Alaska. But in a dream he saw himself as a priest in a large cathedral, and soon thereafter he married and was ordained and appointed to serve in the St. Andrew Cathedral of Kronstadt — the very cathedral which had appeared in his dream.
Kronstadt was a port city full of poverty, drunkenness, and immorality. It was here that Father John poured out his compassionate love and began his extraordinary ministry founded on prayer. Literally thousands, including Jews and Muslims, flocked to him for spiritual and material aid and were witnesses to his God-given powers of healing, spiritual discernment, and prophecy. His genuine Christian love brought many to repentance and conversion, and the cathedral which held up to 5,000 people was packed every day for Divine Liturgy.
Another object of Father John’s concern and labor was the removal of the widespread poverty that afflicted Kronstadt. At first he gave these beggars money for food and shelter, but he soon came to see that this was not merely useless, but positively harmful. In 1868 he conceived the idea of founding a House of Industry, comprising a number of workshops, a dormitory, a refectory, a dispensary, and a primary school. He formed a committee and appealed for funds. His appeal was answered by rich and poor from all over Russia, and the House of Industry was founded in 1873. Father John administered a total of over $25,000 a year in numerous charities, half of it in Kronstadt.
He died December 20, 1908, and his funeral, attended by tens of thousands, conveyed that radiance of Paschal joy which constantly shone upon the face of Father John whom many affectionately called the “Easter batiushka.”