The “Family” of St John of Kronstadt
The churches, monasteries, chapels, schools, orphanages, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, charitable organizations, societies and other Orthodox Christian organizations dedicated to St John of Kronstadt.
The spiritual unity accepted and blessed by Father John: the “Family” of St John sends greetings.
Today’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of the canonization of St John of Kronstadt, for the participants of the great “family” of St John serves as a reason to remember our meetings and share impressions to tell the kind Batushka of our love for him and at the same time glorify the Lord in the person of His remarkable saint.
Five years ago we marked the 25th anniversary of the glorification of St John of Kronstadt by the Russian Orthodox Church. His “family” broadly celebrated this holiday in 2015: some came to St Petersburg to the jubilee events and traveled together with a procession of the cross to Sura, some were with us only in prayer at the time.
Remembering this first bright celebration and the more recent anniversary in 2019, our valued companions talked about what was especially dear to them during our gatherings, what gave the meetings and exchange of thoughts of the “family” of St John, what examples of pastoral or social service fell deeply into the soul as a real example of Batushka’s work, the genuine spiritual service to one’s neighbor. Of course, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the glorification of this All-Russian Pastor we congratulated each other.
Archimandrite Iosif: A Family of Parishes Sharing a Single Forefather
Archimandrite Iosif (Eremenko), Secretary of the Tomsk Diocese, author of the book Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt, told us that this was his first time at such a grandiose celebration: “I was astounded, of course: the scale, the presentation, the logistics,” said Fr Iosif. “All the gears were in motion. When I saw the entirety of St John’s ‘family,’ I got the sense that there is still a future, that everything is not lost.”
According to Fr Iosif, Fr Nikolai Belyaev, Dean of St John Monastery in St Petersburg, having gathered the “family” together, accomplished a great deal. “Why is this a kind of family? Not an association, not a union,” asked Fr Iosef, and then answers himself: “Because a family is the Divinely-blessed foundation of human life, of civilization. That is why the family is the wisest, the most proper form of human relationships. What Fr Nikolai’s family knew each other transformed what he accomplished. May God grant him strength and health, we all pray for him.”
Fr Iosef was especially struck by the parish communities. It was remarkable to see working people taking vacation days to make a personal sacrifice, make their contribution for the sake of St John. “I remember one of the participants of these meetings saying: ‘Sometimes you work and work to exhaustion,’” quoted Fr Iosif. “But this is a meeting of like-minded souls who support each other. It’s hard for everyone but people find a way to serve the Glory of God for the sake of Fr John, not for their own benefit.”
The Family of St John is not only for social service, says Fr Iosif, it is also prayerful, and material help for poor parishes who all share a common ancestor. He was not only a famous or great person, but a saint. Spiritual unity exists because Fr John accepted and blessed it.
“The greatest work that we did was Liturgy,” summarized Fr Iosif. “And we celebrated it in Kronstadt. This is exceptionally important! This is such a powerful spiritual abundance, that when you come home, you know that you aren’t alone, that you must continue your service. Everyone has his place.”
Fr Gleb: Continuing the Work of John of Kronstadt
Fr Gleb Dolzhnikov, Rector of the Church of St John of Kronstadt in the town of Puksa in Archangelsk oblast, participated in such a celebration for the first time in the autumn of 2019.
“What is amazing is the high quality of these celebrations,” he said. “The conference made a great impression, where we were given the opportunity to participate in various forums, moving from section to section. At the round-table devoted to education I liked the lecture on work with preschoolers, about Orthodox Christian programs of spiritual-moral rearing of children. I took note of it. I also work with children, so it was of particular interest to me.”
Fr Gleb found useful the experience of working with homeless and the dependent, which he can manifest in real life. His parish is still only building a church, established in a village at a site that was once a labor camp. It was demolished and everyone decided that a church should take its place. “The idea came to me during the 2015 procession of the cross, when a train carrying the procession passed by our station. We were all inspired and decided to build a church.”
Fr Gleb ministers to eight parishes, and, of course, one of them is dedicated to the Pastor of Kronstadt. In Plesetsk, there is a group doing social work and support to needy families with many children. In the north of the country, there are many lonely people in the parishes. In Puksa, where the parish is only now forming, the plan to open a workshop, where people could learn a trade: men, for instance, can do carpentry, women can read akathists and do crafts. “Labor and prayer unites people,” insists the priest.
He was also inspired by a film with miraculous examples of service, with fascinating and edifying stories which can be seen over and over. Fr Gleb showed it to parents and parishioners. As a real example of continuing the work of Batushka John, he remembered the hero of one story: Nikolay Afonin, who set up an orphanage in Biisk. Wheat miraculously began growing there while weeds withered. God’s Providence was clearly demonstrated there.
“Thank you for this wondrous gathering,” thanked Fr Gleb. “I hope to participate in future events of the great Family of St John, which I hope will continue to thrive in love, to remain united in the work of continuing the labors of John of Kronstadt.”
Hegumen Mitrofan: Zealous Service by the Example of Fr John!
Hegumen Mitrofan (Gudkov), Rector of Moscow’s Church of the “Reigning” Mother of God in Chertanov, which has a chapel dedicate to St John of Kronstadt, expressed joy that by God’s mercy, he was a participant in the 2015 events and took part with the rest of the “family” in the procession of the cross to Sura. Particularly memorable for him was talking to his fellow-travelers in the procession, the joint prayer, the special spirit and pride that they all became witnesses to these events in person.
“I remember the seminars and round-tables during our 2019 gathering devoted to social work and prison ministry, to education and experience of working with preschool kids,” added Fr Mitrofan. “As we approached the 30th anniversary of the glorification of the All-Russian Pastor, I would like to wish the ‘family’ of St John zealous service to God in emulation of Fr John of Kronstadt!”
Protopriest Alexis: In Difficult Moments I Turn to Him as a Child to a Father
Protopriest Alexis Duncan, Rector of the Nativity of the Mother of God Church in Albany, NY, told us that he grew up in America and learned about Batushka John from those who had personal experiences with or even eyewitnesses of St John even during his lifetime. When he was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1964, his renowned journal My Life in Christ was in every home and parish, and his teachings were always cited.
One time a bishop was asked, if he were to be left with only one book, what would it be? Everyone thought that he would say the Gospel, but he said “My Life in Christ.” The hierarch explained that if someone could live the life laid out in that book, he would fulfill the Gospel’s teachings.
“When I was invited to the 2015 anniversary celebrations, I immediately bought a plane ticket,” remembers Fr Alexis. “I grew up during the Cold War, so to imagine that I would ever visit the village where Holy Righteous John of Kronstadt was born, was out of the question!”
“I was overjoyed at the trip! When we began the celebrations, I felt indescribable consolation, knowing how many like-minded people there were, who devoted themselves to the spiritual guidance of this great Russian pastor. We were united not only by our Orthodox Christian faith, but by more profound fraternal bonds under the ministry of this Pastor of souls, dear Batushka John. He was with us not only in spirit, but in reality. To this day I cherish the icon on the table of oblation in church, and in difficult moments turn to him as a child turns to a father. And he hears me!”
The priest still remembers how the train traveled for many hours to Sura, but it was more of a spiritual journey that seemed too short. “What a triumphant feast it was for us!” said Fr Alexis. “Beginning in Kronstadt, we traveled along the Russian North to the quiet and isolated site, where the sky was unending, the air filled with pious trepidation and thousands of believers were assembled. To be honest, I never felt anything of the sort! Every person I saw shone with the light of Christ. The days were clear, and the abundant grace of God flowed like honey. It was a time filled with joy. Even now I vividly recall the people I met, and my senses are filled with peace and bliss!”
We Participated in a Great Miracle—the Rebirth of Holy Russia
In last year’s celebration, the Albany priest visited St Petersburg, and the celebrations there were in his words likewise imbued with the spirit of the “family.” Divine services were placid and yet grand. Among the crowds of people one would think that the services were exhausting, but it wasn’t so: the join prayer, proximity and harmony of each person introduced a sense of brotherhood.
“I was deeply shaken to the depths of my soul as someone who knew our older generations and the burdens of the Soviet period: when we sat in the former Duma premises in the Tauride Palace, I looked at the tribunal where in the previous centuries the ‘leaders,’ viciously fighting against God, belched out hatred and blasphemy. But today, in the very same place, bishops, clergymen, monastics, laypersons and politicians praised the memory of St John of Kronstadt!” said Fr Alexis with heartfelt joy. “This is the greatest miracle of our day! Now the civil leaders of St Petersburg cross themselves and praise God. Can anything inspire more pious trepidation in our age of disbelief? We all participated in this great miracle—the rebirth of Holy Russia by the prayers of our saintly Righteous Father John of Kronstadt.”
It Is a Great Joy to Be His Friend
“It is possible as I remember the various people who left such impressions with me that I would too difficult to pare down the list to only a few,” replied Fr Alexis when asked about his most memorable acquaintances of the time. “Everyone who worked to organized the gatherings were without a doubt, the noblest of people. Bishops, clergymen and volunteers, they all played an important role not only in the success of the event but in the sense of the spiritual blessings we all received. I remember the faces of so many people, shining with joy of this celebration of grace. They truly changed our lives!”
“Yet on a very personal level, I must say that at my first such event five years ago, I met a young priest who was filled with zeal. We became friends and to this day stay in touch and maintain the most fraternal relations. He visited my home, and every time I go to Russia, we meet. It’s a great joy to be his friend. Was he not sent by St John, so that together, united in ideal spiritual faith, we rejoice at our salvation? We are in a great spiritual pilgrimage on this earth, we all strive for that same doorway, the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. There, by God’s great mercy, we might be deemed worthy to behold with our own eyes our dear Batushka John.
“I wish a life of repentance and love to all the members of our ‘family’ of St John. We are embarking on a time prophesied by St John the pastor of unprecedented social upheavals and worries. Let us all be granted the power to endure and achieve victory. Let us all live with pure and limitless love, to accept all that the Lord sends us and rejoice with overwhelming joy. Let the Lord grant us yet again the opportunity to gather and celebrated the memory of St John of Kronstadt in St Petersburg!”
Irina Vasilieva, Elena Skalon, Tatiana Pavlova, Tamara Almazona, Tatiana Strekalova and Olga Dmitrieva contributed to this item.