Saturday, May 23, 2020

One of the Best Biographies of St. John of Kronstadt Was Written by a Contemporary of His Who Was an Occultist

The following was written by someone named Nadejda, whom I believe was Madame Nadejda Fadeef, the aunt of Madam H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society. It was published in the Theosophical magazine she founded called Lucifer in volume 11, September 1892 - February 1893. The author was clearly acquainted with Father John of Kronstadt, and it is known that Madam Blavatsky herself admired Father John and seemed to want to show people that they approved of each other. Nonetheless, this is one of the best biographies written about Father John, and he was still alive at the time when it was published. In 1902, the same magazine published a retrospective of this article and updated information about him, which can be read here.

Father John of Kronstadt

There is hardly a person in the whole Russian Empire who has not heard of Father John of Kronstadt. Hundreds of letters received by him every day, thousands of pilgrims thronging around him from all parts of Russia, prove his immense popularity.

During Lent, from six in the evening till two in the morning, he is surrounded by people, who pour out to him their inmost thoughts, seeking his help and advice. On these occasions it would be hard to decide which strikes one most, Father John's never-tiring energy, or the people's boundless patience. Those unable to gain admittance owing to the crowd, after having waited the whole night, continue to wait the next day till late at night again, hoping for an opportunity to speak to him.

Thousands of people gather near a railway station or a house where he is expected; and if a stranger should ask the cause of the crowding, he would be quickly answered: “Father John is going to pass.”

Sometimes the police are obliged to stop the whole traffic in the streets, in order to prevent accidents. In the crowd are to be found the nobility, the highest military and civil officials of the Empire, women of fashion, men of science, wealthy merchants, soldiers and peasants-not only orthodox Russians, but Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Mahomedans, all alike bent upon catching a glance from his searching, serious, yet kindly eyes. Business is put aside, and when, finally, Father John appears, every noise is hushed in a general feeling of reverence and love, and those who have obtained a blessing or a friendly look from him return home happy.

The same thing occurs over and over again in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Novgorod, and in every place in Russia to which he goes, the multitudes increasing with every year.

At his abode in Kronstadt, where he takes a few hours' rest, the crowds are constant. His hours of rest are so few that it is a wonder his life was not worn out long ago; for that life is one of uninterrupted work, mental and physical, combined with absolute asceticism. Hardly a family in Russia, from the palace down to the peasant's hut, but will in its moments of affliction turn for comfort to Father John, and his light shines into every darkened place that needs him.

What are the characteristics of the man who has thus gained an unprecedented popularity throughout the vast Russian Empire? Is it genius of some kind, as a writer or a preacher? No; though cultivated, and even a good writer, preacher, and lecturer, yet it is not as such that his name is engraved on every heart.

Even for those who know him personally, it would be difficult to analyze the feelings which his presence evokes. An atmosphere of radiation, of power for good, of boundless love for humanity, absolute self-abnegation, blended with a superhuman energy and faith, surround him.

He is a seer and a healer. Before they are uttered, he often answers questions.

Many persons given up by the doctors have been saved by him; and not a few of the Russian medical men acknowledge his power of healing. Being a seer, he also knows when the end has set in, and then he comforts and soothes the departing without an attempt at healing. Those to whom he speaks of recovery are sure to get well; when he is silent on that subject they die, but seem in his presence to experience joy and peace during their last moments on earth.

The question will perhaps arise, What has a man with such powers done for the community at large, besides healing and consoling individuals, however numerous?

It might, therefore, be of some interest to give a sketch of his life and work-a life which is a demonstration of how much a single human being can accomplish when every thought of self has been sacrificed.

Father John's house stands by the seaside in the midst of a shady garden. The only luxury of its three rooms consists of perfect cleanliness. The furniture is of the plainest possible description. An iron bedstead with a hard mattress, a plain table, a few wooden chairs and a chest of drawers, are the only accommodations of the man who, from year to year, distributes millions of rubles among the needy, and founds benevolent institutions on a grand scale.

Money is brought or sent to him from all parts of the country, and he spends it at his discretion. He rises in summer at daybreak, in winter whilst darkness still prevails, and having taken his cold bath (he sleeps with open windows, even during the Russian frost) spends the first half-hour of the day in prayer and meditation. So far into distant spheres does his spirit seem to ascend, that an earthquake could scarcely arouse him from this kind of trance. When he comes out of that state people notice in him a new vigour, and a beaming kindly look in his eyes.

It is not an easy matter to reach his church, notwithstanding its being only a short half mile from his house. The whole night people crowd near his garden gate; some bringing their sick, others hoping for his blessing, or expecting material help.

Some people have feared that Father John might fall a victim to professional beggars. But they were mistaken. As a seer, he knows the real wants of those who approach him, and no cheating could succeed. The professional beggars even avoid him, for, though always kind, he is known to have directed words of stern reproof and blame to idle, good-for-nothing fellows.

Near the entrance of the church the same scenes are repeated, crowds gathering to await him.

St. Andrew's Cathedral is served by three priests in turn. When not his day, Father John still takes a part in the service, either in reading or singing. His voice is clear and powerful, with no signs of age in it. After the service he makes from ten to fifteen calls on persons who have asked for him, and gives some lessons. Then, about midday, he visits St. Petersburg, and generally once a week Moscow. Time is saved by taking his night's rest in the railway carriage. He does not require more than three hours' sleep.

No fixed hours exist for his meals, nor does he partake of what is generally called a meal. Here and there he accepts a cup of tea, a piece of bread or biscuit, some fruit, and at times a glass of Madeira. But though an ascetic, he does not in a pedantic way adhere to fasts, and if, on some rare occasions, allowed a few hours rest amongst friends, he will sit down to dinner without any fuss as to what he eats. Probably he pays little attention to the material part of a dinner, being a pleasant talker as well as a good listener, most cheerful and lively when in a congenial intellectual sphere.

Children flock around and chat with him without reserve or shyness, and he is very tender with the little ones.

People who have known him for thirty-five years say that during this time no change has taken place in his outward appearance. Though now a man of sixty-seven he still looks about thirty-five or forty. Hardly ever at rest, and yet seemingly never tired, his energy is quite a mystery to everybody.

Notwithstanding his constant active work, he has found time recently to publish a book in two volumes, which has produced quite an impression on the public mind in Russia.

None of his photographs are satisfactory, though taken by firstrate photographers. They always lack his peculiar, deep, and yet changeable expression. When in concentration and prayer, his dark violet eyes beam with an ecstatic radiance, while in ordinary social intercourse they are preeminently kind, and at times one might even catch a glimpse of fun in them.

When in the condition of seership he seems to look through one's inmost soul, far into the past and future of one's destiny. At those moments his gaze is fixed and absent, as if his spiritual eyes had wandered into distant realms—just as may be noticed in persons who go about in their sleep with their eyes open.

His features are thin and regularly cut. Light auburn hair, beard and moustache, worn after the fashion of the Greek clergy, the hair long and wavy, recalls to mind some ancient pictures. Over the middle height, he yet appears even taller. When in presence of suffering his features show signs of strong emotion, and this deep human sympathy is probably one of the mysterious links which draw the multitudes around him.

Father John was born in Archangel, one of the numerous family of a poor church assistant. His childhood, passed amidst dire privations and hardships, probably left indelible impressions on the young soul, and would account for his immense compassion and interest in the poorest classes.

When nine years old he was put into the Archangel parish school. Before that his parents had endeavoured to teach him reading and writing, but he made no progress, owing to very weak mental faculties. A complete want of memory, and an inability to grasp a link between the spoken and printed words filled him with despondency. He felt himself almost an idiot in comparison with his schoolfellows, and quite lost among them.

One night, when all the others were asleep, he remained awake brooding over his sad position. He thought of his parents spending their scanty means on him without any other result than an utter failure to remember a single lesson, and a terrible sadness overcame him. He rose, knelt on the floor and prayed with all his might, that this thick veil should be taken from his mind. How long his prayer lasted he does not know; but all at once a violent current shook his whole frame, his intellect was freed from its bondage, memory awakened, and he recollected perfectly his last lessons. He rose to his feet a new being, and, lying down, a deep sleep came over him.

The next day in the classroom he was able to solve a difficult problem in arithmetic. His progress in learning became so rapid, that he soon became the best scholar, and in due time was transferred to the Seminary. Here again he studied successfully, came out as the best pupil, and the authorities sent him by Government aid to the Ecclesiastical Academy in St. Petersburg.

In 1855 he terminated his academical studies as candidate of theology, and accepted the first vacant place offered him—the one he holds now, having always refused to be removed to a more important living. Whilst still in the Seminary he lost his much beloved father, and his mother remaining in an almost destitute position, he tried there, as well as in the Academy, to earn some money for her by secretarial work.

He married before entering on his duties in the church, it being the canonical law for the lay clergy. His wife, as long as she had strength enough, shared in part of his work. They had agreed to consecrate their lives to the service of humanity, saying: "There are a sufficient number of happy families in the world without us!”

Many years of devoted, humbly performed ministrations to his fellow creatures elapsed before his fame spread over the boundaries of his parish.

In 1875 the Russian press for the first time published accounts of about a hundred cures performed by him, giving the witnesses to these facts. It would require volumes to mention all the authentic instances of his healing power, so I shall only mention a few cases which I have either witnessed myself, or which have been told me by trustworthy persons.

In 1891 I spent some months at St. Petersburg and then the following occurrences came to my knowledge:

One of the chief naval officers at Kronstadt had been seriously ill. Medical help was of no avail, and his sufferings were intense. Father John was called in, and from that moment Admiral B. recovered entirely.

A lady, Mme. de S., whose husband occupies a post on the Chinese borderlands, and whose son is a naval officer in Kronstadt, had been suffering for eight years from a most painful illness, so much so, that finally all her courage forsook her, and in a state of utter despair she resolved, late one evening, to put an end to her miserable existence. She had chosen a precipice, down which she intended to throw herself next morning. With that determination she went to sleep and dreamed. She was standing on the brink of the precipice, intending to take the leap, when suddenly there appeared on the opposite side a priest unknown to her, who spoke words of remonstrance and comfort, bade her beware of the fatal step, and told her to pray and hope for a speedy recovery. On awakening she wondered at this dream, and her desperate resolution was shaken.

During that time her son in Kronstadt had suffered from a severe illness from which Father John had healed him. Writing to his mother about it, he enclosed a photograph of Father John in his letter, and Mme. de S. was greatly struck on recognizing in this photograph the priest of her dream!

After that dream her health improved quickly, and in a short time she recovered entirely.

The day on which I went from St. Petersburg to Kronstadt, a friend, Mme. de G., intended to join me. But she only came to the railway station to tell me that the nurse of her children, who had been ailing for some time, was much worse; the doctor declared her to be in the last stage of consumption, and ordered her at once into the country; in consequence of which my friend could not accompany me.

This nurse was a tried, faithful servant, and Mme. de G. asked me to deliver a letter to Father John, stating the case and begging for his prayers. When I met Father John I gave him the letter, and he said: “Tell your friend it will soon be all right with her nurse." In fact, the next day she was much stronger, and soon all symptoms of consumption disappeared, so completely that there was no necessity to send her into the country.

The second time I met Father John (a few weeks later), was at the house of Admiral B. At the time I was feeling anxious about the health of my mother, who resided at Paris, and had had influenza. Father John said to me: “You need not worry about your mother; notwithstanding her age, she is still a very strong old lady." He had never seen her.

After the service and prayers at the house of Admiral B., I bottled some of the water (eau bénite) and later on took it to Paris. On joining my mother I found her suffering from a violent rheumatic inflammation in the ankle (following upon bronchitis and influenza). The swelling was of a dark purple hue, and the lotions applied had had but little effect. In the evening I put some of my Kronstadt water on it. The next morning the swelling and pains had greatly diminished, and in a few days had disappeared.

Recently this same water, though a year old, proved equally efficacious when I applied the rest of it to a pereostite of the jaw, which a friend on a visit from Paris, had caught during a wet London day. Being herself in the medical profession, she had used iodine and other remedies, the acute pain still continuing. But on this water being applied the inflammation soon subsided.

When Father John (as a seer) said that my mother was still a very strong old lady, he was quite right, for she has entirely recovered; notwithstanding her eighty-two years, she now is quite strong and well.

Mme. Z., a lady in St. Petersburg, who sends her carriage every morning to Father John when he arrives by the train from Kronstadt, told me that she is only too happy to put it at his disposal for his visits to the poor and sick, as she owes him so much. Her husband had been struck by complete paralysis, and was past all medical aid, when Father John brought him back to health.

Father John never enquires as to a person's nationality or creed; to him every human being is a brother or a sister, and people of all creeds and nationalities apply to him. I had a proof of this when I went on a special errand to the Cancer Hospital in St. Petersburg.

At the head of the hospital is a much respected French lady, Mme. J., a Roman Catholic, who is assisted in her work by two friends of the same nationality and faith. Their education, culture and devoted lives sufficiently warrant the trustworthiness of the facts they related to me.

After settling the matter which brought me to the hospital, I noticed a photograph of Father John hanging over a Madonna statue, and said: "I see that though you are of the Roman Church, Father John finds favour in your eyes."

They answered: “Father John belongs to everybody and every church; he is a great saint. We have seen him, here in this hospital, raise a dead girl.” And continuing, they told me that a young girl with a cancer had been brought to the hospital, and soon afterwards died, at least the doctors declared her dead.

The poor mother was in despair; and though everyone told her it would be of no avail, she insisted upon Father John being sent for. He was summoned, without any other hope than that he would comfort the poor woman by his kindness and soothe her grief.

On entering the room where the dead girl was lying, Father John asked her Christian name, and, being told, bent slightly over her and said in a low but commanding voice: “Mary, rise, it is I - Father John - who calls you.” The girl opened her eyes and moved. A few days later she left the hospital quite cured. The lady added: "Not only we, but several other people were present when it happened, and of course having seen such a miracle we must admit that Father John is a great saint.”

I could tell of many other occurrences, all proving his extraordinary powers and seership, but I want to confine myself, as I said, to those facts which I have either witnessed myself, or which have been told me by absolutely respectable and trustworthy people.

Sometimes a good wish or a blessing from Father John removes material hardships and difficulties, and is a new starting-point in life to the individual concerned.

Father John's healings are too numerous to be reported; but the moral and elevating influence he has exercised over different people would be still more difficult to record. Criminals, drunkards, men and women lost to every sense of goodness and spiritual life, have been raised from the mire and converted into honest, useful beings.

The whole population of Kronstadt has benefited by his presence. He has founded many useful institutions. The first, dating from 1874, was named, “House of Care and Help to the Poor," and was attached to the cathedral of St. Andrew.

Then he erected in Kronstadt, St. Petersburg, and twenty other towns in Russia, institutions which he named, “Houses for Love of Work.”

In these places all who want to earn something by honest work are provided with employment. Kronstadt alone, which serves as a model for the other towns, possesses the following institutions:

A Night Refuge for 300 men and women. It is a large four-story house, where for about a halfpenny (and, those who cannot afford to pay, gratuitously) people get a bed for the night, and in the morning bread and a can of tea.

A Sewing School and Workshop for Giris, who, under the guidance of a teacher, learn to sew and to use the sewing-machine, and at the same time are provided with paid work. Any woman out of work may find some there.

A School and Workshop for Bookbinding.

A School and Workshop for Bootmaking.

A Soup Kitchen, which provides wholesome food for 600 people. A halfpenny obtains a meal for those who prefer to pay, and the quite destitute get it free. It is noteworthy that since Father John's action and influence the majority prefer to pay.

A Refuge for old Homeless Women. The youngest is sixty-three the oldest ninety-five years old.

A small Hospital, with medicines, ambulances, surgery, etc. The doctors give voluntary services.

A large popular Lecture Hall. Every Sunday it is crowded by the lowest classes.

A Free Library, with a large reading room.

A Library, where books are sold at cost price.

A Model School, with three classes, for 200 boys and 150 girls.

Free Reading Room and Library for children.

Drawing School with good teachers, at the cost of two rubles (about five shillings) per annum.

Orphanage, for 100 children.

A Crèche and Day Refuge for children whose parents go out working.

Workshops for the old or weak. From 300 to 400 disabled men and women are occupied at easy, light work, and paid about one shilling per day. They get cheap meals, and, if they wish, a night's rest at the establishment.

Outdoor relief, managed by a small committee. Several thousands of people are helped in different ways. Some receive money or clothes, others railway tickets to return to their homes. Kronstadt being a seaport, there are often people who come to work during the summer and whose long journeys would take the greater part of their earnings.

The buildings containing all these institutions form a small town of themselves, in the midst of which stands a handsome chapel, where from time to time Father John comes to read the church service and to speak to the people whom he has redeemed from abject poverty, idleness, or vice.