February 12, 2021

Saint John of Kronstadt and the Students of the Revolution of His Time

Reading through the diaries and sermons of Saint John of Kronstadt, one will see that he had much to say about Russian society in his days, which was increasingly becoming more socialist and liberal, and often his observations presumed to be not very good for the future of Russia. Listener's could hear him say such things as this:

“Our ancestors sinned, but they called a sin a sin; today’s liberals however sin and try to justify the sin, as if it were a lawful deed. Take the sins of the flesh — all of this according to their opinion is not only simple weakness of human nature, but also the laws of nature and its demands. Russia is floundering, suffering, tormented by its bloody inner struggle, from bad harvests and famine, from terrifyingly high prices, from godlessness, from extreme moral degradation. Evil times — people have turned into animals, even into evil spirits. The government has become weak. It itself has falsely understood the freedom it has given to the people. Evil has increased in Russia to monstrous proportions and it has become almost impossible to set it right. When the consequences of all-around non-submission to the authorities and the inaction of the subordinate members of society, and with this inaction the action of the government ceases, as if the blood were to cease circulating in an organic body, then everything in society dies, descends, falls apart; social safety disappears and members of one society attack each other — a total rampage of thievery, plunder, enmity, and murder.”

And here are a few more of the Saint’s remarks:

“What evils haven’t the Russian people and people living in Russia committed? What sins haven’t they corrupted themselves with? Everything! They’ve done and do everything, which is bringing God’s wrath upon us: open unbelief, blasphemy, rejecting all true principles of faith, depravity, drunkenness, all sorts of entertainments instead of donning the mourning garb of community repentance over the sins that anger God, non-submission to authority... In the demonic kingdom there is order and submission of some evil spirits to others, the lower to the higher, the weaker to the stronger; but in this Christian nation all submission, all authority has disappeared—children do not recognize the authority of their parents, subordinates do not recognize the authority of their superiors, students do not recognize the authority of their teachers … divine services are disdained, sermons are powerless, Christian morality is falling more and more, anarchy is growing.”

In some reminiscences by Fr. John’s contemporaries we find two characteristic examples — both of Saint John himself and of the spiritual state of the students at the time of the 1905 revolution, which Fr. John lived through and which was the terrible herald of the October Revolution in 1917.

Colonel M. D. Timofeyev recalls how he and his fellow students had decided to “expose the famous priest’s false holiness”. One of them pretended to be sick, and his comrades called Fr. John to ask him to pray for his recovery. When he came to the apartment, Fr. John saw the faker in bed and said, “You don’t need me now, but you soon will.”

He prayed, took no money, and left.

The man who participated in this ruse recalled, “The fake patient wanted to get up from the bed but he couldn’t. He was nailed to it by some unknown power. At first we didn’t believe him, we thought he was pretending and joking, but then we ourselves got seriously scared.”

The students went to Fr. John and repented with tears in their eyes over their foolishness. The Saint consoled them and said that their friend is healthy, then bade them go in peace. When they returned they saw that he really had recovered. “This lesson made me a religious and believing man for the rest of my life,” concluded the “joker”.

There was another incident no less well known told by A. A. Ankirova:

“When we started talking with Fr. John, he said to me, 'Speak louder, because my hearing has been poor since the time a student struck me on the cheek in the St. Andrew Cathedral.'

Continuing his talk, Fr. John related the details of this incident:

'One day, when I was serving the Liturgy in the Cathedral of Saint Andrew and was coming out of the royal doors with the chalice, I saw a student lighting his cigarette from an oil lamp burning before an icon of the Savior. I said to him, “What are you doing?” Without answering, the student struck me on the cheek so hard that the Gifts splashed onto the stone dais. I crossed myself, turned the other cheek to him, and said, “Hit me again.” But the people seized the student. The stones from the dais were then taken out and thrown into the sea.'"

One of the notes in Fr. John’s diaries relating to those times becomes understandable: “O Lord, bring the students to reason; bring the government to reason; give them Thy truth and Thy strength, Thy power. O Lord, may the sleeping tsar arise and act with his authority; give him courage and foresight. O Lord, the world is in confusion, the devil is triumphing, truth is mocked. Arise, O Lord, and help the Holy Church. Amen.”