“Dear brethren, priests and co-pastors of Christ’s flock! The greatest of callings has been entrusted to us from God. We are clothed with the grace of priesthood, we are empowered by the grace of God’s ever-acting and all-sanctifying Spirit to perform God’s greatest Mysteries in the Church — the rebirth and sanctification of sinful humanity, the renewing reconciliation of ourselves and humanity with God, we stand before the Throne of the Almighty face to Face, we converse with Him, we beseech and thank Him, we constantly refer to Him as His closest Ministers and Stewards of His mysteries (I Corinthians 4:1). What faith is required of us — what reverence, what never-ending attention to ourselves, what purity of heart, what passionlessness, what trust in God, what love toward God and neighbor, what audacity, what wisdom and simplicity, what revocation from every evil, what mercy and compassion toward people, sinking in a mire of sins!
“A priest, while living on earth, should be of heaven, setting his affection on things above, not on things on earth (Colossians 3:2) and completely devoted to God and to the salvation of men! Where are we to obtain all this, from where are we to draw upon such abundant grace? God has given us every grace. We must constantly test ourselves, to awaken ourselves from sleepiness, with which the enemy is constantly trying to rob us: we must stir up the gift of God (II Timothy 1:6) granted during the laying on of hands — clothed in the grace of the priesthood, with the grace to intercede for the people and for the whole world, with the grace to perform the great Christian Mysteries, which can greatly assist in our salvation as well, in making us wise, in strengthening the spirit and body, and in the salvation of our neighbors. The saints were people akin to us in their passions, but they found their salvation and that of many, many people obedient to them. We will also find our own salvation and that of others if we shall be zealous: But the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26).”
Later still, in 1901, upon the initiative of His Grace, Bishop Nazary of Nizhny Novgorod, St. John’s meeting with the city’s priests was held. St. John said, approximately, the following:
“Highly honored fathers and brothers, co-pastors! You yourselves, I see, are people decorated with gray hairs, which means you are yourselves rich with life’s experiences. I have no thing to teach you. But since you are asking me how I happen to attain a beneficial effect upon the hearts of people, then I will tell you. I try to be a sincere pastor, not only in words, but also in deeds — in life. Consequently, I watch myself closely, after my spiritual world, over my inner workings. I even keep a diary, where I put down my deviations from God’s Law, test myself and try to reform. I am busy the whole day, from morning until late night. I perform my pastoral calling not only in Kronstadt; it often requires me to travel to different parts of Russia. Each day I am beset with pleas, so that at times it becomes painful to me and I do not wish to do it, but I do, I try to satisfy all petitioners. No matter where I might be, and especially in Kronstadt, I myself daily perform the Liturgy and that sincerely, with all my heart — earnestly and devoutly offer the holy, bloodless sacrifice to God. for my sins and those of all Orthodox Christians. Worshippers see and feel my earnest, devout serving and themselves become imbued with holy emotions and pray earnestly. At every Sunday Liturgy I preach the living Word of God. My inner life, my soul, is represented in my sermons; I mercilessly chastise human sins, vices and passions, reveal the errors of sectarians and schismatics. Thanks be to God — I myself can see the fruits of my pastoral labors. In St. Andrew’s Cathedral (and it is large) there are at times up to five thousand people, and all this multitude listens to me, as one man; there is no noise, no jostling: all eyes are directed at me. As I leave the church, the people surround me with love, all with shining faces; all may be seen to be in a blessed joyful mood. All this — the fruits of my prayer and preaching. Forgive me, most reverend pastors, for speaking thus about myself. God forbid that I should say this for the sake of self-praise, God forbid. No, it isn’t I who am doing all this, but the grace of God, reposing upon me — a priest…”
Another similar conversation took place somewhat later, in Sarapul, initiated by Bishop Micah in 1904. This is what St. John said:
“All know that I was born in the district of Archangelsk, and completed the Petersburg Theological Academy. Immediately upon graduating from the Academy I occupied my present position in the city of Kronstadt— as a priest of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. This city is a military one: here at every step one meets military men, sailors, bay workers, etc. The sailors, who spend most of their time at sea on board their ships, upon coming ashore try to spend their free time in the grandest way possible, to get as much enjoyment as possible. For this reason one can always meet drunkards in the streets here and hear of many foul deeds. From the very first days of my ministry my heart began to bleed at the sight of such a wicked and sinful life and naturally a firm determination appeared to straighten out somehow these drunken but good-hearted people. It was especially painful to see drunks on my way home after the Liturgy. Consequently I began to address them with words of accusation, admonitions and explanation as often as possible, persuading them to fight their weakness and so to attend God’s Church as often as possible, so as to spend the morning at least sober. At first, of course, I had to undergo a great deal of sorrow and unpleasantness, but this did not cause my spirit to flag. On the contrary, it strengthened it even more and hardened it for new battle with evil. At this time I fought against evil with the usual methods used in pastorship, and not only did I not step out as a general intercessor and petitioner before God, but did not even have such a wish and intention in the bottom of my heart. The Lord chose to place me on another path. This happened as follows. There lived in Kronstadt a pious woman with a most beautiful soul, called Paraskeva Kovrigina, a Kostromite by birth, who had devoted herself to the service of others. She began to press me earnestly to pray for one or another sufferer, assuring me that the prayer on their behalf would be effective and beneficial to them. But I continually refused, considering myself to be unworthy to be a special mediator between people in need of God’s aid, and God. However, the constant requests and assurances of Paraskeva of God’s help finally convinced me, and, with firm expectation and hope, I began to appeal to God to heal the sick and debilitated of soul and body. The Lord heard my prayers, though unworthy, and answered them: the sick and infirm were healed. This encouraged and strengthened me. I began, more and more frequently, to appeal to God upon the pleas of various people, and the Lord has worked, and does work to the present, many wondrous deeds upon our common prayers. Many obvious miracles have occurred and even now occur. In this I see God’s instructions to me, a special assignment from God to pray for all who ask for God’s mercy. For this reason I do not refuse anyone my prayers, and, to visit the sick, travel at their request all over Russia. There were times when I was asked to cast out evil spirits, and the evil spirits have submitted and gone out of people by my prayer. But there were also those occasions when my attempts were not crowned with success — the evil spirits would not leave. It is true, these evil spirits would proclaim themselves to be the most cruel, the most tenacious… And my efforts in these cases were not crowned with success because I myself was not sufficiently prepared, did not maintain a strict fast, for in the words of Jesus Christ Himself, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting,’ or else I did not devote sufficient time to that particular person. With all my varied and numerous tasks it wasn’t possible for me to devote much time to one person, as there were always many waiting for my prayer and blessing. And as in my present life I had to be constantly in the outside world, visiting the homes of people of every rank and fortune, where food was offered, which I often had to accept, so as not to offend those who offered it with love, so, naturally, I found it impossible to keep a strict fast. On the whole, in my life I did not take upon myself any special fasts, not, of course, because I do not consider them necessary, but because conditions in my life did not permit me to do so, and I have never shown myself to be a faster, nor an ascetic, etc., although I eat and drink in moderation and live temperately.
As regards to how my present popularity came about, I must say that for this, I, on my part, did not take any measures nor efforts: everything just came about by itself, without me. From the time that cases of cures through me came to multiply, the witnesses and observers of them, or else those persons who had themselves experienced God’s grace upon themselves, not wishing to remain ungrateful before God, would announce what had happened in the daily press, through which cases of cures became known to the reading public and attracted new masses of people, thirsting for Christ’s comfort and God’s grace.
“Needless to say, all cases of miraculous cures have been publicized not by myself, but by those affected, and not only do I not consider myself to be in any way better than other priests, but justly reckon myself to be the worst, the last among you and all the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in general, because all that is imperfect and bad is all mine, and if the wealth of God’s grace, given to me by God, was with someone else, worthier than I, then he would perform more good than I.
From A Spiritual Portrait of Saint John of Kronstadt by Archimandrite Constantine (Zaitzev, 1888-1975)