St John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) is the most renowned saint of the Orthodox Church in Russia in the half century leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He was born Ivan Ilych Sergiev, in the small town of Sura near the White Sea coast of northern Russia. He received a vision during childhood and was called to service in the Church as a priest. In addition, he was miraculously healed of early learning disabilities. His life and preaching went on to touch millions, not only in Kronstadt, the Imperial Naval port by St Petersburg where his parish was found, but throughout the Russian Empire and even into the Western world.
The extent of the wider world's awareness of St John of Kronstadt is evidenced in the writings of Andrew Dickson White, the co-founder and first President of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In 1892 White became the American First Minister to Russia and referred to learning more about Father Ivan "as a matter of special interest". This extract from White's memorial offers a vivid description of the future saint's life and ministry:
There is at present on the island of Cronstadt [Kronstadt], at the mouth of the Neva, a Russo-Greek priest, Father Ivan [John], who enjoys throughout the empire a vast reputation as a saintly worker of miracles. This priest has a very spiritual and kindly face; is known to receive vast sums for the poor, which he distributes among them while he himself remains in poverty; and is supposed not merely by members of the Russo-Greek Church, but by those of other religious bodies, to work frequently miracles of healing. I was assured by persons of the highest character -and those not only Russo-Greek churchmen, but Roman Catholics and Anglicans- that there could be no doubt as to the reality of these miracles, and various examples were given to me. So great is Father Ivan's reputation in this respect that he is constant demand in all parts of the empire, and was even summoned to Livadia [the summer home in the Crimea of the Russian imperial family] during the last illness of the late Emperor [Tsar Alexander III]. Whenever he appears in public, great crowds surround him seeking to touch the hem of his garment. His picture is to be seen with the portraits of the saints in vast numbers of Russian homes, from the palaces of the highest nobles to the cottages of the humblest peasants. *
To twenty-first-century Christians, St John is probably best known through his spiritual journals, My Life in Christ, published by this monastery in English translation. We are now pleased to offer this selection of his Lenten sermons in English translation for the first time, which we hope will equally touch the lives of many.
* Andrew Dickson White, Autobiography of Andrew D. White, vol. II (New York: The Century Co., 1905).