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Ioann of Kronstadt


IOANN OF KRONSTADT (Ivan Il'ich Sergeev, 18291908), also known as John of Kronstadt, was a Russian Orthodox priest. Ioann was born in the village of Suro in the Arkhangelsk province of Russia and at the age of ten was sent to the parochial school in Arkhangelsk. He later entered the seminary there, finishing at the top of his class in 1851. He then enrolled in the Theological Academy of Saint Petersburg, one of the four graduate faculties of theology in the empire. High-strung, physically weak, overworked, and radically committed to his life of study, prayer, ascetic discipline, and spiritual struggle, Ioann suffered greatly during these academic years. An added burden was the constant necessity to support himself by outside work. He finished the academy near the bottom of his class in 1855, was ordained deacon on November 11 of that year, and priest on the very next day.

Before accepting priestly ordination, Ioann dreamed of becoming pastor of Saint Andrew's Cathedral in the port city of Kronstadt, a naval base and penal colony on the island of Kotlin in the Gulf of Finland near Saint Petersburg. Kronstadt, teeming with outcasts and criminals, was notorious as a place of dirt, darkness, and sin. Because parish priests as a rule could not be celibate, Ioann married Elizaveta Nesvitskii, the daughter of Saint Andrew's retiring pastor, but he never consummated the marriage, a fact that has caused much debate because it remains unclear whether the bride had consented to such an arrangement.

Ioann served as pastor of the Kronstadt church until his death on December 20, 1908. His priestly career was distinguished by numerous acts of social, charitable, and educational work, both personal and institutional. Ioann established philanthropic agencies such as the Home for Constructive Labor, which provided free schools, workshops, training centers, libraries, counseling services, medical care, and food, for people of all ages. He also taught religious classes in the parish school for thirty-two years, not freeing himself from this obligation until 1889.

Ioann's greatest fame, however, was not as a philanthropist or a pedagogue but as a man of prayer. He was sought by people of all classes and religions from all parts of the Russian empire and beyond as an intercessor before God. From early in his priestly career he began the unprecedented practice, even for monastics, of celebrating all of the Orthodox church services every day, including the eucharistic liturgy. He did so with great fervor and devotion, spending long hours at the altar praying for those who begged his intercession. He often added his own words to the official church prayers and always insisted that the thousands of people who thronged to his church each day participate fully in the worship by receiving Holy Communion. To make this radically innovative practice possible, Ioann further instituted public confession whereby the crowds of penitents openly acknowledged their sins before all while the praying priest walked about the church bestowing absolution and offering counsel.

Ioann, who had come to be known as the "all-Russian pastor," was violently attacked by his detractors for his radical practices, and only the protection of the tsar kept him from becoming the object of punitive action. His spiritual diary, My Life in Christ, is a classic of contemporary Russian Orthodox spirituality.


Ioann of Kronstadt's spiritual diary, Moia zhizn' vo khriste (My Life in Christ), is available in the original Russian (Moscow, 1892), and in English translation by Ernest E. Goulaeff (1897; reprint, Jordanville, N. Y., 1971). English excerpts from this work can be found in The Spiritual Counsels of Father John of Kronstadt, edited by W. Jardine Grisbrooke (London, 1967; Greenwood, S.C., 1983), and G. P. Fedotov's A Treasury of Russian Spirituality (1950; reprint, Belmont, Mass., 1975). A two-volume work in Russian analyzing Ioann of Kronstadt's life and work, containing letters, photographs, and a church service in his honor, is I. K. Surskii's Otets Ioann Kronshtadtskii (Father John of Kronstadt), 2 vols. (Forestville, Calif., 19791980). The best work in English is Father John of Kronstadt: A Life, by (Bishop) Alexander Semenoff-Tian-Chansky (Crestwood, N.Y., 1979).

Thomas Hopko (1987)

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