A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People

Article excerpt

A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People. By Nadieszda Kizenko [The Perm State Series in Lived Religious Experience.] (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 2000. Pp. xiv, 376. $65.00 clothbound; $22.50 paperback.)

Father John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) was the "first modern Russian religious celebrity" (p. 2). Renowned for his charitable work, his charismatic preaching and healing (it was widely believed that his prayers "worked"), and his liturgical innovations, his face was on picture postcards and he had the equivalent of his own postal code. To his followers, he was a "living saint," to his detractors, a demagogue and the epitome of reaction.

Kizenko attributes Father John's celebrity to his ability to address problems and anxieties induced by modernization. Convinced that he was living in particularly evil times, he decried wealth (even earned wealth) and inequality in themselves as evil, enjoined his followers to give all their belongings to the poor, and taught that everything must be informed by Christian ideas. His ability to combine elements of contemporaneity with more perennially Orthodox pronouncements gave his "sermons their potency and made him seem to many Russians to be a holy man sent specifically for the changing conditions in which they lived" (p. 85).

The assassination of Tsar Alexander II by revolutionaries in 1881 intensified Father John's sense of impending doom, which became even more intense after Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), and more intense yet during the Revolution of 1905-1907.He called for divine vengeance against sinners and corruptors of the people, especially Lev Tolstoi (who denied Jesus' divinity), modernizers, and revolutionaries, and he supported the Union of the Russian People, the political party of the extreme right.

Kizenko also tells us about the milieu in which Father John's religious views and practices were formed, about how church and state authorities responded to the problem of dealing with a "living saint," and about the mentality of the men and women from all levels of society, including monks and nuns, who wrote to him. …


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