Category Archives: history

St. John’s faith in word and deed.

Earlier this month we were reminded of the popularity of St. Nicholas in the Orthodox Church around the world. If you took a vote for the favorite saint, he would win. Another, more modern saint, who lived in the 19th century, is also remembered in December: St. John of Kronstadt. I see that he had some of the same qualities as St. Nicholas. This article tells how generous he was to the poor. Here is a small excerpt:

He would shop for food, go to the pharmacy for prescriptions, to the doctor for help, many times giving the poor his last few coins. The inhabitants of Kronstadt would see him returning home barefoot and without his cassock. Often parishioners would bring shoes to his wife, saying to her, “Your husband has given away his shoes to someone, and will come home barefoot.”

He seems to have had the gift of exhortation; he truly loved people, whether the upper classes or the criminals who were exiled to Kronstadt at the time, and would spend hours at a time in the shacks of the latter, “talking, encouraging, comforting, crying, and rejoicing together with them.”

His popularity has not waned, judging from the fact that between 1990 and 2016, “more than 60 new churches or altars in Russia alone were dedicated to him,” his flat in Kronstadt became a registered museum, his biography was published in a highly respected series, and monuments to St. John have been placed in cities not only in Russia and gifted to Orthodox communities around the world, including in Washington, D.C., in 2019.

This monument to him was installed last year in his home village of Sura, Arkhangelsk Province, in northwestern Russia, which in 2010 had a population of 727:

Because of his zealous love and spirit of encouragment, one can find many helpful quotes from the saint, and I have posted a few in the past. Here I pass on an exhortation from St. John that is a good reminder to us in the current era, of ultimate reality:

“There is nothing impossible unto those who believe; lively and unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, even without our sincere and firm faith, miracles are accomplished, such as the miracles of the sacraments; for God’s Mystery is always accomplished, even though we were incredulous or unbelieving at the time of its celebration. ‘Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?’ (Rom. 3:3). Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God’s wisdom, nor our infirmity God’s omnipotence.”

-St. John of Kronstadt

Success is the cause of its decline.

“The death of the spirit is the price of progress. Nietzsche revealed this mystery of the Western apocalypse when he announced that God was dead and that He had been murdered. This Gnostic murder is constantly committed by the men who sacrificed God to civilization. The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world–immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit. And since the life the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline.

“A civilization can, indeed, advance and decline at the same time—but not forever. There is a limit toward which this ambiguous process moves; the limit is reached when an activist sect which represents the Gnostic truth organizes the civilization into an empire under its rule. Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of Gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilization.”

― Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction

A small mistake.

A CONCEITED MISTAKE

Once upon a time there was a mistake
So silly so small
That no one would even have noticed it

It couldn’t bear
To see itself to hear of itself

It invented all manner of things
Just to prove
that it didn’t really exist

It invented space
To put its proofs in
And time to keep its proofs
And the world to see its proofs

All it invented
Was not so silly
Nor so small
But was of course mistaken

Could it have been otherwise

-Vasko Popa (1922 – 1991) Serbia
Translated by Anne Pennington

Madonnas and their tears.

Icons of Mary with Christ seated on her lap are venerated in the sacramental churches of East and West, Orthodox and Catholic, and have their commemoration days just as saints do. I’m most familiar with the Orthodox tradition, and how these days are scattered liberally throughout our liturgical calendar. Today I was at Divine Liturgy in the morning, but we were remembering various other saints and events in my parish, and I didn’t notice until I was home again that today we also commemorate the Smolensk Icon of the Mother of God.

I would never have foreseen, fifteen years ago, that I would have favorites among icons of this subject, but it happens; this version is possibly my favorite of all because for ten years or more it was the only one I had in my house. My humble print resembles this one:

Icon Reader tells us that “It is known as “directress” (in Greek Hodigitria) because the Mother of God is shown directing our gaze to Jesus Christ with her hand. This style predates the Smolensk icon, and is one of the original ‘types’ traced back in Church tradition to St Luke.”

The tradition is that the first icon thus depicting Mary and Jesus originated in Antioch, and went from there to Jerusalem, then Constantinople, where it remained until, “In 1046, Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos gave his daughter, Anna, in marriage to Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavich, the son of Yaroslav the Wise. He used this icon to bless her on her journey.” And there it stayed in Kievan Rus’.

Many, many versions have been painted based on this style, and even the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland, in its less innovative versions, can be seen to contain the same elements:

It seems that Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and Belarus are also fond of the Black Madonna version of this icon, as well as sharing a love with Russians of the style generally. One of the icons in this article from 2014 is a Smolensk icon of Mary: “Weeping Icons of Ukraine and Russia.”

While Icon Reader has reservations about the meaning of these tears, he was able to affirm one clear word from the news reports that surely still stands:

“What is certain is [the] tears of the Mother of God
speak directly to the heart of every Orthodox believer,
calling all to repentance, amendment of life and return
to Orthodox faith and tradition in their fullness.”