A Prodigal Saint
Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People
By (author) Nadieszda Kizenko
Publication date:15 June 2000
Length of book:392 pages
PublisherPenn State University Press
Rarely are we privileged to see the making of a saint, but it is just what this book gives us for John of Kronstadt (1829–1908), a major figure in the religious life of Late Imperial Russia. So popular was Father John during his years of ministry that Kronstadt became a pilgrimage site replete with peddlers selling souvenir photographs, postcards, and commemorative mugs.
A Prodigal Saint follows Father John’s development from activist priest to venerated spiritual leader and, after his death, to his elevation to sainthood in 1990. We see both the inner life of an aspiring saint and the symbiotic relationship between a living icon and his followers.
Father John represented a fundamentally new type of religious behavior and a new standard of sanctity in Late Imperial Russia. He ministered to the poor of Kronstadt, creating shelters and employment programs and participating in the temperance movement. In the process he acquired a reputation for prayerful intercession that soon spread beyond Kronstadt. When he was asked to minister to the dying Alexander III in 1894, his fame became international as he attracted correspondents from the United States and Europe. In his later years he allied himself increasingly with the radical right, which has had momentous implications for the Russian Orthodox Church in the twentieth century.
Kizenko draws upon rich and virtually unknown documents from the Russian archives, including Father John’s diaries, thousands of letters he received from his followers, and the police reports on the sect that formed around him. John’s diaries are a truly unique source, for they document the making of a modern saint: his struggles with doubt, his ascetic practices, and his growing realization that others saw him as a saint. Kizenko explores the extent to which Father John collaborated in the formation of his own cult and how he himself was influenced by the expectations and desires of his audience. In the final chapter she follows Father John’s posthumous reputation (and the struggles over how to use that reputation) in Russia, the Soviet Union, and throughout the world. A Prodigal Saint is published in collaboration with the Harriman Institute at Columbia University as part of its Studies of the Harriman Institute series. It is a pioneering study that contributes to our understanding of lived religion, saints’ cults, and modern Russian history.
—Eve Levin, Ohio State University