Noted Russian Priest and "Prophet" Abandoned in Last Days by His Fanatic Followers.



Multitudes Believed in Him and Obeyed His Order to sell All and Give to the Poor—Later Became a Reactionary.


ST. PETERSBURG, Jan. 2—Father John of Cronstadt is dead. The noted priest for some time had been suffering from chronic dropsy and intestinal complains, and the end, though sudden, was nor unexpected. He died in poverty, abandoned by all his former following.


Father John of Cronstadt, or Father Joann Ilich Sergieff, was one of the "white" or secular priests of the Church of St. Andrew, Cronstadt. He stood out among his brethren for his piety and charity, and gradually acquired an authority among the ignorant peasantry which rivaled that of the Holy Synod itself. His real work for the poor made him sought after by all who desired to win the favor of Heaven by their purses, and he was believed to possess wonderful gifts of healing and prophecy.

But of late years he identified himself with the "Union of Russian People," the most extreme of the reactionary societies, and was blamed for at least one Jewish pogrom. His followers, the Johannites, formed a separate sect, which degenerated into a society for blackmail and immorality. He repudiated many of their doings, but was powerless to restrain them, and he has died a discredited man.

He was born in 1829, and first attracted attention by his self-sacrificing life. The other "popes" were rapacious and selfish, but he never married and devoted himself to collecting and distributing money among the poor and the practice of his religion. The ignorant moujiks spread tales of him far, and gradually he became recognized as being able to stay the ravages of sickness by his prayers and to foretell the wishes of Heaven. It was even said that a girl, who had died of cancer, had been restored to life by his prayers. Rich nobles sent for him and he obeyed their summons, in order to get funds for his pensioners. In his house at Cronstadt many destitute persons found refuge, and vast sums of gold were stored. It needed no protection, for no one would rob the abode of a saint and his charitable store.

Made Many Prophecies.

By degrees Father John seems to have imposed on his own superstitions. He grew to believe that he was in truth a prophet and ventured on important predictions, clad in mystical and ambiguous language. Alexander III venerated him, and he would write to the Czar whenever he thought he had received a revelation. He declared that "the monsters, which spurt steam from their nostrils, should be silenced for a space," and who could doubt that the great railway strike of 1904 bore him out? He declared of the Japanese war that the Russians "should wade in blood to their possessions," and at any rate the Russians waded in blood.

Even his confident prognostications that each of the Czar’s children would be an heir have been forgiven, since at last his forecast came true. Meanwhile the Father was sending the representatives to every part of the Empire and preaching on collecting tours. Both the followers of Tolstoi and the Orthodox Church looked on his rising power with alarm, but no one could stem the tide of fanaticism. He wielded an immense power, and when he proclaimed that the world was coming to an end in 1905, and that his disciples added that every man should sell all his goods and give them up to the poor in order to be included in the 144,000 elect who would ascend with the Father on a cloud to Heaven, a large number of moujiks obeyed him.

Politics His Undoing.

The end of the world did not occur, and it was announced that Father John had interceded for the wicked and gained them a two-year respite. This did not diminish the popular faith in him. It was his interference in politics which brought him, in the last few years, into disrepute. He allied himself with the Union of Russian People, the Black Hundred. He gave free play to his anti-Semitism and sanctioned the pogroms. He was opposed to all reform, and the responsibility for planning several massacres was charged against him.

The Bishop of Perm remonstrated with lightened followers began to fall off and his emissaries began to prey on the most ignorant of the peasantry. They debased religion into the grossest superstition and there were many charges of the immoral practices to which they resorted in their "refuges" for the destitute.

Father John could not restrain them. The Bishop of Perm remonstrated with him, but he could only repudiate those who used his name. He sank into disrepute, and a few months ago was so far deprived of his former power in the distribution of princely alms that he said: "I am an old, broken man and very ill. I have to live on porridge, barley soup, and tea. My only pleasure is worship in church, where I can forget my ills."

The New York Times, Sunday, January 3, 1909.

Reprinted in the Holy Trinity Cathedral LIFE, Vol. 6, No. 5, January 1999.