St. John was born in a village in Russia in 1829. His parents were very poor but were very dedicated to the Church. Even though he was poor, as a young boy John learned to feel compassion for others in their misfortune. His neighbors frequently asked him to pray for them, as they noticed this special grace-endowed gift in him. When John was 10 his parents were able to raise some money and send him to the local school which was attached to the Church. However, the boy initially had an extremely difficult time with his studies: he worked days on end, but still failed to keep up.
While writing about his life he recalled once, it was evening, when everyone had already gone to bed. “I could not sleep; I still failed to understand anything I was taught. I still read poorly and could not remember anything of what I was told. I became so depressed I fell to my knees and prayed. I don’t know whether I had spent a long time in that position or not, but suddenly something shook my whole being. It was like a veil had fallen from my eyes, it was as if my mind had been opened up, and I remembered clearly my teacher of that day and the lesson he was teaching; I also recalled what he had talked about and understood what he meant. I felt so light and joyous inside.” After this experience he did so well he became one of the first in his class to be chosen to go to seminary and after seminary to the Theological Academy in St. Petersburg (a great honor at that time).
Throughout his studies, John thought about the importance of forgiveness, meekness, and love, and came to believe that these were the very center and power of Christianity, and that only one path – the path of humble love – leads to God and the triumph of His righteousness. He also thought a great deal about Jesus’ death on the cross at Golgotha and tearfully pitied people who did not know Jesus Christ; he wished to preach to them about His death and resurrection. He dreamed about becoming a missionary to distant China but saw that there was a great deal of work for a genuine pastor of Christ’s flock both in his own city and the surrounding towns.
When John graduated from the Academy he met Elizabeth Nesvitsky who lived in the town of Kronstadt. They dated, he proposed, and they were married. After his studies John still desired to learn more about his faith and his Church. It was in this frame of mind that he prepared to receive holy orders and enter public ministry. He was ordained a deacon on December 10, 1885, and then priest on December 12. He was assigned to St. Andrew’s Cathedral in the city of Kronstadt. He said, “I made myself the rule of being as sincere as possible in my work and of strictly watching myself and my inner life.”
Commemorated on December 20