Saint’s relics survive fire that destroyed village church

Kochetovka, Russia, March 11, 2019

Photo: RIA-Novosti Photo: RIA-Novosti     

A fire broke out in a village church in the Penza Province in Russia early Sunday morning, destroying the entire church, leaving only the relics of a local saint intact.

The bell tower of the wooden Church of the Archangel Michael in the village of Kochetovka caught fire around 2:00 AM and the fire immediately spread to the roof and from there to the walls, reports the Penza Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The parish clergy and local residents tried to put out the fire, but the flames spread too quickly. The fire department arrived 30 minutes after the fire broke out, which they believe was caused by faulty wiring, though the exact reason has yet to be established.

Though the fire gutted the entire temple, “by the grace of God, the relics of St. John (Potasheva) of Kochetovka, a Penza saint, glorified in 2018, survived,” the diocesan statement reads. There were no injuries.

According to the diocesan website, St. John was just liturgically canonized on October 6 in the same Church of the Archangel Michael. St. John, a clairvoyant elder, often attended St. Michael’s and sang in the choir there.


Photo: пензенская-епархия.рф Photo: пензенская-епархия.рф St. John (1839-1886) was born on January 1, 1839 in the village of Kochetovka. He enjoyed great respect among the Orthodox, manifesting a special dispensation of soul already from his childhood. He did not play games with the other children or think of marriage, but did physical labor, read the Horologion and the Psalter, and went on pilgrimages to the surrounding churches and monasteries, and to the Kiev Caves Lavra, where he received a blessing to undertake the podvig of foolishness for Christ’s sake, which he bore from the age of 26 until his death.

He had no permanent home, but wandered near the village where he was born, living in the woods and in the fields. More than once, people saw him in the woods feeding from the hands of wolves and sleeping with them.

St. John spoke and carried himself strangely. He went about in sackcloth with a heavy cross on his chest and a heavy iron stick in his hand. Though his speech was not clear, people seemed to understand him and reached out to him, seeing him as a man of love and mercy.

He went about collecting alms, and he everything he collected he gave to others. Following a fire in Kochetovka in 1874, he collected enough alms to buy shoes and clothes for nearly all of the more than 100 families that suffered.

St. John had the gift of foresight and often predicted fires and warned about people about coming trouble. He foretold the above-mentioned fire five days before it occurred. He also predicted a hailstorm, and with the help of his spiritual father, called the people to prayer in the Church of the Archangel Michael. The fields in Kochetovka were unharmed, while the crops were beaten by hail elsewhere.

He left his foolishness at the door of the church and would sing in the choir on Sundays and Great Feast days. He loved to bring bread for the prosphora. In his allegorical way, he often condemned absent-minded prayer and so called the people to more fervent prayer. During the singing of the Cherubic Hymn he often fell to his knees and beat his cheeks. He would confess to his spiritual father in a distinctive language that only he could understand, having nourished St. John spiritually from his youth.

There is a tradition that St. John met the future St. John Kalinin of Olenevka and foretold to the then-14-year-old youth that he would surpass him with his podvigs and be glorified by God.

St. John spent more than 20 years in foolishness and reposed on June 12, 1886. His spiritual father confessed and communed him before he died and buried him to the right of the altar of the Archangel Michael Church.

People continue to come from all over Russia to venerate St. John and seek his prayerful intercessions. The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church resolved to glorify St. John as a local saint on July 14, 2018, and his liturgical glorification was held on October 6.

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