A Slap in the Face of St. John of Kronstadt

In the years when Archpriest John Ilyich Sergiyev was already well known in Russia, and the St. Andrew Cathedral in Kronstadt was filled at every Liturgy with thousands of people from all over the country, there was an outrageous incident. During the services, a certain student climbed onto the ambo and lit his cigarette from the lampada on the iconostasis. Fr. John had already come out of the altar with the chalice for Communion. He looked, perplexed, at the young man and wrathfully asked him, “What are you doing?” The young man was totally unabashed and unashamed, and was in no haste to leave the church. He walked up to Fr. John and quickly, backhanded him across the face. Fr. John rocked strongly from the blow. The Eucharistic Gifts splashed out of the chalice onto the floor, and several tiles had to be taken from the ambo to be given over to the Baltic Sea.1 The revolution was just around the corner.


Unfortunately, the student walked out of the church on his own two feet and was not torn apart by the indignant congregation—which he deserved. I say this with full responsibility for each word, and I make no exaggeration; if the people had acted more sternly and appropriately, the audacity of the jackals would have waned before their eyes. Again I say this from the point of view of the history that followed, which is for us now the past, but which was then only a premonition not clearly discerned. Not far off were times of unprecedented blasphemy against the faith—but first, before they priests were with their epitrachelions or “communed” with molten pewter, someone had to begin with a brazen mockery of the Church, the Sacraments, and the clergy.

The ancient serpent crawled out of the earth, and his poisoned breath was to many depicting mirages of imminent universal happiness. In the name of the future they had to say good bye to the past. Blasphemy is one form of such goodbyes. In his Diary of a Writer Dostoevsky describes an incident when a simple peasant man on a bet brought Communion out of the church in his cheek in order to shoot the Holy Gifts from a rifle (!). Yes, it happened, and Esenin2 spat out Holy Communion, boasting about it to Blok.3 Apparently the same thing could be noted in Lenin’s favorite, Bukharin,4 when he was in school. Many countless baptized people ripped off their baptismal crosses with joy, and were it possible they would have “washed” away their baptism with some bloody sacrifice, as did Julian the Apostate. We have to understand that on the eve of the revolution, huge masses of people were quite demonically possessed, giving the devil a place in their hearts. For some this demonization was clothed in civic pathos, for others, in speeches to justify this pathos. The devil was characteristically ungrateful in time toward both, and devoured flesh and bone the builders of the “new world”, the destroyers of the “old”, and those who liked to contrive approving arguments for the former and the latter.

But how did that same student in Kronstadt see himself? As a hooligan? A blasphemer? No, you jest! He saw himself as a hero and expressor of social protest. Some superficial brochures helped him formulate his pitiful worldview. “You answer to me for the Inquisition, for Giordano Bruno, and for the destruction of Aztec civilization,” he perhaps muttered as he bore out his plans for revenge against the Church. A stupid man has to mutter something to himself during his pimply years, when the demon has already settled into him and is dragging him on to his work. After all, even today, in a period of universal literacy, people are still muttering the same kind of rubbish.

The student probably firmly believed—but not in the Resurrection of Christ; he believed in the triumph of progress and humanism. For the sake of one belief he insulted another, which was noticeable everywhere but not everywhere in the hearts. He insulted this faith with the intention of putting it more quickly to an end.

Then he left the church on his own two feet, and what happened to him afterwards we don’t really know. But we well know what generally happened to this great crowd of “pale youths with heated gazes”. The man who entered a church with the aim of striking a priest was unlikely to live out his life in “piety and purity”. His godless act left unpunished inevitably gave him new wings, and in many people’s eyes he became an intrepid who disdained the archaic ways. What would hinder him from throwing bombs at the gendarmes, or scribbling anti-government leaflets by night, or sharpening an axe, like a new Raskolnikov? What would forbid him from jumping into the whirlwind of struggle against sovereignty, seeking either happiness for the millions, or greater, if only momentary, glory for himself? And if he lived to February, then with tears of joy and squeals, as is characteristic of all high-strung personalities, he would welcome the emperor’s abdication. Then would come October, and if he wasn’t with the Leninist-Trotskyist Bolsheviks, he might have ended up in the midst of the equally radical Essers5—who also loved to shoot people.

Who of those who stand at the time in the St. Andrew Cathedral and remained among the living would later kill him? After all, it is highly probably that someone killed him during that insane twentieth century, when even the most innocent people were rarely vouchsafed a peaceful death in their own beds? It could have been anyone. A bullet from the White Army during the Civil War. A bullet from a Red henchman in a “Red terror” basement. The same bullet from the same henchmen, only later, when “socialism was already built”. Or perhaps he died from hunger or scurvy at the construction site of the new age, or the knife of a street criminal—at the same construction site. Or perhaps he himself put his head into the noose, seeing how unresembling reality was to what he and other demoniacs like him were fighting for (not without his participation). In that case he would have saved his homeland a bullet, although nobody would have thanked him for that.


But let’s transport ourselves back to the St. Andrew Cathedral in Kronstadt. The riot in the Imperial fleet has not yet happened. There has not yet been a rebellion, which Tuchachevsky6 and his comrades would run across the ice to put down with artillery fire. Gumilev7 has not yet been executed. The last Romanovs are still on the throne, and the wonderworking pastor of All Russia, Fr. John Iyich Sergiyev is serving in the church. And then some scum climbs onto the ambo and lights his cigarette from the lampada hanging before the local icon…

Tomorrow the most honored public will giggle at the news in some hot-off-the-press liberal news rag.

Archpriest Andrei Tkachev
Translation by OrthoChristian.com



1 It would have been a sacrilege to simply wash the tiles; in the Orthodox Church, if the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion is spilled, it must be taken up and swallowed by the clergy, and any material into which it soaks must be burned or committed to a body of water.—OC

2 Sergei Esenin, Russian revolutionary poet. He died in December 1925 from hanging. The circumstances surrounding his violent death are still shrouded by mystery—he was found lying dead, with minor wounds and a noose around his neck in a hotel room that had been ransacked. The accepted version is suicide, since he had been suffering from a severe depression.—OC.

3 Alexander Blok, another early soviet era poet, writer, publicist, playwright, translator, and literary critic.—OC.

4 Nicholai Bukharin (1888–1938), Marxist philosopher, anarchist, and Bolshevik revolutionary.—OC.

5 The Socialist Revolutionary Party, which existed from late imperial Russia to the early Soviet Union.

6 Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (1893–1937), nicknamed the Red Napoleon by foreign newspapers, was a Soviet general who was prominent between 1918 and 1937 as a military officer. In March of 1921, there was a people’s rebellion in Kronstadt against the Red Terror. It was harshly put down by Tukhachevsky’s army.—OC.

7 Nicholai Gumilev (1886–1921), poet, literary critic, and military officer. Cofounder of the Acmeist movement, and husband of poetess Anna Akhmatova, father of Lev Gumilev. He was executed by the Cheka—the Soviet secret police force—on trumped-up charges of conspiracy, for his anti-Communist views, making the sign of the cross in public, and calling the Bolsheviks half-literate.—OC.

Panagiotis7/27/2023 5:41 am
This "man" who slapped +++ St John of Kronstadt +++ in a Holy Orthodox Church was inherently evil. Father Andrei spoke the truth..... Jesus did show anger. He drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip, He overturned their tables, and He called them a den of thieves. He also said that those who hurt children would suffer a fate worse than a millstone wrapped around their neck and then dropped in the deepest part of the sea. The Bible is clear that He will return with all Power and Glory. He will return as a Lion... A century ago the sinister internationalists overwhelmed the Orthodox People of the Russian Empire, and they brought evil bolshevism and monster communism to Holy Russia, resulting in the deaths of TENS OF MILLIONS of Orthodox Christians. They called their new country the "USSR" because they had so much hate for Russia and the Russian People, in fact they hated ALL Orthodox People. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was correct. Now the same diabolical forces are at work trying to destroy the Conservative Orthodox Churches in Russia and the Ukraine, and trying to destroy Conservative Russia. But some people cannot see this. God Almighty give the Orthodox People knowledge and open their eyes. WAKE UP. Just my humble opinion.
Editor7/10/2023 9:39 am
Nicole: We can of course see your point, but perhaps we have to allow that there isn't a formula for this. A parent has to discipline his or her child, and this has often involved spanking. But no one would encourage a parent to simply unleash anger on a child. St. Nicholas was filled with righteous anger, but he was also passionless, without hatred. Hatred is unacceptable, but discipline is necessary. Disciplining the unruly--people who were allowed to get out of hand--takes force. Isn't a minor punishment at the first offense better than the inevitable harsh, even terrible punishment that awaits a blasphemer? Perhaps the Catholic inquisitions, which were unjustified and over the top, have left Christians unwilling to take measure against blasphemers. Punishment must be meted out with love, I think we can agree on that.
Nicole7/10/2023 8:09 am
Dear Editor, And yet Christ stopped Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane and only came to heal and save, never preaching violence or impassioned anger. St Nicholas is my patron saint and yet this act is a rare occurrence for a saint. And Arius was wise and knowledgeable and had not been stopped previously by many wise words ~ not an uninformed rebellious young person. How many have been convinced and converted by a loving firm response? So many. I appreciate your answer but must stick with Christ and the majority of the Saints who do not call icons of Christ scum and may call out and gently stop an act ie hate the sin but love and approach the sinner accordingly. I struggle with anger myself and recognize the self-justifications from personal experience as well as professional. May we agree to disagree. Respectfully in Christ, Nicole
Editor7/9/2023 10:54 pm
Nicole: You asked what St. John would have done: Recall that he reacted to the blasphemer angrily when he lit his cigarette from the icon lamp. A priest, especially one holding the Communion chalice, cannot strike a person. But it would have been justified for the parishioners to drag the man out of the church, and let him know in no uncertain terms that this would not be tolerated. By the way, physically attacking a person, which is what the man did, is a criminal offense in most countries, including the U.S.A. That would justify the parishioners ganging up on the man and hauling him off to the police station. There are examples in Orthodox history when blasphemers have been righteously stricken, such as St. Nicholas striking Arius, or a parent striking a child who commits a blasphemous act.
Nicole7/9/2023 9:05 pm
I continue to be saddened by Father’s perspective on the “scum” which is foreign to the grief the saints express toward anyone desecrating his or her icon of Christ within, essentially suiciding They would be met with firm loving boundaries such as gently surrounding and removing (not dragging or beating) the ignorant ill person who committed the outrage I’m no saint. Am wondering what St John said himself but no reply to my question I cannot refer nonOrthodox folks to this site if the final word of the editors does not harmonize with the saints’ perspective that we are one family, all in the spiritual hospital as Gerondissa Ephraim pointed out no hospitalized patients mock each other and that would imply do not beat or call one another scum I was hoping Father himself might have a rethink and write from a different perspective God help us all to heal!!!
Nicole6/24/2023 6:50 pm
Do we know what St John of Kronstadt said to his people about the event and how he evaluated their reaction to it? His is the “opinion” I would trust most. Thank you.
GGG6/20/2023 4:29 pm
m. Cornelia, RE: your last sentence, "People have to know their own strengths and weaknesses, it's just reality.... Reality is truth, and the truth sets us free" highlights the tremendous cultural difficulty that Orthodox Christians have living in the modern, aggressively secular West. Modern Western cultural trends insist on fighting God's ontological reality... probably somewhat like the Soviets, aggressively secular Westerners seem to insist that they know better than God and that they can do better than God. We Orthodox know that this is an insane battle (literally, the secular Western approach is the definition of insanity), however the surrounding culture interprets us as the insane ones since we, being baptized in and trying to live immersed in God's ontological reality, know that, for example, men cannot be women and vice versa.... we refuse to buy in to secular/Western cultural insanity. For those of us who grew up both Orthodox Christian and in the West, it's like watching a slow motion train wreck in real time... these lands that are ours - and which we love - are culturally self-destructing. I figure helping to build up the Truth in God's Orthodox faith in the West and trying to live out God's ontological reality in my own little section of the world are small things I can do to to try to help... people still have God's image indwelling in them (even if they aren't aware of it) and are often far more moved by experiencing God's reality in person rather than by the garbage they read on CNN or are taught in American public schools.
Salaam6/19/2023 9:41 pm
If I may, I'm sure if you ask Father Andrei the cause of the revolution, we would say, as would most of the Russian clergy, that it is because Russia had forgotten God. This article, like anything else, cannot stand on its own. It should be taken in context. On the one hand we should stand up to evil - perhaps we drag that man out of the church. But on the other hand we should know that we, worst of all sinners that we are, are as responsible for that evil as anyone else.
m. Cornelia6/19/2023 11:37 am
GGG: Thanks for the very interesting comment you made in support of my comment. I'll add: Some years back when German women were being attacked and violated on public streets by migrants, and more news was coming out about similar problems in Sweden, women in these Western European countries were expressing their deep chagrin that none of their men came out to save them. One acquaintance of mine from a Scandinavian country said that she admires Russia in that the men are still men, that they would not have let that happen in their own country. I did caution her, however, that if you want the men to be men, then the women have to be women. You can't have women dominate men and then suddenly, when the physical reality of their vulnerability becomes so acutely apparent, expect the men to quickly become knights in shining armor. In Russia and the East, women (unless they were indoctrinated in Western schools) understand this fact, and remain in submission to their men. This does not at all mean they consider themselves inferior beings. They are quite accomplished in many areas. I would say that they are very smart. As one Russian woman expressed it when feminism was just beginning to encroach upon post-soviet Russia, "Oh, no you don't. We do enough work as women as it is--we're not going to start doing the men's work too." That's on the tougher side, but I'll tell you that I so often hear Russian women saying that they love their men just the way they are, and they are quite happy to have their husband at the head of the family. People have to know their own strengths and weaknesses, it's just reality. Reality is truth, and the truth sets us free.
GGG6/17/2023 7:18 pm
If someone were abusing or hurting one of my sons, would it be "merciful" of me to "turn the other cheek" and let it happen? Come on, that's insanely stupid. Christ calls us to love and to follow Him, not to be stupid. Much of this type of false/deluded compassion comes from decades of western/secular distortion (often the result of aggressive feminism.... which often subtlely sends the message to Christian men that their masculine desires to maintain boundaries and order are "hurtful")... this deludes western Christian men what it means to be men. Christian men are tasked by God to create the boundaries, to maintain the fortress. If someone is hurting my young sons or my wife, it would be pathetic of me to not stop it, and yes that may mean physically hurting the abuser in the process. I'd be OK with that. Christian men who live in the world are not monastics.... it's a highly deluded "compassion" to say they should "stand by and let evil win".... the standard for monastics is very different than for Christian men living in the world. It would have been perfectly acceptable for Christian men in attendance at this Divine Liturgy with St John of Kronstadt to take this dude who lit his cigarette on the lampada - to take him outside and make sure he got the message that this behavior is not acceptable. The failure to set boundaries is not virtuous. Western Christian men need to re-learn how to set boundaries in a healthy manner, how to "maintain the fortress." Thank you m. Cornelia for calling Christian men to be men... so many just don't know how to do it anymore. To be fair, few in the West have ever even seen Christian masculinity modeled, so we need to relearn it from scratch. But Christ (and the Church) are the best teachers out there!
m. Cornelia6/16/2023 3:22 pm
Seraphima: The "Christian pacifists" here are simply missing the point of this article. You don't seem to take into consideration just what was happening in Russia before the revolution, how it came about, and how it ended up. There were quite a few Christians, whom you would approve of, who did nothing when they should have done something. How were they repaid for their "kindness"? Read the article for the answer. Read also what some Christian writers said about Nazi Germany. "They came for the Jews, and I said nothing... They came for me, and there was no one to say anything." This man in the article was not just attacking a fellow human being, he was attacking Christ Himself, in His Body and Blood. That has consequences, and if you look at it more spiritually--wouldn't it be better for this man if he were punished on earth, rather than suffer an infinitely worse, eternal punishment in hell?
damjan6/16/2023 12:04 pm
revolution eats his own children like buharin, thukachevski......GOD has the last WORD!
Seraphima6/16/2023 5:13 am
Glory to God that the majority of the commentors can distinguish the mercy of the Lord from the anger of man. As Dionysius Redington notes, were there more such Christians, the unbelievers would have little to celebrate. May the Lord guard our hearts from hatred, anger, and other tools of the enemy.
m. Cornelia6/15/2023 10:37 am
Dionysius: Fr. Andrei then stated that he takes full responsibility for his words. Do you?
Dionysius Redington6/15/2023 4:18 am
'Unfortunately, the student walked out of the church on his own two feet and was not torn apart by the indignant congregation.' This suggests that the congregation was composed of Christians who had absorbed St. John's teachings. If there had been more such Christians, there would have been no Revolution. Holy John of Kronstadt, pray to God for us and for Russia. --Dionysius Redington
Panagiotis6/15/2023 3:15 am
Thank you Father Andrei for this great article. You spoke the truth Father, and we all love and respect you. We need more great Orthodox Priests like you Father. Hindsight is 20/20 indeed, and we see what happened after this evil incident, when the demonic monster Bolsheviks/Communists went on a long rampage, and murdered Tens of Millions of our People. Tens of Millions of Orthodox men, women, and children, including elderly, people who were tortured and massacred in the most savage and inhumane ways. A satanic nightmare that would engulf Holy Orthodox Russia. How did it happen, both before, during, and after? One of the greatest books that was ever written that explains all of this is titled: "Under the Sign of the Scorpion", written by Juri Lina. This is a well written and well researched book that the powerful elite forces do not want you to read. There is also a video based on this book and it is called "In the Shadow of Hermes". You should be able to find this video online. Both the book and the video will explain what happened, and what the internationalists do not want you to know. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was correct. Thank Almighty God that we still have courageous people who will speak the truth. Let us pray to Almighty God and The Panagia to give all the Orthodox People knowledge. All Glory to Almighty God, all Glory. Just my humble opinion.
Joseph Bell6/15/2023 1:17 am
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Romans 12:19-21 When the incarnate Christ was here people asked, 'who do you side with, the Jewish leaders or the Romans?' In America we sometimes call this 'the squeeze.' Why would anybody side with anyone but Christ? They harm us and we internally remain unharmed. If we have acquired the Holy Spirit we are quickly healed like St. Barbara was.
Svilen 6/14/2023 9:37 pm
Dear Father Andrei, please let us be merciful as Christ is Merciful, and turn the other cheek. Fire is fought with water, the Church has Resurrected thanks to Love, Love for God, Love for Life, the Love that is there shining brightly when there is darkness all around. It is in the worst times that Love shines most brightly, and so please let us Love even more intensely the worse the times become, for the sake of our very brother, to soften the hearts of harsh men, to show the Light, Love, Path and Life to the world, which can only be found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please Bless me father With gratitude, Svilen
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