Today, on the Sunday of the New Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Church, we are also remembering a true confessor of the faith who lived during those very serious times in Russia. Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) reposed on the Sunday of this commemoration, February 5, 2006.
Born March 29/April 11, 1910, Fr. John saw his native Russia in three different stages—the end of Tsarist times, communism and the fierce persecutions against the Orthodox Church to which he had dedicated his life, and the fall of communism, or “perestroika”. Fr. John himself had been imprisoned for his faith and endured tortures and constant observation by the godless authorities.
Priest Alexei Pikov made an in-depth study of Fr. John’s sermons for Bogoslov.ru, through which the tendencies and troubles of the times can be discerned. Although his sermons were only recorded during the latter part of his life, when he lived in the Pskov-Caves Monastery, his experience of many years weaves through these talks. We have translated an extract from this study that is relevant to this dual commemoration of Fr. John’s repose and the Holy New Martyrs of Russia.
The elder could raise his voice not only against obvious iniquity and violation of God’s laws, but also against harmful changes in spiritual life. From Archimandrite John’s sermons we can get a good understanding of the moral state of society, because in them he rebuked spiritual inadequacies. Fr. John expressed the more sinful tendencies of the human soul in his Lenten discourse during the 1970s, now known by the name, Experience in Forming a Confession. Among these discourses we can also find the traits inherent in those times and in our times as well.
If the 1970s-80s were distinguished by the repressions in the Church, then in later years, when the control over sermons and religiosity ceased, spiritual freedom or rather a free-for-all in the country began to do people harm. The elder called this period a time of “disturbance and total confusion in spiritual life.”
The terrible years of this “freedom” are reflected in the elder’s sermons. “The army of satanic sects, occult heresies, cabbalism, theosophy, astrology, hypnoses, coding, meditation, psychic influence on people, and parapsychological methods of “healing”, the mutilation of people’s souls—which Church teaching defines as magic and sorcery—have found highly-placed protectors now in our motherland,” he said. “And all the means of mass information have been given over to destructive forces that are at enmity with Orthodoxy…” The spread of narcotics, unrestrained fornication, the appearance on television of magicians and psychics, were rebuked in the elder’s words.
Fr. John dedicated many speeches to the harmful attraction of television: “The bandit of television has leeched itself into the soul, holding it in its death grip unto its total desolation.”
Many other spiritual threats of society were rebuked by him from the church ambo, which we can see from his stories about UFOs, in which he saw demons; psychic healers; mercantile relationships, when the “mind works only for gain” and “all care has gone into accumulating more things and eating more delicacies.”
We can find in the words of Archimandrite John an evaluation of events happening in our country. In 1991 he said, “And the sky, which once gave people the bright rain of life and fertile dew, now sprinkles a chemical poisonous dampness upon our heads, and the winds of Chernobyl burn the world with their deadly breath.” About what was happening in the Orthodox world, Fr. John knew from direct witnesses, and therefore he could not refrain from saying a word about a sacrilegious act: “In 1992… on Bright Saturday, a criminal hand tore up from the root the Holy Cross, which had stood for centuries on Golgotha.” In autumn of 1992, the mass media actively spread the message of missionaries from one South Korean church about the coming of Armageddon on October 28, 1992 and the end of the world. This fact was also known to Fr. John.
Having enormous spiritual experience, Archimandrite John foresaw the coming threat to Christian families: “Murkiness and darkness have long ago begun to bring deadly plans to pass, attacking the family, and motherhood, which conceals in itself the future of the world—the upbringing of our descendants.” And most often it is the parents themselves who are at fault, because they allow their children to be defiled “while yet in the womb with uncleanness and fornication during the period of pregnancy,” when “planned parenthood in its tyranny and selfishness calculatingly intrudes into the mystery of life.”
For Fr. John, the events that occurred many centuries ago had a strong inner spiritual connection with the events of his own time. Therefore, he saw a similarity between the saints of the first centuries of Christianity and those of our times, and in his sermons he could unite several events separated by long periods of time, because all is one in God.
 with my own eyes. I have seen and known hierarchs, I have grown up at their feet. I cannot forget the foundation that they placed in us and how they themselves lived.” Fr. John himself was an eyewitness to many events, and therefore he could talk about them with particular power and persuasion. He gave particular attention to history, explaining its enormous significance: “Without giving attention to history, cultural and spiritual growth are impossible for both the individual and society as a whole.”
His deep, essential knowledge of history became particularly clear in his sermon on the 1000-year anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, when Fr. John divided the history of the Russian Church into seven periods, comparing them with the seven Sacraments of the Church.
The Church experienced a complex period of its history during soviet times. It was oppressed in every way; pastors did not have the possibility to speak the truth from the ambo about what was going on in the government, about the persecutions against the Church. In one of his sermons on the Dormition of the Mother of God, it could be seen between the lines that to the monastery often not only came people of good disposition but also those with evil intentions (KGB informers and others).
From the heights of his advanced age, Fr. John could evaluate the departing soviet times, the period of the faith’s impoverishment, when “the forerunners of antichrist destroyed Orthodox Russia,” when “cunning schemes to destroy the Church were hatched.” In his sermons Fr. John could find comparisons between the twentieth century and the first centuries of Christianity in the theme of torments that Christ’s followers experienced. The elder gave only one explanation for all these catastrophes: “Departure from God—this is the cause of all catastrophes throughout all times.”