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St. John of Kronstadt and the 1903 Siberian Plague

“While visiting us in 1903, Father John performed the consecration of our winter church, dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. At this time there was a huge gathering of people, as there were teachers’ courses that year in which more than seventy women teachers took part. It would be a sin to be silent about an event of great importance that happened by the prayers of Father John. It occurred before the eyes of the whole village and was known in the whole area; at the time, everyone talked and wrote about it. Now, after Batiushka’s death, it is mentioned in newspapers that were published at that time here in the monastery by Mr. A. Goltison. This event also occurred in 1903, in the beginning of June.

The “Siberian plague” had appeared in our area, and numbers of cows and horses were dying every day. Quarantines were instituted on all sides. I thought with horror of how I would go and bring Batiushka to the monastery. All who arrived on ships from more or less distant places had to walk on foot for seven and a half miles from the pier to the monastery. Actually, there was no epidemic in our monastery and no cattle had died, but due to the surrounding quarantines one could not go anywhere in or out of the monastery, by any other means than foot. Finally, it became imperative to solve this question-that is whether to warn Father John about the impossibility of visiting our Leushino monastery, or, disregarding the danger, to decide to go. And I, after prayer, with faith decided to do the latter.

With all precautions, traveling at night so as to avoid the heat of the day, I went in a simple, light cart with one horse to the pier. There was a quarantine line approximately a mile or so before the pier which we hardly passed through, we were allowed to cross it only because all the animals in the monastery were healthy. Hardly had we passed the barrier when two carts met us, carrying dead horses for burial in a specially designated place. My fear and apprehension doubled, and I was almost convinced that I would lose my horse. Somehow, finally, I reached the pier, and with all precautions began to sprinkle my horse with holy water and cense it, and the horse was placed in the stables.

In the morning I went to meet Batiushka, and, while still on the ship, I told him everything. Hearing me out, Batiushka rose from his place and began to walk on the deck of the ship, praying. After about half an hour, he again sat down next to me and said: “What a treasure we have in prayer! By prayer we can obtain everything from the Lord, all good things, conquering any temptation, any tribulation, any sorrow.” I sensed by these words that our trouble with the “Siberian plague” would also be conquered by his prayers, and I promptly told him so. Batiushka answered: “Well, all things are possible to him who believeth (Mark 9:23)”.

When the ship approached the pier “Borki,” there had already gathered there no less than a hundred farmers and landowners who were planning to beg Father John to pray for their deliverance from the terrible chastisement of losing their cattle. “What are we going to do without cattle? They feed us; there will be nothing left to plow with; we’ll be impoverished. We are already poor—if we lose our cattle, it will be even worse,” they said. “Because of your sins the Lord has allowed this trouble to come upon you, because you keep forgetting God. Feast days are given to us that we may go to church and pray to God, but you spend your time drinking. When people drink what good can come of it? You know yourselves!” said Father John. “Of course, Batiushka dear, there is no good in drinking, nothing but evil.” “Do you realize this my friends, that according to our sins we are chastised?” “How can we not know, Batiushka! Pray for us sinners!” And all fell on their knees.

Batiushka ordered that a vessel be brought and filled with river water. Having performed the blessing of the water, he said: “Let each of you landowners take this water home and sprinkle your cattle. The Lord has shown you His mercy.” Then Batiushka came out onto the shore where our horses were, whom he sprinkled himself, including the horse that had brought me to the pier, and we went to the monastery without any fear. That same day all the peasants went wherever they had to go; all quarantines were lifted. As for the plague, all that remained of it was a memory combined with reverent amazement at the great man of prayer of the Russian land. Although we in the monastery had had no cattle die, we nevertheless asked Batiushka to sprinkle them and pray for them for the general good. Our priceless man of prayer, having performed the blessing of the water, ordered us to lead all the cattle past him, and he blessed each one individually with the holy water. He blessed the horses, too.” [1]


[1] Abbess Thaisia of Leushino, An Autobiography of a Spiritual Daughter of St. John of Kronstadt (Platina: St. Herman Press: 1989), 283-287.

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