The Lord is merciful. In His providential care for the salvation of the human race, He sends to every generation His chosen ones so they could lead and illuminate the progress of the rest toward God. Archimandrite John Krestyankin was no doubt among these chosen luminaries who brought comfort and gave guidance to many a human soul.
Father John Krestyankin's home town Oryol at the beginning of the 20th century
He was born in 1910 in Oryol, one of Russia's ancient cities, to a family of modest means. He was the eighth child of his parents, Mikhail and Elizaveta Krestyankin. His parental home stood about forty metres from the nearby church of Saint Elijah. As a small boy, the little Vanya often chased the horse-drawn carriage of Bishop Nicholas Nikolsky as he was on his way to Church. The bishop noticed the boy's interest. At six years of age, Ivan began to serve as a sexton. Eventually, Bishop Nicholas made him his subdeacon. Ivan assisted Bishop Nicholas, and Father Seraphim Ostroumov, destined to become a holy martyr. Ivan aspired to monastic life from his young years, but he did not take tonsure until fifty years later.
Ivan Krestyankin aged ten
After finishing school in 1929, he learned accountancy and worked as an accountant for some time in his home town. In 1932, he moved to Moscow and worked as a chief accountant in a small factory.
Ivan Krestyankin in the 1930s
His secular occupation did not keep him from spiritual life. The church relics inspired him. He celebrated the church feasts and attended worship services conducted by the blessed church fathers, who later wore the crown of martyrdom for their faith. His active church life was his call to action. In 1944, he came to the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Moscow's Izmailovo suburb, where he served as a psalm reader. At the beginning of 1945, Metropolitan Nikolai (Yarushevich) ordained him as a deacon. When he completed the final examination for the religious seminary, he received his ordination as a priest from Patriarch Alexis I. He served in the same parish until 1950.
Priest John Krestyankin
His intense preaching and popularity among his flock irked the Soviet authorities. He was completing a correspondence course at the Moscow Religious Academy, where he wrote his candidate's thesis about the role of Saint Seraphim of Sarov in the spiritual and moral life of 19th century Russia. However, he had no time to defend it. Someone denounced him to the authorities, and he was arrested.
The police file on Father John
After a four-month investigation, he was taken to court and sentenced to seven years in a high-security prison camp for anti-soviet agitation and propaganda.
Chernaya Rechka passing loop, the location of the prison camp where John Krestyankin served his sentence
Yet Father John Krestyankin remembers with deep gratitude to God all the sorrows and trials in these difficult years. In the furnace of affliction and suffering, a new person was being born in him. Blessed with the grace of the Holy Spirit, he was a luminary for many others in their progress towards God. The ultimate virtue of love filled his heart.
A tree harvesting site, the 1960s
Father John fell trees until the Spring of 1953. His health deteriorated, and he was transferred to a camp facility for disabled prisoners near Kuybyshev (now Samara). There, he worked as an accountant until his release on 15 February 1955. He was assigned to serve in the Pskov Region and later to the diocese of Ryazan.
Made wise by his trials and sorrows, the 47-year-old priest served as a simple rural priest in different parishes of the Ryazan Region. He understood how miserable life was without God and did everything in his power to bring God's word to the craving souls. He also knew that the best way to strengthen people's faith was by showing with example what a life with God could be like. To every parish where he served, he brought life, transformation, a sense of joy and celebration of God's presence.
The Diocese of Ryazan
He served at different parishes, but people flocked to their good shepherd even in the most hard-to-reach places. Believers came to see him from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Many were his friends from his time in exile.
Serving as a parish priest
In 1957, John Krestyankin travelled to the Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Glinsk to recover his spiritual strength. He had come to like this ancient monastery and its monks. He became close friends with the Venerable Elder Seraphim (Romantsov), whom he chose as his confessor. After all these years, he never abandoned his childhood dream of monastic life that he had entertained since he was twelve. Father John remained the elder's disciple even after the Glinsky Monastery was closed in 1961 at the peak of the new anti-church campaign that caused the elder to flee to Sukhumi in the Caucasus.
The Venerable Seraphim (Romantsov)
The years of hard work and the faltering health from the long imprisonment and exile sapped Father John's life energies. He was growing weak by the day and contemplating his departure to the Lord. However, the Lord had a different plan for him. The Venerable Seraphim (Romantsov) tonsured him as a monk with the name John, in honour of the apostle of love, Saint John the Theologian. Life returned to him by the prayers of the venerable elder and the blessing of monasticism as he opened a new chapter in his life.
The Monastery of the Pskov Caves
Patriarch Alexis I assigned the newly tonsured monk to the Pskov Caves monastery, where he ascetised for the next 39 years. He left his intense worldly activity behind the monastery gates, all the multiple engagements that were sapping away his powers and taking up his time. Now he could rearrange his priorities by concentrating on prayer to God and contemplation. That was always his human desire. Yet as a monk, he had even less time for his needs than when he was a parish priest. He spent no more than one year of his monastic life in seclusion, with no contact even with his disciples. He also ignored the letters from his fellow priests. One day, however, the abbot visited him in his cell. He was holding an envelope with a letter from Father Alippius, an old friend of John Krestyankin. Father Alippius asked the abbot in his letter, "Where are you hiding my dear friend Vanya? The abbot insisted that John respond to that letter and resume correspondence with his friends. Soon, the monk John was receiving hundreds of letters. They kept coming in large numbers up until his last days.
Father John Krestyankin with his visitors
Father John did get to spend much time in prayerful seclusion. After little more than a year, he began to receive a steady stream of visitors from the parishes where he served. Many came from the nearby Pechory City. The time came when the monastery opened up to guests from different corners of the world. The people who saw the light of God's love through him came back again to repeat the experience. Many remained his disciples for many years, learning to live in God from his example and basking in God's love that He shed generously on everyone through Father John.
Father John Krestyankin, preparing to preach a sermon
His monastic life followed the established routines, week after week, and month after month. Weeks of worship services followed the weeks of confessions, Molebens and funerals. One month succeeded another. Hearing confessions were his grace-filled moments. Then followed the Molebens to the saints with prayers for the living, then the long and vehement prayers for the dead. In these successive supplications, the Grace of God blurred the boundary between life on earth and in heaven. Father John subordinated his intentions to the will of God's providence and thus withstood multiple trials and kept a peaceful spirit at the most trying and difficult moments. His services were pious, beautiful and spiritual, giving people a taste of heaven and the Kingdom of God.
Archimandrite John Krestyankin, 2000s
Approaching the end of his life at 95 years of age, he continued to reveal to the far and near the great secret of true life: That true life is nothing else but love. With love at heart, we feel joy for others and share their jubilation. By loving our neighbour, we love Christ himself. Love your enemy and those who hurt you And the gates of joy will come open for you, The risen Christ will embrace your resurrected soul. Give love, and you will live forever in the risen Lord, who suffered and who loved.
The caves of the Pskov Caves Monastery
Archimandrite John Krestyankin fell asleep in the Lord in the ninety-fifth year of his life. Yet he continues to intercede for all those who come to venerate his relics in the caves and turn to him in prayer.
A memorial to John Krestyankin in Oryol
A memorial to Archimandrite John was built in his home town Oryol. Collections of his sermons, letters and teachings are published regularly. One of the most recent collections commemorating his life and works was recently published at Saint Elisabeth Convent, titled "The priest with Easter in his heart."
Photos: internet sources
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