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On the Eve of the Nativity I have decided to evoke the story about a saint and his biographer. While church powers influence governing structures, it seems that everyday customs and rituals held more sway in the lives of ordinary people, reflecting on religious believes along with folk customs. In various religions, saints are those who are believed to have exceptional holiness. In Christianity, not only do the saints embody the moral values and provide spiritual example, but they are also called upon for special purposes, such as for relief from headache, for seeking a spouse and so forth. While saints’ veneration may have been a very common practice in Eastern Orthodoxy, in a number of cases, some saints’ lives are distorted by legend. It is quite unique to find an insightful and a well balanced biography of a highly controversial religious figure written by a contemporary historian.

Watch the clip from a series Се человек /Ecce Homo (St. Petersburg, Russia, March 30, 2009), a two-part documentary film on St. John of Kronstadt. Ioann Kronshtadskiy, a Russian Orthodox priest of the pre-revolutionary period was regarded as a Russian Orthodox saint during his lifetime. The episode includes an interview with the author of the book about this saint, professor of history Nadiezda Kizenko. The biographer goes beyond the controversy over her subject’s public image and illuminates the twilight moments of his private life.

In her book professor Kizenko chronicles the life of a “prodigal saint” while using a lot of documents and evidences: diaries, notes, memoirs, his letters and letters sent to him by people asking for his prayers. Indirectly, in her book she reveales much about those living in Russia during that time. In the interview, Nadieszda discusses her book, tells about her childhood, unveiling rare live observations on the customs and traditions of her contemporaries.

Questions for listening comprehension:

What do you know about the saints and their veneration? How did Ioann Kronshtadskiy connect two continents? What did the biographer reveal about the saint? What did the biographer tell about her own family? What does the biographer think about her childhood in retrospect?

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