Public Confessions in Kronstadt
from eyewitness testimony
by Father Anatoly Trepatschko
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Brothers and sisters!
Having left the altar, from eyewitness accounts, Father John stood on the ambo without his mitre, and began to preach instructive words before confession.
“All sinners are alike”, began Father John. “You have come to this Church, to our Lord, Jesus Christ, our Savior, to ask for forgiveness of sins and then to partake of the Holy Mysteries. Have you prepared to partake of this great Sacrament?”
“Did you know that I am held greatly accountable before the Throne of the Almighty, if you partake of the Mysteries without preparation? Know this, that you do not repent to me but to the Lord, Who is invisibly present here, Whose Body and Blood are now present in the altar.”
Speaking more words, Father John continued: “Listen --- I shall begin to read the prayers of repentance.” Facing the people he immediately began to do so. “God our Savior… ” ---- reading enthusiastically, loudly and touchingly, ---- “forgive your servants present here.” With the words “present here”, Father John read lingeringly breaking the words into their respective syllables. With his opened right hand he waved over the heads of the people standing in front of him who were praying as though specifically separating each of them individually before the merciful Judge. Then the heart of each repentant involuntarily trembled. They all felt that they and no one else must give an accounting to God, for all time, for all matters.
Reading of the prayers continued. The pastor’s voice heightened and heightened. At times during the reading, he again became expressive, as a prophet of the stern and righteous Judge, pointing a finger at the crowd or to this or that side of the Church. These gestures were rather touching explaining the sense of what was being read and left a strong impression upon the crowd.
Having concluded the reading of the first prayer of repentance, Father John continued his teaching advising it was necessary to expound on this prayer. Father John spoke simply and without oratorical tendencies. When he did not manage to correctly construct a phrase, he stopped and advised that “it was not told so” and quietly continued his teaching. Father John spoke with deep faith, spoke frankly, and spoke from his own experiences. “King and prophet David was a man who warmed God’s heart but he also had the misfortune to fall into the heavy burdens of sin such as killing and adultery. Once walking on the terrace of his palace, David saw a beautiful Hebrew woman bathing and was captivated by her beauty and wished to make her his wife. But this Hebrew woman was already married, and to execute his sinful wishes, David sent her husband to the front line during the war where a sure arrow awaited his death. Thus David achieved his criminal purpose through lustful sinful passion, never wanting to think of the heavy burdened sin he committed before God. But God Almighty was merciful to the sinner and sent the prophet Nathan who confronted David with this sin and convinced him to repent. Then the King understood his heavy sin, prostrated himself and spreading ashes upon his head, a sign of humility, began to cry bitterly and began earnestly asking God for forgiveness. God heard his tearful prayer and forgave his sin. King David’s intimate heartfelt distress of his sins was expressed in the Psalms, spiritual songs, with which he thanked and glorified God. He left after himself a legacy, the Book of Psalms, which included the 50th Psalm, “Have mercy on me, O God…”, which represented in itself the irreplaceable example of repentance from the heart.”
“Brothers and sisters!”, continues Father John. “King David was a wise pious man, who had the Holy Spirit within him, who sinned, falling into a mistake. Oh, how easy it is for man to fall into sin! It is necessary each day, each hour, and each minute to be steadfast against sin, to be able to foresee beforehand our sinful wishes and feelings and to preserve ourselves from temptation because the devil is like a roaring lion running after us in search of whom to swallow-up. For this purpose it is necessary to weigh each of our steps and all of our acts.”
Further, Father John gives an example of the Hebrew King Manacia: “King Manacia fell away from God and became an idolater, engaged in wizardry, and taught his children this same lawlessness. Proud and ungrateful, he hated those who loved God and associated with only those who shared in his lawless beliefs. But God collected his perishing soul and called it for repentance.”
“During the war,” Father John continues, “with the Hebrews and the Assyrians, Manacia was taken into captivity and in a shameful gesture, similar to that of a wild animal, a copper ring was passed through his nostrils as he was led into Babylon and was thrown into a stinking dungeon. Here in captivity, he came around, understanding his lawlessness before God and began to earnestly repent, crying and praying day and night for his mistakes. And God, the All Merciful, heard his prayer and granted him forgiveness of his sins. With these two Kings, David and Manacia, who greatly sinned, and were forgiven by the mercies of God, we have two very clear examples of sincere deep heartfelt repentance.”
“The Lord is the Terrible and Omnipotent Judge of all the universe and all the living people,” said Father John, whose voice was rising and rising. “He does not look upon anyone’s face: whether it be a man or woman, an adolescent, a king or a simple person, a rich man or a poor man – in front of Him we are all equal, and equally He will judge us all by His Heavenly truth. From the high ranking and educated, God will ask more of them than of the commoners, but they will be condemned as well for the sins of drunkenness, stealing, and adultery.”
The teaching on the first prayer concluded. “Listen brothers and sisters, to the second prayer to Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Father John exclaimed louder than before. “In this prayer which was just read, the Holy Church beseeches our Lord Jesus Christ the First pastor that He, with mercy, forgive us of our sins and spares us from the external torments made ready for sinners. The Holy Church beseeches Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross for the sins of all people and Who, with His precious Blood cleansed our souls, asks Him to pardon us, as the two debtors in the Gospel who could not repay their huge debts to their lenders; as to the prodigal woman, whose tears washed and hair dried the feet of Christ. The Lord saw within her a sincere repentance and the will to be released from sin. With amends, He forgave her sins, and let her go in peace. Those who sincerely repent will receive from God forgiveness and will be spared of all eternal torments.”
“Your greatness is without blemish and Your mercies are immense!”, Father John loudly exclaimed. Having concluded his sermon, turning his clear and pure eyes upon the image of the Savior, with deep feeling ardently asked Him to pardon those present standing in front of Him, thirsting for forgiveness and absolution from their sins, invisible but yet imperiously connected to the inner world of man.
The feeling extracted from Father John’s public confession, were spoken of more than once. We consider these words to be the best from a woman, whose words are not from the sense of artistry, but words that were unconditionally sincere. “My God! My God! How I was filled with joy”, she writes, “how my repentant soul trembled in view of the good pastor, having taken upon himself, in this given time, the difficult task of peacemaker and requester of God’s clemency for us sinners! How touchingly he asked from God for forgiveness of our sins, bringing forth justification to our lives in a world filled with adultery and sin, every minute being seduced by the devil and with spiritual weakness falling into sins and defects! With what trembling the people heard the inspirational prayers from our wise pastor and how feverently we prayed together with him!”
“For all the people, an unearthly force enveloped our souls. It was a strange force, marvelous, a supernatural force of good, truth and faith, rising above our own spiritual defects, and this great force lived within us. From his heart, the wise pastor composed wise words, ardently thirsting for our souls to take flight, cleansed of sin, and to be taken away with pure thoughts, to the marvelous mountainous blue heights of heaven, to the radiant Throne of God and there, having plunged into ashes, imploring our Lord, the passionate forgiveness of soulful sin.”
“Holy minutes of moral enlightenment! Marvelous minutes of spiritual association with the shining Image of the Everlasting in the heavens!” From eyewitness testimony, everyone sobbed without the smallest of hindrances, and together with these cries and moans, the souls of the people were cleansed, just as a hearth of fire, marvelously cleanses gold.