Like Rain from the Clouds

St John of Kronstadt’s My Life in Christ in English Translation

by Nicolas Mabin

This paper was first pub­lished in Sobor­no­st (Vol 37:2, 2015), The edi­tors of Ortho­dox Life offer our thanks to Sobor­no­st, the jour­nal’s edi­tor Fr Andrew Louth, and the author of this work for their per­mis­sion to repro­duce this infor­ma­tive sur­vey of the his­to­ry of Eng­lish-lan­guage trans­la­tions and com­pi­la­tions of St John’s clas­sic spir­i­tu­al text.


This paper attempts to iden­ti­fy from an his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive the var­i­ous edi­tions of the book, My Life in Christ, which was pub­lished first in Eng­lish in 1897. There have been nine dif­fer­ent ver­sions of either all or some of that book, the lat­est being pub­lished in Decem­ber, 2015. This is not a lin­guis­tic analy­sis of the text, nor a the­o­log­i­cal expo­si­tion of the book. How­ev­er, it is inter­est­ing to look at the eclec­tic mix of peo­ple that have played a part in pro­mot­ing the read­er­ship of My Life in Christ. As a theme, I draw the read­ers’ atten­tion to a max­im that may be summed up as “beware of trans­la­tions.” The atten­tive read­er of trans­lat­ed works needs to have in mind the answers to ques­tions such as: Who is the trans­la­tor? What is their lin­guis­tic com­pe­tence? What is their the­o­log­i­cal com­pe­tence? Sim­i­lar­ly, ‘“beware of edit­ed selec­tions.’” How do the edi­tors make their choic­es and what moti­va­tions dri­ve these decisions?

Saint John of Kronstadt

Saint John of Kro­n­stadt was born in 1829 and died in 1908. He was glo­ri­fied in 1964 by the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Out­side Rus­sia and by the Moscow Patri­ar­chate in 1990. Here is a brief sum­ma­ry of his life.1, which is tak­en from the Church’s Synaxarion:

Saint John of Kro­n­stadt was a mar­ried priest, who lived with his wife in vir­gin­i­ty. Through his untir­ing labors in his priest­ly duties and love for the poor and sin­ners, he was grant­ed by our Lord great gifts of clair­voy­ance and mir­a­cle-work­ing, to such a degree that in the last years of his life mir­a­cles of healing—both of body and of soul—were per­formed count­less times each day through his prayers, often for peo­ple who had only writ­ten to him ask­ing his help. Dur­ing his life­time, he was known through­out Rus­sia, as well as in the West­ern world. 

Saint John of Kronstadt lived the apostolic life in our times, not in some monastic retreat far from the world

He has left us his diary My Life in Christ as a spir­i­tu­al trea­sure for Chris­tians of every age; sim­ple in lan­guage, it expounds the deep­est mys­ter­ies of our faith with that wis­dom which is giv­en only to a heart puri­fied by the grace of the Holy Spir­it. Fore­see­ing, as a true prophet, the Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917, he unspar­ing­ly rebuked the grow­ing apos­ta­sy among the peo­ple; he fore­told that the very name of Rus­sia would be changed. As the dark­ness of unbe­lief grew thick­er, he shone forth as a bea­con of unquench­able piety, com­fort­ing the faith­ful through the many mir­a­cles that he worked and the father­ly love and sim­plic­i­ty with which he received all.2

My Life in Christ

For the ordi­nary read­er, My Life in Christ may be dif­fi­cult to read, part­ly because of its Vic­to­ri­an style and part­ly because of its lack of orga­ni­za­tion, but it is worth per­se­ver­ing for two main rea­sons.  First, Saint John of Kro­n­stadt lived the apos­tolic life in our times, not in some monas­tic retreat far from the world but in the heart of a mil­i­tary port with all its asso­ci­at­ed wickedness. 

The Church has given us all the medicine we need to heal our spiritual sickness — particularly in the sacramental prayer life of the Church

  Saint John matched his words with actions, most notably in car­ing for the poor.  Sec­ond, Saint John makes clear to the read­ers of his diary, which was not writ­ten with pub­li­ca­tion in mind, that the Church has giv­en us all the med­i­cine we need to heal our spir­i­tu­al sick­ness — par­tic­u­lar­ly in the sacra­men­tal prayer life of the Church. The Chris­t­ian who seeks sal­va­tion need not nec­es­sar­i­ly become a monas­tic or devel­op some eso­teric tech­nique of prayer. Dai­ly prayer, reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pa­tion in the holy sacra­ments, tend­ing to the poor, vis­it­ing the sick and the impris­oned – this is the life in Christ.

The 1897 Goulaeff Translation

The Eng­lish trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ was pub­lished in Lon­don by Cas­sell in 1897. This vol­ume con­sists of 558 pages and is divid­ed into two parts. This sep­a­ra­tion reflects the divi­sion into two vol­umes of the orig­i­nal 1894 Russ­ian pub­li­ca­tion.3 At the out­set, the 1897 book states: “Trans­lat­ed with the Author’s sanc­tion, from the Fourth and Sup­ple­ment­ed Edi­tion by E.E. Goula­eff, St. Peters­burg.” This is fol­lowed by a “Note” in which Father John briefly explains how the book came into being:

“I do not pre­cede my book by any intro­duc­tion: let it speak for itself. Every­thing con­tained in it is but a gra­cious enlight­en­ment which was bestowed upon my soul by the all-enlight­en­ing Holy Ghost dur­ing moments of deep self-con­cen­tra­tion and of self-exam­i­na­tion, espe­cial­ly dur­ing prayer. When I had time, I not­ed down the edi­fy­ing thoughts and feel­ings that came to me, and from these notes, con­tin­ued for many years, this book has now been com­piled; the con­tents are very var­ied, as will be seen by the read­ers. Let them judge of them for them­selves.” He that is spir­i­tu­al jud­geth all things, yet he him­self is judged of no man. (I Corinthi­ans 2:15)4

There are no sub­head­ings, sign­posts, etc. There is no index. As the author’s note indi­cates, this is a col­lec­tion of ran­dom jot­tings. E. E. Goula­eff made acces­si­ble to read­ers of Eng­lish, for the first time, the thoughts, insights and prayers of a con­tem­po­rary Russ­ian Ortho­dox priest. My Life in Christ is a first-hand account of Ortho­dox spir­i­tu­al­i­ty as expe­ri­enced in the mod­ern world. My Life in Christ falls into a cat­e­go­ry of writ­ing which might be described as ‘psy­cho­log­i­cal’ and with­in Ortho­doxy there are but few exam­ples of this genre, since writ­ing about one­self is prac­ti­cal­ly unknown.

In the “Translator’s Pref­ace” Goula­eff makes no ref­er­ence to receiv­ing help in doing the trans­la­tion into Eng­lish. How­ev­er, in a let­ter of 24th Jan­u­ary, 1900, from Arch­priest Eugene Smirnoff, Rec­tor of the Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Embassy in Lon­don, to an unnamed cor­re­spon­dent, there is a men­tion of “[N.G.] Kamen­sky [who] will be able to com­plete her assign­ment in the best pos­si­ble way. Some time ago, she beau­ti­ful­ly cor­rect­ed a trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ.“5

E. E. Goulaeff 6

Erast Evge­nievich Goula­eff was a design­er and con­struc­tor of ships for the Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Navy. He was the author and trans­la­tor of more than 50 arti­cles on ship­build­ing.  He was born in 1846 in Peter­hof, near St. Peters­burg.  Goula­eff stud­ied at the Marine Artillery and Engi­neer­ing School, grad­u­at­ing in 1868. He then joined the Russ­ian Admi­ral­ty and began an illus­tri­ous 40-year career as an inno­v­a­tive design­er and builder of ships. In 1868, at the age of 24, Goula­eff was appoint­ed as aide-de-camp to Gen­er­al-Admi­ral Grand Duke Kon­stan­tin Niko­layevich of Rus­sia. In 1870, Admi­ral A. A. Popov sent Goula­eff to Eng­land, where he stud­ied for two years at the Roy­al Kens­ing­ton School of Naval Archi­tec­ture, grad­u­at­ing in 1872. In 1875, Goula­eff returned to Great Britain to over­see the con­struc­tion in Glas­gow of a float­ing dock for the Black Sea fleet. In 1875, The Times7 pub­lished a let­ter from Goula­eff in which he point­ed out that cir­cu­lar iron-clad ships were invent­ed by his boss, Admi­ral Popov. Then, in 1876, Goula­eff deliv­ered a lec­ture in Eng­lish in Lon­don to the Insti­tu­tion of Naval Archi­tects8 enti­tled On Cir­cu­lar Iron-Clads.9 Dur­ing 1877–8, he was at the Thor­n­ey­croft ship­yard, which at that time was in Chiswick, Lon­don, and at the Yarrow ship­yard on the Clyde in Glas­gow, over­see­ing the con­struc­tion of iron-clad ships. Goula­eff was in Glas­gow in 1879 and 1880 dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the impe­r­i­al yacht, Liva­dia, the launch of which in 1880 was attend­ed by the Grand Duke Kon­stan­tin Niko­layevich. Then in 1893, Goula­eff returned to Lon­don to deliv­er anoth­er naval archi­tec­ture lec­ture. In 1897 (the year in which his Eng­lish trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ was pub­lished), he rep­re­sent­ed Rus­sia at the first Inter­na­tion­al Con­gress of Ship Engi­neers, which was held in Lon­don. In 1908, at the age of 62, Goula­eff retired with the rank of Lieu­tenant Gen­er­al and was award­ed the Order of St Anna (1st degree), which made him a mem­ber of the hered­i­tary nobility.

We know noth­ing about Goulaeff’s per­son­al life, apart from the fact that he was mar­ried and had one daugh­ter. Erast Evge­nievich Goula­eff died in 1919 at the age of 73. How did Goula­eff first get to know Father John of Kro­n­stadt? The title page of the 1897 book indi­cates that the trans­la­tion was pub­lished with the per­son­al appro­ba­tion of Father John. As we shall learn from the intro­duc­tion to anoth­er book, which was pub­lished in 1901, Father John vis­it­ed the home of Goula­eff and cured Goulaeff’s daughter.

Soon after Goula­eff retired, Father John died. One might spec­u­late on Goulaeff’s involve­ment in pre­serv­ing the mem­o­ry of Father John. How did Goula­eff spend his retire­ment years, which were lived through the hor­rors of the Great War, the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion and the per­se­cu­tion of the Church?

Reaction to the book

In his book, Father John of Kro­n­stadt: a Life, Bish­op Alexan­der Semenoff-Tian-Chan­sky observes, “The trans­la­tion into Eng­lish by Gula­eff pub­lished in 1897 was wide­ly men­tioned in the Eng­lish press.“10 The present writer is not con­vinced that this is an accu­rate statement.

“My Life in Christ” abounds in most beautiful and suggestive spiritual thoughts, and should be in every priest’s library.’

In fact, there were rel­a­tive­ly few con­tem­po­rary reviews of Goulaeff’s trans­la­tion, per­haps three or four at most.11

Such reviews might focus on the per­son of Father John, the diary itself, or the trans­la­tor. In fact, none of the reviews men­tion the trans­la­tor or his com­pe­tence. The reviews focus on the dif­fi­cult pre­sen­ta­tion of the text. The reac­tion in the Eng­lish press was artic­u­lat­ed most harsh­ly in the Pall Mall Gazette:

“With regard to the arrange­ment of the book, it is just about the worst pos­si­ble; indeed, there is no arrange­ment what­so­ev­er. The para­graphs appear as if they had been rained down from the clouds. There is no con­nec­tion between the one and the oth­er. There is no index, or the small­est guide as to where to look for any par­tic­u­lar top­ic. You must sim­ply search through the whole of its 558 pages, and gath­er up as you go what you are in quest of. This is a glar­ing defect which ought to be reme­died, should any fur­ther issue ever appear. In some cas­es the book is greater than the man; in this case the man is, with­out doubt, greater than his book.“12

1898 — Father John of the Greek Church

The Rev. Dr Alexan­der Whyte (1836–1921) was a Mod­er­a­tor of the Free Church of Scot­land.13  He pub­lished many books, some of which were ‘Appre­ci­a­tions’ of fig­ures as diverse as Saint Tere­sa of Avi­la and Car­di­nal New­man. In 1898, less than a year after the pub­li­ca­tion of the Goula­eff trans­la­tion, Whyte pub­lished anoth­er ‘Appre­ci­a­tion,’ Father John of the Greek Church. It was 95 pages long: 44 pages are Whyte’s intro­duc­tion and a fur­ther 27 pages are devot­ed to select­ed pas­sages, tak­en from the Goula­eff trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ (with remain­ing pages devot­ed to advertising).

Regard­ing My Life in Christ, Whyte says, some­what improb­a­bly, he has read it “over and over again.”  Whyte sug­gests that the diary of Father John has par­tic­u­lar authen­tic­i­ty because, as Father John writes, ‘ “This is expe­ri­ence; this is my own expe­ri­ence; this is my own dai­ly expe­ri­ence.”’ ‘These great expe­ri­ence pas­sages are the source and mea­sure of the whole book.’14 Nev­er­the­less, Whyte’s praise is not unlim­it­ed. “There is far too much about the moth­er of our Lord, and about His saints, and an extrav­a­gant and a super­sti­tious faith in prayer, as well as about icons, and azymes, and such like. There are too many flies in the oint­ment, I frankly admit.”  Whyte fin­ish­es his essay by express­ing the hope that Father John might become a great ‘reformer’ of the Greek Church in Rus­sia. “And may we not hope one day to read in all our jour­nals, that both Father John’s books, and by his preach­ing, and by his char­ac­ter, and above all by his prayers, the great Greek Church in Rus­sia has again become all that she was in her Apos­tolic days…?” Dr Whyte is impos­ing on Father John’s words a refor­ma­to­ry zeal, which may have sur­prised their author.

Dr Whyte gained his knowl­edge about the Ortho­dox Church from speak­ing with his friend, Prince Gal­itzin, to whom Whyte was intro­duced by Gen­er­al William Booth, founder of the Sal­va­tion Army, when the Prince and the Gen­er­al togeth­er vis­it­ed Whyte in Edin­burgh in 1894. Prince Nicholas Gal­itzin had come to Great Britain to study the social work of the Sal­va­tion Army. He remained in Edin­burgh for more than two years, liv­ing in the same street as Dr Whyte and his fam­i­ly. In a biog­ra­phy of Dr Whyte, we read that in 1898, “Father John him­self had sent his greet­ing and bene­dic­tion to the Gen­er­al Assem­bly of the Free Church, over which Dr Whyte was pre­sid­ing as Mod­er­a­tor.“15 Did E.E. Goula­eff insti­gate that com­mu­ni­ca­tion?16

1899 — Thoughts and Counsels of Father John

Then, in Jan­u­ary 1899, A. R. Mow­bray & Co (Oxford) pub­lished anoth­er recen­sion of Goulaeff’s trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ. Edit­ed by the Rev­erendd Cyril Bick­er­steth and Mrs Agnes Illing­worth, 390 pages long, it was enti­tled Thoughts and Coun­sels of Father John: Select­ed and Arranged from ‘My Life in Christ.’

Fr Cyril Bick­er­steth (1858–1936), was a found­ing mem­ber of the Com­mu­ni­ty of the Res­ur­rec­tion.17  In 1894, Fr Cyril con­duct­ed a mis­sion in Long­worth, a remote ham­let some ten miles south-west of Oxford. The vic­ar of Long­worth was John Richard­son Illing­worth, who between 1872 and 1882 had been a well-known and high­ly regard­ed tutor at Keble Col­lege, Oxford. How­ev­er, while at Oxford, he suf­fered seri­ous ill­ness. Help­ing him to recov­er was Nurse Agnes Gut­teres, who at the time was active­ly con­sid­er­ing becom­ing a nun at the Angli­can Com­mu­ni­ty at Wan­tage. In 1883, Agnes mar­ried the Revd J. R. Illing­worth and the cou­ple moved from Oxford to Longworth.

The biog­ra­ph­er of Mrs Illing­worth18 recounts: “The name of Long­worth is asso­ci­at­ed with the annu­al gath­er­ing of Church dig­ni­taries and schol­ars known as the “Holy Par­ty,” or in Long­worth itself as the “Lux Par­ty”.“19  Among the ‘dig­ni­taries and schol­ars’ that gath­ered for three days at Long­worth every year from 1890 to 1915 were some of the most influ­en­tial Angli­can the­olo­gians of the peri­od, includ­ing Charles Gore (lat­er Bish­op of Oxford). One might sup­pose that it was in this con­text Fr Cyril and Mrs Illing­worth decid­ed to pub­lish an edit­ed ver­sion of My Life in Christ.20

There is a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse of the Lux Par­ty con­nec­tion to Father John of Kro­n­stadt in The Life and Work of John Richard­son Illing­worth, M.A., D.D.21 The book com­pris­es chiefly of let­ters writ­ten by Illing­worth. In one let­ter, dat­ed Jan­u­ary 1st, 190122 he writes about the dif­fi­cul­ties he is expe­ri­enc­ing in fin­ish­ing the man­u­script of a book. “The news of the Queen’s death only reached us this morn­ing… The book is stick­ing in the mud dread­ful­ly, in spite of my hav­ing had Father John’s prayers (as I have just heard). Pray for it and me.“23

In their intro­duc­tion to Thoughts and Coun­sels, Bick­er­steth and Illing­worth note, “the size of the orig­i­nal vol­ume, and a cer­tain lack of order and arrange­ment, have pre­vent­ed it from hav­ing the cir­cu­la­tion which its con­spic­u­ous mer­its deserve. Colonel Goula­eff and Father John read­i­ly gave the required per­mis­sion… We have added the texts from Holy Scrip­ture.” The Church Times comments,[25] “… it has been the work of the Rev. Cyril Bick­er­steth… and Mrs Agnes. L. Illing­worth care­ful­ly to select the pas­sages which seemed most like­ly to inter­est and edi­fy mem­bers of the Eng­lish Church.” [empha­sis added – ed.]

Their book did not go unno­ticed in Rus­sia. With Fr John’s bless­ing, one of his admir­ers, S. P. Tservit­sky, com­piled a sim­i­lar book, in Russ­ian, enti­tled “Thoughts of a Chris­t­ian” that was pub­lished in St. Peters­burg in 190324

1901 — Truths About God The Church The World And The Human Soul

The work of edit­ing and pub­lish­ing the 1899 vol­ume nec­es­sar­i­ly brought Mrs Illing­worth into con­tact with E. E. Goula­eff. Per­haps he was invit­ed to attend a gath­er­ing of the “Holy Par­ty” in Long­worth? In any event, togeth­er they embarked togeth­er on yet anoth­er edit­ed ver­sion of the orig­i­nal vol­ume of 1897.

Truths About God The Church The World And The Human Soul was pub­lished in 1901 by John Mur­ray in Lon­don. This 108-page vol­ume was trans­lat­ed from the Russ­ian by E. E. Goula­eff “assist­ed” by Agnes L. Illing­worth. The Pref­ace, writ­ten by Mrs Illing­worth, gives three rea­sons for pub­lish­ing the vol­ume. First, so that read­ers might become acquaint­ed with the exem­plary life of Father John; sec­ond, to show “how near the high­est ideals of the Greek Catholic Church… approach those of our own [i.e. Angli­can Church]”; and third, to serve as a man­u­al of devo­tion. An intro­duc­tion writ­ten by E. E. Goula­eff explains “Mrs. J R Illing­worth… has been kind enough to peruse the man­u­script and cor­rect the Eng­lish of my trans­la­tion of this present book.” How­ev­er, there is no evi­dence that Mrs. Illing­worth pos­sessed com­pe­tence in the Russ­ian lan­guage, espe­cial­ly in the lan­guage of Russ­ian Ortho­dox spirituality.

1948 — A Treasury of Russian Spirituality

A Trea­sury of Russ­ian Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty by Pro­fes­sor G. P. Fedo­tov25 was first pub­lished in Russ­ian in New York in 1948, and sub­se­quent­ly reprint­ed reg­u­lar­ly up until 1990. The book chron­i­cles the devel­op­ment of Russ­ian Ortho­dox spir­i­tu­al­i­ty from the 11th to the 20th cen­tu­ry, includ­ing 74 pages which are devot­ed to Father John of Kro­n­stadt and extracts from Goulaeff’s trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ. Fedo­tov intro­duces My Life in Christ:

Dur­ing the long term of his priest­hood Father John preached a great num­ber of ser­mons, which were col­lect­ed in var­i­ous edi­tions, but more impor­tant than these is the spir­i­tu­al diary which was pub­lished under the title My Life in Christ. This con­sists of a great num­ber of brief entries on a vari­ety of sub­jects, in no par­tic­u­lar order; the the­o­log­i­cal head­ings under which the excerpts of our selec­tion are clas­si­fied are those of the Eng­lish edi­tors Bick­er­steth and Illing­worth, who abridged the first Eng­lish trans­la­tion, by E. E. Goula­eff26

1953 — Jordanville editions

The 1897 Cas­sell edi­tion of Goulaeff’s trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ was reprint­ed and pub­lished numer­ous times in the peri­od 1953 to 2000 by Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery, Jor­danville, N.Y., USA, a male monas­tic com­mu­ni­ty and sem­i­nary of the Syn­od of Bish­ops of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Abroad 27

1966 — Jordanville Pamphlets

In 1966 Jor­danville pub­lished two pam­phlets which con­tain extracts from the writ­ings of Saint John of Kro­n­stadt. One is called Saint John of Kro­n­stadt On Prayer and is 74 pages in length.

...the Mother of God has been "expressed with great beauty, simplicity and clarity in the writings of St. John of Kronstadt.

  The oth­er pam­phlet pub­lished by Jor­danville in 1966 is enti­tled She is a Palace of God: select pas­sages from St. John of Kro­n­stadt on the All-Holy and Ever-Vir­gin Moth­er of God, Our Sov­er­eign Queen, reveal­ing her place in Ortho­dox faith and piety. It is 16 pages long. An “Intro­duc­to­ry Note,” writ­ten by Jon Gregerson, an Amer­i­can con­vert to Russ­ian Ortho­doxy, high­lights the impor­tance of the many icons of the Holy Vir­gin. He goes on to reject the Mar­i­ol­o­gy of Roman Catholi­cism, and chas­tis­es the Protes­tants who do not ven­er­ate Her, call­ing them the vic­tims of Satan­ic delu­sion. Gregerson affirms that Ortho­dox expe­ri­ence of the Moth­er of God has been “expressed with great beau­ty, sim­plic­i­ty and clar­i­ty in the writ­ings of St. John of Kro­n­stadt. In the extracts which fol­low is the essence of Ortho­dox devo­tion to the Moth­er of God“28 He points to the life of Saint John of Kro­n­stadt as proof that the ‘life in Christ’ nec­es­sar­i­ly involves deep devo­tion to the Moth­er of God.

1967 — The Spiritual Counsels of Father John of Kronstadt

William Jar­dine Gris­brooke (1932–2003) was an expert on Angli­can litur­gy and lec­tured in litur­gi­cal the­ol­o­gy at Birm­ing­ham Uni­ver­si­ty. Hav­ing been an Angli­can, Gris­brooke with his wife was received into the Greek Ortho­dox Church. How­ev­er, as an obit­u­ary of Gris­brooke noted,

[After 1965]29… Bill went on by a mys­te­ri­ous dis­pen­sa­tion to be both Ortho­dox by pro­fes­sion but a reg­u­lar Roman Catholic com­mu­ni­cant and Mas­ter of Cer­e­monies for the Roman Rite in Birm­ing­ham and in Nor­folk. … [When he died] his vig­il ser­vice, funer­al mass and com­men­da­tion were accord­ing to the Roman Rite. His unac­com­pa­nied body was by his own instruc­tions cre­mat­ed with­out cer­e­mo­ny. Lat­er his ash­es were com­mit­ted at an Ortho­dox funer­al litur­gy in the Angli­can parish church­yard at Cas­tle Acre30

Gris­brooke pub­lished four books, of which two were col­lec­tions of writ­ings tak­en from Goulaeff’s trans­la­tion of My Life in Christ.

In 1967 in Lon­don James Clarke & Co. Ltd pub­lished The Spir­i­tu­al Coun­sels of Father John of Kro­n­stadt, edit­ed by Gris­brooke. It is 270 pages long and includes a 23-page intro­duc­tion, writ­ten by Gris­brooke. He records how he put togeth­er the selec­tions which he had made[footnote] [33] All cita­tions in this sec­tion are from W. J. Gris­brooke, The Spir­i­tu­al Coun­sels of Father John of Kro­n­stadt. (Lon­don. James Clarke & Co Ltd. 1967.) xi–xxxiv  Not­ing that My Life in Christ is “a mas­sive vol­ume of some three hun­dred thou­sand words,” Gris­brooke says that his extracts are no more than one fifth of the total. “The orig­i­nal work is com­plete­ly dis­or­ga­nized… and not only is it, inevitably, repet­i­tive, but it is exceed­ing­ly ver­bose: much of it, after all, was writ­ten in the age of the three-vol­ume nov­el.” Gris­brooke mod­est­ly says that his extracts give a “rea­son­ably bal­anced pic­ture of Father John’s teach­ing.” He notes that “cer­tain ele­ments of the orig­i­nal work have been entire­ly omit­ted… a great deal of med­i­ta­tive and reflec­tive mat­ter, and the line had to be drawn some­where.” Com­ment­ing on the valu­able work done by the trans­la­tor, Gris­brooke states that the “Vic­to­ri­an elab­o­ra­tion of Goulaeff’s style is intol­er­a­ble to mod­ern taste.”   Gris­brooke was faced with a choice: an entire­ly new trans­la­tion from the Russ­ian, or a “recast­ing and rewrit­ing of Goulaeff’s text.” Gris­brooke chose the sec­ond option (his lack of capa­bil­i­ty in Russ­ian notwith­stand­ing). Then he sets forth his phi­los­o­phy regard­ing language:

I have endeav­oured to write clear­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly, and to avoid two par­tic­u­lar­ly offen­sive kinds of lan­guage — the sick­ly-sweet ter­mi­nol­o­gy favoured by too many writ­ers on spir­i­tu­al­i­ty,… and the strange eso­teric vocab­u­lary affect­ed by some who write in Eng­lish about East­ern Chris­ten­dom. I usu­al­ly write, for exam­ple, of “sacra­ments”, not “mys­ter­ies”, of “vices”, not “pas­sions”, where the lat­ter means the former.

Indeed, with breath­tak­ing aplomb, Gris­brooke claims to know the mind of Father John:

The con­tents of the present vol­ume have been select­ed and arranged, first, to give a rea­son­ably bal­anced pic­ture of Father John’s teach­ing, and, sec­ond to pro­vide a use­ful man­u­al of spir­i­tu­al advice for the believ­er of today. On the rare occa­sions when these aims have clashed, the for­mer have been sac­ri­ficed to the lat­ter, as Father John him­self would wish. [empha­sis added – ed.]

1994 — Counsels on the Christian Priesthood

27 years lat­er, in 1994 St Vladimir’s Sem­i­nary Press, New York, pub­lished Grisbrooke’s 134-page Coun­sels on the Chris­t­ian Priest­hood. The first 30 pages are devot­ed to anoth­er intro­duc­tion writ­ten by Gris­brooke, with extracts from My Life in Christ fill­ing the remain­ing 100 pages.

1997 — Companion Index

The St. Her­man of Alas­ka Broth­er­hood31 was found­ed in 1963 with the bless­ing of Saint John Max­i­movitch. Its co-founder was Father Seraphim Rose. In 1997, the Broth­er­hood pub­lished a much-need­ed Com­pan­ion Index For My Life In Christ to accom­pa­ny the 1897 Goula­eff trans­la­tion. The book­let is 32 pages long, of which the index itself is 11 pages.

2015 — New Jordanville edition

In Decem­ber, 2015, Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery, Jor­danville pub­lished in two vol­umes My Life In Christ, trans­lat­ed by E. E. Goula­eff  and revised by Nicholas Kotar. The pub­lish­ers write in the pre-pub­li­ca­tion pub­lic­i­ty, “In this new edi­tion, the Eng­lish trans­la­tion has been thor­ough­ly revised and fresh­ly type­set to make St John’s own words more acces­si­ble to today’s read­er. The bite-sized reflec­tions draw the read­er in to the author’s pro­found spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence and love for Jesus Christ and the Church.” 

...thanks principally to the efforts of Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, Saint John of Kronstadt’s My Life in Christ has remained in print in English almost continuously for the last seventy years.

The book includes a scrip­tur­al index and a sub­ject index. Read­er Nicholas Kotar of Jor­danville has made the revi­sions of the Goula­eff trans­la­tion. Kotar is a recent grad­u­ate of Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary. He also holds a degree in Russ­ian Lit­er­a­ture from Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia. He has trans­lat­ed from the Russ­ian Com­men­tary on the Holy Scrip­tures of the New Tes­ta­ment: The Four Gospels by Arch­bish­op Avery Tau­shev, which was pub­lished at Jor­danville in 2015. Cur­rent­ly Kotar is work­ing on trans­la­tions into Eng­lish works by Saint Ignatius Bri­an­chani­nov and Saint John of Tobol­sk. The new Jor­danville edi­tion of My Life In Christ is not a new trans­la­tion but a sub­stan­tial re-work­ing of Goulaeff’s trans­la­tion, with spe­cial regard to the­o­log­i­cal con­cepts that are hard to express in English.


Thanks prin­ci­pal­ly to the efforts of Holy Trin­i­ty Monastery, Jor­danville, Saint John of Kronstadt’s My Life in Christ has remained in print in Eng­lish almost con­tin­u­ous­ly for the last sev­en­ty years. Indeed, for near­ly 120 years, the book has been cher­ished by suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of Eng­lish-lan­guage read­ers who have been inspired by the med­i­ta­tions and teach­ing of Saint John. How­ev­er, it has to be said that Goulaeff’s pub­li­ca­tion has not allowed easy access to this work, prin­ci­pal­ly because of its lack of orga­ni­za­tion, head­ings, index, etc.

 Sub­se­quent edi­tors have attempt­ed to cor­rect these defi­cien­cies. The edi­tions pub­lished suc­ces­sive­ly by Whyte, Bick­er­steth, Illing­worth, Goula­eff, Gris­brooke,  as well as some of the Jor­danville pub­li­ca­tions, all attempt to address these struc­tur­al prob­lems, prin­ci­pal­ly through reduc­ing the quan­ti­ty of text to man­age­able amounts, and pub­lish­ing com­pen­dia of extracts. How­ev­er, selec­tion in itself is an edi­to­r­i­al deci­sion, nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect­ing the the­o­log­i­cal bias of the edi­tor. For exam­ple, Whyte want­ed to present Father John as a poten­tial reformer in the Protes­tant mould. Bick­er­steth and Illing­worth were quite overt about their desire to show that, in their view, Angli­can­ism and Ortho­doxy are real­ly quite sim­i­lar, and edit­ed their selec­tions accord­ing­ly. Sim­i­lar­ly, Gris­brooke, who in spir­it was a Uni­ate, made selec­tions to fit his own ideas.

The prob­lems are com­pound­ed by the fact that the Goula­eff edi­tion did not include an index. Sub­se­quent edi­tors have made no attempt to ref­er­ence their extracts, and so it is almost impos­si­ble for the read­er to com­pare the lat­er ren­di­tion with the orig­i­nal text and under­stand for him­self the con­text from which the extract is drawn.

The sec­ond issue con­cerns what Father John actu­al­ly wrote: how good is the trans­la­tion, and, in par­tic­u­lar, how good is the trans­la­tion of the­o­log­i­cal terms?  Goula­eff was not expert in Russ­ian the­o­log­i­cal vocab­u­lary, still less in Eng­lish the­o­log­i­cal vocab­u­lary. For dozens of the­o­log­i­cal terms used by Saint John, a pre­cise trans­la­tion into Eng­lish is a real chal­lenge, espe­cial­ly if the trans­la­tor has no the­o­log­i­cal back­ground. In his intro­duc­tion to Spir­i­tu­al Coun­sels, Gris­brooke says that he deals with the chal­lenge in a very par­tic­u­lar way, ‘The pur­pose of trans­la­tion is to con­vey ideas, not the words which express those ideas in the orig­i­nal lan­guage’32  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when using pre­cise the­o­log­i­cal terms and trans­lat­ing them into a lan­guage which does not pos­sess those the­o­log­i­cal terms, the result can be mis­lead­ing and even unhelpful.

For­tu­nate­ly, the new Jor­danville edi­tion of My Life in Christ ben­e­fits from not being a com­pendi­um of extracts, and from being edit­ed by Nicholas Kotar, a lin­guist with con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence of trans­lat­ing the­o­log­i­cal works from Russ­ian to Eng­lish, thus resolv­ing at least some of the flaws inher­ent in the first Eng­lish edi­tion which was pub­lished by Erast Evge­nievich Goulaeff.

Nico­las Mabin

Decem­ber, 2015



I am most grate­ful to Dea­con Andrei Psarev, Instruc­tor at Holy Trin­i­ty Ortho­dox Sem­i­nary, Jor­danville, both for sug­gest­ing the top­ic of the paper and for pro­vid­ing help­ful guid­ance through­out. I am grate­ful also to the fol­low­ing peo­ple who have made sug­ges­tions and helped in many ways: Count Andrei-Tol­stoy-Miloslavsky, Lon­don & Moscow; Pro­todea­con Christo­pher Bir­chall, Van­cou­ver; Pro­fes­sor Dominic Lieven, Cam­bridge; Broth­er Don­ald, St Her­man of Alas­ka Monastery, Cal­i­for­nia; Mr John Har­wood, Sur­rey; Arch­priest Michael Tara­touch­in, Uti­ca, NY; Pro­fes­sor Nadiesz­da Kizenko, Albany, NY.; Sis­ter Nazaria, St Pai­sius Con­vent, Ari­zona; Read­er Nicholas Chap­man, Jor­danville, NY.; Read­er Nicholas Kotar, Jor­danville, NY.; Met­ro­pol­i­tan Abba Seraphim of Glas­ton­bury; and Br Steven, Mir­field, York­shire. Thanks also to Arch­priest Stephen Platt who invit­ed me to present this paper to a meet­ing of the Oxford branch of St Alban and St Sergius, which was held at the House of St Gre­go­ry and St Mac­rina in Novem­ber, 2015.

About the Author

Nico­las Mabin is Sub­dea­con at the Lon­don Cathe­dral parish of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church Out­side Rus­sia. He has a degree in the­ol­o­gy (B.A. Hons) from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kent at Can­ter­bury, UK, and the degree of Diplo­ma in Ortho­dox The­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies, award­ed by the Cen­ter for Tra­di­tion­al­ist Stud­ies, Etna, USA.