This summer is the third during which a missionary choir has traveled throughout the Moscow Region. This one is different in that a priest and young people from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia are participating. For some, it is their first trip to Russia. The youth shared their impressions of the missionary trip. .
They have Russian names and faces, but they have accents when they speak Russian, and sometimes they pause to find just the right word. Some are from the US, others from Australia. Our heart-to-heart conversation was held in the town of Kolychevo in the Egoriev Region of Moscow oblast on the night of August 17-18 in a tiny cell of a convent, amongst trunks, books and choir costumes.
We have already written about the Missionary Youth trips of the Parish of Holy Martyr Tatiana at Moscow State University. In short, this trip involves 20 young men and women who sing church and lay music in the towns and villages of our homeland over the course of two weeks of their summer vacation, while explaining the fundamentals of our Orthodox faith. This is the third trip to Egoriev, and some were not expecting anything new until we heard that youth from ROCOR was joining us.
Thousand of miles were traveled by our "foreign" guests in order to participate in the trip. Of course, these great distances were less daunting to them than to Europeans, who are not accustomed to the great distances of America and Australia. Also, for them it was an opportunity to become acquainted with their historic homeland (for some, for the first time). In fact, their grandparents and great-grandparents left Russia—they are émigrés of the third and fourth generations. But their families preserved the language beautifully, but more importantly, they preserved the faith. Almost all our fellow travelers were reared in believing families and grew up in the Church. Few of our Muscovite youth can boast the same. Our "foreigners" maintain active communication with each other, overcoming the obstacles of distance—there are not many Russian Orthodox Christians abroad, and they value their bonds with those of the same spirit. After the long-awaited unification between the ROC and ROCOR, we have been bestowed with greater opportunities to socialize… Including missionary trips such as these.
Katya Barlow, Sydney, Australia. A student of foreign language, she is learning Italian and French.
Tasya (Anastasia) Kotar, Seattle, US, Bachelor of Arts.
Her sister, Liza Kotar, 14 years old, a high-school student. Both are daughters of Priest Alexei Kotar, who is also on the trip.
1. "Inside, we are more Russian, on the surface, more American."
What did you expect when you were on your way here?
We knew nothing (they all answered as one). We knew that we would be singing.
Did you yourselves want to come?
Tasya: Our parents were the organizers. This is the first time in Russia for us, so, of course, we wanted to come.
Katya: I was in Russia 8 years ago with my parents, but it was more of a tourist trip. This is kind of more religious.
What has surprised you most about Russia?
When we arrived [in Kolychevo—ed.], we drove by enormous churches and monasteries. A great number of them. This is very surprising. And good to see. We don't have that in America, or Australia. There we just have buildings…
And what else?
It is really good to see other Orthodox people close to the Church. It is very, uh…
Of great value?
Yes, of great value.
When you were growing up, who were the people around you?
Tasya: Everyone was Russian, everyone was Orthodox. We had a parish school, so it was a Russian Orthodox environment.
Katya: It was a bit different for me. My papa is Australian, Catholic. My mama is Russian Orthodox. At one point I started to sing in the Orthodox Cathedral in Sydney, and then Orthodoxy became "my own."
It seems you are even more Orthodox than we are…
(Laughing) Oh, no, not at all…
It seems you have warm familial relations, you don't see that often.
That depends on the circumstances, at home… in America, we are all different, too, unfortunately. But we do in fact have a good family, we are very close, we were raised that way… In general, kids in America have a wide variety of relationships with their parents.
What about in Australia?
Very similar. At home we live our own lives, but it is within one family home. So family life continues.
Whom do you consider yourselves to be? Russians or Americans and Australians?
Katya: I am an Australian, of course, but it seems to me that I am also Russian. Russian Orthodox.
Liza: I always say that I am Russian!
Tasya: Inside we are probably more Russian, on the surface, American. In America one can be both Russian and American. There is no conflict. That's the way the country is.
In America, it is customary to be "American and something else."
2. "Unpleasant questions."
There is war in Georgia. Russia and the US are on opposing sides. How do you feel about this?
But this is not the first time. It is, in fact, hard. Recently, America attacked Serbia, and Serbia is also close to our hearts. I am an American, but also Russian. So this is an internal conflict. I do not think that America is right in this. On the other hand, one should really support one's country. But thank God, no one is forcing us to do anything.
Do you compare what the media in Russia and America say?
No. We have both Russian and American TV at home. But the war began after we left. In principle, we hear what is happening from both sides.
On a less dramatic topic: this is your third day in Russia. What is most difficult for you, especially for those of you who are here for the first time?
Tasya: I wouldn't say we were shocked, but sometimes people weren't very nice. They did not want to help us, give us directions, etc. That was in Moscow. I don't think that Moscow represents all of Russia, it was just those specific people.
Katya: Yes, it is hard to speak Russian, we have accents and they react to it. They could tell right away that we were visitors. Maybe we are just used to "real" American mannerisms, when they smile when it doesn't mean anything. And of course we are spoiled. For instance, in America, if we need a bathroom, we can find one anywhere. Here it is more difficult. You can come in to any store [in America] and they will let you use it. Here it is different. I am not saying it's bad, just that we aren't used to it.
No, that is indeed a bad thing…
What are your impressions of our missionary trip?
Tasya: We are amazed at how much effort and emotion is put into it.
Katya: it is good to see that young people are close to the Church. You have put a lot of effort into it. It's different for us. Everyone is proud to be Russian Orthodox, but they won't go to church, for instance.
How religious is the youth abroad?
Not very much at all. It is also bad that there is no unity between the descendants of émigrés and those who are coming from Russia now. Because there is no difference. Our faith is the same. Of course, if we're talking about the old émigrés and the new, our sense of Russia is a bit different.