Young Missionaries Return from a Journey of Memories, Sorrows and Spiritual Joy
In the five years since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Russian Church in the Fatherland and abroad, over 100 young people, parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, have participated in a wide variety of programs in Russia organized by ROCOR’s Synodal Youth Department in partnership with Orthodox organizations in Russia. These included trips to youth forums, educational programs and volunteer labor trips. Each event included a pilgrimage.
Recently, a group of twenty young men and women from five dioceses of the Russian diaspora returned from a very special trip. The Vice President of the Synodal Youth Department, Protopriest Andrei Sommer, told us about this event:
- His Grace Bishop Panteleimon of Smolensk and Vyazemsk, Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry of the Russian Orthodox Church invited our youth to the Third International Festival “For Life,” where they were able to learn about how charitable and social work is organized in Russia.
Preparations for this event began last November, when His Grace Bishop Theodosius and I went to Moscow to begin discussions. We had the opportunity to concelebrate then with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Kazan Church on Red Square on its feast day, which is also Russia’s Day of National Unity. We had a brief meeting with His Holiness, at which he expressed his desire that we work more closely with the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry. With the Patriarch’s blessing, twenty young people came to the festival in defense of family values held in Moscow on July 10-12.
Of course, traveling from America, let’s say, to Moscow for only three days makes little sense, so together with the Synodal Department for Church Charity, we expanded the thematic program to include an educational symposium for our youth and representatives of local charitable organizations.
One other special feature of this program, which distinguished it from others, was that our young people were able to acquaint themselves with social service organizations operating under the aegis of the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Did our youth sense a different attitude that Russians today have towards charitable work?
- Without a doubt. We began by setting as our goal to reveal to our youth the Christian concept of philanthropy and charity, and to stress the meaning of brotherly love and sacrifice for the sake of one’s neighbor and their importance in Christian duty. It is important for our youth to sense that through sacrifice, they grow spiritually. In the West, the idea of sacrifice has another meaning. It has a more mechanical character, wherein charity is done not for the sake of another, but to one’s own advantage.
Kicking off our program was participation in the Festival “For Life,” held at Christ the Savior Cathedral, after which we studied Russian social-service establishments, concluding with active work in missionary programs. I think that is what we should call it.
We visited hospitals in Moscow and its suburbs. What our young men and women saw was a genuine revelation for them. Do we ever see an icon of the Mother of God with a lampada burning before it in the hallways of a hospital in the West? We met Orthodox Christians who headed medical facilities, we visited churches built right next to clinics. Vladyka Theodosius brought oil from the relics of St John of Shanghai, with which he anointed hospital patients, and we also told them all about our miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. The director of St Alexei Hospital told us about the connection between physical medical treatment and spiritual healing. The impressions they made were very important, and spiritually beneficial for young people who grew up in the West, and strengthen their desire and enthusiasm for participating as volunteers in charitable work.
We also visited orphanages, senior homes, and Moscow’s recently-opened House of Mothers. This is a place for pregnant women who don’t have a home or a job, or any hope at all. They are received here and prepared for childbirth. They can continue to live there and tend to their baby for two or three months after giving birth as they prepare for independent living. During this time, the House of Mothers seek out jobs for them, provide medical insurance, help make living arrangements. We spoke to young mothers and saw that these frank conversations help these young women, who have no home, no family, no friends.
- How did our youth learn about the work of the Department of Social Service at Christ the Savior Cathedral?
- We met with the Senior Priest of Christ the Savior Cathedral ,Protopriest Mikhail Ryazantsev, and were given the opportunity to visit their offices at the Cathedral, which are not open to the public. We also visited the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital, one of several that operate under the spiritual ministry and support of the Department of Social Service of Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was this visit, where we saw the real suffering of children, which shook us to our core. I should note that it is in these places where children with serious injuries and various serious forms of cancer are treated.
Their parents, or in the absence of such, nannies, cannot leave their side for a moment even for a breath of fresh air. Our youth took shifts replacing them. They would sit with the children, telling them about life in the West, recounting stories about their brothers and sisters, about saints and holy sites—all they needed was simple human interaction. You understand that we didn’t offer to go to the kitchen and peel potatoes, or wash the floors in the hospital rooms. There are other methods of service, and this helped both the sick children as well as our youth, who had never experienced hunger and had never witnessed such sorrow in person. Here they saw for themselves a darker side of life. This was the last and, as it were, the brightest day of our visit.
- Fr Andrei, what did our youth have to say about all of this?
- They said it was very difficult for them, but they understood how important such assistance is, and that they would like to participate in such ministry in the future. We met the Director of the Department of Social Service, Tatiana Sergeevna Korabelnikova, and discussed possible future joint projects.
- The program was dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the reestablishment of Church unity… and this event included a special trip to Ekaterinburg. Firstly, this was the first such visit to the site of the execution of the Royal Family, and secondly, there were probably also difficult recollections connected with the place…
- His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, who also received our youth during this trip, noted that the New Martyrs played a great role in our reconciliation. And indeed, part of our program included a trip to Ekaterinburg. We came at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill of Ekaterinburg and Verkhotursk, visiting the site of the martyrdom of the Royal Family, the Church-on-the-Blood, Ganina Yama, where we performed a moleben. These places evoke strange feelings… You get a similar sense at the Sepulcher of the Lord: one feels death, terrible suffering, and on the other hand, you are seized by the joy of prayerful support. You feel that there is someone to turn to with the difficulties in your life, your family. And the Royal Family is the epitome of the family unit. And we realized how long we have been venerating the Royal Family, for three of our young pilgrims celebrated their own namesdays on the feast day of the Royal Family.
Metropolitan Kirill himself welcomed us in Ekaterinburg, where we also met representatives of local youth, university students and seminarians, and prayed during Liturgy at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
- Who provided financial aid for this historic trip?
- First of all it was the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which paid for airfare for everyone in the pilgrimage. And our friends, too, who have now become regular benefactors, Vladislav Stanislav Chernikov and Rostislav Vadimovich Ordovsky-Tanaevsky Blanco, who helped with transportation and meals.
Of course, it was also very important that His Holiness Patriarch Kirill’s words in which he expressed the heartfelt desire to meet and speak with our young people. Personal contact is the key to ministry and is serves as an example for all our archpastors.