Archpriest Seraphim Nedosekin on Confessing the Faith in Soviet Times

01-31-2021Weekly Reflection

In our interview, (from the orthochristian blog and edited) we asked him how these Heavenly and earthly Christian warriors can help us overcome the problems of this world. (Note: in the Eastern Catholic Church and the orthodox churches there are married priests.)

Fr. Seraphim, are there any stories in your family history that show how with God’s help people of the twentieth century managed to withstand persecution, just as the early Christians and St. George the Victory Bearer faced the challenges that God chose to give them? Upon hearing God’s call, all Christians will follow their hearts and answer His call. These opportunities to confess our faith are presented to us all the time.

Even the recent history of our Church has plenty of examples of people confessing the faith and suffering martyrdom for the sake of God… It is known that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). This is especially true for those who serve God…. Our large family (our parents had six children) spent a lot of time on the road. We often didn’t have a roof over our heads, as we had to move from place to place. We endured these hardships along with our father, and sometimes it was almost as in the Gospel—we had nowhere to lay our heads. (Cf. Matt. 8:20). My older siblings remember particularly well that we had nothing to eat. But there were always some kind people who helped us. …

Did you, as priest’s children, experience any pressure at school in Soviet times? Of course, we did! Life is always testing you. None of us joined the Little Octobrists or the Pioneers.( These were youth organizations in the USSR)This upset the school authorities, but when we knew that they were taking all students to the Little Octobrists or the Pioneers initiation ceremonies, we simply skipped school. My homeroom teacher was a believer. Once she told me not to come to school on a certain day. I didn’t even know why. She also found a way to send a note to my mother about it. Only when I got home, I learned that on that day they were going to have the Pioneers initiation ceremony. … When my older siblings went to school, they were forced to learn The Internationale (Communist Anthem) by heart. Once Olga, our eldest sister, was told to recite The Internationale. The teacher specifically called her first because she was a priest’s daughter. “Can I sing it?” Olga asked. We all had an ear for music, as we attended music schools… “Okay, you can sing,” the teacher said. And Olga started singing at the top of her lungs: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”. Can you imagine this happening in the 1960s! The teacher was shocked. After that, our parents had to attend many meetings of various committees. The authorities threatened them with annulment of parental rights because they thought that our parents weren’t bringing up their children properly…

What helped you in such difficult situations? Prayers?—Naturally, people’s first reaction in a difficult situation is panic. Then they understand that God has the power, and they must rely on Him. When faced with difficult problems, we rushed to see our spiritual father, no matter what time of day or night it was and asked for his blessing and prayers. We prayed too. In extreme situations, you can get confused, but after you speak your mind in conversation with your spiritual father whom you love, respect and trust, you get some kind of tranquility and stillness in your heart. Then you fully rely on God’s will. And God won’t abandon you.

We saw these examples when we were children and grew up, absorbing these experiences Thus, “from strength to strength” (Ps. 84:7) you go on, learning not to lose your temper at the slightest provocation and to maintain solemnity, calmness and composure—…On such quiet evenings, with family prayers raised to God, the Most Holy Theotokos, (Theotokos means God-Bearer applied to the Blessed Virgin) and the saints, all problems are resolved. When faced with a serious situation, my parents would always start reading Akathists to St. Nicolas or the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. (An Akathist Hymn is a type of hymn usually recited by Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic Christians, dedicated to a saint, holy event, or one of the persons of the Holy Trinity.)They would pray for 40 days, and help would come. We saw these examples when we were children, and we grew up absorbing these experiences. While our parents were alive, we rushed to them and asked questions just like we rushed to elders for advice. Our parents instructed each of us differently, as they saw the differences in their children’s characters. Now that our father and mother have passed away, we remember them in prayers we raise in difficult situations. We communicate with them through prayer. Just like our parents did in their time, we rush to see elders and spiritual advisors when we are faced with challenges and sorrows. After receiving their advice, we calm down and realize that they told us exactly what our parents had taught us! You can’t deviate from the path.

Do you share this experience with those who come to you asking for your advice as a priest? Yes, but it is somewhat different nowadays. It seems that we have freedom of religion. You can make the sign of the cross when you pass by a church, and nobody will say anything to you. I remember what happened once when my father was a priest. A man from the city administration brought a baby for baptism and on the way out of the church ran into one of his coworkers. This coworker then reported this man to the authorities. Can you imagine? That person had also come to church, yet he reported someone else. That was the way it used to be—those who were the first to write a report had a better chance of success. … that time the authorities called my father, and he said that that man had come to the church to discuss some issue regarding the church’s land plot, and there were no repercussions for that man.

So he covered up for the man? Yes. Did you discuss this matter at home? Was this person a believer only formally, if he came to church himself but still decided to report on his coworker? —Well, father told us this story only many years later. He kept many things to himself. He shared them with mother, perhaps. But even if you are just a kid playing with a toy car under a table, you still hear things, and they are imprinted on your memory. The older we got, the more cognitively we perceived these adult conversations. The only thing we were warned about was that we weren’t supposed to discuss the things were heard at home elsewhere, or they would be consequences. We ourselves felt that the teachers were prejudiced against us. For example, my English teacher was giving me such a hard time! She would spend fifteen to twenty minutes, which was practically half of the lesson, discussing our family.

Well, it is a good topic for a lesson! If it is presented properly. —But she was presenting it from the point of view of the Soviet agitprop. “You do want to be like the others, don’t you? Don’t you want to become a Pioneer?” she kept asking me. Once she even attempted to put that red piece of cloth (The Pioneers were supposed to wear a red neckerchief) on me by force. Earlier, she tried the same methods of persuasion on both of my older sisters. They didn’t learn English in her classes— instead of English this teacher’s actions taught them how to withstand confrontation and steadfastly confess their faith. That teacher was just honing her bullying techniques on us. When a teacher is picking on some student, there are always other students who are eager to pile on. In elementary school they teased me by calling me “popyonok.”(Derogatory term for a priest’s son)Then a certain movie came out—I didn’t see it because we never had a TV in our family—but suddenly in high school they started calling me “Father Arseny” [after one of the characters in the film]….

You touched upon the problem of bullying at school, which sometimes continues as workplace-mobbing. What is the solution?—It is very individual and depends on the personality of the child being bullied and the lines that the bullies are willing to cross. What supported me was that my parents spoke a lot to me at home,explaining everything and helping me understand what was happening. Your family is your rearguard. Even if this didn’t happen with you, but with your peer, you ran to you parents and asked them—because in a violent situation a child experiences a shock and doesn’t know what to do. It is important that parents do not brush their children away; they must talk to their children, explaining everything and helping build relationships with others. The parents must use their experience to predict the development of the situation. I remember them teaching me, “If you see that everybody is against someone, come to this person and offer him or her a helping hand. Even if everybody is laughing at you, you do it anyway.” This helps you build your character and makes you stronger. I went to some classes feeling like it was torture, dreading what was to follow…

—Being “broken on the wheel” [like Great Martyr George] —Well, yes, figuratively speaking. They could start grilling you when you’re not ready. At least, we didn’t misbehave. Our parents were never called to the principal’s office for that. If some of our classmates started doing something wrong, it never got us drawn in, as often happens with children when one starts doing something, and the others follow suit… Internally, I always distanced myself from aggression: I knew that it was bad and that I shouldn’t behave like that. And later, as I grew up, when I saw the double standards that many people live by, it wasn’t acceptable to me. I always felt dishonesty and rejected it. For example, when that English teacher was praising Lenin and telling us how good it was to have his image on the star-shaped lapel pin on one’s chest, we knew that it was idolatry. We knew it from a young age. When I was a teenager, I came across a book in our school library that clearly stated that the Soviet authorities gave an order to destroy an entire settlement. I took this information to my parents. We trusted teachers too, unlike nowadays when students may even threaten their teachers. We still had respect for our elders. At the same time, we had to be careful too, just in case… When I was in Grade 6 or 7, I realized for the first time that the regime had a hidden agenda—the authorities said one thing but in fact everything was totally different. …Enough about the teachers. But how did your classmates treat a believer in those times?—Children see how you treat your friends. They see that you don’t turn away from somebody even if that person hurt you, and if the person who hurt you is in need, you help. Many people never saw this anywhere else. Maybe at first they joked about our family, but true colors are eventually shown and then everyone can draw their own conclusions.

It is an axiom for Christians. The morality is inherently religious. Without God, everything would fall apart. Didn’t the twentieth century clearly demonstrate this once again? I was very lucky to have my parents. They were true believers and taught us children to follow the Commandments from a young age. Of course, it is more difficult for those who didn’t know all this from an early age. Our parent’s advice and our respect for them helped us avoid many mistakes. Nobody forced us to do anything, but mother would occasionally mention that, naturally, she would like it if we all decided to serve God. And that was exactly what happened—one of my brothers is a bishop, two are priests, and all three of my sisters are married to priests. Many things that our parents taught us are still helping our families. Although the times have changed. Digitization has begun. This is an estranging factor. In many families, parents have lost contact with their children. We used to run to our parents for advice, while nowadays kids can google the answers using their smart phones, and there’s no way of knowing what answers they will find on the Internet… It is okay if they have at least some way of telling good from evil—otherwise they are simply enslaved by these torrents of destructive lies presented in an entertaining wrapper. Children are alienated from their parents and teachers, let alone their grandparents.

Does a large family prevent such problems? Yes, the environment itself teaches you: you might want to spend some time on your smartphone, but you are always distracted by either your younger siblings demanding attention or by the older ones telling you something. There are many things that you do together. For parents, it is important to establish the relationship between the siblings correctly so that they would not quarrel; otherwise they will go different ways in life. We were always taught to see the best in each other. Especially the younger ones were taught to respect the older ones. Our parents spoke with the older children individually, correcting some negative features of their character. “The young ones are looking up to you!” they would say to us. And the younger ones would be trying not to let the older siblings down. Family is a very serious resource for raising responsible children. It is the school of love and unity, the school that protects you from troubles. (END)

NOTE: Catholic social teaching states family, father, mother, children is the primary building-block of the Church and society. This is under severe attack in our country by those attacking the nuclear family along with those who see the State as the parent par excellence superior to the family. Notice too how the Soviets used the educational system as a means to indoctrinate youth. This also is going on in our country and for quite some time at all levels of education. Another cardinal point of Catholic teaching is that parents, not the State or the educational system, are the primary educators of their children and they are the primary educators in passing on the Catholic Faith hence the necessity of their good example by going to Mass, praying in the home, interacting with their children, and saving them from the tyranny of technology and social media