Closed clerics vs open laymen
Travel notes of a missionary psychologist.
I had a sudden and full of contrasts trip to the Belarusian lands, a marathon: five days, three cities, seven public appearances. This is almost twenty astronomical hours of voice, emotional, brain and not only work. Apart from questioning people between performances, informal communication and important new acquaintances.
Impressions from the trip: confusion, slipping and dull pauses in communication with some clerics, pain for the Church, powerlessness and despair about the graduates of the seminary, the joy of recognition when meeting ordinary people, the delight of some clergymen. An unexpected inspirational aftertaste: it happens that the Lord leads me “like a pencil in His hand”, as Theresa of Calcutta said.
One night on Facebook, someone knocked on me – an ordinary and familiar thing to many. “Works in the Belarusian Orthodox Church”, “Lives in the city of Grodno” – it was written in the profile. In those days, we were enrolling in courses on the basics of psychopathology for priests, and I thought that someone wants to come to study, I added as a friend. But it turned out that he did not know about these courses:
– Facebook recommended me to you, but for these 3 minutes. friendship, I already realized that not in vain. I did not know anything about such courses. But the need for them is really acutely felt!
– Facebook does that, yes. 🙂
The conversation unfolded amazingly easily and quickly, somehow the general topics themselves were found. And after about 20 minutes, my interlocutor – and he turned out to be Deacon Dmitry Pavlyukevich – suddenly writes:
– We have a tradition in the Grodno Diocese to invite teachers to lecture the clergy. May I offer you as a lecturer?
Gallant, with good Russian and special humor, which permeates both the main lines of the conversation and its subtle branches. I will meet this humor later in Grodno, there is something in it, apparently, specific, intellectual-Belarusian, but also personal, of course. This is a kind of semi-air layer through which a person communicates with you. At the same time, it is open and distant, very warm and a little cool, kind of close, but at a distance – a special feature of contact, as through an invisible veil.
We parted that night with the words that both were glad to meet you. And that was true.
Exactly a week later, I receive messages from Minsk and from Zhirovich – from monks and not very directly connected to each other. Long correspondence, complicated logistics, replayable decisions, dates, places, housing, road, topics of presentations, announcements and programs. As a result, we will go together with a colleague-psychologist Natalia Skuratovskaya "on crossed routes." And for a long time I live with the confidence that, of course, these invitations so abruptly dropped on me from heaven and the people throwing them in are familiar with each other and their intentions agree with each other. Well, that is, one called, the second found out, the third fussed. It was a shock when I found out that the hieromonk from Zhirovich and people from Minsk, although they knew the deacon from Grodno, did not discuss my trip together. That is, God acted in parallel – separately through a new friend from Grodno and completely separately, a week later, through people from two other cities. Operationally, however. And it is clear that one cannot but agree. And what will it be, Lord? What do you want? Okay, I don’t know, but I’ll go …
Holy Spirit Cathedral of Belarus
What will happen?
Moving. Different conditions and food, different transport. Sleeping pills, otherwise do not fall asleep. Of course, by the end of the trip I will begin to get sick. On Monday evening, after four couples, the Minsk Theological Academy will have a plane to Moscow and then insufficient sleep at home. On Tuesday there will be the last lesson on the basics of psychopathology with our course (with Russian fathers) – and I can feel the difference, as they say. To appreciate what it is like to teach clerics who themselves have come to study, are eager to learn new things – after the trip my love for our students will increase. And then there will be days and weeks of lying at home with tea from the grass, personally collected by that hieromonk from Zhirovich, honey from Minsk from lovely listeners, monastery marshmallow from sisters and lemons from a nearby supermarket.
Grodno. Wise and reasonable fathers. Simple and small laity
I can immediately say my main impression of the trip as a whole. And it reflects the experience after performances in Grodno. It seems that I now understand the prayer of Christ:
– And then Jesus said: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you for what you have discovered simple and small … ”(Matthew 11:25).
Only, unfortunately, I still can’t pray like He: "I will glorify Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the rational."
I cannot yet thank for what I saw among the wise and rational in their closeness, for it was the most difficult for me. But I can thank you for what I saw among the simple and small with their openness.
The first event of seven is two lectures for the clergy of the Grodno diocese and other questions after. It seems that they tested me all the time, which is generally understandable and predictable, but by naivety I didn’t prepare for this – the charm of the first notes of this story is still alive. I really liked the diocese, it has a lot of special things, with a vector for gospel freedom. I wanted to live there, breathe their Orthodoxy. European handwriting and low houses, and in the intonations of new friends, and in the direction of the formation of clergy.
The priests received newsletters from the diocese, and they seemed to voluntarily come to the lecture of a visiting psychologist. Part left after the first pair. That is, the request from below, in any case, was not open: they were simply offered such a meeting. They generally have many different lectures once a week on Thursdays. More often historical, and they say, there clergy usually sit quietly. And here – at first they were silently intensely silent, then they began to react violently, but nevertheless, since I was educated and cultured, I felt only hidden aggression. I will not give examples of replicas from the audience. But in the air you could hang an ax – without smoke and ash, but no transparency in the atmosphere in the hall. Although someone came up during the break with their real problems. Someone at the end of the lecture asked lively questions from the experience of practice or their own searches. But it seems that there were few of them.
The idea that one should be aware of one’s feelings almost blew the room, and what about irritation … There was no way to step on their territory, it was a mistake to “dare” to refer to quotes from Scripture or use words from Orthodox discourse. Balda, as I did not immediately guess, that this is a minus to me, not a plus! That naivety!
Who are you dealing with? And who are you here to judge humility or annoyance! There is a difference in talking about the same humility / self-esteem / self-worth with ordinary people – and with priests. To taste this difference, this trip allowed me to the full. Already came as a psychologist, so first at least explain why this psychology is needed and especially psychotherapy, because there are holy fathers and a rich pastoral practice!
But my naivety is very great. I tried to speak according to plan – about "Orthodox neuroses" and substitutions in religious life, for we had agreed this way initially during the long negotiations that preceded the trip. And she missed the most important steps: work with resistance and rehabilitation of the status of psychology. It seemed to me that this question had already been settled several years ago.
“Fathers, let's let the lecturer give a lecture,” was heard refrain from the audience, and this supported me to continue to move according to my original plan. Rather, not move, but rest against hanging axes in the air. There was no movement of atmospheres.
Sometimes the listeners froze, for a few minutes, when personal topics sounded. I understood this, touched lightly, did not go deep into the pain. Tense-stringed fading quickly gave way to a fidget of tension and a new wave of resistance. So I skidded on the spot, moving along a seemingly long-familiar text, and absolutely could not move in this still air. It seems that it is easier to unload wagons – there is, albeit heavy, but movement and a visible result.
Every now and then they heard me with varying degrees of distortion. For example, that I urge to shift the blame on others or justify sin.
They all know without me. They have no request for a psychologist. Fathers. Beautiful. Intelligent. Cultural tea drinking during the break and men's care for the woman. Clean desks and disposable cups for tea. Cookies on napkins.
She barely crawled away from there, feeling her clipped wings. After the meeting, the food didn’t climb, and communication with that of the priests, who really wanted therapy, went tight. But I did not lie down, as was usually the case in such cases. I connect this with the prayers of friends who prayed in Moscow for me all the days of the trip.
That is, she survived. And why am I here?
And in the evening there were simple and small laity who go to catechism courses once a week. Ordinary Soviet neurotics and traumas. Even their aggression is different – not so toxic or something, simple and direct. Thirsty, open. Even if they argue or run over, this is a completely different flair and handwriting.
The course leader is a wonderful deep man – priest George Roy, I want to communicate with him again and again.
The liturgy in Grodno is almost like in my native church, only twenty to thirty people, no more than: Friday, a working day. And folk singing – I got so well.
In the Chalice, the priest: “Well, what is involved in the psychologist without confession?”. The deacon nods and winks.
They serve as a missionary rank, which means kissing the world. An old woman ran up to me to cuddle: “Christ is in our midst!” – it was very nice. Apparently, from the courses of Father George Roy, how else would she know me.
The deacon, father Dmitry Pavlyukevich, wonderful, his wife is a pastry chef, fed me at home. I can write my enthusiasm for a long time about him and his Orthodoxy.
Zhirovichi. Simple and small dependent
Conference "Anastasis": alcoholics, drug addicts, rapists, aggressors. The topic is domestic violence.
Truly simple and small people. The province, almost a village, dependent and co-dependent. And God gave me many words for them, as well as for the laity in Grodno. About His love and acceptance, about self-worth and sonship to Heavenly Father. About false sacrifice and manipulation in the Church. A separate meeting was in a subgroup, when a lot of people came and they asked a lot of sincere questions. A lot of sick people. Simple and small. And Heaven is close to them.
From Zhirovich I brought important wonderful acquaintances and a bag of grass for tea, we now communicate closely with someone and make plans for the summer, I drink tea. There are, despite and contrary to, surprisingly bright and sincere people. I even saw several live seminarians, which is comforting. Because after a couple of days at the academy, despair over spiritual schools will cover me.
On Saturday, on the road from Zhirovich to Minsk, I gave my rosary, which I brought from Medjugorje, to one wonderful mother from Minsk, and on Sunday, my sister from the Elizabethan monastery gave me … a rosary which she herself tied for me with her hands. Such greetings from above.
Minsk. Reaping a lot
The lecture is public, open. Full hall, people could not fit. Three hours of lecture and another questions, from 13 to 17 hours, and barely parted, because it was necessary to free the room. Transparent silence of air, flowing and full of Presence. Tired of course. But there was God. She spoke, including about Him and His love – and this is His gift. And she received visible fruits from this meeting – for example, someone wanted to organize a prayer group! For them, this is a curiosity. After all, only non-Orthodox people usually pray like that, and here the Orthodox, it turns out …
For some, the revelation was that God really loves you. My colleagues say that such ignorance is just a sign of lack of enlightenment. But I am sure that this is not about ignorance – we all know that God is love. But we know the head. And how difficult it is for us to enter into this experience of the Meeting, how difficult it is for this Love, even a little bit, to accept – let God love ourselves. And how much we need it and at the same time we can’t take it!
The lecture was in the academy building. It seems that the students and staff of the academy were not there, except for those who were supposed to help me – to shoot videos, etc. I don’t know if there was at least one priest in the hall. But that was no longer important.
The last, seventh event – four pairs on Monday for graduate students of the academy. And this is my separate pain. There were six to thirteen people, they came and went, verily, like shadows. Eyes are not watercolor, but pastel – that is, extinguished and without shine, as if retouched. The movements are muffled, as is the non-light of the eyes. For a long time there were no questions at all. The tension in the answers to my questions after hanging uncomfortable pauses. Interests could not be found, but maybe I was looking badly. Behind the back are five years of obedience at the seminary, which have knocked out the remnants of their desires – the appearance of humility is available, the fruits on the face and not only. Suppressed protest and hidden outwardly accusatory position, which is natural. It is scary that the motivational sphere and intentions for growing up can be deeply crippled. Why would you want something when they decide everything for you anyway. And now, when a lot of freedom has already appeared in the academy, it is not so easy to become alive again. There was only one student who seemed alive to me – and he was not after the seminary, but after the theological faculty. The rest are frozen and are not yet able to enter the “Minsk spring”. Has Aslan yet come to Narnia? I do not know.
Only at Vespers in the temple of the Academy, where these same students sing – and sing professionally, beautifully, traditionally and in a very Moscow way, it suddenly dawned on me that God somehow cares for them, because this is His special care – future shepherds.
I stood leaning against the wall, listening to this singing, and finally this pain burst through me: “Lord, appeal to You, hear me!” Hear me and take care of them! After all, it was You who chose them, do something! And I'm sorry that I completely forgot about You …
The vice-rector of the Academy, who invited us with Natalia Skuratovskaya and organized everything according to the highest class, is Archpriest Vladimir Dolgopolov, a strikingly caring and optimistic person, without illusions. He says, they say, everything is according to the Gospel – there are many reapes. Stay alive, father Vladimir! There are a lot of reaping. We will be sickles, if not pencils.
This trip became for me a bit of an extreme experience of trusting God, namely, I had problems with trusting Him. I seldom can be sure that some business that I am doing is unequivocal from Him. It’s not very successful to live in such a way as to be “a pencil in the hands of God” all the time, although I ask about it, of course. So this trip turned out to be largely "pencil". And the feeling of His leadership was from the very beginning, because this story began with His handwriting of nonrandom accident.
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