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History Leaves its Traces: “A Hunger for Faith”

At various times during my time here in Gagauzia I have posted short essays about the situation of Orthodox Christianity here. This time I would like to do something different, because a friend of mine has written something that I myself would not have been able to write, because she wrote it from the perspective of a young woman who grew up here, being born just as the Soviet Union was breaking up and the churches and monasteries were being reopened, but her parents and grandparents had grown up during the Soviet period, exposed to the Communist propaganda against Christianity and with little knowledge of the Church or even interest in it. She writes about the struggle that can occur within the family when people of her age want to return to their Orthodox roots.  -Father Cosmas

by Kristina Kochan  (tr. into English by Monk Cosmas Shartz)

As we know, in our lands there was terrible hunger in the years 1946 and 1947. At that time there was a hunger for food, but now there is a hunger which has lasted longer — a hunger for faith. One hunger resembles the other. Both began in the time of the Soviet Union and the Soviets are responsible for both. In the hunger for food our bodies die, but in the hunger for faith our souls die and we become like zombies, like dead people walking around but inside, there is death in our souls and we don’t know it.

In the Soviet period people passed through times in which there was an absence of faith. But the problems of that period have lasted until today. Nowadays one very rarely hears people say, “I am an atheist.” But problems remain from the Soviet Union, for example, ignorance about our faith, empty belief, judging the priests and the Church. I have a friend, and an amazing thing happened in her life. No, it wasn’t the sort of amazing thing, a big thing, that is seen by everybody, but something that was amazing for her, when she understood our faith as more than just a word. She began to go to church more often, confess, receive communion. But her mother didn’t understand her. She always behaved toward the Church as if it’s unnecessary, as if the Soviet Union were still there, without counting herself an atheist. And so misunderstandings developed between the parents and their child. “My daughter turns in a little book with names written in it — so that they will pray for those names for forty days. Did she have to spend so much money?…” says the mother. Certainly she is looking at what happened purely from the outside. My friend didn’t hear what her mother said, but I suppose that if she had, she would say, “Mom, look, if something amazing had happened in your life, would you put it out of your mind? Oh, Mom, I wanted to give those names, I wrote them, I believe in this, leave me alone.”

Plainly there is a problem. Young people want to learn more about our faith, they want to be closer to the Church. But without having practical experience from when they were young, without knowing the rules of the Church, it’s difficult. It’s difficult to see where something is just a custom and maybe — where it’s empty belief and where it’s something necessary. Another difficulty happens when there is an obstacle on the part of the mother and father. These obstacles are not huge, no one keeps them from going to church or forces them to renounce their faith. But misunderstandings happen in families.

Why? Perhaps because the young people are very fervent at heart. Their hearts burn and in many places they act too quickly, they want it all and they want it all at once. More mature people, such as their mothers and fathers, are patient, and there’s the fact that they know life better, but they don’t have a very good understanding of the young people’s “hunger for faith.” It isn’t enough for just priests and old women to know our faith. That’s a stereotype. You must not be ashamed of the fact that deep down you want to know about our faith, but to learn its richness slowly, its real meaning and, if you wish, its history, too.

Certainly we love and honor our mothers and fathers. But how can we act so that there is understanding in our families? Do the young people always have to remain submissive and do as their elders say only because they are younger? Certainly it’s easy to tell someone, “You’re completely wrong, leave me alone.” But it’s not easy when the person is your mother or father and when they don’t understand you very well, and perhaps they don’t understand at all.

Let’s take a look at the problem from a different angle. Two of my other friends entered heterodox churches, when they left home to study elsewhere, one of them in a different city, the other in a different country. Obviously they had a “hunger for faith,” and one of them entered that church and now can’t leave. I don’t want to say that the parents are at fault that it happened that way — that the children went away and they became heterodox. I just want to say that this happens. The young people are searching for the sources of faith, and sometimes they may fall onto the wrong path, if in any case it seems to them that their parents don’t understand them and and right at that moment someone explains a little bit to them about the faith, but not the whole thing, just a part, and they can get stuck in a heterodox group.

Our people passed through a hunger in the years 1946–1947, but for a long time there has been a different hunger, when during the Soviet period it wasn’t permissible to speak openly about the faith, and since that time a lot of people don’t know the real meaning of our faith.

Note: The author refers to terrible years of hunger in 1946 and 1947. This was a period of famine in the area, a famine so severe that it resulted in cases of cannibalism. It which was deliberately orchestrated by Josef Stalin in order to bring the people under complete submission to the central government, and especially to force them onto collective farms. There are mass graves in each of the villages of Gagauzia.

Kristina Kochan was born in 1991 in Gagauzia, in Moldova, in the village of Beșalma. She is Gagauz. When she finished high school she went to study in the design department of the Academy of Fine Arts. She left there after two years of study. At that point, in 2012, she began to take part in the life of the Church, and experienced it as a breath of fresh air. She saw this as a new beginning for her, even though she had been baptised as a child. She is now completeing her final studies in the school of economics at the State Agrarian University of Moldova in Chishinau. She draws, writes poetry, stories, and publicity in her native language and in Russian. She sings in the church choir.

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