These two rock musicians were rising stars in the eyes of their fans, and prodigal sons in the eyes of our Lord. Through His providence, God was subtly guiding them to their home in the Orthodox Church. Their meeting with God was a life-changing moment for both.
Igor Kapranov, singer in the rock band “Amatory”
He was born in Saint Petersburg and took baptism as a child. Yet he grew up in an unchurched family. His thorny journey to God began at nineteen years of age. He was then a musician in a rock band. In his new milieu, he was facing peer pressure to live the stereotypical lifestyle of a rock musician that rested on three staples – sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. In his desire to conform, he felt that he was descending deep into the abyss of sin and self-destruction. At nineteen years of age, he began to question his life, look for a new meaning to it, and seek a way to fill the spiritual void in himself.
Subconsciously, he turned to the Orthodox faith for answers. He went to church, despite having little understanding of worship and service. At the door, a woman met him. Upset by his piercing and tattoos, she told him to go back to where he came from. Igor took deep offence and went to look for answers elsewhere. ‘If religions are a market, there must also be other choices,” he said to himself.
So he joined one of the personal development courses that were very popular among the business people of his time. In the sessions, the participants are asked to sit in a semi-circle, introduce themselves and talk. Little by little, tension builds up: What are your goals? What high achievements are you aiming for? The tension and the stress makes one sweat and sends shivers down one’s spine. When a trainer in one of the sessions passed Igor, he suddenly felt energised. He asked the trainer what it was and learned about the occult technique called Reiki. Its practitioners claim to be able to manipulate vital energies. The prospect of acquiring unique capabilities appealed to Igor, and he began to practice. Soon, he could stay up all night and remain alert after a fifteen-minute session of Reiki. He never gave a thought about the source of this energy until he noticed that doing something contrary to the practice of Reiki made him feel worse than usual. It soon occurred to the young man who was pulling the strings. A seemingly accidental event that happened at that point proved providential.
Just before Passion Week, he met an old friend who had spent five years in the monastery on Valaam Island. Igor had the desire to visit the monastery, too, despite his limited awareness about monastic life and not being able to make the sign of the cross properly. Subtly, Hod was showing him the way. The week before the Pascha, Igor and his friend arrived at the Skete of All Saints. It adhered to some of the strictest monastic rules, and Saint Alexander Svirsky used to reside here as a monk.
Igor remembers: “I found myself at the centre of monastic community life, which revolved around the Eucharist. Worship is done at night in the absence of light and all other comforts. I found that amazing, and asked myself, ‘What made these aged men wake up at night to celebrate the Matins, the morning liturgy, to take communion and disperse at six in the morning?’ No-one said a word about my appearance or asked me who I was and where I had come from. Everyone treated me with great gentleness and tact. With hindsight, I understand that this gentle and non-aggressive approach was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and it changed my life a lot”.
For the first time in his life, Igor went for a confession, took extreme unction and the Communion. God’s grace touched his heart, he found God and believed in Him.
He returned from Valaam Island a different person. His family and members of his rock group noticed the change and the joy that was overfilling him. For some time, Igor continued to live his past life. Yet when the initial tide of grace subsided, his drug problem returned. He struggled for two years. “At some point, I reached my lowest point and realised the need to make the ultimate choice between death and Christ. I chose Christ”. Igor Kapranov abandoned his music career, left the band and retreated to Valaam Island for a year to become a labourer. He used his time at the monastery to grow and strengthen in the spirit, learn to pray; through heartfelt repentance, he finally managed to overcome his drug problem.
He came out completely transformed. He did not abandon his talent for music, but put it to good use by becoming a singer in the Russian Byzantine Choir “Pachomius the Serb”. Eventually, God gave him a wife and a child.
“The Orthodox faith to me is like Paschal joy. I was lost and I was found. I was dead and I came alive. I will not stop calling Christ the saviour of every man; for any way other than the way of Christ amounts to nothing else but wandering around in darkness and idle talk.”
Fillip Premyak, bass-guitarist in the rock band “Everything is Made in China”
Fillip was born in Vladivostok, Russia. His parents were Christians but were rather lukewarm in the way they practised it. Fillip remembers his first coming to church when he was four years old: “It happened on the feast day of the Holy Trinity. I was impressed by the unusual surroundings and the way the people were dressed. The next day, my teacher at kindergarten asked: ‘Does anybody know which holiday was celebrated yesterday?’ I leapt from my chair and exclaimed: ‘Holy Trinity Day!’ She blushed and seemed very embarrassed. The times were such that going to church was not welcomed”.
By twelve years of age, Fillip had developed a liking for rock music. He became a fan of Metallica. He liked many of its songs.
Two years later, his family moved to Moscow. As a student of a Moscow school, he went on an exchange visit to the United States. There, as he travelled to school on a school bus every day, he enjoyed listening to music on a local radio station which the bus driver liked to play. When they heard anything by Radiohead, everyone on the bus became excited and sang along. For Fillip, Radiohead became the inspiration for writing his own music.
He returned to Russia in Grade 9. His peers had grown, and their interests changed. Yet Fillip did not find attractive their new lifestyles with parties, binge drinking and casual sex. He became withdrawn. His parents bought him a portable studio, and Fillip began to practise writing music, songs and lyrics. Eventually, he wanted to perform in public, so he went to sing in an underpass. Soon, an amateur group came together, which evolved with time into the rock band “Everything Is Made in China”.
They practised improved their performance skills enough to sing at festivals sharing the stage with groups like “The Chemical Brothers” or “Interpol”. Yet they were not leading the lives of the typical rock band player. “We were more like nerds. People who were reading science fiction, listening to abstract music and watching intellectual comedies.”
Fillip stayed with the group for almost a decade. His coming to God was not some sudden determining moment, but a gradual process. One day, the father of one of the band members, himself a Christian, invited all its members to church for extreme unction, and they accepted the invitation. At church, the priest asked them if they wanted to talk. He then offered them, sympathetically and with enthusiasm, to have a confession. – “Why not,” we replied. “Get yourself ready, then and I will wait,” said the priest. Everyone got down to writing down their sins from a prayerbook. Everyone’s lists were almost identical.
“This confession made a great impression on me. The priest listened carefully and answered all of my silly questions. Then he invited all of us for tea. I saw that the church was a comfortable and welcoming space for your people,” remembers Fillip.
It took some time for Fillip’s life to change. He continued to write music and perform at concerts, and did not become a regular churchgoer. Still, he came for young people’s tea parties from time to time. At one of these parties, he met members of a charitable group that was feeding the homeless. They asked him to help, and he agreed. This experience left a trace in Fillip’s life. He realised the importance of helping others.
Eventually, Fillip lost the ability to write songs. “My songs were more an expression of self-pity and my attempt to fill the void within myself. My coming to God created a sensation that was almost as intense as falling in love. The void was gone. A musician should always be on his toes; he must be hungry, not for food, but for spiritual experience. At church, I found everything that I was looking for.”
Gradually, Fillip was scaling down his involvement in the group and eventually left it. Instead, he became an altar warden in a newly built church, assisting the priest who heard his first confession. He helped with the internal finishing of the church and organised meetings for the laity over tea. He married and had children.
We have presented two different life paths and ways to God followed by two different people from a similar field. They are impressive examples of God catching the falling man, revealing Himself to him and bringing him to Church. The Lord will help and save anyone willing to take a step towards Him and answer His call.