Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
(Heb. 13: 7)
“St Paul the Apostle teaches us to remember not only our spiritual leaders. It is important to remember all who taught and instructed us from youth to maturity,” Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeev) used to say, “And even in our declining years we should always remember about them.
The first person that comes to my mind when I think of this sacred duty of memory is Maria, my mother’s elder sister and my godmother, who did a lot for my upbringing. Aunt Manya, as I used to call her, never got married, because their family had thirteen children (only ten of whom survived) and my future godmother devoted herself to helping her mother raise her sisters and brothers. When my grandmother died, Aunt Manya took care of the younger ones. It was also she who became my godmother and instructed me in faith. From my earliest childhood I went with her to St Nicholas Church on Novokuznetskaya Street and to the “Consolation of All Sorrows” Church in Ordynka. My godmother played a key role in my choice of life path.
I was “lucky” to fall ill with jaundice, caused by Botkin’s disease, just before the final exams in high school. Although it was passing without any symptoms other than me turning yellow, the doctors put me to bed for three months. My treatment was supposed to take place in the hospital, but my mother was very afraid of them, because my brother, who was born in 1930, died in the hospital five years before my birth. He was three and a half years old when he died, catching a scarlet fever infection after an appendectomy, which the infant’s body was too weak to resist. After that, my mother was very careful about hospitals, and when they said that I needed to be hospitalized, she did everything so that I could be treated at home. The room turned into a ward, everything unnecessary was removed and covered with white sheets. The cleanliness was perfect. When the doctor visited me, he said: “In such an environment, you might as well be treated at home.” So there I was…
Before I got sick, I had some plans for going to university. However, I was not a member of the so-called Komsomol (All-Union Lenin Communist Youth League). That turned out to be a serious obstacle. Before my illness, my friend and I went to the Institute of Foreign Languages and “auditioned” for an interview. As a “non-member of Komsomol” I was denied even the admission to the entrance exams, while my friend, who was “carrying the torch”, was accepted. He kept trying to “console” me, saying that everything would be fine if I submitted an application to the Komsomol, but I said “No” to it once and for all.
Later my friend graduated from that institute and worked as a journalist in Germany. One day we met there. Our roads parted after school, and I didn’t know anything about him. Once, while working in Germany, I visited our embassy and heard the last name “Karagizyan”. I asked if his first name was Karen and was told that it was indeed, so I asked if we could see each other. He knew that I was a clergyman, but did not expect to see me, so he did not recognize me at first. We went with him to a tavern and spent some time remembering our school years. Karen chose his own way in his youth, while mine was chosen for me by my godmother.
When I fell ill, Aunt Manya said firmly, “That’s it, no more universities. Here’s a Psalter, you need to learn to read in Slavonic. And here is a prayer book for you; lie down and read your prayers.” I cannot say that any of that was new to me. We have always been a church family and, of course, I went to church regularly. At school I sat next to Alexi Ushakov. Out of the whole class, we were the only two people wearing crosses on our chests. We never took them off, and everyone, including the teachers, knew that we were the “believing students”. We never had any problems related to that.
So, this is how my godmother blessed my life path, saying, “Get ready to go to seminary.” Another person influencing my decision was, without a doubt, my elder sister’s husband, who was also a priest. His example and advice served me as a blessing for choosing this path, which was very unusual in those years.
Despite the fact that I was ill at the end of the school year and even at the time of exams, I still was given a school certificate, issued by the decision of a special pedagogical council meeting. The school headmaster deeply respected my mother. I think that he influenced the decision of the pedagogical council to issue me a matriculation certificate – without exams and facilitated its approval by the district authorities.
In 1953, on the day of the Dormition of the Mother of God, I applied for admission to the Moscow Theological Seminary. In those days it was located in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra in Sergiyev Posad, then called Zagorsk.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
Source: “The Obedient Devotee”: [To the 25th anniversary of the Archpastoral service in the Belarusian land of His Eminence Filaret, Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus (1978-2003)] / Orthodox Brotherhood in the Name of Archangel Michael. – Minsk: Minsk Color Printing Factory, 2003.