I first met the Indian student Clement Nehamaiyah five years ago in the master’s degree course at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and became one of his (then) few friends in Russia. This meeting affected me and my life, and I would like to tell you about it.
An Indian student at the St. Petersburg Academy
I first met Clement at a service in the Academy church. I immediately wanted to approach him and meet him, but I ventured to do so only after some time, when he was lying in the Academy infirmary, where he often wound up due to his difficult acclimation. I wasn’t allowed in the infirmary, so I handed over some groceries with a broken-English note with wishes of recovery. When Clement recovered, we met and got acquainted. I later found out that he had been bothered by furunculosis for an entire year already due to the change in climate, and he even had to undergo several operations. At the last operation, the doctor said he would have to go home to India if the problem continued. Thankfully, it didn’t return.
I wanted to learn as much as possible about the story of Clement and Orthodoxy in India, but the language barrier was a serious hindrance. He had been studying only half a year and still spoke little Russian. Then, in addition to the Academy’s English course, I started supplementary studies as well, although it turned out that Clement learned Russian faster than I learned English.
Nadezhda Vasilievna Kolesnikova, the head of the department for foreign students, helped Clement in the Academy. She always tried to help him in his needs and problems. He also had a friend, Maxim Trofimov, who knew English well and helped Clement translate his letters addressed to the then-Academy rector Archbishop Ambrose (Ermakov). Soon the entire Academy learned about Clement’s story, thanks to the rector. Vladyka Ambrose read part of the letters to the students in the church after the service. I think it was Great Lent 2015. Unfortunately, I don’t have these letters at hand, but I can say that many of us really liked them. The letters spoke of the great mercy of the All-Holy Trinity towards Clement’s family and to all who entered the Orthodox Church through a test of time and other temptations. The author of the letters urged all to value the great gift of Orthodox faith in God. This gift, and the possibility of entering the Orthodox Church is not available to the majority of Clement’s compatriots, sometimes even to those who want to become Orthodox. There is no one to teach the Indian people the Orthodox faith; therefore Clement, with God’s help, will do everything possible to enlighten his people with the Truth.
I learned from Clement that he lives with his family in the very heart of India in the city of Chandrapur, Maharashtra. The capital of the state is Mumbai. He also spoke about how he and his family became Orthodox in 2012. His brother Rohan had been an Anglican missionary bishop of the Episcopal church, but became a layman after his conversion to the Orthodox Church.
He was convinced of the truth of the Orthodox faith as a result of his study of Church history and Patristic theology, which spurred him on towards receiving Orthodoxy. At first, all fifty parishes followed him, but they had to wait for a priest from Russia and forty-five of them remained in the Anglican church. The Nehamaiyah family and part of the community were baptized by Fr. Stanislav Rasputin. Rohan became Polycarp in Baptism in honor of the Holy Hierarch of Polycarp of Smyrna, his older brother Ashish was named in honor of the Holy Hierarch Ignatius of Antioch, and the youngest brother Prasennadzhit became Clement in honor of the Holy Hierarch Clement of Rome. Fr. Stanislav went again in 2013, and the community was visited by missionary priest Fr. Artemy Larionov in early 2014. All the approximately 200 members of the Anglican community were received through the Sacrament of Chrismation. Several people were also baptized at that time.
Trials and temptations
Problems arose in the Chandrapur Orthodox community in early 2015. Clement was very worried, going about with downcast face for several days. The uncertainty was scary. By that time, several people had died without the Church Mysteries, several people were awaiting Baptism, and another group was awaiting Chrismation. There was still no permanent priest. Marriages remained without a Church blessing. There was a case of cremation because there was not enough money for the Anglican cemetery. The existence of the Orthodox community was under threat, as the freezing of relations could have led to the hemorrhaging of some of the faithful. Clement later explained that it was a time of spiritual trial. Having passed through it, he wrote:
In the explanation of the Sacrament of Chrismation, I read that you mustn’t postpone conversion for long because of the possibility of returning to heresy while converting to Orthodoxy. It struck me: Shouldn’t the Church more enthusiastically receive those who fervently desire to become part of the family of God? But the Lord enlightened my heart, and I understood that God does not forget us, He personally calls us to Himself, although it seriously irritates the enemy of our salvation, who put up obstacles in our way.
A film about Orthodox Indians
When I thought about the problems of the Orthodox mission in India, the idea was born in me to visit the communities and make a video about them. Thus, in the summer of 2015 I went to India for eight days. They met me very hospitably. Almost every day we went to remote parishes for services. We served the Typica—a Church service used in place of Liturgy. I was amazed that the faithful had already been serving the Orthodox services in their Marathi language since 2012. Fr. Clement translated and continues to translate the liturgical texts.
My first trip left an indelible impression of the faith of the people I met. At that point, three years had already passed from their conversion to the Orthodox Church, but nothing had been done by the Mother Church to organize their parish. The communities had no official Church status (and still don’t), and had no Church-wide support (it’s appearing now). But through all that, the people believed and continue to believe that the Church will not abandon its children.
The video about the life of the Indian Orthodox communities in the state of Maharashtra was ready by September 2015 (and is available on YouTube). The rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy was Archbishop Ambrose (Ermakov)1 at that time, and he blessed to show the video at the annual September conference at the theological academy. The video aroused interest and discussion, and several teachers and students warmly supported the student Clement. Once a Sunday evening was even organized, where Clement spoke about the history of the mission and answered questions.
Catherine’s story: “My family wanted to kill Clement, only so that I wouldn’t become Orthodox”
Catherine, Clement’s wife, came to St. Petersburg in the winter of 2016. Archbishop Ambrose soon married them in the academy church. Catherine had been a Hindu at one time. She told me her story:
My name is Catherine; before Baptism I was Neha. I was born in a Hindu family. When I was studying in an Anglican school, we had a chapel where everyone could freely go and pray. That’s where I got acquainted with Christianity. Since my parents are Hindus, they always forbade me to go to church or the chapel and always said that it wasn’t good. I often heard how in the neighboring house, that is, in Clement’s father’s house, they would pray and sing Church hymns. I loved to listen to it. Gradually, I began to ask my neighbors about Christ. They gave me a copy of the New Testament. I began to read it secretly.
When my parents found out about it, they beat me, tore up the Bible, and threw it away. They threatened me and promised to send me to a special school. There were many such problems, but I began to secretly study, calling Polycarp and reading online. I came to believe that Jesus Christ is the one true God and decided to be baptized. When Fr. Stanislav Rasputin came in 2012, I was secretly baptized. I was in college then. After Baptism, my problems increased. My family started looking for a husband for me. They proposed many men to me for marriage, but I rejected them every time. My family was forcing me to get married. They understood that I do not follow their faith and religion, and they were ashamed of it. They thought that if I got married, then I would become a Hindu again under the influence of my Hindu husband.
I shared my problem with Polycarp and Clement, and with their help, I ran away from home. Everything went well, according to plan, until my friend betrayed me by revealing that Clement had helped me escape. As soon as my family found out about it, they started harassing Clement and his family. They threatened to burn down Clement’s house, then they hired an assassin to kill him and bribed the police to use force to get information about me from my future husband. They also asked all our neighbors to boycott Clement’s family.
When nothing worked, they hired a sorcerer, infamous for supposedly being able to kill with his magic. But God was with Clement’s family and protected them from everything. Nothing could harm them, neither physically nor spiritually.
But the pressure from my family grew day by day, so I decided to return. When I returned, I saw that my house was full of objects of black magic. I lived at home for about fifteen days under close supervision and pressure, but one day I was given fifteen minutes to myself, and I ran away from home for the second time.
I called Clement and asked his help. He took me to an organization that helped us then. In the end, I married Clement in 2015. Now, after our wedding, I can live freely and confess my faith. I thank God for everything He has done for us. It’s impossible to express my gratitude to Him; my life belongs to God now.
Although India is a secular state, Hinduism still dominates and influences politics. Hindu fundamentalists and radicals believe that Christianity is destroying their distinctive culture and therefore oppose Christian preaching.
The first Indian priest in the Russian Orthodox Church
One of the most joyful events for the Indian faithful, and perhaps for the entire Church, occurred on Friday, May 27, 2018, when Archbishop Ambrose (Ermakov), rector of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, ordained the student Clement as a priest. Clement became the first Indian priest in the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate. An Indian from Bangalore, Silouan Benedict, was earlier ordained by ROCOR, but this priest left the Church rather quickly.2
A month before the ordination, one pious Christian woman from Australia paid the way to Russia and back for Fr. Clement’s wife, his mother Shubha, and Irina (Preeti), Polycarp’s wife. They arrived a month before Pentecost, when the date of the ordination was still unknown. It turned out that I was in St. Petersburg at a conference, also not knowing about the ordination.
During my two years of studies, Vladyka Ambrose had ordained many students, but I never heard such a loud and united “Axios!”
Fr. Clement is also working on translating liturgical books into the Marathi language. Currently, Fr. Clement has translated the Typica, the Hours, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the troparia and kontakia for Sundays and the Twelve Feasts, the Sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of Baptism, and also the Great Blessing of the Waters.
In January 2019, I was able to visit Fr. Clement again. This time, the trip was possible thanks only to donations. A collection was announced a month before I left, to which many people responded. I especially want to thank the clergy and Department of Religious Education and Catechism of the Samara Metropolis, and also Schemamonk Mitrophan (Yurchenko) for their help.
During my stay with the community, I managed to shoot a lot of good video material and record several interviews. I am now working on editing the film about the Orthodox mission in India.
There is great potential for the Orthodox mission there, but the community needs our support
During my stay in India, a Protestant bishop named Jajivan, who heads the Episcopal conference in southern India, came to see Fr. Clement. He has long thought about converting to Orthodoxy, but for a long time there was no chance to meet with an Orthodox priest. He is ready to give up his rank and become a layman in the Orthodox Church. Jajivan is currently studying the history, theology, and structure of the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Clement’s assistance. He is ready right now to convert to Orthodoxy, but it was decided not to rush, because there is hope he will be able to bring his brother bishops to the Orthodox Church. This is not an isolated case; there are others, only on a smaller scale. This speaks to the great interest of Indian Christians in Orthodoxy. The Orthodox community of Chandrapur has great potential for a real mission not only among non-Christians, but also among the heterodox.
The Orthodox communities are in a difficult situation now. Christian relations with Hindu radicals, who are increasingly organizing pogroms, are worsening in India. The Orthodox do not have a church, so they have to rent from the non-Orthodox; they have no cemetery, therefore there was a case of cremation; they do not have a car for the priest to regularly visit the communities, especially in the heat.
However, Fr. Clement and the faithful, about 300 people, have unlimited trust in the Mother Church and a strong desire to enlighten all of India with the Orthodox faith. There is a group of public support for the Orthodox mission in India, “The Work of the Apostle Thomas,” on the Vkontakte social network, where news and information about the needs of the Indian Orthodox community are published.
Of course, Fr. Clement’s community is not the only one in India. There is an ROC-MP Church of the Apostle Thomas at the embassy in New Delhi, there are missions of the Church of Constantinople in West Bengali, and there are Orthodox faithful from various countries living in India. But the missionary potential is especially high now in the heart of India, in the Orthodox community of Chandrapur that Fr. Clement leads.
Obviously, we are witnessing the birth of a new Church—the Orthodox Church of India. The first stone of its foundation has already been laid—the Orthodox faith of the Nehamaiyah family, and of all who followed them through all the difficulties from the Anglican community to the Orthodox Church.
To close, I would like to quote the words of Fr. Clement:
The Orthodox mission in India is in the beginning stage today; it is lacking in the most basic necessities; there are many obstacle and problems arising from the lack of these things. But I am certain of the complete success of Orthodoxy in India, if the needs of this small, humble, faithful, and fruitful mission are noticed. It’s like fingers on a hand: If there is only one finger, it will be lonely and unable to do much of what it could with the other four fingers. At this point, the mission is like one finger on a hand; we need the assistance of the other four fingers to serve to the glory of the Lord. I firmly believe in God’s providence for India; the Indian mission will be the most fruitful in the world, because God has already prepared our people to receive the Gospel of salvation. I hope that as many people from Russia as possible will join our mission, to bring people to the light of Christ.