“I Feel a Hunger and Thirst in My Soul for God”

An interview with a Moslem who embraced Christianity

“When I visited an Orthodox church, it was only in order to view another ‘tradition’…However, when I entered an Orthodox church for the first time something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was ‘home’, that all my search was over.” Those are the words of one of the greatest fathers of our times, a man of holy life, Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), who lived in America, in the monastery of St. Herman of Alaska, Platina, California.

Today we are speaking with Alexy, a former Moslem, who like Fr. Seraphim, sought the truth for a long time. At the moment he discovered Christ and came to the right faith in Him—to Orthodoxy, he understood the words of the Savior: The truth shall make you free (Jn. 8:32). Although Alexy became Orthodox only one year ago, at a little over forty years of age, he impressed us with the simplicity of his faith, his sincere love of neighbor and Christ the Savior.

  *   *   *

—I was born a Moslem. I was orphaned in childhood, and grew up with my brothers. Their personalities were the opposite of mine. They liked to be with people while I was a solitary, introverted person. Although I did not know the Lord Christ, when I heard the word of God, shivers went up my spine. I sought Him very hard. Even as a child I wanted to know where the truth is, and I sought the truth, but did not know where to find it. I lost peace, was agitated, and I did not know where to go or what to do in order to find the truth. In my ignorance I prayed, “God help me to find the truth!” At age twenty, after experiencing a great sorrow, I found the Savior, Christ—or more correctly, He found me. I bought a book in a bookstore entitled, The Path to Christ, a book that changed my life. Then, after several years, I read the Bible. Although the New Testament made a strong impression on me, because I discovered myself once again in this book, I nevertheless did not immediately come to Orthodoxy. I wanted something that would confirm for me that the truth is in Orthodoxy. God showed me where the truth is last year during the uproar in the media over the problem of biometric passports. I knew the New Testament very well because I had read it many times, and saw that the prophecy of the Apocalypse is being fulfilled in our day. I considered this to be the sign that I was waiting for. When I was younger, a monk gave me the book, Do Not Deny Christ, written by a priest from Mt. Athos. In this book are described the events that we are now experiencing and which prepare the way for the coming of the antichrist and the mark of the beast. Thus, after this confirmation, I became Orthodox and received Baptism.

Had you searched for truth elsewhere?

—I had read much about Yoga. But I understood that this is a great deception, because there is an essential difference between Yoga and the Divine teachings of Holy Scripture. I only studied Yoga, but Christ the Savior protected me from practicing it.

—How did your conversion take place?

—When I recognized where the truth is, I went to Fr. Arsenie (Papacioc) in Techirghiol (Romania) and there I spoke with this holy man. He taught me what I needed to do. He told me that I should speak with the priest of the parish to which I belong. I followed father’s advice, and during Great Lent my daughter and I were baptized. I used to go to church often even before Baptism. I listened to the services, but did not cross myself. I considered that since I was a Moslem, I should not make the sign of the cross on myself. Satan led me astray by this thought; only after Baptism did I begin to cross myself.

—Did your emotional state change after Baptism?

—Of course, I feel that the Lord Christ is with me and helps me. Now I fast, pray in the morning and evening, and see that no matter what I ask of my Savior, He hears me and fulfills my request. Not long ago, God desired to test my faith through my wife, who was suffering from illness. I prayed for her health, and He healed her. Looking back on those twenty years of searching, I see that God never abandoned me. While I was a Moslem, I did not say the prayers that every Christian knows: “Our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer), “I believe” (the Creed); I prayed as my heart suggested. Every time, God fulfilled my prayer. Today, many pray to God to give them money, wealth, or ask Him about things that are not pleasing to Him. But I pray that He would grant health to me and my family, and that He would preserve us unwavering in the right faith, so that we would not fall away from it. In these times in which we are living, it is important to remain steadfast in the true Faith.

—How did your Baptism take place?

—The priest in the church were I was baptized told me that I should choose a saint who is commemorated not long before the day that the sacrament would be performed. I was very anxious: which saint should I choose as a patron? On March 17, a few days before my baptism, I heard a talk about St. Alexy, Man of God. I was touched by his perfect humility and asceticism, and I decided to be baptized with the name Alexy. The Baptism was performed according to the Orthodox rite, I was wearing a long white robe, and father immersed me in the font three times. Although I was not immediately aware of the importance of this sacrament, with time I felt the working of the grace of the Holy Spirit. You change almost completely, but this change happens gradually.

Now I have such a hunger and thirst for God that when I enter an Orthodox bookstore it seems I could buy every book. I read and re-read the Bible, and each time I understand it more deeply. There is a sort of magnet in my soul that draws me to the word of God…

—You spoke of the sacrament of Baptism. How did the sacraments of confession and Communion act upon your soul?

—Without confession and Communion you cannot attain the Kingdom of God. They are deceived who think that if they go to church often and do good deeds, it will be enough for their salvation. There is no person without sin, and only the Savior can cleanse us with His Body and Blood which we received in holy Communion. The Savior came down to people and freed us from the chains of sins through His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. If He had not come, we would have died in our sins, we would be the slaves of sin. Therefore, frequent confession and Communion are needed in order to be freed from the chains by which sins keep us distant from the Most High. The more worthily you commune, the greater you are purified inwardly. The soul is like a grapevine: the better you clean it, the more beautiful it is and the better it grows; the better you cleanse the soul with confession and Communion, the more you feel that you are firmer in your faith and closer to Christ. Growing in faith, you no longer think so hard about the material; you place the spiritual first.

—Christ calls us all to salvation. But there are people amongst us who do not hear the voice of the Lord…

—I have seen that when a person is in sorrows, he thinks more about God; man seeks God when sorrows are closing in on him. I also know many unbelieving people who completely changed because of sorrows, and became good Christians. It would be good if the floods that have befallen our country would get more people to think… If they would think about God’s commandments, they would see the connection between these catastrophes and the great sins committed by the people: fornication, pornography, and homosexuality, which draw God’s righteous wrath. In the Bible there are many examples wherein we see that from the very foundation of the world, God punished people for disobedience, for lives spent in outrageous conduct.

—Which proverb from the New Testament has made the greatest impression on you?

—I especially like the proverb about the ten virgins: the five wise ones who had oil in their lamps, and the five foolish ones who had none. The lamps are faith, and oil is prayer and good works. If you do not have oil in your lamp, it does not burn. That is, if you do not pray and do good deeds, if you do not give alms and help people who are in trouble, your faith is dead. It means that you have to pray and help those near you in order to pour oil into the lamp. This oil is your light which leads you to Christ. Faith should be united with prayer and good deeds. It gladdens me when a poor person comes to me and asks me for something, because I find Christ in him. The Savior says clearly to us what He will require from us at the Judgment: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me (Mt. 25:35–36). That means that if you want to be saved, you must help very much.

—Many fear the end of the world; they fear that they will not endure this trial. What about you?

—I do not fear the end of the world. To the contrary. Then it will be seen who is in the right faith, who is in the Truth. I think that if your soul is pure and at peace with God, you need not fear anything. What do we confess in the Symbol of Faith (the Creed)? “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” There in the Kingdom of Heaven will be life with Christ—bright, pure, and completely different from the life we live now. Orthodox Christians look for this life. I know that very difficult times are coming soon. I want God to give me strength to become a confessor when He so desires it. For now, I deepen my faith, and study the Gospels in order to gain the strength to be a confessor. I know that I cannot do this by myself, but only within the unity that the Church creates. In the Apocalypse it says that when the antichrist comes, he will portray himself as the Savior and deceive many. If I will be living in those times, I want to be given the strength to tell people that the antichrist is a liar; to tell them Who the Truth is.

—Have you told your brothers that you have become Orthodox?

—I am preparing myself for that moment. They see crosses and icons in my home and car, but I have not yet told them about my Baptism. I am waiting for the appropriate moment to tell them about my changes, for their benefit.

—If they ask you, will you deny it?

—No, I will tell the truth to their faces. You know, the time will come—and not much time is left any longer—when many Moslems and Jews will come to the Truth: Christ. Some people have already been found amongst these peoples who have received Orthodoxy—not many, it’s true, but I see in this only the beginning. I pray to God that He would enlighten others also, as He enlightened me, and bring them out of darkness into Light; from death into Life.

Rakula Tenesianu
Familia Orthodox, 2010:19

English translation by Pravoslavie.ru/OrthoChristian.com
from the Russian translation from the Romanian by Zinaida Peikova

12/27/2010

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