We continue publishing the materials of Spas TV program, “My Path To God”, where Priest George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy. The guest of today’s program is Yevgeny Verner, actor and producer. As a descendant of an old Jewish family, he came to Christ through Judaism. In his interview to Father George, he tells us his story about how the Savior literally called him. He also discusses so-called “national” religions, Cabbala and whether or not modern-day Judaism is the successor of the Old Testament traditions.
Father George: Hello! You are watching My Path To God. Yevgeny, the guest of today’s program, is a creative professional. He is an actor and a producer. As far as I know, Yevgeny, even though you learned a few things about Christianity when you were a child, you started to associate yourself with Judaism, when you grew up. Could you please tell us how this happened?
Yevgeny Verner: Indeed, I learned a lot of things from my grandmother, when I was a child. She told me about Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Lutheranism and the differences between them. She was an Orthodox Christian, even though she was a descendant of an ancient Jewish family.
Father George: She was obviously a very knowledgeable person, because not every grandmother can explain such nuances to her grandson.
Yevgeny Verner: Yes. Now that I’m older, I remember her more often. I remember the talks we had. At the time I didn’t understand much, but now I realize what she was talking about and what she was trying to instill in me.
In my young years, I strayed away from God, as I was preoccupied with earthly concerns. I turned to God later, in 2003, when I was 23.
Father George: Did you consider yourself Christian, or Jewish at that time?
Yevgeny Verner: It is difficult to say, I was still searching then. Five years later though, I was in a hospital and met hieromonk Mikhail from Kostromskaya Province, who was receiving a medical treatment there. He was the one who baptized me in that very hospital. I realized that he was a really spiritual person. That was when I started considering myself Orthodox. However, I transgressed as early as late 2008. As I come from a Jewish family, I was communicating with other Jews and they gradually managed to lead me astray somehow. I started going to synagogue, first occasionally, then more frequently. I started to observe the Sabbath; you know this is an important requirement in Judaism. Despite all this, I developed a drinking problem and didn’t even notice how this happened. As a result, by 2010 I practically had no work.
Once after another drinking party somebody stole my handbag with money and documents. I had to get back home. When I got home, I experienced a clinical death. I remember seeing souls there. It felt blissful and good. A window… And a voice… When I heard that voice, I was fearful. I was afraid that I would be punished, because I knew very well that after I turned away from Christ, I had been living the last two years in a wrong way.
Father George: Do you remember what that voice told you?
The voice said, “There were prayers for you and time was set aside for you. We are with you, go and do not sin anymore.”
Yevgeny Verner: The first warning was about drinking. Alcohol was strictly forbidden to me. I was told about the purpose of my life. Thank God, I heard everything there. Then a woman’s voice said, “There were prayers for you and time was set aside for you. We are with you, go and do not sin anymore.” When I came to, I saw that a church was nearby. I understood that I was guided here on purpose. Remarkably, when I entered that small wooden church to ask for a drink of water, everybody there welcomed me as if they knew me.
Father George: Did you manage to quit drinking right away? Or did you have to overcome any difficulties?
Yevgeny Verner: No, there were no difficulties whatsoever. That warning helped me to pull myself together. I know very well that if, God forbid, I return to my old ways, He would immediately take me from this world.
Father George: What about your involvement with Judaism?
Yevgeny Verner: You know, after a while, in the winter of 2011, when I got back to Moscow, I went to synagogue with another purpose. I went there to preach.
Father George: Did you talk about Christianity there?
This was an important sign for me: You come and talk about Christ and they drive you away.
Yevgeny Verner: Yes. I talked about human values, ideals and about Christ. The main rabbi’s right-hand man came up to me and said, “You have to leave, because you are a schismatic.” This was an important sign to me: you come and talk about the Truth and Christ and they drive you away. After I left the synagogue, I was walking in the street, feeling good and serene, because I thought that the words of Jesus Christ came true for me: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). This made me feel as if He was standing next to me at that moment. After that, thank God, my life started to get better.
Father George: As I understand, when they invited you to go to synagogue, one of the main arguments was, “If you are Jewish, this is your religion. You must be there.”
Yevgeny Verner: Yes. Just like it is happening in the world of Islam. They say that if you were born a Tatar, you must be Muslim. In Judaism, they have the same idea. Naturally, they started telling me, “You have to do this, you’ve got to do that…” They also told me about tefillin.
Father George: Let us explain for our viewers that tefillin are small boxes that Jews wear on their hands and arms during the prayers. The boxes contain small scrolls inscribed with verses from Torah.
Yevgeny Verner: When the tefillin is tied to your hand or arm, you must repeat certain names. At the time of my clinical death, when I saw visions, I understood why Jesus abolished the tefillin. He said that only those who were pure in heart would see God. That means that if your heart is not pure and your spirit is weak, tefillin won’t help you.
The Truth cannot depend on ethnicity.
Father George: Here we need to emphasize that the idea that Tatars must be Muslim and Jews must practice Judaism, is wrong. It is just like saying that Christianity is only for Russians, Greeks, Serbs and Georgians. For the Truth cannot depend on ethnicity.
Yevgeny Verner: Of course.
Father George: The Truth cannot be for certain nations only. The Truth is for everybody. Of course, we know that the Church of Jerusalem is the first Church. Its activity has not been interrupted since the Apostolic age. But even after that age, there were people who had Jewish roots but who were Christians and even became saints. For example, St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, Venerable Romanus the Melodist… Or, for example, Venerable Constantine of Synnada, who lived in ninth century. He came from a Jewish family. He converted to Christianity and preached Christ to his fellow countrymen. This proves that Christianity is a path that is open for Jews too. This can also be confirmed by what was happening in the Russian Empire.
Of course, the topic of Jews who converted to Christianity is a very touchy subject for people practicing Judaism. They say, “Well, yes, there were cases like this…” However, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, about 100,000 Jews of the Russian Empire converted to Orthodoxy in the nineteenth century. Those practicing Judaism allege that those Jews were forced to do it. However, your example as well as other examples demonstrates that this in fact can be the result of people’s free choice and their relationship with God.
Yevgeny Verner: I know quite a few people who converted to Orthodoxy from Judaism and Islam. They feel free here and they know that if their soul is reaching out to Orthodoxy, they should be here.
Modern Judaism does not have a temple or clergy. There are synagogues, but synagogues are not temples. There are rabbis, but rabbis are not priests.
Father George: It should be noted that modern-day Jews are trying to present themselves as heirs and even direct successors of the Old Testament tradition. However, this is not true, because when we open the Old Testament we see references to the Temple of Jerusalem there. There are direct instructions from God stating that sacrifices must be made in the Temple of Jerusalem, and only there such sacrifices will be effective. Sacrifice is the only means of becoming pure suggested in the Old Testament. As such, all those who tried to make their sacrifices outside of the Temple of Jerusalem were considered sinners and, in a way, schismatics. After Our Lord Jesus Christ came, the Temple of Jerusalem was abolished and so the modern-day Judaism does not have a temple. The Jews replaced it with synagogues, but synagogues are not temples.
And another thing: The Old Testament had clergy established by God. Nowadays there is practically no clergy. There are rabbis, but this is a totally different thing, as they are self-appointed. They do not come from ministerial families as it was sanctioned by God in the Old Testament.
According to the Old Testament, those Jews who chose modern Judaism are under sin and they are not purified.
If there is no temple or clergy, this means that there are no sacrifices. If there are no sacrifices, there is no absolution from sins, because sacrifice was the only means for that provided in the Old Testament. So according to the Old Testament, the Jews who chose modern Judaism are under sin and they are not purified. Pharisees started creating this so-called new version of Judaism after Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans in the first century. It was based on the ruins of whatever was left of the Old Testament. In this new version, there is a synagogue instead of a temple; a priest is replaced by a rabbi and instead of the Torah they use the Talmud that was compiled after the time of Christ.
Yevgeny Verner: Yes. Besides the Talmud, they preach Cabbala, which is very popular. I think many people know what Cabbala is.
Father George: A mystical teaching in Judaism. This teaching is also never mentioned in the Old Testament.
They do not simply read Cabbala, they act on it. Basically, it is sorcery.
Yevgeny Verner: This teaching is described in the book. And they do not simply read it—they act on it. Which, in fact, always ends badly, because it is basically sorcery.
Father George: Cabalists believe that gaining control over spiritual forces and knowing sacred names of God would give them some kind of power over this world. However, all sorcery is done by evil spirits. It is difficult to say whether all of this is true or just smoke and mirrors people use to put on airs. The fact that the Cabalist tradition includes an element of magic practices is undeniable. And the Cabbala itself… Even though they describe it as a very ancient teaching and an inseparable part of Judaism, the first books of Cabbala appeared only in the middle ages. It is a relatively recent teaching that came about even after the Talmud. It is becoming popular nowadays as a result of purposeful promotion.
Yevgeny Verner: They addle people’s minds.
There is also another tendency. More Jews started converting to Christianity, so the number of Jews in Judaism is getting lower. However, the number of followers is replenished by people of other faiths. There is a practice called giyur in Judaism. This involves a rabbi’s family working with a person of any nation, teaching him or her about Jewish faith and culture. If such person is a man, he gets a circumcision and a new name. After that, they are considered to be members of the Jewish community. So, people can make different choices. In the Gospel, Jesus Christ says that the wheat would be separated from tares. This is what is happening now. I hope to God that people watching this program would make the right choice.
Father George: Indeed, people living in Russia or in any other Orthodox country should think about why God let them be born in this specific country. Of course, people of various faiths live here, and nobody is taking away the free will, but it is easier to learn about Christianity and be a real Christian in these countries.
Yevgeny Verner: We should emphasize that we are talking about the true Christianity, i.e. Orthodoxy. In Europe, they have Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., but there is no Truth there. I made the comparison and, for example, the Protestant’s Gospel differs from the Orthodox Gospel, the Gospel that is closer to Christ’s teaching.
Father George: There is a synodal translation and some Protestants in Russia use it, but many have their own translations. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a totally distorted translation of the Bible. Other translations also suffer from distortions and loss of meaning.
Yevgeny Verner: These distortions are huge. I had a look at the Gospel distributed by Baptists. It is very different from the Orthodox Gospel. I wish to God that people could figure things out. Thank God, there are many people awakened by God Almighty. I would really want the Truth to prevail.
Father George: We know that Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “I am the Truth” (John, 14:6). I hope to God that viewers of our program would find their path to Christ, as you did. Your example demonstrates that God will spare nothing to help us come to Him. If you need a book, God would send you the book. If you need a good Christian friend, He would send you one. If somebody needs a miracle or a direct revelation, He would provide that too, as happened in your case. But people always have the right to choose. They can say, “No, I don’t want this”, but after that they won’t be able to say, “I didn’t know, nobody offered me this.”
Yevgeny Eduardovich, thank you very much for your story. I wish you strengthening of your faith in Christianity and in your relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ.