One day the following notice appeared on the door of the Krishnaite Ananda Rupa’s astrology office: “The office is closed because of my return to Orthodoxy. I sincerely wish you the same. May Christ save you. Olga.” This talk is about how Olga Gagushicheva, who had been baptized yet was absolutely unenlightened, became a Krishna worshipper and practicing astrologer, why she returned to her paternal home and Christ, and what came of it.
The days are evil (Eph. 5:15), or an unorthodox “Orthodox life”
—Olga, Did you know anything about Christ before completely falling into the grip of astrology and other spiritual delusions?
—When I was one year old, my parents wanted to have me baptized. According to my mother, on the appointed day the weather was sunny and dry, so the family decided to go and gather berries instead of going to church. During that berry-picking hike I fell seriously ill and the illness lasted three years. I learned this from my mother when I was sixteen. I naturally drew a conclusion that I must go and receive Baptism. You see, I was empty-headed. Many of my relatives joined me. And that was the end of my “Christian living”. Though I also got the “knowledge” of the Church and God in the Soviet school. It was a real mishmash. Of course, I was a Komsomol member. We were warned that in no case should we, Komsomol members, attend any church services on Pascha. But we were curious to see what would happen during the church service, all the more so because we were told: “It is not allowed!” So we forced our way through all the police cordons and Komsomol activists who were wearing their bands. On the following day we were summoned to our director of studies who gave us a good dressing-down and promised to expel all of us from school. Of course, he didn’t keep his promise. I don’t remember how my Baptism took place as it was not a result of my conscious decision. I did it “for no particular reason”. Later, when I got married, it was fashionable to marry in Church, so we did it as well… Our wedding ceremony was arranged for us in a village church near the city of Cherepovets which was opened especially for us. And afterwards we baptized our children. That was all. You see, it was our unorthodox “Orthodox life”.
A big thank you to the press
—How did you develop an interest in astrology? How was it manifested? When did it happen?
—During my school years. I think it was 1985 or 1986.
—The time when the “gates to the West” opened wide…
—Or yawned open, to be more precise.
—And when all those individuals appeared on TV.
—Yes! Now general secretaries were replaced with sorcerers, psychics and other “enlightened” individuals who were goggling their eyes and moving their hands on TV. And not only TV. The most popular magazines, such as Rabotnitsa and Krestianka, began to run horoscopes, not to mention newspapers.
—These low-grade magazines deem it necessary to powder our brains by their “forecasts” in our days just as they did it back then.
—That is why I read neither national nor local newspapers.
—So you first encountered this phenomenon as a high school student and, in your view, the mass media contributed to the enormous popularity of horoscopes, psychic practice, and other diabolic things, right?
—Exactly! A big thank you to the press. Then the captivating, enigmatic Book of Changes appeared, teaching fortune-telling, star predictions, numerology, etc. It was just enthralling! It seemed that that “secret knowledge” would enable you to unveil the mystery of your own and somebody else’s lives.
—Didn’t you feel that it was like peeping through the peephole?
—I felt as if I were touching something great. It was a matter of taking a wrong path: the fact is that everybody is thirsty for God, yet it is extremely difficult to move in the right direction. It is much easier to “perform an act” (without any effort and patience)—and many secrets will automatically be revealed to you. But we didn’t care! Firstly, we were ignorant of genuine spiritual life. Secondly, “Why should we go to benighted old women and priests in order to find God?” Soviet Komsomol members thought. Thirdly, we naively believed that since we already had spiritual books and horoscopes, they wouldn’t tell lies. Fourthly, we were sure that it was only “for fun”, that we would play with this a little and give it up without any consequences.
—Do I understand correctly that “going with the stream”, you resorted to the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony, while being engrossed in astrology?
—Yes, you are quite right. Though the most important thing was our work and daily routine. We lived well and were not in need. And, you know, one day I began to understand that we came to this world not only for these “daily chores”. I wanted more. Wanted to know who am I? What am I? What is the purpose of my life? Is it limited to having children and building a home? It was in the early 2000s. It was then that my real search began. I remember dropping in at a church during the service to have my cross blessed. And I was not impressed and didn’t notice anything inside or around me; besides, the service was hard to understand. And what was I offered at that time “from outside”? Astrology, “mysteries about you will be revealed”, “you will discover your true mission”, “you will know who you are and what you are”. I naturally wanted all of that! Thus I became utterly absorbed in this. Astrology was followed by Osho [the Indian guru Rajneesh], Blavatsky, the Rerikhs… Alas, I would read and practice all of this…
“A nice bit of catechism”
—Did you come to that life yourself or did you follow some “well-wisher’s” advice?
—Hold on tight! It was a cathedral chorister that advised me to get into astrology. Her husband then worked with us. We used to share our female problems with each other. She said to me: “Go there! They will tell you everything!” Even now there are some church-goers who have been muddled by this nonsense. And I got carried away! “Energies”, “kundalini rising” – it was like walking in the air. I awfully wanted to get into it.
You see, it was an “initiation into the mystery” which allowed me “to see”, “to learn”. I learned “how to see human auras”. During school meetings I could see that some people had “horns” and so on… It may not be true that I saw this myself, now I realize that. But then I believed that I saw it myself. “Oh, how wonderful! Now I can see energies in the air!”
—Wasn’t it autosuggestion?
—I didn’t believe it was autosuggestion. Even today I still see some energy in the air willy-nilly. I seem to have retained this ability. After immersing myself in astrology, I discovered Krishnaism and other cults.
—Yes, you went too far!
—I made the acquaintance of Krishna worshippers and was initiated by them. I sincerely believed that I was serving God. My teachers were Torsunov, Gadetsky, and Rami Blekt.
—Who are they?
—All of them are leaders of destructive sects. And I sincerely believed that all people around were living wrong and must be given Vedic knowledge. I became a vegetarian. If you look at the surface only, it is “scent-smelling”: all these “kind smiles”, “love”, and “care”. “Read Hare Krishna and you will be happy, and all of your problems will be solved!” And you think: “That’s true. We have a lot of trouble. The kids disobey us, we have problems with business and some have health issues. All want to be happy and so they come running and read Hare Krishna.”
—You’ve said you sincerely believed that you were serving the Lord.
—Yes, I did.
—But Krishna worshippers don’t believe in the Lord, do they?
—Krishnaites and adherents of similar cults taught that Krishna (or some other deity) was the only true god, whereas Christ was demigod. This idea is still being actively disseminated in India. You see, when I came to church, I was one hundred percent sure of this. I believed in reincarnation. It was a shock. I had known nothing about Christ or the Gospel before then. Before my initiation into Krishnaism I had visited Jerusalem. I didn’t feel anything special there; as I walked along the holy city I sensed that it was a pure, light-radiating place, that Christ indeed was a great preacher, a strong “mystic” and “yogi”. Only now do I understand that by those signs the Lord was trying to warn me: “Think! Be cautious!” We visited Jerusalem in August, and in September I was initiated.
—And I am still trying to come to my senses, slowly repeating your words: It was an Orthodox chorister that advised you to turn to an astrologer, right?
—In response to your spiritual search?
—Just wait! You will hear more. We still communicate much and are on very friendly terms. We often recall how we “gorged ourselves on piles of this muck”. It sounds rude, but, believe me, it is the truth. It was a real nightmare, and it is a miracle that God saved us from that.
Faced with a choice
—And how did He save you from the nightmare?
—Just imagine: I was a leading Krishnaite, a practicing astrologer, president of a women’s club and a yoga teacher. In 2011 my mother-in-law died in Cherepovets. So we went there to organize a funeral service at church. I knew that she was baptized; therefore, we were to observe this tradition. In the morning we dressed ourselves appropriately and went to church for the funeral service. I entered the church where I had once been baptized and everything began to turn upside down inside me. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me: it seemed as if I were in heaven and on earth at the same time and was unable to leave the church! Everybody was saying: “Let us go outside! It’s time to drive back!” I heard nothing, weeping and shivering all over, and everything inside me was clearly and kindly calling on me to return to Christ Whom I had betrayed… And now I returned home. While walking around the church, I wanted to touch all the items… I was walking and crying.
—Thus, your Baptism was not in vain. It had its effect.
—Indeed it had. So we buried my mother-in-law and came back home. It was during the winter holidays. And then I went to my first confession. To be more exact, I didn’t fully understand what a confession was like. I just knew I must go there. So I woke up in the morning, had my breakfast, took a shower, came to church, confessed my sins and received Communion for the first time in my life. And before then I had read my mantras…
—I won’t comment on food and drink before Communion. But why on earth did you read mantras?!
—I was absolutely ignorant in this field at that time. But after confession strange things began to happen, although I don’t know how to describe this properly. I could no longer recite the mantras or hold those awful prayer beads in my hands… Some force began to “cut me on the raw” and cut off all these things…
—It means you were faced with a choice: you are either with Christ or against Christ.
—Yes, and this time I was more conscious of that. I had close relations with Krishnaites who with one voice asserted that Krishnaism and Christianity offered the same faith in one God, albeit at different levels. In fact it was faith in ignorance. With karma and incarnations in my mind, I was terribly confused and had no idea what I should do next, what existed and what didn’t exist in reality, and what I should do with my life. At once I noticed that the Orthodox don’t accept astrology and astrologers, so I was afraid even to breathe a word of it.
Vologda Sanskrit against Vologda’s kindness
—You remained a practicing astrologer, didn’t you?
—Of course. I did a great deal of thinking over those days. I think I turned on the waterworks through the holidays. I went to church and repented of the sins that I was aware of and remembered committing from my childhood and youth. I took Communion three times. Since my astrology office and St. Nicholas Church were situated in the same street, I would look in at this church. I wanted to talk with somebody, but there was nobody to speak to and I didn’t know how to address people properly. Besides, when you study several faiths and cultures simultaneously, it is very complicated. I came to church and began to speak in a mixture of Russian and Sanskrit. But then it came home to me that I should “watch the language”.
—And it was the Vologda Krishnaites’ variation of Sanskrit. A Krishnaite retaining the unstressed “o” very prominent in speech [instead of pronouncing it as “a”; it is characteristic of Russian dialects] is so lovely!
—You are right. A woman on duty was speaking with me at church, but I could hear only letters and couldn’t join them to form words. Then I heard very clearly: “Would you like to go to confession and take Communion?” I answered: “I have already done it.” And she asked: “Did you prepare for these sacraments?” “No, I haven’t. How should I prepare myself?” And it turned out that I must fast and read special prayers before confession and Communion. But why fast if I am a vegetarian?
—She was kind to you, wasn’t she?
—Yes, may God save her for this. I bought my first Orthodox prayer book right away and wrote down the numbers of the pages I ought to read on certain days… I came home, opened my prayer-book… and indescribable things began to occur: on the one hand, there were mantras in Sanskrit; and, on the other hand, there were unfamiliar yet native speech sounds with which we have prayed to God for 1,000 years. As I started reciting mantras, I felt aversion; as I started reading Orthodox prayers, almost all became clear and the light was being poured into my soul.
—Did you have difficulties with Church Slavonic?
—It was almost perfectly clear. And I think that then it was even clearer than now, when I read from memory, less attentively and with less love. At that time I would read carefully each word, which would begin to sound in my very heart. I recall with dread how at one time I changed my name “Olga” to “Ananda Rupa”, which approximately means “wharf of everlasting peace”. This name was written in my passport. I came to the passport office and asked the staff to give me my normal Russian name back. Those ladies who were accustomed to all sorts of names and tried to look serious, were shaking their shoulders and sniffling with laughter. So we laughed together a little. And they issued a new passport to me.
“Run back, girl! There is no life without God!”
—What can you compare your return to God with?
—No need to look far afield. Take the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In my case it was the prodigal daughter. Once I read the Orthodox prayers with my heart, it marked the end of my wanderings “to a faraway land”. Thenceforth all the mantras were forgotten. Only Christ, only the paternal home remained. You feel genuine love and warmth there.
—What sort of impression did you get of contacts with the powers that “inspire” astrologers and their like-minded colleagues?
— When I was giving advice to people, I didn’t necessarily tell them exactly what I saw in a horoscope. Thoughts and ideas occurred to me themselves, and afterwards people confirmed those things. Subsequently, looking back, I came to understand that it was not angels or the Almighty that had been “whispering” these things to me. These most probably were absolutely different powers that wanted me to believe firmly that I was a figure of importance. A person involved in such practices feels superior to others and is full of pride. Though I tried to be humble, it was not humility. Now I understand that.
—Did many people come to you?
—Yes, indeed. Even people from the Church and choir directors would come. I would laugh and say: “Girls, what under the sun are you doing here? You must have no problems!” But they kept coming. And in effect I helped one woman return to the Church. She sings in the choir and everything is all right with her.
—Was it the same lady who had once advised you to take up astrology?
—Yes, it was she.
—And she came to you?
—Yes, to consult with me as an astrologer.
—And you helped her return to the Church?
—Yes, I did. I said to her: “Run back! There is no life without God!”
—Right during the appointment?
—Oh yes. You see, unlike many sectarians, I didn’t try to “recruit” as many new members as possible. I just thought: “Well, let them go to church and worship God at this level.” I sincerely believed that I was serving God and showing people the right path. I had a desire to serve Him; I think that is why He has led me here [to the Orthodox Church], seeing the desire of my heart. I read about the conversion of Saul, the future Apostle Paul, of Prince Vladimir, and I had a similar experience myself.
—And then you “caught it”.
—I had a lot to bear indeed. There were many phone calls, they would come and demand: “Do return! You are betraying the guru!” But why didn’t they say that I was betraying Christ during the initiation?! All the lectures of these preachers “on pure living”, “, “on yoga”, etc. are downright falsehood, and there they do not at all preach about what is said in words. So my astrology was a kind of a protest, though it may sound silly.
—What made you give up these practices?
—First and foremost, I felt I was a traitor. I clearly imagine the third rooster crow at that night in Jerusalem; people are warming themselves by fire, waiting for the end of the conversation in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house. On the one hand, there was this feeling; on the other hand, at last I felt at home in the Church of God. There were karma and incarnation in my mind, yet inwardly I sensed God’s presence here. I ran a women’s club where we discussed Bhagavad-Gita. When I returned to the Church I realized that I couldn’t speak about this any more. And the club members proved to be understanding: “All right! We will join you and go to church with you!” they said. It was a great joy. There was something intrinsically Russian in this: “Let us stop wasting our time! We are with you!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry… But it was the deliverance from sin.
Feng Shui money toads not roses
—Were there any other barriers on your path towards Christ?
—Evil spirits threw obstacles in my way. That is why I wanted to talk with you about this at or near the church. I lost all the material wealth that I had acquired; in my former life I was guided by the principle: if you are spiritually rich, you will be materially rich. And I lost everything. It was very tough on me and I became absolutely penniless. To put it simpler, a day came when I had no money to pay for bus fare to get to the monastery I attended.
—How did you overcome that?
—God never leaves us! One story particularly frightened me. A woman who would recite mantras got such a big sum of money within one year that she bought a property by a faraway warm sea. She became very rich. But this woman had an abortion at eight months, perhaps refusing “to bear beggars”, as the saying goes. That story convinced me that money is not the most important thing in life. I keep in mind the following words by St. Nicholas (Velimirovich): “Never fear! A few have been driven insane by their poverty; there are more who have gone crazy from their riches.” If you have a lot of money, will you ever think about God?
A sense of humor and irony help a great deal as well. Now I find all these horoscopes bizarre and ridiculous. For instance, today many study crystal healing on the internet. Once I believed in that nonsense too, but now it makes me laugh: “Put a sapphire at the head of the bed of an alcoholic, and he will stop drinking”, “A Feng Shui toad will attract the energy of wealth to your home”…
Of course, poverty doesn’t mean that you should sit idle doing nothing. Now we have undertaken the manufacture of organic make-up. True, it is neither petroleum nor diamonds, but we have managed to extricate ourselves from poverty with the help of God. So there’s nothing to grumble about.
Such different successors of the apostles
—That is a material aspect of your difficult journey home. But was there the spiritual aspect?
—I became a church-goer in 2012, but I didn’t give up astrology completely until the end of 2014. One priest said to me: “You make a living by this. So carry on.”
—Well I never!
—I warned you that there would be many “surprises”.
—It is not so much interesting as sad.
—Oh yes! Then I learned to be a catechist. I ended up in the “professional environment” of the Church, and not all of its representatives matched up to the Christian ideals as I (and others) see them… In a nutshell, temptations on my path to God abounded. I thought: “Why do I see all of this?” With the help of God and some true pastors I managed to overcome those nasty things.
—I am not sure that many people, when faced with some of the material and spiritual trials that you encountered, would have remained in the Church and would have been so persistent. How did you overcome the horror of seeing outrageous things in the Church?
—Not only Peter, who was warming himself by fire in the courtyard of the house of Caiaphas, betrayed Christ. There was also Judas. The former became a great apostle, while the latter became the most miserable man. The conviction that all of us can follow the path of Apostle Peter really helps me. Those who follow the path of Judas will be judged by God.
—How did your family react to your conversion to Christ?
—It was very hard. My husband, son and daughter supported astrology and related practices. “How will I say to my husband and others that I cannot endure this any more, that these practices are now alien to me?” I thought. And my husband recited mantras. It was just a disaster. The awareness of my return to the Heavenly Father was so strong that it ultimately prevailed.
My daughter never set foot in church after her confession to one priest. My son who found many alcoholics among the clergy is no longer a church-goer and discourages me from going to church. I don’t see everything through rose-colored glasses any more. I tell my son to go and earn his living, but he is not pleased with this. My husband seldom goes to church (mostly on Pascha) and prefers to pray at home.
People, read classical literature!
—What kind of books do you read?
—I read a lot and listen to various lectures; I found debates between such fathers as Archpriest Oleg Stenyayev and Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev and Krishnaites and other sects, which proved very useful. I have immersed myself in Russian classical literature. I am truly amazed: it gives answers to almost all the questions that have been asked by men since time immemorial! Why in the world did we drag ourselves into astrology and sects? And if we read the Psalter or the Proverbs attentively, we will find that it is a fountain of the purest water! People, we have this wealth under our very noses, but instead we often hunt for a plugged nickel in dung.
—As far as I understand, now you are not against drawing people’s attention to the need of exercising extreme caution during spiritual search?
—Definitely! I want to address myself to people and say: begin to live your lives consciously! Don’t go to astrologers to solve all your minor problems! For we don’t want to take on responsibility and are prone to shift it onto somebody else. It is easier to go and ask somebody: “What should I do? Should I marry or not? Should I have children or not?” Or we begin to look for signs everywhere. This is a leaning towards paganism! Instead we must rely wholeheartedly on God, entrust ourselves to His care—and then nobody and nothing will separate us from His love, neither outward difficulties nor the sins of Judas. I sincerely wish for the salvation of all of us.