My talk with Father Nektary (Haji-Petropoulos), abbot of the Russian monastery in Mexico City, has become a spiritual pearl for me. We talked with him for over an hour, and this was that rare case when I wanted to absorb every word—about faith, the Church, love, about how God can become my Friend and how I can sense Him.
—Many want to learn to trust God and rely on His will. What could you say about this?
—I would say that it is easier to do this when you live by the Church. True, I was successful in worldly life and could well have lived outside the Church. But this only applies to material things. Spiritually, I longed to be close to God. I needed to be in the Church and rely on His will.
Trust is the mother of experience and the foundation of everything. This experience has accompanied me all my life, and the Lord is always close to me—every moment, especially when I deny myself and try to help others (those who need it), when I give everything that I have and keep nothing for myself. I know that God will take care of me, and this is true because I care about the people of God. He will take care of all my needs, so trusting Him is not a problem for me.
—What advice would you give to those who are trying to learn to trust the Lord?
—You need to be closer to the Church and try to help, participating in its daily spiritual life, praying, fasting and going to confession. At some point, since you will receive Divine grace, it will become vital for you.
Then you will begin to feel God’s presence. You will feel it not with your mind, but by experience. And if that happens, He will surely become your Friend. You will feel that He is near, you can always talk to Him and always hear Him. And He always guides you.
Trust is safety, the feeling that the Lord is always with you—as long as you allow Him to be with you, within you, and as long as you allow Him to guide you through life.
—In the appeal by the Fund for Assistance to ROCOR, I read: “If you want to help in the fight against the coronavirus, support Father Nektary.” What are you doing to help people?
—There are doctors in our Russian Mission, and we use special “Covid protocols”. For example, I have a different medical specialty, but I studied medicine and I know what needs to be done for treatment. In addition, there are other doctors who are always ready to help.
Now we have a lot of patients: I would say dozens, and every day we learn that someone has become infected. We call these people and counsel them on what needs to be done. If they can’t go to the pharmacy, we write prescriptions or buy the drugs ourselves and deliver them to them.
This applies not only to members of our community, but also to people outside of it. They know we are helping. Since hospitals and clinics are now overwhelmed and it is hard to get any attention there, they call us at the monastery and our doctors give them recommendations or send them medicine.
—Many are afraid of the current situation. Some consider it as God’s punishment, and others as God’s blessing or something else. What do you say to people when they ask you about it?
—I don’t think the Lord punishes anyone for anything. It is we who do not care about His creation and bring all these disasters upon ourselves. If we do not care about our own lives and the way we live, we become addicted. And, of course, diseases appear and people die.
But I would say that the current situation is new only for our generation of relatively young people. In the last century there were many epidemics that claimed millions of lives, and people of the older generations remember those times.
This is what I say to those who listen to me in church: “Don’t be afraid, for the Lord is with you—He is on your side.” At the same time, I urge people to remember their responsibility, do certain things and, conversely, avoid what shouldn’t be done. If you get sick, take medicine. Do not wait, be responsible for your life, and then it will become easier.
Is the pandemic God’s punishment? No. Have we turned away from Him? Yes. We are moving away from the Church and from God—this is a characteristic feature of our time. But who loses here? People. If the Lord lives in us, we feel His support both mentally and physically. But if we leave Him, then, of course, we contract illnesses and die in agony, without any hope, without consolation. It will be a futile life and a futile end away from God.
—How can one avoid this futile end?
—Now situations with the coronavirus vary from country to country. A year ago in Mexico, infection almost always meant death because the health care system is poor here. Now we see that many people recover, although some still die, and I was a witness to this. If I do not accept God’s will, I begin to fight against it and then die, but die without help and comfort. However, if we trust in the Lord even in such situations, if we surrender into His hands and accept His will, then He decides whether we should die or survive. And at least we receive spiritual help from the priest, the Church prays for us, and in this we find peace, grace and acceptance.
—What are you most looking forward to right now?
—I hope that we will be able to bring the pandemic under control and continue to serve our community as before. Now it is very difficult. For various reasons we do not have the opportunity to travel very much around the country—we cannot travel by car due to the criminal situation, and air tickets are very expensive, so we have to communicate with people via the internet. During the lockdown, we started livestreaming services, and now we continue to do it for people who live in other cities and cannot come to the Liturgy. This is a new way for us; and although we know how to do these things, it is not proper.
—You usually spend most of your day outside the monastery. Is working in a hospital, clinic, or university a service of God?
—True, I work in the world, but I do it for the monastery and my flock—to maintain the monastery so people may have a place where they can pray. I am a monk and my only desire is to serve God through His people.
—How do you advise people to serve God outside church every day?
—Being a Christian means leading a certain way of life, and not only attending church and behaving appropriately there. If we live as Christians, respect our neighbors and do our jobs as well as we can, in this way we thank God for the great gift of life and health—especially now that there is so much sickness and so many deaths around us. If we help those in need as much as we can, we show love for the Lord! And if we take care of His children, He takes care of us. I pray day and night and realize that I am nobody and nothing. I ask the Lord to put the right words into my mouth, for every person and at every moment, and I try to keep my mind turned to Heaven.