The Path to Happiness: How Can We Cultivate Love?

Everyone has their own path to happiness, including family happiness, which is personal and unique. Sometimes you have to go through difficult life circumstances, but it is not a reason for despondency and losing faith. We must learn to thank God for everything, and then we will find consolation! Alexander Dmitriev, a graduate of the Sretensky Theological Academy (the bachelor’s program), talks about his meeting with Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral), an amazing gift from him, his mother’s miraculous healing, how he found his future wife, and the birth of children.

—Alexander, you graduated from the professional art school of gold embroidery. You are a hand embroiderer by profession. You had a tough childhood and youth. Tell us more about that stage of your life and its main events.

—I was born near the town of Torzhok in the Tver region. I grew up in the countryside. I went to a boarding-school. I was brought up by my grandmother and spent my childhood in her love. She gave me the instruction with which I walk through life: “Respect your elders and don’t offend those younger than you.” After my grandmother’s death I had to move from dorm to dorm. I hardly ever saw my mother, who was deprived of her parental rights. I forgave my mother—parents are parents. That’s the most important thing for me. I have no questions or complaints. I am sure that I had these ups and downs by the mercy of God.

Grandchildren with their grandmother. Alexander is in the center Grandchildren with their grandmother. Alexander is in the center     

After graduating from the school of gold embroidery I entered the Higher School of Folk Arts (Academy) in St. Petersburg. Before the Revolution it was called the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna School of Folk Art. It gathered from all over Russia those who were engaged in handicrafts: woodwork, bone carving and needlework. I studied and worked simultaneously at the Sunday schools of some St. Petersburg churches.

During my three-year program in St. Petersburg, a relative of mine who lives in America and teaches in the ROCOR persistently invited me to come and visit her in America. My grandmother had already passed away, so I agreed. How the money for a flight to America appeared is a separate story, because I was penniless. I believe that everything happened through the prayers of Sts. Sergius and Herman (I worked at the Orthodox school of Sts. Sergius and Herman, the Wonderworkers of Valaam) and Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg.

As I recall now, on September 11 (according to the old calendar), the feast of Sts. Sergius and Herman, the Wonderworkers of Valaam, after the Liturgy in the house church I left school on business, and on the way back I visited the Smolensk Cemetery and tearfully prayed to St. Xenia, asking for help in solving my problems. When I returned to school, a student’s father came up to me and asked, “What are you doing here? You should be in America!” I replied to him, “I can’t fly there yet.” He gave me an amount that was just enough for airplane tickets, which were very expensive. On September 30, 2008, the feast of the holy Martyrs Faith, Hope, Love and their mother Sophia, I flew to the USA.

—What were your impressions of America? Did you feel homesick? If you had not travelled there, one important event in your life would not have happened: your meeting with Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral).

—I was very disappointed with America and felt homesick. But there I met Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral), the First Hierarch of the ROCOR, who reposed last year. Our first meeting was unexpected: in the first days of my stay in America the guys took me to another monastery—the Holy Cross Monastery in West Virginia. At seven in the morning I got out of the trailer in which we were accommodated, and went into the house. I saw a priest sitting there. I came up to him to get his blessing. He asked me: “Are you hungry?” I said yes, and he made me breakfast. He asked me, “Who are you and where are you from?” I told him about myself and then decided to ask him: “What is your name?” And he said, “Hilarion.” I thought: “Wow, like the ROCOR First Hierarch.” You should have seen my face when the prayer service began and the same “batiushka” came out in full vestments. It was Vladyka Hilarion! It turned out that I had sat at the same table with the Metropolitan… After the service I approached him and said: “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you as a bishop.” He replied, “That’s good.” I have never met and will never meet such a simple man anywhere. I was very amazed at how simple and convincing Metropolitan Hilarion was when he preached a sermon. His speech was simple, clear, wise, and edifying. He quoted the Gospel from memory, knew the service by heart and did not look at the book at all.

I studied at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville for three months, but it didn’t work out, and so Vladyka took me in and I became his cell-attendant. In total, I spent a year in America.

The first meeting with Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral) The first meeting with Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral) —I know that Vladyka gave you an amazing gift…

—Vladyka saw that I was active and energetic, how I treated children and worked with them, so one day he said to me: “Monastic life is not for you—you need a family.” And he gave me a ring, which at one time had been under the frame of the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God. The Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish decoration. It represents two hands holding a stone in the center, which symbolize friendship, a heart-love, and a crown—fidelity. Vladyka told me that I would propose to my wife with this ring.

At the end of my stay in America, the Metropolitan blessed me to enter a theological educational institute in Moscow. I returned to my homeland.

—And here a miracle happened with your mother?

—Yes. After returning from America, I invited a priest to the village (Fr. Leonid, who had baptized me when I was seventeen) to perform the litya at the cemetery. On that day I asked my mother not to drink alcohol. The priest came, but my mother was slightly drunk. But we went to the cemetery with her anyway. While Fr. Leonid was waiting for us, he re-vested himself so that he could walk from the village to the cemetery with a censer. When my mother saw him, she cried, knelt down at his feet and exclaimed: “I’ll never get drunk again.” She hasn’t drunk alcohol ever since, and over twelve years have passed.

—Vladyka blessed you to study at a theological educational institution. How did you end up at the Sretensky Theological Seminary?

—Initially I planned to enroll in the St. Tikhon Orthodox University of the Humanities, but there was no dormitory there. It was the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul—I came to take my documents from the university and decided to take a walk around Moscow. I don’t remember how I walked from the Paveletskaya metro station (where the university is situated) to Sretensky Monastery. My feet brought me there by themselves. I entered the monastery gate and saw Fr. Luke and Fr. John, the current abbot of Sretensky Monastery, sitting on a bench. The first year of my life here (2010–2011) I was a laborer and audited classes. I started working in the wholesale department of the bookstore while my preparation for admission was underway.

—Where and how did you meet your wife?

—At Sretensky Monastery I met Novice Dionisy. He told me that on Tuesdays there were meetings at the Sretensky youth center, in which preparations are made for trips to a boarding school under our patronage in the town of Mikhailov in the Ryazan region, and he invited me there. Dionisy also told my future wife about these meetings. So, on November 2, 2010, we came to the youth center’s meeting for the first time. Julia was sitting opposite me. She was very modest. It was this modesty that fascinated me and attracted my attention. She also had a pale face. An ancient Russian beauty. “A blush is clearly seen on her pale cheeks.”

Our communication began that day. At that time I could not have imagined that Julia would become my wife. We saw each other all the time—we worked together at the youth center, where we met weekly and visited the boarding-school once a month.


Before the Nativity Fast I helped at the church with candles. One day a seminarian collected candles and started squeezing a lump of wax in his hands. For some reason I got angry, took the wax and started squeezing it too as I walked. And in passing I made a wax rose. At that moment I passed by Julia and gave it to her with no particular purpose. She kept this gift.

—How did you propose to Julia?

—It was on July 9, 2012, on the feast of the Tikhvin Icon of the Theotokos. It was a funny moment: I put an image of the Savior (a pendant) into a red box. When I held out the box, Julia was afraid that I was going to propose to her and got confused. When she saw the pendant, she calmed down. And then I took the ring out of my pocket and said, “Will you marry me?” It seemed to me that she said nothing. She thought for several days. Later it turned out that we had misunderstood each other and at the time of the proposal she had immediately agreed, just saying yes timidly and quietly. So I didn’t hear that and continued to wait for several days for her answer.

We registered our marriage on February 6, 2013, the feast of Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg. We got married in Church on February 17 at the Elokhovo Theophany Cathedral, and the ceremonial crowns were brought to us from Sretensky Monastery. Julia was twenty-eight years old, I was twenty-nine.


Before the wedding we met with Vladyka Hilarion, received his blessing for our family life, and two years later we took our first child to him.

—The doctors said that for medical reasons you could not have children. But a miracle happened, and now you have two children. To whom did you pray for help?

—For a whole year the two of us prayed hard. We went to the Conception Convent, prayed in front of the icon of Sts. Joachim and Anna, constantly visited Sretensky Monastery, prayed to St. Euphrosyne of Moscow, St. Ephraim of Novy Torg, and the holy Royal Martyrs.

Our family venerates St. Ephraim of Novy Torg, especially me. First of all because I was born near Torzhok. Secondly, I prayed to him during a difficult period of my life, when my mother was deprived of her parental rights. I promised to this saint that if I became a father, I would name the firstborn in his honor. My spouse did not object.

My wife got pregnant after a year of prayers. On November 5, 2014, our firstborn son, Ephraim, was born; and on February 5, 2017, the anniversary of Elder John (Krestiankin)’s repose, the second son, Yerofei, was born, named in honor of St. Hierotheos of Athens.

—Alexander, you and your wife have been married for over ten years—quite a long period. I guess you might have gone through the ups and downs of family life more than once. Perhaps you even faced challenges.

—There may be even great difficulties. You should understand why you get married. Family happiness is achieved through Herculean efforts. We were two adults with fully developed characters and habits that were difficult to change. My wife asked me not to grumble, to be gentler. There were moments when it seemed that we would not cope. If people have no desire to make efforts in marriage, it is likely to fail. It is necessary to get rid of your weaknesses and selfishness.

In order to adjust in marriage you should, first of all, talk and not have secrets from each other about the past, the present, or the future. Our life together goes through contact with each other; we look at Christ together, and not at each other.

Nowadays young men and women expect too much from their spouses. For example, young husbands want their life partners to be able to cook, but if you look at the Domostroy [the Russian sixteenth-century book setting out rules of house management and family life.—Trans.], the wife doesn’t have to be able to do this when she gets married, but should learn to cook the way her husband likes. My wife lived a rather ascetic life before our wedding—she worked a lot, spent time at the monastery services and in the youth center, and her eating habits were like those of most single people. After the wedding, she started cooking more: first, my favorite food, then the dishes that everyone in the family likes.


—You have your own view on parenting. What do you teach them first?

—You should pray for your children, but you shouldn’t give them too much attention, otherwise they will grow up to be egoists, or “animals”, as I put it. Why “animals”? Because they may “tear you to pieces.” “I want it!”, “No, I want it!” We explain to our children that they are brothers and protectors of each other and must contribute to each other’s salvation. We explain that we won’t be here forever. Is there anything we can do to help them in the future? Very unlikely. We tell them: “The time given you by the Lord will be yours. We will not be able to give you guidance in the same way we found our bearings in our time, or in our own tasks. Our tasks are different from the ones you will set for yourselves.”

—A Russian proverb: “Pray when you are going to war; pray twice as hard when you are going to sea; and pray three times as much when you are going to get married.” Do you agree? When you think about family life, do you need to pray?

—It is necessary to pray not only for a good wife, but also for a good mother-in-law... I’m lucky in this respect. Julia had been praying for seven years before meeting me. As she says: “From the moment I became an active member of the Church I began to pray for a good husband and family life. There were moments when I thought: ‘Am I right to pray this way? Perhaps God has different plans for me.’ Then I added these words to my prayers: ‘If it be Thy holy will.’”

—Alexander, in the course of our talk I heard an interesting phrase that you and your wife “cultivate love.” Please explain it to us.

—Yes, my wife and I are trying to cultivate love. No one knows exactly what love is. And love is cultivated in everyone. You begin to take part in the life of your soulmate, you begin to understand him or her, deepen your bond and love each other more. I start looking for something I like in my spouse: her look, her laugh. Work is vital in a relationship—to make efforts through joint prayers, the morning and the evening prayers, the blessing of the family—my wife asks me to bless her.

There are such words in our family: “We must”. We must try, we must pray, we must wake up the husband lest he should oversleep. Look for moments of contact. If you want to raise your child to be a good person, you must set a good example. It’s the same in love: in order to be loved, you must show how you love someone else.

You won’t understand what family life is until you immerse yourself in it. Daily chores are a difficult thing, and there is no escape from them: fatigue, life within four walls, etc. Now I like absolutely everything about my wife. The Lord has given me the spouse I need. I found everything I need.

Sometimes women can reprove their husbands: “Why do you look at other women?” And I immediately recall an episode from the legend of Sts. Peter and Febronia of Murom, when they were sailing down the river on ships. The man who was transporting them wanted to seduce St. Febronia, although he had a wife on the same ship. St. Febronia denounced him, saying, “Draw some water to the left of the ship and drink it.” He drank. Then she said: “Draw some water to the right of the ship and drink it.” He did. Then she asked him, “Does the water taste the same on both sides of the ship, or was it sweeter on one side than on the other?”

So it is with women. There’s no point in looking for anything now that I have found the perfect spouse.

—Alexander, if you were to write an autobiography, how would you describe your life before you met your wife?

— “To accept the situation you are in as the mercy of God.” You can accept things as they are when you understand that time is priceless in our life. Why priceless? Because during this time we can decide our eternal fate. To realize that everything around is corruptible. When you find yourself absolutely alone—you are homeless and there is no one around to help you out—you begin to feel more keenly that no one can save you except the Lord. You only need the desire to be with God, and the Lord will save you.

Natalia Sibirtseva spoke with Alexander Dmitriev
Translation by Dmitry Lapa

Sretensky Monastery


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