Archpriest Vasily Gelevan is a priest of the Church of the Annunciation at the Airborne Forces in Moscow. For eight years Fr. Vasily served in Brazil, where he was the rector of the Church of the holy Martyr Zinaida in Rio de Janeiro. The head of a beautiful and closely-knit family, he has talked about what principles he and his wife Ekaterina are guided by in raising children and how to solve problems that inevitably arise in family life
—We thank God from the bottom of our hearts that we live together. Of course, we try to arrange celebrations to the best of our abilities. The most important thing is not the financial expenses for the occasion, but the fact that we have not forgotten each other, that we found each other. It is also important not to wait for twenty years to tell your spouse “I love you!” but to say it every morning. These twenty, thirty, fifty years must be spent in light and joy, and every day should be filled with quick smiles, hugs and kisses.
Let’s look at nature: mammals highly appreciate physical contact and tactility. Take whales: how they cling to each other, how a baby whale rejoices, reaching out to his mother, and how horses snuggle up to one another. We humans need it too—tactile contact is extremely important to us. Women live by feelings. A man understands how useful it is to take his wife’s hand and embrace her, walking with her along the embankment in the evening. Any weather is fine—in autumn to kick fallen yellow leaves, in winter to look at an ice-covered branch and white and pure snow, in spring to enjoy the smell of flowering trees, in summer in windless weather to walk without hoods or warm clothes… This is what I call joy. It is good for the whole family to walk and talk about how the day went, what was interesting, good or tough.
—Do you have family traditions?
—Probably the most important tradition in our family that we want to preserve is praying with children. There is one prayer that the youngest children start reading: “My Lord, save and have mercy on my Mom, Dad, grandpa, grandma, uncle and aunt, godfather and godmother, brothers and sisters and me, a sinner. Amen.” Of course, the members of the family may vary: for example, there can be no siblings, but almost every child has parents, grandparents and godparents. It inspires children. When everyone makes prostrations during Lent, a toddler is also happy to join the grown-ups. We also sing together. As a choir director I can say with all responsibility that there are no voiceless people. We all talk, so potentially everyone can sing. We can hear everything, so we are not completely tone-deaf. Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl), in whose choir I used to sing, admitted only tone-deaf people into his choir in order to “mold” his famous choir from this “dough”. It was his belief that there is no one who is unable to sing.
So, our entire family kneels down and sings: “Beneath Thy compassion we take refuge, O Theotokos: do not despise our petitions in time of trouble, but rescue us from dangers, O only Pure One and Blessed One.” And we do so every evening.
I don’t know what is in store for my children or the children of our readers (God alone knows), but I know one thing: the experience of prayer at home will strengthen them in all paths of life. When a child feels that he is alone and abandoned by everyone, he will know that he has not been abandoned by God, that the Mother of God is always close and ready to help. She is the Intercessor of all Christians and our personal Intercessor as well. The Most Holy Mother and Her Divine Son will always be with us. It is I who can turn away from the Lord, just as the prodigal son left his father. I can forget about Him, but the Lord always remembers me, even at such moments when it seemed to me that I was alone in the world.
There is a beautiful parable. Before his death one man saw his life path in the image of a long road stretching on the sand along the ocean. Turning back, he saw the prints of another pair of feet. It was revealed to him that the ocean was his whole life, and those other footprints belonged to the Lord Himself, Who had been accompanying him, just as He accompanied the travelers on the road to Emmaus. However, in some places on the path trodden instead of two pairs of footprints he saw only one, deeply embedded in the sand. He turned to the Lord, “God, why did You leave me when I had hard times? Look how deeply my footprints embedded into the sand, how hard it was for me to walk then.” And the Lord answered him, “My son, you are wrong. You see the prints of My feet, not yours. Whenever you had a hard time, I took you into My arms and carried you...”
Prayer is happiness. For this reason it is worth bringing children to the Christmas service so that they can see a Nativity scene with the Infant Jesus in the manger with oxen and lambs. Let it be imprinted on their minds, and they will become happy people, because it will stay with them forever; and when they grow up, they will look back at their wonderful childhood and remember that God is always with them.
Father and Mother are the first listeners
—Do you manage to spend spare time together, talk and read? Do you have time for this?
—We do. Unfortunately, there is not enough health. There are healthier people in the world, but sometimes I just need to lie down, even sitting can be hard as my back hurts. But even at this time we talk, we communicate. In fact, not much is required from parents: it’s enough just to listen. Teenage children need to speak out, they already have a whole world in their heads, and they need to express what they think about this or that; share what situations they have gotten into, what events they experienced. It’s very important. We must teach children to think critically, to react to everything, to be not just consumers of information, but also makers. The first listeners are Father and Mother.
It is hard to find a movie that would be edifying and not sinful, although there are so many genres: action movies, horror, etc… But sometimes we do manage to find something good, and then we all sit down together—from the youngest child to the oldest adult—and watch.
We go on vacation together, explore nature together—our Russian geography. Our family has a unique experience: we lived abroad and looked at Russia from there, and now we are trying to get to know it together from the inside. I really want my children to grow up to be Russian people. We will travel around Russian cities so that the children should know their country better. I am convinced that you can love what you know, and you can defend what you love, because if at least one link falls out, the whole system becomes meaningless. We see people who speak Russian, but do not share our convictions. Why? Because they don’t like it—it’s only words
This year we visited Lake Baikal and looked at the seal rookery there. I drank as I swam: it was the first time in my life when I swam in drinking water. We threw stones, fished and walked in the Sayan Mountains. When you fly over the taiga, you understand what kind of hearts the people who developed this land must have had. How much love they must have contained not to colonize and usurp, but to teach, preserve for us descendants, teach local tribes to read and write, teach them basic hygiene, and instill moral values and Christianity in them. This is missionary work with a capital M. I understand that we must be worthy of their memory, striving to preserve our beautiful nature, culture and, of course, our faith.
Church life is not a pill
—What questions do parishioners usually ask you? Who asks more often: men or women?
—Mostly woman parishioners, wives and mothers. But we have specifics in our parish—there are military personnel among my spiritual children. These are common questions that all people have. It doesn’t matter if a man is in uniform or not—he is a father, a husband, he worries for his children and wants them to obey and grow up into decent people; they worry if their sons or daughters have strayed from the right path. Wives are anxious about their husbands, whether they will return from the front, and we try to strengthen and console them.
We pray for children. I always repeat that a mother’s prayer has a special power, since any mother prays hard and sacrificially for her beloved child. They come and ask for one another: a wife for her husband, a husband for his wife. There are often misunderstandings. There can also be diabolical temptations: a man has lived with his wife for years, and suddenly it seems to him that he no longer loves her, but loves someone else. This is a diabolical temptation, because love is when you give something, and it seemed to that man that love is to receive. In reality, love is a crown of thorns. When people come to realize this, when they learn this lesson, they stay together for the rest of their lives. They come to understand that there is no one closer or dearer to them.
And the solution to a problem can begin with the blessing of someone’s apartment. A couple invites a priest, he blesses their apartment, they talk over a cup of tea, and it appears that there are some questions. Wonderful! Gradually we begin to resolve these issues. First we get acquainted with him or her, talk, and then both of them begin to attend church. It also happens that after having their share of problems and arguing, spouses go to church together. And it happens that even through children the Lord brings parents to the Church. At first a child says that he is interested in one or another aspect of church life. For example, he studies iconography or church singing and through this he gets acquainted with the Orthodox faith, the Church and finds that this life fits into his worldview. He shares these values with his parents, wants to get baptized, go to confession and take Communion. Then he brings his parents. Children pray for their parents and convert them to the faith, and their parents begin to believe and pray.
I believe that problems in family life are a call from God. That is, something is wrong, you need to go to Church and look for answers to these questions. Why did this happen? Why did your child get sick? Why did your husband cheat on you? Why is life not going well? When you come to Church and look at yourself from this perspective, it turns out that you do not love God, do not honor Him, do not accept His participation in your life, don’t trust in His Holy Will, but in yourself. Such things are revealed, so you would understand that you should do something about it. When you change, the world around you also changes. When you begin to live in abstinence, chastity and love, then harmony begins to reign in your family. By your prayers, by your labors family life gets back to normal.
—Do only secular people turn to you with problems related to family life?
—Certainly not. We should not regard church life as a panacea for adversity. Sometimes problems do not stop in church families. God also allows believers to suffer so that we should not regard the Church as a center of domestic services or a hospital. The Church does not deliver us from problems—it gives us strength to bear our cross, to solve these problems; but we ourselves solve them. Church life is not a pill that I take and everything changes for the better instantly. After some time there will be the next pill.
Let’s also keep in mind that the devil tempts those who are close to God; he hits those who are dearest to our hearts—our children, wives and husbands. There is a law: if you have done good, wait for the devil to deal you a blow. God allows it. Someone thinks: “Maybe I shouldn’t have helped a sick person, given alms and overcome my sin?” The logic is this: the devil was your friend as long as you sinned. When you made friends with the angel, the devil became your enemy, because he has always been the enemy of the human race. God has always been people’s Friend. Now you understand that you made the right choice, but you also have to understand that now you are in danger—you will be attacked by the enemy force. The Lord said, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33). The Book of Job says that the devil cannot do anything against you unless it is the Will of God. He even comes to God and asks permission to tempt a righteous man. God says, “Tempt his flesh, but do not touch his soul.”
The Lord tells us not to be afraid of those who tempt our flesh and kill the body, because they cannot do anything to the soul. Rather, we should be wary of those who can destroy the soul.
Our corruptible flesh will be tempted as long as we live here on earth. The devil can’t do anything against the soul, but he will hit the body. We must move forward, do good, carry our cross, fulfill God’s commandments and ask God to give us strength. If you know that the Lord will not let you be tempted more than you can handle it, then everything falls into place.