A young parishioner named Peter-Margad, who was recently baptized, told Priest Anthony Gusev, rector of the Holy Trinity Church in Ulaanbaatar, what difficulties a person who sincerely seeks Christ experiences and how God gives him strength to overcome them.
I was tired of fearing
There are a whole bunch of different Christian communities, denominations and sects in Mongolia today, and among all this it is difficult to choose the right and true Church. This is the first difficulty on the path to Christ. The second point is probably psychological: the fear of stepping over the threshold of the Church. When I was studying denominations and Christian communities, I came to the Catholics to ask them about the Virgin Mary, icons, and to learn more about all this. And this is what they told me: “It’s none of your business, don’t come in!” From that day on I was even afraid to go to other communities in case they wouldn’t let me in either, or would kick me out. So, at first my path was from Mormons to Catholics. I left the Mormons myself, and the Catholics showed me the door. And from the Catholics I came to Orthodoxy—it was the third Church where I came. Wherever I went (to Mormons, to Catholics, and then to Orthodox), I prayed to myself all the time to understand exactly whether I was coming to the right place and whether what I was looking for was there.
People ask me what difficulties I faced when I entered the Orthodox Church. It seems to me it was easier here, although everyone has their own path and their own trials. When I was just approaching the Holy Trinity Church, first of all I saw the Russian flag (it can be seen from afar). And I thought that if the flag is Russian, most likely only Russians can come here and only their compatriots are let in. If so, I would go inside, and they would kick me out saying: “Push off!”, as the Catholics did, because I’m not Russian. There was such a fear. But, you know, I was tired of fearing; I thought that if someone threw me out, Christ certainly wouldn’t drive me out. Cheered up by this thought, I went in. When I had plucked up the courage, stepped over this barrier and entered the church, I was very pleasantly surprised by its decoration, beauty, and grandeur. First of all, I started wondering what was behind the iconostasis, behind that wall? I came up to the solea and wanted to get up, but my conscience said to me: “What cheek! You mustn’t do that!” And I made a step back and did not go up without permission. It was Saturday and the evening service. I was standing in the church without understanding anything except that I felt good there. When I was standing like that, an old woman in a headscarf came up, smiled and showed me how to make the sign of the cross correctly. And after the end of the service, when I went home, I kept thinking, “How exciting it was! And what will happen next?” It all seemed very interesting to me, and I began to attend Orthodox services. Firstly, it feels mysterious and beautiful; secondly, no one tries to get any intimate information out of me—people keep some distance.
One day there was a drenching downpour in Ulaanbaatar. I got soaked to the skin and went inside church like that—wet, but joyful. And I was invited to hot tea and given warm clothes for the journey back. You see, I was not only warmed spiritually—I was shown in practice (and physically) what Christianity is. You can only know something if you have something else to compare it with. When I went to the Mormons, I remember stumbling and falling down some steep stairs—no one came up and no one helped me. They are only constantly talking about money, membership fees, training sessions and classes. And here I saw sincere smiles, respect for your freedom and an unobtrusive desire and ability to help others. That’s how I saw that Christ was here. I don’t say it with emotion, but quite calmly. I feel that there is the truth here.
Without Christ I would have given up
There was a lot of censure from those around me when they learned about my interest in Christianity. Even when I started going to Mormons, I was repeatedly told that “all churches only brainwash people”. But I was supported by the promise I had made to my grandfather before his death—to read the Bible in order to find the truth. Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me (Jn. 5:39). Anyway, I had promised my grandfather I would read the Bible and seek the truth, and that’s what I was doing.
Many people were against it, but I walked on and on. Not only my family and friends, but even my classmates somehow found out that I was seeking Christ; they mocked me and even called me Jesus. To be honest, it caused me fear; the whole school saw that I attended Christian communities, and everyone sneered at me. I was just reading the Bible at that moment, and the words of Christ: If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (Jn. 15:20), really touched my soul. Such a vivid, visible confirmation of the words of Christ! I didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong—I was just interested in Christianity—but there was a whole stream of ridicule, taunts and insults! It was even curious. Then I thought: “God speaks not only about persecution, but also about the reward for its patient endurance.” The words, great is your reward in Heaven (Mt. 5:12), support me very much. It appears that thanks to reading the commandments of God and their careful consideration I held on. Otherwise, I would have stopped and given up.
A Bible in Mongolian One day, when the taunts were completely unbearable, I couldn’t stand it anymore and started responding to them. I was baptized on Saturday, received Communion on Sunday, and had to go to school on Monday. I came to school and said to everybody that I had been baptized and that I was a Christian. I said a lot of things at that moment: that you shouldn’t mock anyone, that there are no perfect people and that we need to be lenient to the weaknesses of others. And from that day on everyone, even those who had mocked me openly—even they changed their tone and began to communicate normally, in a human way. The whole picture changed: If the girls from my class are out of sorts and something happens to them, they come and consult me. One day a girl came up and said that her boyfriend had dumped her. “Margad, say something kind.” I told her something from the Bible, and the next day she came to school so cheerful! When all of my classmates began to turn to me very often, probably thinking that I was a “wonderful psychologist”, I said, “Why is this? Go straight to the church!” It even happened that several classmates and I were going to the church, but they turned back halfway; maybe they were scared or embarrassed—something happened—but they never reached the church. Although we got half way there. As I understand it, the path to God is not easy. Now before our exams some classmates come up and ask me to “bless” them and make the sign of the cross over them so that they will pass the exams. “What blessing? I can’t do that—I’m not a priest!” In the near future my classmates want to organize a survey and come to the church. Why did they choose the church, which I, their classmate, attend? Because last year we had scuffles and fights all the time, and I took an active part in them. “But this year everything is calm; you don’t participate in any fights anywhere. Why is that?” they wonder. So they are intrigued as to what influenced me so much that I have turned from a fighter into a normal guy? Besides, I have authority. So, I am a Christian “with authority”.
The Word of God and shamans
When my family learned about my choice, at first it was very tough, I even thought it was hopeless. According to Mongolian law I am still a minor, and in order to become a Christian I must get my parents’ permission. Everything is fine with my father—he agreed; but as for my mother and her relatives, it was a disaster. They have shamans in their family, and they said that I should not convert to Christianity. They forbade me and said that since some of my ancestors were shamans, I was expected to become one at some point of my life, too. There was such opposition from my mother’s relatives! We talked and argued with my mother for a long time. I even thought about lying and telling the church that my parents had allowed it, but then I decided to be honest. The last and decisive argument on my part was my promise to my grandfather. I said, “Mom, I promised Grandpa to read the Bible to find the truth!” And then my mother surrendered. “Well, okay, if this is your choice, I will not oppose it.” And at that moment I realized that there are no hopeless situations and there is some way out everywhere.
Unfortunately, on the very day of my Baptism my father could not come to the church. But since then I have felt that my father and I have closer, warmer relations than before. He respects my choice. My father is a smoker and he used to smoke right in the apartment. And in the church after my Baptism, they gave me a small icon of St. Peter of the Golden Horde and I put it in the bedroom next to the icon of the Theotokos. Sometimes my father asks me, “Who is Mary? Is She the Mother of God?” I answer, “Yes, She’s the Mother of God.” When my father tried to smoke in the bedroom, I told him: “Why are you smoking here? There is a holy icon here!” Then I put an icon in another room, and since then my father has almost always smoked outside or on the balcony. Every Sunday I bring some holy water from the church and give it to my father. He says that once he started drinking this water, he began to smoke less, not as much as before, when he was a chain smoker.
This is what interesting turning-points an old Bible (brought to Mongolia a long time ago, probably by a Russian, or maybe even by a Mongolian Christian—who knows?), can lead to. I only hope and pray that the future generations will read it not only with their eyes, but also with their minds and hearts; and, therefore, by their lives.