This is an interview with a unique, talented young man, to whom our website, Orthodox Christianity, is not indifferent. Dimitry Lapa, almost completely blind from an early age, translates many of our articles from his native language, Russian, into his acquired language, English. This would not be an easy task for anyone, but it must require particular patience when you cannot see the text. Apparently, patience is something in which Dimitry excels. He also translated his own interview from the original Russian into English.
Hoxne, Dmitry Lapa at the cross of St. Edmund, along with Fr. Andrew Phillips
—Dmitry, the readers of Pravoslavie.ru know you as the translator of a series of articles on the history of Christianity in England and its Orthodox Saints. You are also an independent author of publications about English Orthodoxy. It is less well known that you are a visually handicapped person from childhood and these works are a testimony to the courage and persistence with which you have overcome your handicap. How did your interest in Orthodoxy in England begin?
—It all began with my deep love of England and all the British Isles from childhood. During my years at school, I was already very interested in the history, culture, traditions, customs, literature, and music of this country, and was the chairman of the English club in our school. Through my school English teacher, Era (in baptism Xenia) Feodorovna Dudko, an excellent teacher and a wonderful person, I became acquainted with another wonderful man—Brian Ferris from Worcester. He and I became close friends; we began exchanging e-mails, and in 2002 he invited me to visit him.
My first trip to England became one of the brightest events in my life. Brian is now 79; he is Anglican, and an architect by profession. Brian is visually impaired but his vision allows him to read and write regular texts in print and to travel independently, so he has travelled to many European countries and holy sites. He is a very pious man and a permanent parishioner of the Worcester Cathedral. By the way, in his rear garden Brian built a model of a medieval English cathedral from his own design, including all the buildings of the abbey attached to it (before the Reformation in England, there was a tradition of monastery-cathedrals). It took him about 40 years to complete the model, and it is a truly clever piece of work, worthy of praise! He and his friends showed me the western part of England (especially the counties of Worcestershire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, the Cotswolds and the Malverns).
During that and following trips to Albion, the real England, beautiful outwardly and inwardly, holy and eternal England opened up to me—the country of great Christian ascetics, pious men and women. Outside of the several largest cities, all the English provinces, which is the larger part of the country, is filled with that ancient spirit of England, of the old times, holiness, fragrance and freshness of the true England—the Lord's creation.
I was shown, mostly, small medieval towns in the west and centre of the country as well as small villages. Local landscapes have inexpressible beauty—with their hills, valleys, plains, fields, water-meadows, gardens, rivers with crystal-clear water, pheasants, rabbits running across the road time and time again, sheep and horses, as if they had come down from a picture of a lovely children's tale. All this fills your soul and heart with such delight which cannot be expressed by any words. From all my heart I came to love ancient English churches, where it seems as if time has stopped and all the local saints are still present and praying in them; I came to love English cathedrals, abbeys, holy wells, chapels, picturesque ruins, estates, castles, palaces, museums.
In all these places, old life in all its diversity has been well preserved; pious customs and traditions have been passed from generation to generation for centuries and all this is still very much alive here.
Very many things have always amazed and still amaze me in this country. Everything everywhere is being done with people in mind, and is adapted so that they should feel maximum comfort and interest, move around without difficulties in the street, in the public transportation, and all public places; and the main thing is—everything everywhere is adapted for handicapped people: for the blind, wheelchair users, for old people with leg and other problems. People with disabilities work in all spheres and live extremely active lives. Handicapped people are seen almost constantly and in all places: they walk independently, go by train and bus, fly on airplanes, go to shops, churches and museums; people treat them with respect, understanding and attention; they are an integral part of society. In England (and it amazed me much), in every town in the provinces, in every village there are yellow tiles everywhere for the visually impaired, special parking places for the handicapped, restrooms for the handicapped; the entrance of every church, museum, old house, bus, etc. is adapted for the disabled to enable them to orient themselves at railway stations and airports.
Wheelchair users quickly, sometimes more quickly than ordinary people, move on their wheel-chairs, and travel on their own or in groups. Each railway station has lifts for any category of handicapped. You can often see how elderly people go on their mobility vehicles alone to shops, cafes and so on.
I discovered England as a country of ancient saints when I became more involved in Church life. I would like to explain once more that in speaking of England I mean the true, inner England, which is known to very few Russian people, and not even to many English people.
Dmitry Lapa and his mother. Colchester, Essex, in the church of St. John of Shanghai —Have you had problems with vision since childhood or is it a result of an injury?
—When I was three and a half years old I fell down and after that I began to have frequent headaches. The doctors could not find the reason for a long time.
At last I was operated on by the excellent neurosurgeon Alexander Konovalov. As time had been lost, my life was saved but my eyesight was almost completely lost.
—What is your education?
—When I was between 7 and 18 years old I studied at the Moscow boarding-school for blind and poorly-sighted children. It was a very happy and eventful period of my life. My family (mother and grandparents) took me to and from school every day. From the first class we were taught to read and write in Braille at school. Our classes were quite small, maximum ten children in each. Children were either totally blind or with very little remaining vision, like me, but just blind enough to prevent from reading and write like sighted people. I liked my studies at school very much. I loved all subjects and had a lively interest in everything we were taught. We always had to make great efforts but with the help of God and thanks to my family and teachers everything went very well—I managed to learn with distinction and to gain good knowledge.
At that time, these most excellent and exemplary old teachers worked in our school who can be called real teachers from God and true heroes. Many of the teachers and tutors had worked in our school for 20, 30, 40 and sometimes even 50 or more years. They often stayed for long after lessons and devoted their time to the additional training of children, and did it on a voluntary basis. Various activities, clubs, sections, hobby groups, music, dance, sports, and needlework were always on the highest level. And the same was with the English language. We often organized English evenings at school, and our English club met every Thursday. All the achievements of blind schoolchildren were a true joy for loving teachers, and all their failures were their sadness. But it should be noted that there were many more achievements than failures.
Besides Era Feodorovna Dudko, whom I have already mentioned, I would like to mention several other such heroes (most of them do not work in our school any more because of their age but I am still in touch with some of them): they are Gemma (in Baptism, Christina) Feodorovna Lebedeva (English language), Rufina Alexeevna Vershinina, teacher of Russian language and literature (one of the greatest experts on Pushkin, most intelligent people and experts in the truly great Russian language whom I have ever met)—she worked in our school for about 60 years. Michael Ivanovich Egorov, a totally blind man, taught us mathematics. He worked in our school for more than 55 years; his wife is a also teacher. He prepared many educational aids for blind students with his own hands. Valentin Lavrentievich Shustov, another totally blind teacher, taught us history. He too prepared with his own hands many maps and other relief aids in history for our students. His record of service: over 60 years. We can mention the names of many other teachers from God who helped us not only to master school subjects but also not to grumble and complain —to go forward in life overcoming our disability.
After school I entered the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education at the faculty of Information Technology. The faculty was situated near the Ulitsa Podbelskovo metro station. For five years my mother and I travelled there every morning from the south of Moscow and returned home in the evening (the journey took two and a half hours each way, five hours a day in total). Some students from our class at school then studied at the same faculty together with me. The studies were very complicated and we had to make immense efforts all the time, but with huge active help from my mother, who always accompanied me to and from the university and read me a lot of textbooks, with the help of God and through the prayers of the saints, with mutual efforts I managed to complete the university either with good or else excellent marks. At the university we were taught higher mathematics and informatics. The lectures were recorded on a digital recorder, and then we took notes in braille or electronically. I personally during my school years learned the Russian and English contracted braille that enables blind people to write texts in braille in "reduced" form, where separate phrases, words and syllables are written by special symbols according to certain rules. Owing to this system you save time, strength and braille paper. Sadly, the contracted braille is taught only in the West and even from primary school.
The village of Lower Broadheath, Worcestershire, the birthplace of the great composer Edward Elgar, D.Lapa next to his sculpture. Photo: Irina Lapa Since my school days I have liked to pick up foreign languages. After I had learned English I began learning French and Italian and studied at the university simultaneously. Unfortunately, I have largely forgotten the last two languages due to lack of practice, unlike English with which I have been working for already many years: translating, speaking, reading, writing, corresponding with English-speaking friends (many of them speak classical British English). I have recently started learning German which I also like and I have a great desire, God willing, to continue my studies in Germany or Great Britain. But I need to look for sponsors or to write to charities. I believe such people can be found abroad.
From my third year in MSUPE I started obtaining a second higher education simultaneously—at the Russian Orthodox University of St John the Theologian (the department of the second higher education of the philosophical-theological faculty). Studies there lasted for three years. So, for two years I studied at two universities at the same time. My mother and I used to come back home about midnight. With unbelievable efforts and labours, with the help of God and with constant active support from my mother (my grandparents had died by that time) I managed to complete both universities successfully as well as the Orthodox university, gaining an honours degree. I remember how I prepared for two end-of-term exams simultaneously, how I listened to part of the materials on a dictaphone, and then summarized them, got another part electronically for independent study, and my mother read me the remaining part. This often took place at night, after the entire day spent at both universities!
—How did you come to the faith? Were you born in a religious family?
—In our family nearly everybody believed in God, but my great-grandmother was the only person who had very deep faith and went to church all her long life. My mother and I believed in God from our childhood, but began to go to church regularly late in 2004 after we had read the whole New Testament for the first time.
A crucial moment for me came in 2007 when I met Fr. Andrew Phillips from Felixstowe. For the last 40 years or so this priest has written a huge number of books and articles about saints from many countries in the world, especially about the Orthodox (pre-Schism) saints of Europe; he compiled a calendar of around 10,000 saints who shone forth in the Western lands before the great Schism, and composed services in English to ancient saints of the British Isles and Ireland. For more than 15 years he has been publishing the English-language Orthodox quarterly journal "Orthodox England" for which he has been writing interesting, heartfelt articles. In many ways thanks to his work I discovered the amazing treasure, "The Heavenly England"—hundreds and hundreds of ancient British and Irish ascetics of the ancient Christian Church. In ancient times, the British and Irish lands produced so many saints that nearly each town and each village had its own patron saint! I came to love them very much and decided with blessing of Fr. Andrew and also our parish priest in Moscow to translate lives of these glorious saints from English into Russian; I decided, with the help of the Lord and if He wills, to do my little bit in spreading their lives and information on holy places associated with them.
"Lives of the Saints who shone forth in the British and Irish lands. Author-Compiler, Translator, Dimitry Lapa. London, Diocese of Surouzh, 2012.
For several years I had a dream to write a book with the lives of the ancient saints of the British Isles and Ireland in Russian.
And by coincidence, which surely was a miracle of God, in 2011 such an opportunity appeared. A pious parishioner of the Dormition Cathedral of the Diocese of Sourozh in London, who has venerated the local saints for many years, wished to prepare and publish for the 50th anniversary of the Diocese (that was celebrated in October last year) a book with lives of all the saints depicted on the Icon of the Synaxis of all the Saints of the British Isles and Ireland", which is kept in this Cathedral. I was asked to prepare the material for this book. Our team set to work and by summer 2012 the book was nearly ready.
The book entitled "Lives of the Saints who shone forth in the British and Irish lands" contains the lives not only of saints from the above-mentioned icon but also information about some other important Saints of these Isles whose images are not on this Icon. There is information on around 240 local saints in this book in total; in some cases the saints' biographies are provided with historical notes and information on their veneration, relics and churches dedicated to them. The book launch took place during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Sourozh and the 5th anniversary since the signing of the Act of canonical communion between the Patriarchate of Moscow and ROCOR—on October 21, 2012 at the Russian embassy in London,
after the Divine Liturgy was served in the Russian Cathedral of Dormition in the presence of about twenty hierarchs of the Russian Church and the Russian Church Outside Russia gathered from many countries of the world. It was an unforgettable event for me as well as many other people. I would like this book to be republished one day with a large number of illustrations, perhaps as a guide to the holy places of Britain and Ireland. I also dream of one day collecting the maximum information on all the saints of these lands of whom we know, their veneration, relics, iconography, traditions, churches and other holy sites associated with them. I am also deeply interested in the lives of the saints of other European countries; we hope and pray that their popular and liturgical veneration may be restored and pilgrimages to shrines of these countries may be developed.
—Which saint from those whose lives you have translated are particularly close to you?
—It is difficult to name just one saint. I love very many saints, venerated in England nationally as well as locally. Of the nationally venerated saints, Sts. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Chad of Lichfield, Aidan of Lindisfarne, Swithin of Winchester, John of Beverley, Oswald of Worcester are particularly close to me; they have always been loved and venerated by all English people for their love, cordiality, compassion, care, the gift of consolation and tender protection.
Statue of St. Alfred the Great in Wantage. Many saints of England were educated and scholarly men, but some of them came from the common people, who all their lives quietly laboured, prayed and lived among the people: these were, for example, locally venerated Saints Cuthman of Steyning and Walstan of Bawburgh, who are both so dear to my heart as well.
But, of course, the most inspiring example is the Holy Righteous King Alfred the Great. Many call him the "English Alexander Nevsky", with reference to the fact that this king saved England and with it most of Europe from the barbarian Danes; while many compare him with the righteous king Yaroslav the Wise, referring to his many-sided state, legislative, educational, writing activities, energy, outstanding wisdom—and all this in combination with a saintly life! Glory be to God, the life of Alfred is becoming known to more and more people. The fact is that Alfred has not been canonized officially, although there has always been a popular veneration for him all over England and the local veneration of his relics in Winchester. After Alfred's death in 899, England continued to be restored and strengthen after the devastating raids of the Vikings, but by the end of the tenth century these raids were renewed, and after several decades England was conquered by the Normans. During this quite stressful time did not pay England so much attention to the canonization of Saints. Under Roman
Catholicism the Pope did not wish to recognize Alfred as a saint for political reasons. But the people prayed for long time and knew that the time of Alfred would finally come, and this saintly man would reveal himself to us. And it has became known lately that the righteous King Alfred would be venerated officially soon, and his memory would be commemorated liturgically. Veneration of St. Alfred on an official level has already been blessed by Metropolitan Kallistos (Patriarchate of Constantinople) and by Bishop Jerome (ROCOR). God willing, already in November this year, the feast of St. Alfred the Great will be celebrated in Russian parishes abroad. Fr. Andrew Phillips has recently written the service to him and an Orthodox icon of this holy king is now being painted.
Since the nineteenth century till now, relics of the following saints have been discovered again or (at least partly) returned to England: Eanswythe of Folkestone, Edward the Martyr, Edmund the Martyr, Alban of St. Albans, Mildred of Minster-On-Thanet, Boniface, enlightener of Germany, Hibald of Hibaldstow in Lincolnshire, and in 2011 the news appeared that the relics of St. Edburgh of Bicester had probably been discovered in the town of Bicester in Oxfordshire. The saints are revealing themselves to us again. If you address them in your prayers they will immediately answer. Miracles through their prayers are happening nowadays as well. For example, it is known from reliable sources that in recent times, by prayers of St. Edward the Martyr, people with sick legs have been healed and
women have given birth to their children successfully; those suffering from eye diseases have been healed by prayers of St. Milburgh of Much Wenlock in Shropshire and especially by the water from the holy well of St. Milburgh in Stoke St. Milborough. By the prayers of St. Melangell, whose relics are enshrined in Penant Melangell in Wales, many serious diseases have been cured and difficult life situations solved. And gracious help is coming from many, many other Saints.
—In your opinion, how easy is it today for people with serious health problems, like yours, to be integrated into modern life? Are people around you ready to talk with you as with an equal?
—In Russia, judging from my own experience and the experience of people with similar problems whom I know, it is very, very difficult. But I dare not speak about all handicapped people because there are various diseases, various situations. In other countries, especially in Europe and America, it is much easier for them to be adapted and integrated into the life of the society—they have all the conditions for that. I am saying it because I have many blind friends in these countries. I am a sociable person myself; I love people and, frankly, I happen to meet interesting, kind, attentive, and clear people very often in Russia as well as abroad.
—What is the most difficult thing for you?
—If we are talking about the spiritual life of each person, then the most difficult thing is to struggle with your own passions and shortcomings. At present it is the most difficult for me to fulfill myself and to live a full life in Russia in spite of two completed higher educations, a good knowledge of English and the computer, experience in translation, a great desire to work, to communicate, to have a family. People with disabilities in Russia are supported only by their families, closest people and relatives, if they have them. If they don't have close people around, then life becomes extremely limited and you feel very isolated, unneeded and lonely.
For family reasons my mother and I had to move from Moscow to a close part of the Moscow region early in 2011. I had never imagined that Moscow and the Moscow region were like two different planets. It concerns everything: life, transportation, medical service, roads, shops, communal services and so on. I would not like to describe all this in detail now but will just enumerate briefly what I lost together with the Moscow registration: I have been refused jobs, a trip to Germany (though I won the contest), medical centres are closed for free medical care (and I am a visually impaired person with the first disability group), my benefit has been considerably cut though I was born, grew up and lived all the time in Moscow, because of huge gaps in the train schedule it is very difficult to get to Moscow... It is unpleasant to enumerate all this and useless, and when I share this with my English friends, they get terrified. For the last several years I have made friends with many blind or partially-sighted people in the UK, Ireland, and Germany, of different ages (from 15 to 80 years old) and professions. In Europe the disabled are protected by the law. They not only get a good education, but work and can work in many fields, have hobbies, in many cases are totally independent, can travel on their own, create excellent families with sighted or blind people. Even if they do not work, they can live on benefits quite well. And if they work they also always do a lot of volunteer and charity work. Blind people in these countries actively communicate with each other and with sighted people as well, often arrange meetings, and their days are filled with interesting, lovely events. Technical equipment and various facilities for the disabled in these countries are much more developed than here.
Blind Irish, windsurfing. Among my blind friends in England (and for us here this sounds fantastic) the most wide-spread hobbies are surfing, horse-riding, hiking, travel in mountains, arranging various concerts, charity festivals, fairs and exhibitions, trips around Europe with sightseeing. They even can set up their own businesses.
I will give several examples. Among my friends in England there is one absolutely blind elderly couple who have been together for over 50 years, have grown-up and sighted children and grandchildren. They still occupy themselves with music, playing and singing, have their sound-recording studio at home, regularly travel all over Europe or Asia or go on cruises, and at their age they are still full of strength and are romantic. (You can see similar examples in England very often; we are always so delighted and touched when we see how lovingly and tenderly elderly couples walk in England, holding each other's hand; and many of them are in their seventies or eighties).
I also have a deaf-blind friend who is 42. He lives alone, is a very religious man, loves to visit holy places and ancient English abbeys; he does not work but can afford to have paid assistants who help him at home, accompany him to shops, meetings with friends, walks to parks, and to church he goes himself. I also know one poorly sighted lady who has been a professional writer for years and I have read a number of her very interesting stories in various genres. I know two absolutely blind young ladies who work with ceramics very well and are going to open their own shops (selling dishes) soon. Another friend of mine, an absolutely blind Irish lady who lost her eyesight due to diabetes, plays many musical instruments perfectly, often arranges concerts, teaches others how to play musical instruments, etc.
Kersey, Suffolk County, one of the most beautiful villages in East Anglia. Photo: I. Lapa
But the most inspiring example, I think, is my totally blind Orthodox lady friend from Ireland—a parishioner of the local parish of St. Maximus the Confessor of the Georgian Orthodox Church. I believe that such people are born approximately once per 100 years! Her name is Sydney Freedman (in baptism, Nicoletta; her patron saint is St. Nicolas the Wonderworker). All her life from the time of her birth is full of real miracles and wonderful achievements, and in spite of her very young age she has for already many years been doing a true mission. She was born in America in a non-Orthodox family. Since early childhood she has shown great talent, especially in music and reading. Being still a child, she got to know about Orthodoxy, studied it herself profoundly, and by the age of twelve, firmly decided to receive baptism and devote herself to the service of the Church. Being still a teenager, she sang in a Lutheran choir and later in Orthodox choirs and churches, traveling to many countries of the world. Several years ago she moved to Ireland to the county of Limerick, where by now she has already done her masters dissertation on traditions of Orthodox singing in Holy Week. Now twenty-six years old, she is finishing her doctoral work. Sydney knows many languages: Irish, Latin, Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Georgian, some Chinese, Church Slavonic... But the main thing is that she perfectly knows Orthodox Church chants and traditions in most of the languages mentioned above (including English, of course) and often sings in concerts of Orthodox Church music in Ireland and now already in other European countries, like Finland, and she has a wonderful voice. She teaches the students of the University of Limerick traditions of Orthodox singing (from ancient to modern) in various countries and thus attracts many people to Orthodox faith and tradition.
She has become the choirmaster of Limerick University choir (perhaps it is the first choir of this type in all Ireland) and, as far as I know, this choir is already becoming very popular—the first CD of its performances is to appear soon. Sydney also works hard on ancient books and manuscripts and music, as far as possible; she studies ancient Orthodox Western traditions of Church music, and is trying to spread these chants; we should remember that the liturgical traditions of the Orthodox West and the early Church were very rich and diverse. For the last two years, Sydney has occupied herself with the Georgian Orthodox tradition of Church music, its rich heritage, and she already gives concerts in Georgian together with her choir, and two years ago she visited Georgia where she was received with great enthusiasm by her friends who also devote themselves to music. Thanks to the efforts of this young, blind, delicate Orthodox young lady, many people in Limerick and other regions of Ireland have become seriously interested in Orthodox chants and tradition. Besides all this, Sydney translates the Lives and writings of some of the early Irish Saints, composes and publishes very inspiring spiritual poems, studies Orthodox theology, likes to do manual work, actively travels (including in the mountains) and makes pilgrimages.
I was told that in England blind people are trained to walk with a white cane for free, to orient themselves in the street, to develop many living, domestic skills. Local authorities give them a worker of a special service who for free and at any time, in any place convenient for them (home, school, university, work) for a convenient period, privately teaches them all the practical skills they are interested in. So there is not even any need for rehabilitation centres. What can be easier than such an interaction? But here we do not have such things even in Moscow.
St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, St. Alban. Photo: I. Lapa
In England blind people do not have to prove their blindness till they are 22 years old; if you became blind at three and a half years old, you don’t have to fill in many documents. And one more moving moment. I never take to England any disability certificates, policies, etc. Blind people, like me, are always let in to museums, cathedrals, abbeys, palaces for free. My English friend or myself simply need to say that I ("this gentleman") am blind and here is his mother as a carer, and I will be let in at once for free, and my mother will be let in either for free or with a discount. People just believe your word and do not require you to "confirm" your blindness, you do not have to go through a whole series of terrible humiliations, you are not asked to show them millions of certificates and other papers... The situation is absolutely different in Russia. I myself called and wrote regarding my employment to a great number of institutions but most employers refuse to take on people with disabilities simply because they are handicapped. Such stereotypes we have... People think that if you are disabled then you can do nothing, and it is useless "to waste time with you". Many people in our country do not understand, for instance, how blind people can translate, work with a computer etc, even though the Jaws For Windows software (Job access with speech) has existed for more than 10 years. It consists of a module that reads a text and other information from the screen and speech synthesizers (screen readers) that read out aloud all the necessary information from the screen including texts, windows, dialogues, icons etc. Thus, any blind or poorly sighted (or even anyone who desires) can without difficulty work on a computer today, using only hearing and hands. Ideally, this software can voice all changes which take place on the computer screen including all the user's actions. There are speech synthesizers in a variety of languages, including Russian, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and others. But there are some limitations, particularly in graphics (e.g. graphic editors), pictures, some formulas and tables. In other respects a blind user can freely read and write on computer in different languages, do translations, work in the internet, with e-mail, Skype and so on. Another piece of software, some sort of alternative to JAWS, has appeared lately. It is called NVDA. It is recommended for blind users of the Windows operating system to install both these programs on computer because they can in some cases complement each other.
Employers in Russia just have no experience of collaboration with such people and are afraid of additional problems. I was told more than once: "Well, we do not even know what to do with you, although you have a good education..." In reality, a disabled person only needs basic conditions in the workplace and respect. It is also very sad that there are no sincere initiatives by our government to create a united structure through which the disabled could find employment that have had any long-term positive results. So my problem, as one of numerous other people in my situation, is the basic lack of work, lack of communication, isolation, loneliness, very limited possibilities to move independently in the city or even no such possibility. As I said, I have addressed a huge number
of institutions for several years, knocked on all possible doors, written to and called plenty of organizations, even deputies, various charities, Church organizations (I am now not talking about our disability organizations...)—everything is useless. I receive the same replies. Glory be to God, some people, however, did not refuse me. First of all, there is Pravoslavie.ru, to which I am grateful for a possibility of collaboration.
Icon of the Synaxis of the Saints of Britain and Ireland.
—What supports you in your life?
—The Lord, the Mother of God and the saints. My mother—the most loving, kind, caring and selfless person—is always with me, our friends in Russia, Great Britain and Ireland, and our priests. The hope that all can change for the better does support me too; love of my work that I do, for foreign languages, translations, classical music, history, poetry support me too.
—Do you have an opportunity to attend church services? If so, then what church do you go to?
—Yes, of course! My mother and I began to go to church, to read spiritual literature and to take part in sacraments about eight or nine years ago. Unfortunately, at the moment we do not have an opportunity to attend services as often as we would like. We go to one of the parishes in the centre of Moscow or sometimes to the local parish here, where we live.
—Many people who suddenly find themselves in a situation despair when they realize the limitedness of their physical abilities, and sometimes commit suicide. What can you advise them?
—I would advise them never to give up. We must remember that everything is in the hands of God and all can change for the better. We must necessarily have faith and not lose hope. And we must pray. And when we are despondent we must pray all the same, even if it becomes very hard. And, if we have such a possibility, we need to participate in the sacraments of the church more often. But that is not all. We must necessarily work. The works of many years, often difficult ones, will bring their good results. Sadly, nowadays in Russia it is extremely hard, especially for people with disabilities. But God's providence may work even in spite of difficult circumstances, in spite of hard-heartedness, rudeness and indifference of surrounding people and other sad circumstances.
So, by the mercy of God and by our faith miracles can occur nowadays as well. I believe that if a person cannot fulfill himself or herself and organize his or her life in their native country then, if you have such an aspiration and the desire in your heart, you must make efforts to fulfill yourself in another country where this will be possible. The Lord created us so that we might develop spiritually and intellectually, so that we in our turn might create, invent, investigate and research the world around us, be useful, love, communicate and interact with other people. And if our inner voice is prompting us then we must go forward immediately, develop and never give up. If the Lord sees our willingness to work, our sincere desire to create and to contribute to good works, He will certainly give us His help and will not abandon us.
Dmitry Lapa. London, Oxford Street. Photo: Irina Lapa
I will repeat—the situation of the majority of handicapped people in Russia is close to deadlock nowadays; though it is absolutely certain that many of them are deep and very talented people. Today they are in particular need of support, respect and understanding, in providing all the necessary conditions for their life and activities so that they might integrate social life, be active parishioners, work in groups, create strong families and bring up their children, so that the surrounding environment might be accessible to them, so that they might freely move and travel on their own. All this is extremely far from reality in Russia so far. The situation will move from the dead point only if and when society changes and the laws change or at least the present ones begin to work. Disabled people can work fruitfully in all fields, but for this very many social institutions must be involved, and help must be not in word only... And first of all, people should become more compassionate and kind.