Further and further East
Rossiya mon Amour
Winter 1991, Moscow. In the early afternoon, my plane touched down in Sheremetyevo Airport.
The arrivals hall was poorly lit, the queue outside the passport controls and visas, long. I had gotten a job at the famous Lomonosov University and with all my possessions was moving to Russia. It was already dark outside and I had the impression that this was the end of the world. Then I heard an announcement: Connections for Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk which made me realise that this was where everything started.
In Moscow, I lived in a small ecumenical community. Our apartment on Volochaevskaya street was in a working-class quarter, which did not feel particularly safe. When I asked why we didn’t move, like all the foreigners, on the secure embassy grounds, I was told: “Not to worry because where we were, we were protected by the proletariat.”
Contact with our neighbours was indeed spontaneous and easy: elderly women, sitting in the courtyard day and night knew exactly of all the comings and goings; the spontaneity of the children made me forget the awful smell of the dirty staircase. Our new friends – colleagues, students, old and young – all came gladly to Volochaevskaya. They don’t mind that the sofa in our apartment was half eaten by mice and that there was a water leak from a tube in the corridor. The beginnings of our deepening friendship helped us see everything in a different light and forget all the rest.
“Spiritual children” of Alexander Men
In the early 1990s production in Russia decreased rapidly. Shops were empty, everything was scarce. Religious life appeared to be extinct. Within the walls of former churches there were vodka making factories, offices, shops …
We had a long-standing acquaintance with the Russian Orthodox priest Alexander Men. Since the 1960s he had clandestinely baptised thousands of people and had shown a level of ecumenical openness that was dangerous for his time. A lively Orthodox Christian community formed around him. When he was violently killed, he left behind his “spiritual children” as traumatised orphans.
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name” (Mt 18:20)
Soon many people joined us. We lived together the word of the Scripture, for example, ” Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). As they said, they found a new homeland with us. “You don’t proselytise, instead you help us to become yeast for a self-renewal of the Russian Orthodox Church.” After years of spiritual drought, we experienced with them and many others a new Spring. I had never been so happy. The thirst for spiritual life united us despite our cultural differences, diverse upbringing or mentality.
In the 1990s – with perestroika and glasnost – many organisations, among them sects, as well as genuine charities from a variety of Churches (Renovabis, Kirche in Not, Bonifatiuswerk, …) and religious Movements (Communion and Liberation, Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, Community of Sant’Egidio, …) succeeded in entering countries behind the so-called “Iron Curtin”. Some stayed on and some have since left.
What is my personal experience as a citizen of Western Germany after nearly two decades in Russia? I have received much more from this country than I could ever give: among which the gift of deep contemplation which during the Russian Orthodox Liturgy allowed my relationship with God to grow deeper; solid friendships which continue in spite of distance and which reminds me of how much I am loved. In short, I have rediscovered my vocation as a Christian and as a woman: I am called to love.
I believe that during these years we have, in our own way, re-written the Acts of the Apostles. The reality of “having love for one another and having everything in common” (see Acts 4:32) both marked and moulded us. In this light, everything appeared as new: the Gospel goes much further … well beyond Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk!
by Beatriz Lauenroth