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Orthodoxy in Pakistan

 

On September 18, 2012, the Missionary Department of Moscow Theological Academy hosted a meeting with Priest Adrian Augustus of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who is ministering to an Orthodox Christian parish he founded in Pakistan. 

Path to Christ. Priesthood.

My conversion to Orthodoxy was not easy. Until my conversion in 2007, I was an Anglican deacon in India. When I began to seek Orthodoxy, I sent many letters with questions on the faith to the only person who would provide detailed answers, Vladyka Hilarion, who was then Archbishop of Sydney. I hail from a very poor family, my mother was a school teacher, and life proceeded in a strict Catholic spirit. When Vladyka suggested that I enroll in seminary in Jordanville, NY, my mother fell very ill, and I found myself in a difficult situation—going to America was practically impossible for me. Three months later, Vladyka Hilarion wrote that he could receive me in Australia. Vladyka and I then became like father and son. Everything I know about Orthodox Christianity I learned from him. I wished very much to become a priest, but did not ask Vladyka to ordain me, expecting that the Lord Himself would make it happen. When I was finally ordained, I did not wish to limit my ministry to a parish: I wished for our true faith to be accessible to everyone. Many people in Pakistan and in India would like to learn about Orthodoxy and become zealous Christians, but they have little opportunity to do this.

It is very difficult in Pakistan today because of the Muslim government, and it is unsafe for white people to live in the country, so missionaries don’t wish to go there. True, Pakistan is not a safe country by any means. One must note that this country is dangerous not only for white people and foreigners, but even for its own citizens: within the country, Muslims fight with other Muslims, Muslims kill other Muslims. Pakistan is divided into three big groups. In the north are Pashtuns from Afghanistan, the Punjabs live in the middle, the Sindhis live in the south, and within Sindhi itself is a small group of Indians, and these populations are all in conflict. A Pakistani simply does not know when he leaves his home in the morning whether he will return that night.

A Voice from Pakistan.

There were two people in Pakistan who left the Catholic seminary and, as did I some time ago, and e-mailed letters with questions about faith, seeking to find Orthodoxy. Vladyka Hilarion forwarded these letters to me, since I know the mindset of these people and could determine whether these were genuine believers or if they were sent by people who have no desire to find Christ. The population of Pakistan is very poor, and this could simply have been a scam. When I read these e-mails, though, my heart was moved. I didn’t think twice, and asking Vladyka’s blessing, headed for Pakistan.

When I arrived, I was very surprised: instead of the two people who wrote the e-mails, I was greeted by some fifty people. When I settled into my hotel room, I was not allowed to go outside. The problem was this: It is still dangerous for me to come to Pakistan, because I have lighter skin, being Indian. There were four wars between Pakistan and India, and when I arrived, I was viewed as a spy. But a local member of Parliament gave me permission to leave the hotel for twelve hours, deeming me a missionary and not a spy. The press reported that some priest arrived, and even more people came to see me, and, praying to the Holy Spirit, I began to preach. At first I tried to talk about the time before the Birth of Christ. Then I told them about the Nativity itself, the creation of the Church, the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and the roles that priests and deacons play. I tried to explain that accepting Orthodoxy in not that simple, that a person must be transformed first. The only normal reason to come to Orthodoxy is to become a saint in the Church, because the human soul unites with God after death. And the role of the priest is to give a person a nudge to begin this effort. There is no easy way of doing this, prayer is needed, and fasting and the fulfillment of all the other Orthodox methods. After a two-hour sermon, many questions were raised by those who sought the true faith, there were representatives of agencies who tried to find something suspicious in my sermon. That night,  about 110 Catholics joined the Orthodox faith. The next day I was also able to baptize about 74 people from 10 Pakistani families. I asked people why they were so interested in my sermon, and they said that they were touched that I, as an Indian, came to them to preach Orthodox Christianity to them, and that I did not look at them as some kind of bad people, I did not judge the way they looked—these Pakistanis are poor, simple peasants. In the church, and during our discussions, I do not take a chair when they sit on the floor—I sit beside them. These people are in special need of pastoral care, for they have no one who will listen to them: neither in the mosque or the Catholic Church. We must keep in mind that in Pakistan and in India, the Catholic Church is a very large, powerful organization. Catholic seminarians are often sent to work as directors of local schools immediately upon graduation, schools that every child aspires to be accepted into. As school directors, Catholic pastors forget that they are first and foremost pastors, not school directors. I explain to the people who come to see me that my task as a priest is to serve people towards their salvation, to love and care for them.

Vladyka was happy to see me return alive…

My next challenge was to preserve the community of one hundred converted Pakistanis. When I returned to Australia, I told Vladyka right away that we must hasten to organize a mission in Pakistan. Vladyka Hilarion gave me his blessing to establish the Archangel Michael Mission. I asked people in Pakistan why they invited me instead of other Orthodox priests who already serve in Pakistan. They answered that those priests belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while I belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, and since the Russian Church is the largest of all National Churches which consists of many different peoples, they hoped to receive care from the Russian Church. Considering all the saints who glorified the Russian land, seeing that I belong to this same Russian Church, the Pakistanis believed that I, too, could love them and care for them. I also asked Vladyka Hilarion to appoint more priests so that Divine Liturgy could be celebrated there soon.

My second trip to Pakistan lasted 10 days. This time my chief mission was pastoral care. I met with people, trying to understand their needs, trying to let them “spread my wings” over them. I was then able, for the first time, to celebrate Liturgy in the Russian style but in the Urdu tongue. I was also able to convert a former Catholic priest and his wife to Orthodoxy. Once, as he was translating Liturgical text into Urdu, the words that the priest is to speak touched his heart, and he wished to turn back to those times when these prayers were being composed. This was the reason he wished to convert to Orthodoxy. This last time, over 50 new people came to Christ.

I also wish to say that I now have the ability to travel to Pakistan without an invitation. Once I was able to meet with the Pakistani ambassador and explain who I am and what the Orthodox Church is, and explain that I am no spy, etc. He congratulated me on my efforts in working towards the good of Pakistanis, but said that doing missionary work on a tourist visa is illegal, and then he said a remarkable thing. He told me that he believes in my work in Pakistan, and that I can receive a missionary visa. It is almost impossible for a Christian priest to receive a missionary visa in an Islamic country. During my next trip there I met with Pakistani intelligence, I showed them my cross and my missionary visa, stating that the government permitted me to work here. You can believe me or not, I said. They asked what my plans were, and I said I wanted to build a church. There are three Christians in the Pakistani community who wish to become priests, and they face their own challenges. Orthodox Christians now gather at homes for divine services which are permitted for laypersons to perform themselves; I instructed them to read the Hours and the obednitsa [reader’s service], the Gospel, after which they continue their socializing at tea. It is very important that a regular priest be provided for Pakistan as soon as possible. If a Christian dies, who will conduct funeral services? My next trip to Pakistan is scheduled for January-February, for 5-6 days.

“Neither Greek, Nor Jew”

Next time, a 22-year-old man from Odessa will accompany on my next trip. I invite anyone, not only Australians, but Russians, too, to join me in my work in Pakistan. We have a hotel with armed security, where you will be safe. It is very important for Pakistanis if someone from Russia comes, because then they will feel that the entire Church supports them, cares for them. If you visit them, try to be as gregarious as you can, and poor people will give their last penny to make you feel comfortable.

My dream is to disseminate Orthodoxy, I have no fear of death, because I do everything for the sake of the Church, the Church is my family, my life, the Orthodox Faith overfills me, and I wish to share this with others.

-Fr Adrian, is this your first visit to Russia?

-Yes, this is my first time here. Russia was always a country I wished to visit. Of course, because of the Orthodox Church, I would be happy to stay here forever. One of the favorite saints of the Pakistani community is St Sergius of Radonezh. Being able to venerate his relics was very special for me.

-Do you plan on working with the Moscow Theological Academy?

-Yes. Three of our candidates will soon head for Thailand to see Fr Oleg for Liturgical practice. And I plan to send future candidates here, too. We also have six young women who wish to become nuns, they are about twenty years old. When I asked why, they said that they wish to become brides of Christ. You should know that in Pakistan, as a Muslim nation, a woman has no rights. Two of them were novices in a Catholic convent for six years. Nuns in the Catholic Church are different from Orthodox nuns. We have completely different rules. Fr Georgy Maksimov and I are trying to organize their trip to convents in Russia for a few weeks, so that they could experience that life for themselves.

-You will soon be inviting seminarians to join your mission in Pakistan. What requirements will you have of anyone wishing to go?

-To leave their pride at home. If someone pours you tea in a broken mug, thank them and drink it. The main thing is to be friendly, to love them—that is all you need. Of course, you have to imagine what Islam is and to be able to explain if needed why salvation is found in Orthodoxy, and nowhere else. Of course, I guarantee that you will be safe, better that I die than someone else suffers. One should not think about the Taliban, the community is fairly safe. It would be good if two or three students could go and help me with Liturgy, though I serve in Urdu, some songs could be sung in Church Slavonic.

-What will those who volunteer to go with you do? What will their job be?

- To sit with people and a translator whom I will provide, and tell them about the holy fathers, about Orthodox Christianity, the meaning of life. If you look at our photographs, you would see that I sit with them on the ground, without my cassock, and we talk like friends. My personal experience is that the true spread of the Gospel occurs during a cup of tea, during friendly conversation.

- Not all seminarians have the missionary spirit you speak of; do you think that seminaries can instill the desire to spread the truth to their students?

- It is very egotistical to want to save only oneself. It is easy to save yourself, but to save yourself and your neighbor is much harder. One must think about people who do not know Orthodoxy, do not know the true faith, one must remember that they are dying spiritually. Our goal is to bring them to faith. The seminary must use special programs, they must stress the importance of missionary work, and point to the examples of St Nicholas of Japan, Equal-to-the-Apostles, St John of Shanghai. And of course, it is desirable to invite renowned missionaries to read lectures on their experience.

- Fr Adrian, who finances your trips?

- I do, by working in American Express Bank five days a week.

- Tell us what in the Gospel touches the hearts of the Pakistani people most?

- They had heard the Gospel from the Catholics, and Evangelicals, and Anglicans. I try to emphasize life according to the Gospel, not simply teach them lessons about it. I explain that the Church is not a social club, the main goal of the Church is to approach holiness. In the Church we must see to it that the Gospel is preserved in our hearts, and, as we leave the temple, we must spread this Word of God to the whole world, so that it would give strength to us and to our neighbors. 

- What questions are most often asked of you by your flock?

- Most often I am asked about the difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I try to understand them and teach them that their goal is to approach sanctity. The problem is that Catholics don’t approach the level of the common man, they look upon a person as does a judge. As I said, Catholic priests often forget their pastoral role, but when Pakistanis receive care from an Orthodox priest, love is generated, and they immediately see the difference between Orthodoxy and other teachings. They see that this Indian priest named Adrian came to them and cares for them. I learned this from Vladyka Hilarion: when I was in Australia, Vladyka, at the time only an Archbishop, picked me up from the airport in his car, took me home and made me dinner.

Denis Grishkov