Invading Russia with Christ’s Love
A PRIEST OF HARD LABOR & GULAGS
A Quonset hut stood at the far end of the football field, the same field where years earlier the Seven Blocks of Granite brought fame to Fordham University’s football team and gave hope to a city and country struggling through the Great Depression. Those walking by the field now could have believed that the curved tin hut was a storage shed for tools used by the groundskeepers. But upon further scrutiny, the passerby would have noticed that there was no lock on the door and a small cross rested on the tin roof. As far as I knew, it was called the “Russian Center.”
A student at Fordham at the time, I had learned that the Catholic Church had many different rites, though I never actually experienced any but the Latin rite. I had a friend who was a Melkite Christian and a parishioner at the Church of the Virgin Mary in Brooklyn. Through her I attended my first Divine Liturgy and was completely enthralled.
I do not remember how I learned of the Russian Center, but probably it was mentioned by one of my professors. I recalled that my seventh-grade teacher, Sister Vera, had always talked about the suffering church behind the Iron Curtain and recommended books about God’s underground. I began to read every book I could find on the subject within my capabilities. Now I had the opportunity of participating in the culture that I had read so much about.
When I entered the Center one balmy Sunday morning in spring, I learned that though it may have looked like a Quonset hut on the outside, on the inside it was a chapel. Having learned a little of the Eastern-rite rubrics, I followed the other worshipers in venerating the icon that stood at the entrance. The beautiful Divine Liturgy followed, accompanied by the deep a cappella tones of the Byzantine choir. Thereafter, I attended the Divine Liturgy whenever time would allow. Not knowing any Russian, I had learned some of the responses even though I could not understand the words. I just knew they were the right words and the One for whom they were meant would understand. I also sensed that the priest-celebrant was a holy man.
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