Love One Another! 3/2004 → a testimony
My name is Sergei. I was born and raised in the Soviet Union. My family talked very little about religion. Nobody went to church, as there wasn’t any church where I lived. All I knew about God was what my mother told me, but even her knowledge was limited.
I knew that God created the world, that He had a Son, Jesus, Who died on the cross for man’s sins, that He rose from the dead, and is now in heaven, where He watches over those who believe in Him. I believed what my mother told me, even though, in those days, we were taught that this was all an invention of “the West” designed to dupe the people. My mother also taught me some prayers, which she had learned from her mother. But all this took place in secret.
Thus, the seed of faith was sown in my childhood. What that seed did was arouse my curiosity. I wanted to know what faith was about and why so many older people believed in God. Whenever I saw an icon at someone’s house, I would ask what it portrayed and what it meant. The stories I was told began to add to my knowledge of God. I found them beautiful, like fairy tales. But I still couldn’t understand why my school taught me it was bad to be a believer. From what I had heard, God was good. Religion preached love. I saw nothing wrong in this. In the end, I stopped taking seriously what school and atheists were telling me. All it did was pique my curiosity further.
I had heard a lot about the Holy Bible. People said it contained all kinds of interesting things about God, but I was unable to get my hands on a copy. I searched high and low, but in those days it was impossible to find a Bible in my town. One day, I was invited to a party for children. In the attic of one of the neighboring deserted houses, I came across Luke’s Gospel among a pile of old papers. It had been painstakingly copied out by hand in an old exercise book. That’s where it began. Thanks to those faded pages, I learned about the life of Jesus and His apostles. The account of His death literally brought me to tears – that’s how strongly moved I was. Religion stopped being a fairy tale. I began to take it seriously.
I was growing up, and my life was changing. At the age of 11, I became interested in electronics and short-wave radios. I got a license and built myself a ham radio set. Now, I could talk with the whole world. I spent whole nights at the microphone trying to make contact with anyone who would listen to me. One evening, I made contact with a priest in Finland. I don’t remember his name. He gave me the frequencies and broadcasting hours of several Christian radio stations. I managed to buy a large radio receiver at an army and navy surplus store. After a bit of tinkering with it, I was able to pick up the stations. Thanks to those Christian programs, I was able to deepen my knowledge about religion and God. I learned to pray and talk with Him. A new road lay before me. I struck out on it with Jesus in my heart. Christianity stopped being a mystery. My faith grew stronger. I thanked God that I was now able to learn about Holy Scripture and hear the Holy Mass on the radio. That was a great discovery for me. I deepened my knowledge of God still further. I was happy I had become a Christian.
After finishing school, I went into the army. The unit I served in was close to Moscow. While on leave, I would take walks through the city. During one of these walks, I happened on a small street where there was a Catholic church. Curious to see what it looked like inside, and drawn by the sounds of organ music, I went in. As it turned out, Mass was just beginning, and I stayed for it. That was another great discovery for me. At last I was able to see how the Mass was celebrated. The celebrant was a young priest – Father Victor. There were many young people attending. This surprised me, since I always thought only old people went to church.
I listened to the priest as if I was in a trance. I hung on his every word and tried to commit everything to memory. A strange feeling took hold of my whole body. It’s impossible to describe it! I felt a peace of mind such as I had never felt before. It felt good being there. That Mass will always remain engraved in my memory. As I was leaving the church, the priest stopped me at the door. My uniform drew his attention. It was rare to see a soldier in church. He invited me to the rectory. There he asked me where I was from and what had brought me to church. I told him of my spiritual journey. That day I made my first confession. I found what I had been looking for. As I was getting ready to leave – I really didn’t want to leave, but I had to return to my unit – Father Victor presented me with a Bible.
After that, I kept coming back to the church whenever I was on leave. Before long, I found friends there. I came to the youth meetings, where we talked openly about God and studied His Word. Looking back on it now, I think those were the best days of my life.