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Behold the One you are seeking!

Many years have since passed, and I haven’t stopped thanking God that I belong to the greatest Church of Christ, to which He Himself led me.

Behold the One you are seeking!

During my youth, in Russia, it was unthinkable to see a priest on television, or even just walking down the street. It was impossible to buy a Bible or any images of saints, or to find a person willing to share their faith. However, God finds every heart that desires Him and finds a way for the heart to discover Him.

The gospel reached me initially through the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. When I heard it, I didn’t stop until I could obtain the recording, and then its translation. It was shocking! Every melody and every word ended up in my heart, resonating deep within it. It was something more than music or performance — I discovered something important and dear.

Of course, I did not associate the stories about Judas — continually dissatisfied with Jesus and ultimately betraying his Master to death — with the story of my own life. However, my life was not working out: the problems were piling up and turning into disasters. Sometimes I didn’t feel like carrying on living.

And then I had a strange dream. I saw myself in a concentration camp in the midst of many prisoners. They suspected me of compassion for a man sentenced to death. Wishing to prove that I had nothing to do with him, I began to help the executioners. It was nothing big: I was just handing over the nails used to nail this man to a cross …

I jumped up from sleep covered with a cold sweat. I was so scared that I couldn’t fall asleep until morning. Could I really do something like that? Could I become an executioner to save my own skin? It was really reprehensible to me! I was beginning to guess who the Person was that I had helped crucify in my dream. I understood that it wasn’t a dream, but an ingeniously arranged message as to where I was going. And I was on a path leading straight to hell! Until that moment, I hadn’t realised that I had lost everything that was good in me from the beginning. Purity, honesty, love — those concepts had lost their unconditional value. I added conditions to every “must not”: “but if this or that, it is allowed after all”. As a result, I was breaking the commandments repeatedly. Each subsequent sin pushed me further and further into the abyss, and death began to seem like the best way out.

The strangest thing was that on the outside no one noticed anything. My friends from university told me years later that they enjoyed my company, that they admired my sense of humour and that they tried to imitate me in everything.

Wishing to prove that I had nothing to do with him, I began to help the executioners. It was nothing big: I was just handing over the nails used to nail this man to a cross …

At that time, a friend of mine from the philology department went to Poland on an international exchange. In those days, travelling abroad was something extremely rare! Everything brought from there seemed like the most precious treasure. My friend brought a small picture for me. I didn’t quite believe her words when she said it was the Mother of God. Seeing a woman’s face with a stern expression and the words “Regina Poloniae”, I decided that it was some Polish queen numbered among the saints.

Shortly before that, I had a conversation with a stranger, who for some reason said very confidently, “You need to be baptised”. “What for?”, I asked. “You’ll understand later”, was the answer.

Now, I was looking at this Polish queen, and it seemed to me that she, too, was looking at me with a hidden irony. I thought: “For sure she was a Catholic! They have a lot of saints over there … Just look, she won’t even smile.”

It so happened that when I had to make the most difficult decisions I would take out this little icon, and I would find in it consolation, sympathy or support. Today, I am sure that it wasn’t a coincidence that the idea of baptism suggested to me and the gift of this picture occurred so close in time. God was working out His plan for me.

I was thinking to myself: “I wonder what the Catholic church looks like”.

It was the beginning of 1981, which in the Soviet Union was called the period of ‘high’ socialism, but in fact was stagnation steeped in atheism. How was I to know that across the whole vast country of Russia there were only two active Catholic parishes: one in Moscow and one in Leningrad? Both existed only because they belonged to the French embassy. No guidebook contained any information about them.

Apparently, my queen of Poland took the matter up. I went to Moscow, but none of the tourist information offices could help me. Then I thought that Catholics probably lived in the Baltic republics, which for the average citizen of the Soviet Union stood out almost as Western Europe. So I got on a train and went to Tallinn. I had no friends there, but I easily found somewhere to stay. However, finding a Catholic church was not so easy. A lady in the City Information office gave me a new address every day, but each time it was a Lutheran church, where I would sit politely through the whole service in an unknown language. Each time, tears flowed from my eyes, for no obvious reason.

Now I understand that the Holy Spirit was working in that way. It was February. I was often frozen, but He enveloped me, warmed me and gently softened my heart, cleansing it with tears while preparing for the most important meeting in my life.

It was the fourth or even fifth day of my stay in Tallinn when at the City Information point I was finally given the right address. As usual, I read the order of worship hanging on the door and I arrived before the Mass. It was attended by about ten people. When the Mass ended, I approached the elderly priest and told him that I wanted to be baptised. The priest arranged for me to meet up with him the following day.

I arrived the next day and was surprised to discover that nothing was prepared for a baptism. The priest, dressed in a black robe (only later did I learn that it was a cassock), was starting a fire in the oven. However, he was kind to me, stopped what he was doing and started to inquire who I was and where I came from. Then he told me about Plato, Michelangelo, Einstein and the modern sciences. He quoted from memory the words of great men to the effect that only the greatest Intellect could create such order and harmony prevailing in nature. From his words, it appeared that even classic Russian writers were all believers! Although I was already slowly starting to consider myself a believer, there was still a conviction in me, instilled in childhood, that priests were ignorant and backward. So the level of education and broad horizons of my interlocutor surprised me very much. The time passed, and I began looking at my watch. In the end, I ran out of patience and interrupted the priest: “Excuse me, when will we have the baptism?” “Well how long are you staying in Tallinn?”, he asked. “Well, perhaps a few more days”, I lied. I had hardly any money left, not counting the amount set aside for the baptism. I hoped that I would get it done quickly and would leave for home in the evening. And the priest responded, “Oh, madam! I would need at least half a year to prepare you!” “I can pay!” I cried. I thought this argument couldn’t be beaten. Nobody ever told me that to be baptised you need something else but money. “No way!” snapped the priest, “I don’t need your money. I want you to become a real Catholic!” According to the plan, I took the evening train home. Now I was one hundred percent sure that I would be baptised only in a Church where the sacrament was not sold to me. Thank God, sacraments are not for sale!

The familiar queen of Poland was looking out from a golden frame — alive and close, and full of love. Most importantly, she was holding a Baby in her arms, as if to say: “Behold, this is the one you are seeking!”

Further events unfolded fast, according to God’s brilliant plan. I immediately found a Catholic church in Moscow, where the priest understood my situation and prepared me for baptism relatively quickly. I received the sacrament in the sacristy in the presence of only one acolyte, an elderly gentleman. St Louis church in Moscow was observed by several cameras and surrounded by special services buildings. Every baptised person had to bear in mind the possible problems …

Many years have since passed, and I haven’t stopped thanking God that I belong to the greatest Church of Christ, to which He Himself led me.

Or perhaps it was Her who led me? After all, the image of the queen of Poland went everywhere with me — before the baptism, and afterwards. She was with me even when I was living a thousand kilometres away from the nearest Catholic parish, and I began to go astray, accumulated a multitude of sins and was experiencing spiritual crisis. I cried and called out for help, and suddenly an opportunity opened up for me to go to a World Youth Day in Czestochowa, to a meeting with John Paul II. For the first time in my life, ten years after receiving baptism, I found myself abroad, in Poland, at the Shrine of Jasna Gora. A surprise was waiting for me there: the familiar queen of Poland was looking out from a golden frame — alive and close, and full of love. Most importantly, she was holding a Baby in her arms, as if to say: “Behold, this is the one you are seeking! Receive Him into your heart forever and never leave Him”.

And that’s what I did. I try to do so every day, participating in the Mass, praying the rosary, meditating on the Holy Scripture and going to the sacrament of reconciliation.

Natalia from Russia


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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