My Second Journal in India

by Papa Ephraim

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Once again I find myself unexpectedly flying out to India. Since my last trip there four months ago which can be read about in my previous journal much has happened. In November some professional translators in India were hired to translate into Telugu the book by Fr. Seraphim Bell entitled “Understanding the Rich Heritage of the Orthodox Church.” This book answers the questions that Protestants typically have when exposed to Orthodoxy. And then in December, Fr. Seraphim himself went to India!

He stayed there for more than two weeks and did an intense seven-day, all-day catechism for two different groups of 30 pastors. Then those 60 pastors went back to their parishes and passed on to their parishioners what they had learned. As a result, there were hundreds of people who learned the basics of Orthodox Christianity and wanted to be baptized immediately!

However, there was some discussion among the members of the mission whether or not those people should be baptized so soon. After all, under normal circumstances, it isn’t enough for people to have merely a mental grasp of just the basic Orthodox dogmas before they are ready for baptism, but they should also have begun to put into practice their theoretical understanding of the Orthodox spiritual life. Acquiring an Orthodox mindset is something that takes years. It takes even longer when a catechumen has no access to an Orthodox spiritual father, Orthodox literature, an Orthodox parish, and living role models demonstrating what it means to be a serious Orthodox Christian. Also a catechumen needs to show some stability. This is why a person typically remains a catechumen for a year or longer before being baptized.

So it was decided that they should not be baptized in December but should be given more time to grow in the faith.

Meanwhile, that professional group of translators continued translating more essential texts into Telugu. In particular they completed (or almost completed) the following:

  • The Catechism of St. Nikolai Velimirovich*
  • The Typica Service
  • The Baptism Service
  • The Creed
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • 5 small books of Fr. Daniel Sysoev
  • Elements from the Book The Truth of our Faith by Elder Cleopa

They tried to jack up their prices for us, knowing that we’re American. But Fr. Athanasius explained them that he’s working on a very limited budget. They insisted on their unreasonable prices, so Fr. Athanasius told them: “Forget it! I can’t afford you. Good-bye.” Fortunately, this ultimatum brought them to their senses, and so they agreed to continue translating for us at a reasonable price. But they did drag their heels and create difficulties.

Now that the people in India are getting a little more exposure to Orthodoxy, there are more than a thousand people who are eager to be baptized. Fr. Athanasius presented this situation to Metropolitan Hilarion, and he decided that the time is right for them to be baptized now. I was not expecting to return again to India because my last trip was difficult. But since I believe that the salvation of so many souls is worth making sacrifices for, I agreed to help Fr. Athanasius face this challenge.

But baptizing a thousand people is not so easy! Especially in a third-world country where widespread poverty makes everything difficult. Fr. Athanasius and Dr. Wesley and many others in India have been working hard for months now, trying to solve all the logistics of this huge task. In fact, Dr. Wesley was devoting so much time and energy to this that he even collapsed out of exhaustion before we arrived.

One practical problem is that all the natural bodies of water in India are extremely polluted. So they are considering purchasing five plastic swimming pools for us to do the baptisms in the five central locations close to where these people live.

Another problem is arranging for the transportation of all those people to the baptism sites. Since many of the people will be travelling from afar, we also need to feed them all. We’ll also need tents so that everyone won’t get overheated in the sun.

And since it would have been too much for just one priest to try to baptize all these people by himself, Fr. Athanasius invited me and Fr. George Maximov from Russia to help out. Fr. George is a well-respected theologian who has written many articles and booklets. Best of all, he has experience doing missionary work in the Philippines. He is bringing with him two other people from Russia who have also done missionary work in the Philippines: Sister Ioanna and Anastasia. They are both teachers of Obikhod chant, and so they will try to teach the Indians how this simple form of chanting is executed. I must admit I’m a little sad that the Indians won’t be taught Byzantine chant. It is so much closer in style to traditional Indian music than Obikhod chant is, and in my biased opinion it is also much more beautiful. But I agree that it would be terribly impractical to try to teach them the intricacies of Byzantine chant at this stage when they need to focus on more important fundamentals. Maybe some day they will be able to learn it. If they do, they will sound awesome.

The other person joining us on this mission trip is Sister Paraskevi. She is one of the nuns at my monastery in Alaska, St. Nilus Skete. She is a very energetic nun who is skilled in many ways. She will be teaching the Indians how to make prosphora and will also be speaking to the women about prayer. We would like to give Holy Communion to all the newly illumined people we baptize, so we are going to have to bake prosphora in India! It would have been much easier just to bring prosphora with us, but India’s hot climate would spoil the loaves too quickly. Sister Paraskevi might have some challenges getting it right the first time, but she’s a pro, so I’m not worried about her figuring it out.

Wednesday, January 30

After three flights lasting 6, 14, and 5 hours, we finally made it to New Delhi, India’s capital. It’s kind of crazy going through so many time zones all at once. You lose track of when it’s time to sleep and eat. But that’s not a problem for me, because I love finding excuses to eat and sleep more! The hardest part is being stuck in your seat for so many hours. For the past week I have been struggling with a dry cough, and now my voice is way lower than normal, and I can only speak softly. I’m hoping it’s just a virus that will pass on its own, so I’m waiting a little longer before resorting to antibiotics.

Fr. Athanasius and Papa Ephraim changing planes in Istanbul Fr. Athanasius and Papa Ephraim changing planes in Istanbul

As soon as we got through customs in New Delhi, we met Fr. George, Sister Ioanna, and Anastasia. Fr. George is much younger than I had thought he would be; somehow I had expected him to be in his sixties, but he looks like he’s only in his early forties. Sister Ioanna and Anastasia were also younger than I had expected. They must be in their early twenties. So I guess that makes me the oldest one in our team, since Fr. Athanasius is a few months younger than me. But I still feel like the youngest priest of the three of us, because I’ve never catechized anyone, and my preaching skills are abysmal.

Our first meeting in the Delhi airport Left-to-right: Anastasia, Fr. George, Fr. Athanasius, Sr. Paraskevi, Sr. Ioanna
Our first meeting in the Delhi airport Left-to-right: Anastasia, Fr. George, Fr. Athanasius, Sr. Paraskevi, Sr. Ioanna

Sister Ioanna told me that she became a nun just a year and a half ago at a monastery in Greece. She is also going to be keeping a daily journal, but hers will be in Russian!

They are all very friendly people. Sister Ioanna has almost no problem at all speaking English, but Anastasia sometimes needs them to translate things in English she didn’t understand. Fr. George’s English is good enough, but his accent is strong. But since everything he preaches will be translated, it doesn’t matter. Within twenty minutes, Sister Paraskevi also showed up. It was inspiring to have the whole team together.

Our layover in New Delhi was almost ten hours, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other, have some food, take naps, and walk around the airport. Sister Ioanna was joking that she’s afraid to say anything to me because she read my previous journal in India and saw that I didn’t try to hide anything! Sister Paraskevi is also going to be writing down her daily impressions of this trip, but it will be a personal diary primarily for herself.

Just a few days before our trip, Fr. Athanasius shared with us this research paper online that someone had recently published regarding the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) in India! Not only does it elaborate on all the activities that Fr. Lazarus Moore did for years in India, but it also talks in detail about some less well-known people who labored in India for years, trying to bring Orthodoxy to its people. I heard about one Indian fellow who was puzzled why there are plenty of Roman Catholics and Protestants in India, but very, very few Orthodox Christians. Maybe our efforts with these groups in Srikakulam will start changing that, by God’s grace.

The time for our flight to Vizag finally came, and so we all got on board for the two-hour flight. Fr. Athanasius and I hadn’t slept at all during our ten-hour wait in New Delhi, so we both slept easily during this flight.

Dr. Wesley and his family were waiting for us at the Vizag airport full of joy. They had already worked out ahead of time who would put wreaths of flowers on each of us. His two older daughters were in college and couldn’t come. They had to get two rental cars for our team this time since there are so many of us. On the drive from Vizag to Srikakulam, the nuns and Anastasia were so excited to be in India that they were wired and letting their eyes feast on the many strange sights. I was so exhausted that I wavered in and out of sleep, while Fr. Athanasius and Dr. Wesley started trying to figure out the logistics of the upcoming days.

We went to the same hotel we had last time, and I even got the same room! It brought back nice memories of our last trip. The room that Sr. Paraskevi was given had a somewhat large lizard on the wall above the air-conditioning unit. She didn’t feel particularly comfortable about sharing her room with such a large creature, but she was ready to be ascetical and accept her fate. But then Fr. Athanasius decided to take that room, and he wasn’t bothered at all by it.

Most of us were starving, so we had lunch in the place where we always ate the last time we were here. The friendly waiters there were delighted to see us again. But Fr. Athanasius and Fr. George were too exhausted to join us. Fr. George is also struggling with the flu.

When we got back to the hotel, it was around 10:00 p.m. The last time I had slept in a bed was three days ago, so I really appreciated having a bed. Unfortunately, the room they gave Sr. Paraskevi was a tiny little “cage” (as she called it). Worst of all, it had no air-conditioning unit and no screen on the open hole where the window was. So the mosquitos came right in and kept her company. I gave her my mosquito net, but she was unable to function in such conditions. So Dr. Wesley called the hotel management and got her a room on the 5th floor. Since all the rest of us were on the 6th floor, and since there were some other guys on the 5th floor, she didn’t feel at all safe being alone like that (and perhaps rightly so). So Dr. Wesley traded rooms with her the following day.

Thursday, January 31

We agreed to have Orthros this morning at 8:00 a.m. I didn’t get to bed until 11:00 p.m., and I figured that 9 hours would be plenty of time to rest. But I was so tired that I was still asleep when my alarm went off at 7:45 a.m. Part of the exhaustion must also be from my sore throat. About a week ago I started having a slight itchiness in my throat which gradually got worse as the days went by. And when the plane landed in Vizag yesterday afternoon, my ears really suffered. I took this as an indication that my sore throat had led to an inner ear infection, and I vaguely remember reading somewhere that one way to distinguish a bacteria from a virus is whether or not you get an upper respiratory infection. So I figured that the time had come for me to give up on the idea that I had a virus that would go away on its own, and so I started taking some Zithromax last night.

This morning my throat felt considerably better; I could actually use it for speaking now! But it’s still rather hoarse, so Sr. Ioanna and Anastasia did all the singing in Orthros. We all gathered together in my room for the service, since it is the only room with enough space for all of us to stand in. All six of our missionary team attended, and Fr. Athanasius was the priest. Dr. Wesley and his wife also joined us. Anastasia is conducting Sr. Ioanna, while Divya (on the right) is following along
Anastasia is conducting Sr. Ioanna, while Divya (on the right) is following along

Afterwards, we had a lovely breakfast of omelettes and dhosas. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the orphanage (we still call it that, even though there haven’t been orphans there since 2010) and Dr. Wesley gave a tour of the place to the new members of our team. Fr. George was delighted to see that they had this place. He was saying that it is the dream of every missionary to have a place like this, where people can come and be taught, attend services, and be baptized. Fr. Athanasius showing Fr. George the orphanage Fr. Athanasius showing Fr. George the orphanage

Another view of the orphanage Another view of the orphanage Left to right: Sr. Paraskevi, Divya, Precious Left to right: Sr. Paraskevi, Divya, Precious

Anastasia and Sr. Ioanna enjoying the exotic tastes of India Anastasia and Sr. Ioanna enjoying the exotic tastes of India

When we got back to the hotel, all six of met in order to try to be prepared for the intensity of the upcoming days. They had found a suitable place for us to baptize our first group: a rice field which has large holding tanks of water! We also discussed the issue of picking names for so many people. One problem the Russian missionaries in Alaska encountered after baptizing entire villages was that when the missionaries came back later, no one could remember their baptismal name! So we are going to write down everyone’s name on a card or on the back of an icon that they can keep.

As for the issue of godparents, it wouldn’t make any sense for the three non-clergy members of our team to have hundreds of godchildren with whom they can’t communicate, so we will use “oikonomia” and baptize everyone without godparents.

Here is the group The group for this trip

We got a little “hot spot” device to provide internet access for all our tablets and smartphones. I was too afraid of having my tablet stolen, so I didn’t bring mine. Instead, I brought an old smartphone someone gave me so that I could type up this journal on it using portable bluetooth keyboard. We took the rest of the afternoon off today because our remaining days here (and especially tomorrow) will be insanely busy all day long. So we had some quiet time to ourselves and then did Vespers and a Moleben (i.e., the Paraklesis Service) all together at 4:30 p.m. Dr. Wesley was too busy with preparations to come, and Fr. George was feeling too sick to come (he’s still struggling with that flu). As for me, I am feeling fine but my throat is still so weak that I can’t sing, and I can barely speak loudly enough be to audible. So Sr. Ioanna and Anastasia did all the singing. They have nice voices and know music well. But I still prefer all the melodic variety of Byzantine chant over the Russian ways of singing, which strike me as quite pretty but also a bit monotonous.

After Vespers, Dr. Wesley came back and joined us for dinner. Poor Fr. George was still too wiped out to come, so we went without him and just brought him back some food.

Friday, February 1

Today is the big day we start baptizing! It’s a good thing that Fr. Athanasius and Fr. George are also here because even though I’ve been a priest for almost twenty years now, I’ve only done one baptism. (That’s because I was at St. Anthony’s Monastery all those years, and the few baptisms we did were usually done by Geronda Paisios.)

Around midnight I woke up very hungry. Fortunately, though, I knew this would happen, and so at dinner last night I ordered some extra food to bring back to the hotel. The problem is that the food here is very high in carbohydrates, and so you end up getting hungry more often and needing to eat more. That’s probably why I put on a little weight on my last trip to India. When I woke up this morning at 7:00, I was starving again, so I immediately devoured what was left of the food I had brought from the restaurant. Before I ate it, the thought came to me: “Maybe Sr. Paraskevi is hungry and would like some.” But then another thought came: “There’s no point in asking her, because she is so polite that should would never take your food.” So I went ahead and ate it all up. As soon as I finished, I turned on the light and noticed a little note under my door. It was from Sr. Paraskevi, and it said: “Are you up? Do you have any extra food? I’m hungry.” Kyrie eleison! I really messed up.

So I knocked on her door (her room is just a bit down the hall from mine) and told her what had happened. But since I had some Indian rupees, I suggested that we go out on the streets and find something edible that is “safe”—in other words, something that has been cooked and sealed by some food company. So we went out and found some potato chips in sealed bags as well as some delicious rusks in a sealed bag. It was perfect. Needless to say, everyone stared at us as we walked down the street, being the only ones in a city of two million people who are white—not to mention our black robes and big crosses on our chests. I was joking with Sr. Paraskevi and said: “You know what that guy staring at us is thinking?” “What?” she replied. I said: “He’s thinking: ‘There’s something about those two people that isn’t quite right, but I just can’t put my finger on it!’” ☺

A typical scene on the streets of the city—with someone staring at us! A typical scene on the streets of the city—with someone staring at us!

We did Orthros today at 8:00 a.m. Fr. Athanasius couldn’t serve because he was busy trying to get someone to buy some scissors so that we could make crosses out of cloth that people could wear for their baptisms. So I served Orthros as the priest, even though my throat was still in such bad shape that I was barely audible. But it was fine, since we were only in my hotel room. Afterwards, we packed up our things, had breakfast, and continued driving an hour further to the place where 250 people met us to be baptized. On our way, we stopped by a print shop to pick up the hundreds of small icons we had ordered to be printed and laminated as gifts for the newly baptized. We arrived to the baptism place, which was in the middle of a rice field. They had already set up about 200 chairs under a tent for shade. To our surprise, they also had there a huge poster with photos of the six of us! They must have taken photos of us when we arrived at the airport and then quickly printed the poster since then. The nuns and Anastasia were shocked to see huge photos of themselves and couldn’t stop laughing at their celebrity status.

As soon as we arrived, we set up a table so that the people wanting baptism could come up and pick what names they wanted. Sr. Ioanna and Anastasia had prepared a list of names on a piece of paper. One column of names contained men’s names, and the other column had women’s names. Each person was asked to point to the name they wanted, and then Sr. Ioanna wrote that name on a piece of paper which they were told to hold on to. Because of the language barrier (and illiteracy), no one had any idea what the name they chose would sound like, so I was telling them what they had chosen. After selecting a name, they proceeded to the other end of the table, where Divya (Dr. Wesley’s wife) asked each person for their current name and wrote it down (in Telugu) in a book, and then wrote down next to it the new name they had chosen.

Dr. Wesley (in blue) helping Sr. Ioanna to give baptismal names Dr. Wesley (in blue) helping Sr. Ioanna to give baptismal names

It’s hard to put into words how something so conceptually simple turned out to be absolute chaos. Some people were bringing their small children, and sometimes we weren’t sure if those children were boys or girls. So we had to keep hunting down someone to stay nearby to translate. And sometimes they would take their name and then not go to Divya. Without knowing the language, it was quite challenging to keep things in order. In all, 97 people signed up for baptism, even though the total number of people was about 200. I assumed that it was the chaos of the situation and poor communication that was leaving all the other 100 people behind. So I sent Tami (Dr. Wesley’s 13-year-old son) to go out and tell everyone who didn’t have a name yet to come up and get one. But they all told him: “We’re not here to get baptized. We’re just curious to see what’s going on!” Evidently, they were just some Hindus passing by.

An Indian woman selecting her baptismal name An Indian woman selecting her baptismal name ![An Indian woman selecting her baptismal name Divya keeping records of people’s names

Sr. Paraskevi was a magnet for several of those Hindu young men. I guess they found her height to be quite cute. They had formed three lines, waiting to take selfies with her. The orderliness of those three lines stood in stark contrast with the chaos of the people getting names. One of those Hindus even said to her: “I’m getting married next month.” Being quite sharp, she immediately understood that what he was really was saying was: “I’d like to marry you, but if you’re interested in me, you only have a month left to get me!” Needless to say, she was not interested in the least, and dryly said to him, “Congratulations.”

Fr. Athanasius anointing people before baptism.
They are holding their name tags. Fr. Athanasius anointing people before baptism. They are holding their name tags.

Then Fr. George and Fr. Athanasius spoke briefly through the microphone about what baptism is. Meanwhile, Sr. Paraskevi and Divya untangled the necklaces with crosses on them, while Anastasia, Sr. Ioanna, and I were collating the laminated icons to be handed out. Then Fr. George and Fr. Athanasius got vested, but I stayed at the names table to try to keep some sense of order there. They began to do the exorcism part of the baptism service, and then Fr. Athanasius asked me to get vested too and join them because there were too many people and he needed help.

Meanwhile, some trouble was stirring. The place where we were gathered was owned by some Hindu guy who gave us his permission to use his field and tanks. But when his Hindu neighbors saw all the commotion and the Christian people gathering there, they approached that Hindu guy and started threatening him. So he came to us and told us what was going on. There were more and more Hindus gathering and starting to shout and get all riled up. Thirty of our pastors approached Dr. Wesley and said to him that they would defend us in order to enable us to proceed with the baptisms. Many of the women who were being baptized were quite upset with the interruption and told the protesting Hindus that they had a right to be baptized, since they have the right to choose their religion. he police also showed up, but this was not necessarily a good thing, because they are very corrupt. Dr. Wesley didn’t want to proceed in a spirit of commotion and strife, so he decided that it would be most prudent to call off the baptisms for today. Joshi-Paul (Dr. Wesley’s brother) was worried that things might get violent, and so he told Sr. Paraskevi: “You need to get into the car because the Hindus are calling reinforcements to attack us!” So she came to me to tell me to get unvested because of the danger. But being the laid-back kind of guy I am, I took my time and calmly unvested and folded up my vestments. Perhaps part of the reason why I was so calm was because I had a strong sense of God’s grace and presence with us, so why be afraid? Fortunately for me, the Hindu reinforcements didn’t arrive in time to beat us up!

The Hindus were beginning to assemble by the rickshaw in the upper right of this photo. The Hindus were beginning to assemble by the rickshaw in the upper right of this photo.

Fr. George with Joshi-Paul in the baptismal font Fr. George with Joshi-Paul in the baptismal font

It turns out that the Roman Catholics were also partly responsible for the ruckus. They have three parishes nearby, and they are concerned that the Orthodox Church might get a foothold in their territory. In fact, a few months ago the Roman Catholics approached Dr. Wesley and Joshi-Paul to make them a tempting offer. They said that they would give them properties and churches and financial support if they would bring their whole group into the Roman Catholic Church. The Seventh-Day Adventists offered pastors a stipend of $50 per month if they would join them instead of becoming Orthodox. This is a large amount of money to them, but Fr. Athanasius could only respond: “Do you want the truth, or do you want money?” Thank God, none of the pastors were enticed by these tempting offers. But even the local government official seeking reelection met with Dr. Wesley and Joshi-Paul, hoping to gain the electoral support of their large group.

We had only managed to baptize about 43 of the 97 people. But God willing, they won’t be deprived of holy baptism. They will just have to wait until tomorrow and come to the orphanage to be baptized.

So after hightailing it out of there, we headed back to Srikakulam, had lunch, and passed by the orphanage again. Dr. Wesley wanted to show us the cement tank he already had beside one of the buildings there. It turns out that it is perfect for baptizing people! So from now on, we’ll do all our baptisms there. The orphanage is a gated private property with a 10-foot wall around it. If we had known that there would have been such a violent reaction, we would have baptized everyone at the orphanage right from the start. The reason why we had chosen to baptize people in other places was because it would have been expensive to hire trucks and auto rickshaw taxis to bring so many people to the orphanage, and we were trying to make the most of our limited funds. Some people will be travelling 3 or 4 hours by auto rickshaw to come and be baptized. As a result, they will be sacrificing an entire day of income, as well as paying for transportation. So if we don’t help them cover these additional costs, they might not be able to afford to come and be baptized.

After getting back to the hotel, Fr. George and Fr. Athanasius met to discuss the plans for the upcoming days and how we might avoid some of the chaos we had today. They invited me to join them, but I was so tired that I just went back to my room and took a nap. Meanwhile, Sr. Paraskevi went shopping for flour so that she could bake prosphora for our liturgies. She also really wanted to have some watermelon, but I was scaring her about how dangerous it would be too have the roadside vendor cut it open with his knife, since flies could have been sitting on it. So in addition to buying a watermelon she also bought a knife and a little bottle of disinfectant to clean it with. Dr. Wesley’s boys (Precious and Tami) could hardly believe it when we told them how much a watermelon costs in America. In India, you can get a huge one for about a dollar.

After doing Vespers, everyone was too tired to go out for dinner. And since we had had a very late lunch, we all decided to skip dinner. I had some time to talk with Sr. Paraskevi about how she’s doing, and then we started to get hungry. So she cut up her watermelon, and then we invited Sr. Ioanna and Anastasia to join us for a watermelon party!

Saturday, February 2

I woke up this morning at 7:00 a.m., and so I had time to take a much-needed shower before Orthros at 8:00. Normally it is quite relaxing to take a shower. But when you know that the water is potentially contaminated with dangerous germs, you have to be hyper-vigilant that not a single drop of water gets in your mouth. And when you have a mustache that constantly gets in your mouth as I do, you have to be even more careful. So instead of having a relaxing shower, I had a stressful time trying to clean myself. I think I successfully managed to keep any water out of my mouth. But just to make sure, afterwards I rinsed my mustache with drinking water. This may sound excessive and perhaps even compulsive, but I have heard too many stories of Westerners getting sick in India due to their lack of caution in such matters. I would rather deal with the hassle of being extra careful than deal with diarrhea and vomiting.

My throat is getting somewhat better now. I still can’t speak at normal volume, but at least I can speak without too much difficulty. Perhaps it is providential that I got a sore throat before coming to India, because as a result I am now taking Zithromax, which perhaps is protecting me from many other bacteria I am being exposed to.

After Orthros, we went out for a big breakfast. It was a bit chaotic, and so Sr. Paraskevi didn’t get her food until we reminded them. She wanted to offer to pay for one of our meals, and so she tried to pay for it with her credit card, but it got rejected because this particular place only accepts Indian credit cards. So Dr. Wesley ended up paying again.

After breakfast we arrived at the orphanage center, ready to baptize 150 people. But some government event took place in order to help people start their own business. As a result, only 20 people came for baptism today. An even bigger reason why so few people came is that yesterday’s heated incident with Hindus yelling at us and the 5 cars of fundamentalists threatening that pastor really scared many of the other pastors. They were so afraid that they decided against sending their people to come and be baptized. Although this is very unfortunate, the truth is that I’m kind of grateful that we had a smaller group. Because even though we had a smaller group, we still had to struggle to manage the chaos. For example, one lady went through the catechism prayers, but then refused to be baptized because she said she was not feeling well. And there was a group of seven pastors who forgot their baptismal clothes and didn’t want to get baptized. The joy of the newly baptized The joy of the newly baptized

But then they changed their minds and went ahead and accepted baptism. But even that was confusing, because it wasn’t easy to keep track of who had gone through the first set of prayers preceding baptism and who had been baptized and who hadn’t. So after that group of seven were baptized and were lining up to receive chrismation, someone else joined their group! Fortunately, Sr. Ioanna noticed that he was extra, and so we politely asked him to leave that group.

But the baptism itself worked out well. They had arranged for a water truck to come and fill that cement tank almost to the top. And so we priests could stand outside the tank, while Joshi-Paul stood inside the whole time to assist. Afterwards, we had meals in a bag which we had ordered for each person.

The water truck arrives at the orphanage The water truck arrives at the orphanage

Overall, it was a very joyful service with a lot of grace, and the people were delighted.

Then we went back for a late lunch. On the way, Dr. Wesley was telling us that yesterday’s events with the Hindus interrupting our baptisms made the daily newspaper! So we got a copy of the paper, and sure enough, there was a photo of Fr. Athanasius in his vestments baptizing people! You could also see Anastasia beside him.

Some reporters showed up at yesterday’s event, and the first thing they did was to approach Dr. Wesley and ask him for a bribe! (This is how things work in this part of India.) But he told them that we’re not doing anything bad, and he refused to give them money. So the reporters wrote in the paper that a local pastor had invited some foreign priests to convert people to Christianity. And they wrote that some Hindus came and objected to what was happening, and so the Christians yielded to their pressure and stopped the service. They didn’t mention any names, though. (That is significant for us, since it is illegal for foreigners to preach any religion in India.) Their article was also posted in the online version of their paper (in Telugu, of course), and thousands of people saw it and commented. One Christian person wrote:”These people came to do good not harm. If any of you want to fight about this, I’m ready to fight on their behalf!”

Dr. Wesley was dumbfounded at the tumult caused by our baptizing, especially when he put it in perspective of his past experiences preaching. He said that in his 30 years of preaching, not once had he ever had this kind of protest. This is especially noteworthy, considering that he has converted Hindus and publicly preached to groups as large as 40,000 people in a stadium without incident, whereas this small gathering of 100 people out in the boondocks in a rice field got a whole write-up in the paper, 36 photos in social media, and reporters asking for bribes! It was clear to Dr. Wesley and to everyone that the demons are aware of the magnitude of what is going on here.

After returning to our hotel we did Vespers, and as always Sr. Ioanna and Anastasia did all the singing. My voice now is nearly good enough to sing, but even when it does fully recover, I don’t think I’ll ask to sing anything. I realize that most chanters and singers are very attached to what they view as their “job,” and I know from personal experience how big a temptation and disappointment it can be for us chanters to be deprived of our job and role. I don’t know if they are susceptible to this kind of temptation, but there’s no point in finding out, especially since I don’t feel the need to do the singing. Besides, I appreciate their singing, and I might even learn a thing or two about this kind of music in which they clearly have great expertise.

Sunday, February 3

I have been sleeping well these days because I found the trick to a good night’s sleep. Previously I had been depending on earplugs to help me sleep. But sometimes the honking and other craziness out in the streets is so loud that it wakes you up anyway. So now what I do is connect my earphones to my mp3 player which also has FM radio. I select a frequency between stations where there is just white noise, and then turn up the volume just loud enough to drown out everything else. In this way, after a few minutes the brain adapts and shuts out all noise, and then you can sleep just fine!

Before Orthros, Fr. Athanasius was about to go downstairs for a coffee, but I invited him in to my room to catch up on how things are going. He told me that Dr. Wesley was surprised to hear that we intend to use real wine (i.e., with alcohol) for communion. It turns out that his group of Protestants are teetotalers and believe that alcohol is inherently evil. Incidentally, this absolutist stance of theirs is something that has helped to attract many Hindus to their group, since there are some former Hindus who were upset with the way other Hindus abuse alcohol. Fr. Athanasius pointed out that it is common in the history of religions that when one group starts having some ethical or dogmatic deviation, a different group in response will overreact and fall into the opposite extreme. It might be a challenge for us to convince them that wine is not evil, even though you’d think that Protestants (who usually know the Bible very well) would have noticed that St. Paul encouraged St. Timothy to drink wine for his stomach problems, and that Psalm 103 glorifies the God’s wisdom for creating all things, including “wine which gladdeneth the heart of man.”

When Sr. Paraskevi went shopping to get some wine for our upcoming liturgies, she found that that in India, women aren’t even allowed to buy alcoholic beverages! So the driver had to go in and buy it for her. And then she couldn’t carry it out in the open, but she had to wrap it up carefully in newspaper so that it wouldn’t be visible.

After Orthros we also did a super-abbreviated Moleben that lasted only five minutes. To save time, we had a simple breakfast brought to us: some deep-fried dough balls and curry in waxed paper, all wrapped up in a banana leaf, wrapped up in newspaper. It was delicious, although I had to squeeze the dough balls in a napkin to get some of the extra oil out.

Since we had finished early, I had enough time to do a Blessing of the Water, in order to bless the unused spears that Fr. George had brought from Russia, and also so that we could sprinkle the altar where we’re going to do the Divine Liturgy.

Then we went to Joshi-Paul’s street church so that Fr. Athanasius and Fr. George could preach. He doesn’t have his own building for a church, so instead they just set up a tent in a side road, and line up a bunch of plastic chairs for everyone. Then they have (of course!) a loudspeaker and a drum set so that they can blast their Christian songs throughout the neighborhood. Fortunately for me, I had remembered how loud it all is, and so I brought earplugs.

Soon after we arrived, they stopped their singing and let the fathers preach. Fr. Athanasius told the story of St. Seraphim of Sarov answering the question of Motovilov that the purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. He also told them the parable of the ten virgins. At first I was puzzled as to why he was telling them something that seemed so elementary to me, but later he explained to me how completely new this concept is to Protestants. He said that Protestants have spent their time in faith trying to save everyone around them or to acquire charismatic gifts, but they never had anyone tell them such a simple thing before. Now they must begin to struggle on the long and slow path of salvation according to the Orthodox teaching. They have no history of this mindset, yet it is a foundational piece of being Orthodox and understanding Orthodoxy.

Fr. George gave a nice talk, and I could tell that it was probably a talk he had already given in his other missionary trips. He started out by saying: “Many of you are probably wondering why we are wearing black.” He then proceeded to say that black is not evil, but a creation of God, and that everything God created has a use. Then he explained that black is a good color for repentance. He taught that repentance is not just a one-time thing, but something we need to do continually. I am guessing that he chose this topic because he knows that Protestants typically underemphasize repentance or view it as something you do only once.

We found out that 5 cars full of fundamentalist Hindus came to the local pastor (who was later baptized) who had hosted our baptism service the other day.

They had seen the newspaper article (which incorrectly stated that we were baptizing Hindus), and they threatened him and demanded to know the name of Fr. Athanasius so that they could report him to the police, but he was firm and said: “No way!” Then they demanded to know the names of the leaders of Dr. Wesley’s group, but again he refused. They didn’t do anything bad to him, but he was rather shaken up by the event.

Sr. Paraskevi, Sr. Ioanna, Anastasia, and Divya went with Precious to try to see if there is any bread that could be bought that would be good enough for serving liturgy. The problem here in India is that no one eats bread because it spoils so quickly. There is a flat bread called “naan” which they eat, but they only make enough of it for one meal at a time. They managed to find a loaf of regular bread that was barely good enough for serving liturgy with. It was slightly sweet (some sugar must have been used to bake it) and not very firm. Prosphora really should be firm so that it doesn’t disintegrate when put in the chalice.

Sr. Paraskevi brought with her some starter and a prospohra seal to make prosphora, and she was able to buy flour in town. But we didn’t expect there to be any problem finding an oven. As it turns out, however, no one in Srikakulam has an oven except bakeries! So we are trying to buy a little electric oven, and we’ll try our best to bake prosphora in it. But we won’t get it until perhaps Monday afternoon, and our first liturgy is planned for Tuesday. So maybe we’ll just have to use that sweet and soft loaf, and hope for the best.

Anastasia with some of the newly baptized women Anastasia with some of the newly baptized women

After the preaching was done today, we had a break for lunch. Afterwards, Fr. George and Fr. Athanasius went back to the orphanage to baptize ten more people. The rest of us decided to go back to the hotel so that we could recuperate before the next big wave of baptisms coming up tomorrow.

The little hot-spot device we got has not been working. That’s okay with me, since I am enjoying this break from the relentless stream of emails I’m usually struggling to keep up with. But this does intensify the sense of being very far away from everything.

Later we found out why the hot-spot device broke. Anastasia was using so much data (she needed to make some video calls to help the choir in Moscow she leads, and she is constantly using social media) that we maxed out our data, and the company had to freeze our account! So we got another SIM Card, and now it’s working again. Problems like this plagued our trip repeatedly and made simple tasks much harder to accomplish.

We did Vespers back at the hotel as usual, and since we had eaten a late breakfast, we skipped dinner. I had learned my lesson from previous days that this kind of thing happens, and so now I always order extra food for lunch and take the leftovers with me.

Anastasia and Sister Ioanna wanted to get some things from a supermarket. So later in the evening, Precious drove the two of them along with Sr. Paraskevi and me to a small store which was basically a very compact supermarket. I got some very useful snacks: rusks, crackers, and nuts. But Anastasia got a whole bag full of goodies for herself!

We found out that there is some more turmoil going on with the locals. Someone complained to the police about our event yesterday, and so the police are interrogating the local pastor who invited us. The police are demanding to see our passports and visas, to see what kind of visa we have. The point is that it is illegal for foreigners to preach any religion in India, and in some states (but not here) it is illegal for Hindus to convert to Christianity. As is typical, the police tried to demand a bribe from this local pastor in order to let us all off the hook, but since Dr. Wesley’s group is very moral, he and his followers have made a point of never bribing people, even though doing so is quite normal in India and would have made many things in their lives go more smoothly.

When Dr. Wesley found out about this, he contacted a friend of his who is a higher level policeman who is above that other policeman wanting a bribe. And this higher level policeman was about to put his underling policeman in his place, but Joshi-Paul got very worried and insisted that the underling policeman not be reprimanded. Joshi-Paul is afraid that if he gets reprimanded, he might later get revenge on us.

The police here are quite violent and don’t hesitate to beat people. Precious was telling us about one time he had to run away from a policeman who wanted to beat him up, and in his haste he dropped his cell phone during his escape. So the policeman took his phone and said that he wouldn’t give it back to Precious unless he gives him 1,000 rupees (about 15 dollars). But Dr. Wesley told Preciouis that we can’t bribe people, and so Precious refused to pay. Then the policeman lowered the demand to 500 rupees, but Dr. Wesley still wouldn’t give in as a matter of principle. After a week, the policeman said that he’d give him back his phone for just 100 rupees (about $1.50), and so his mother gave him 100 rupees, and he got his phone back.

Monday, February 4

I woke up a little before 7:00 a.m. and had a good quiet hour to myself before Orthros. I prayed some and also listened to several chapters of the gospel in Romanian. I find it so enjoyable to listen to the Bible like that. Part of the enjoyment is of course because of the grace-filled words of Holy Scripture, but part of it is because I get to reap the fruit of the labors I had made a couple years ago to learn Romanian. Reaping fruit is much more enjoyable than sowing!

It turns out that I was wrong in my guess that Sister Ioanna and Anastasia might be displeased if I took over the chanting. On their own, they started asking me if I’d like to sing all of Orthros because they like Byzantine and Znamenny chant much better than the Obikhod chant they’ve been doing! I would have loved to comply with their wishes, but my throat is still only 90% better. I can now speak at a medium volume without difficulty, but I can’t speak loudly, and my throat still hasn’t regained its strength to sing. So maybe tonight or tomorrow I will be able to start singing.

Breakfast in India, wrapped in newspaper and bannana leaves

Instead of going out for breakfast, we had Precious bring us some more of those deep-fried dough balls with curry and coconut sauce, wrapped up in a banana leaf and newspaper. They are quite tasty and not too spicy. But this high-carb diet is not doing us any good, and I can already feel my belt getting tighter. I am also to blame, since I have been terribly sedentary all these days. Even though I make a point of using the stairs instead of the elevator to go up and down from our hotel room on the sixth floor, that’s not nearly enough exercise. It will be a relief to be back in Alaska, where the daily routine always includes plenty of walking, hauling, chopping, etc. After a slow morning, we finally arranged to head out to the orphanage at 11:00 a.m. But when 11:00 rolled around, Tumi informed us that there’s been another delay, and that Joshua (Joshi-Paul’s new name now that he’s been baptized) will come get us at 11:20. In typical Indian style, there was another delay, and so we didn’t leave the hotel until 11:45. And when we got to the railroad tracks we had to cross on the way to the orphanage, we found that it was completely blocked by workers. So we drove around and found another crossing, and finally arrived at 12:20. But the humorous thing is that we weren’t really late anyway, because everyone else in India was also facing the same chaotic delays. So we waited around for people to start showing up.

Fr. Athanasius and Fr. George preparing a group for baptism inside the orphanage Fr. Athanasius and Fr. George preparing a group for baptism inside the orphanage

Unfortunately for us, there was some other government program going on today, and so not many people showed up for baptism. The politician are trying to make people vote for them, so they are giving each person 4,000 rupees if they come to their convention. That is about $60, which is a huge amount of money for them. The majority of the people here are poor and earn only 3-5 dollars per day.

Sister Ioanna and Anastasia did the singing for our baptisms. Sister Ioanna and Anastasia did the singing for our baptisms.

The first group that came was 18 people. Believe it or not, they all fit into a single rickshaw taxi! The second group was 13 people. Fr. Athanasius and Fr. George baptized the first group, and I baptized the second group. Fr. George helped me out, though, because I’m still getting the hang of things.

Papa Ephraim making sure that the people being baptized are fully immersed! Papa Ephraim making sure that the people being baptized are fully immersed!

But there was a bit of a problem with a few of the people whom I was about to baptize. The last four people were saying that they have health issues and can’t be fully immersed. Two of them requested that water be poured over their head, but then two others requested that the water merely be sprinkled because they had open wounds. Fr. Athanasius and I were very displeased with this, because it seemed that people were not grasping the theological and canonical importance of full immersion, and instead of conforming to Orthodoxy they were trying to make Orthodoxy conform to their own personal preferences. I think part of the problem was that these simple old people were intimidated by the idea of being fully dunked. The language barrier and lack of good translators made it extremely difficult to try to discuss the matter with them. They were not willing to give in, and since I had already done all the rest of the baptism service for them, I wasn’t sure which would be worse: to call the whole thing off for them and leave them unbaptized, or just use “oikonomia” to give them an incomplete baptism. We decided that I should just go ahead and “baptize” them by pouring. I did my best to get the water over their entire bodies. I was aware that in extreme circumstances (e.g., when someone is on their death bed), it is okay to use “oikonomia” and baptize without full immersion. Who knows—maybe this was going to be the last time these elderly people would have the chance to be baptized before passing away. May God have mercy on them and on me.

After we finished those baptisms, we had a late lunch and then went back to the hotel. It was getting late and we were all tired, so we didn’t do Vespers.

My Journal to India part 1
My Journal to India part 2
My Journal to India part 3