St. John the Baptist Parish, A Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, Canberra, Australia

Way of the Orthodox

Power of True Humility, Fr Andrei Nakonechny

A few days ago I received a letter from a Latvian prison. Aivar Yanovich Tselms writes:

"I am the warden of a community of Christians in the Veltersk prison here in Latvia. Our souls were for a long time in darkness until we came to know and accepted into our hearts our Saviour Jesus Christ."

This letter, about the spiritual rebirth of lost souls who, by God's mercy, had come to repentance and a new Christian life, reminded me of a story a priest once told me from his pastoral experience.

This took place nearly fifty years ago, in Germany, in the city of Ravensburg. After the end of the Second World War, many of our Russian Orthodox countrymen, especially youth, were literally on the streets, without a roof, without work, without any defense. These were those whom the Germans had brought during the war to work in Germany; they were called Osterbeiter.

Tormented by hunger and their desperate circumstances, some of these youths resorted to stealing food from stores and homes. Those that were caught were sent to jail.

I was informed that a whole group of these fellows were in jail. After inquiring what days and times visitors were permitted, I went straightway to the jail.

In the large reception room of the prison, there were already Roman Catholic priests, Protestant pastors, and representatives of other faiths talking to groups of prisoners. At my request the Orthodox youths were brought in; it was a fairly sizeable group. Their faces were sullen and mistrustful.

I put on my vestments. After saying a few words to the youth, I read the preparatory rule for Holy Communion. Then I began to confess them.

All of them, without exception, approached for confession. Many of them were still sobbing and shedding tears of repentance as they stepped aside for the next prisoner.

We began the service. Among the prisoners were a few that were familiar with the prayers and chants. The jail room was transformed into a temple of God!

We prayed fervently, as members of other faiths looked on attentively and with interest at what was going on in our corner of the room. All of our youth partook of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, many with tears.

After the service, the youths surrounded me and one after the other began telling me the story of his life, or asked for advice how to resolve his particular difficulty. Our meeting was brought to a halt by the prison police; visiting hours were over. Reluctant to part, the youths embraced me on leaving; in their eyes one could already see joy and hope. They waved their hands and wiped away tears with their fists.

(Their hope was justified; not long afterwards they were all released.) I began to take off my vestments.

Some Roman Catholic monks approached me, pastors, priests. "We all witnessed your ministry to these prisoners, and we are all amazed," they said. "We come here regularly. We bring Bibles, books, money and gifts to the prisoners. We conduct long discussions with them, but their hearts and souls remain closed to us. They are cold and indifferent to all that we do and say to them. We see you here for the first time. Tell us, how is it that all your prisoners so readily and eagerly, even tearfully, agreed to have confession and participate in a church service and to receive the Holy Mysteries? What did you tell your prisoners, when they were brought to you? After all, you had never met them before."

Fr. Andrei was silent. . .

Come, Batiushka. What did you say to the youth? I asked. What did I say? I told them the honest truth: Brothers, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, our Lord who rose from the dead, sent me here to you, to this prison. I am an ordained servant of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ established on earth through His grievous sufferings and the shedding of His innocent blood for the sake of us sinners. Brothers, know this, by all rights it is not you that should be prisoners here but I, for all my many sins. Let us pray.. Let us repent together.

When Fr. Andrew finished his story, tears streamed down his cheeks.

May every true Orthodox Christian raise his hand in the sign of the Cross in eternal memory of mitred-archpriest Andrei Nakonechny, who, through his humility of wisdom, brought to repentance many lost rational sheep and returned them to the fold of their Holy Mother Church. Fr. Andrei reposed September, 1983, in Seattle where he was rector of St. Nicholas Church. He is buried in the cemetery of Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville.

E. K. Hellige, from Orthodox America

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