Interview from the seminarian

Stefan, a Filipino student of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, gave an interview to our correspondent.

– Tell us, how did you get acquainted with Orthodoxy?

– We are from the Aglipay Church (Independent Filipino Church. – Auth.). One of our priests converted to Orthodoxy. We, as parishioners, followed him, being baptized with the whole family, converted to Orthodoxy. We have studied this religion for a long time, read about the Orthodox faith, felt in spirit that it is true. You know, it’s something like an inner feeling, it’s impossible to explain, you just feel that this path is yours.

– Where do you live? Which city is it – big or small?

– We came from a village, there are few people living there, and they are all religious, go to church. Now, by the way, a new, beautiful temple is being built in the place where I was born, it’s nice to realize this. Orthodoxy in the Philippines is not so long ago, while not a very large part of the population adheres to this religion, but every year there are more of us, I see it. But still the Roman Catholics prevail, as they were the first on this place.

– How did you decide to become a priest?

– I did not have such thoughts when a child, I was a believer, but I did not think that I would connect my life with God. My cousin is an Orthodox priest, it was he who first started talking about it. I thought about it, weighed the pros and cons, realized that this was my way, and agreed. I understand that this choice entails many difficulties, limitations, but for me it is the best profession. I can and will serve God.

– Tell us about your impressions of St. Petersburg? What impressed you the most?

– Well, first of all, like any foreigner, snow. I couldn’t imagine how it falls so much, how beautiful it can be, I saw how the city changes in winter – it’s magic! Probably, like any visitor, I tried to walk a lot, admire the architecture. The buildings of St. Petersburg are fascinating, sometimes you just can’t believe that it was made by man. These cathedrals – we don’t have anything like that. St. Isaac’s, St. Nicholas, the Church of the Resurrection of Christ on the Blood, it was a happiness to visit each of them.

– Have you been told the history of this temple?

– Of course, even though I didn’t understand Russian well then. I remember that “on Blood”, because Emperor Alexander II died there. The temple was built as a monument.

– How is the day organized in your seminary?

– Wake up at 7:00, we put ourselves in order, go to morning prayer and have breakfast. At 9:00 we go to study. Classes last on average until 14:00. We have lunch and do self-preparation, we learn something, we do tasks, we communicate. We have dinner at 20:00, after which we can spend time the way we want. Take a walk around the city, relax, meet friends. At 22:00 – evening prayer, and we can rest.

– How do you study at the seminary? Are there only Russians or more foreigners?

– We study together, with Russian and foreign students. The second, by the way, have increased over the past year. These are Africans, Serbs, Ukrainians, guys from India. You can imagine how interesting it is for people from different countries to meet here – in Russia. We talk most often, by the way, in Russian! Even with Filipino brothers, knowing the same language, we often speak Russian. Or it’s something in between Filipino, Russian and English.

– And why did they come to study in St. Petersburg? Guys from Africa, India, did they talk about their reasons?

– We haven’t had time to talk about this topic yet, they are still learning Russian. It is more difficult for Africans: they do not speak English, only French. And everyone has the same goal: to become priests, to help people and to serve God. We are all Christian brothers, regardless of the nation, culture, or country where we were born.

– I can’t help but ask, how do you like the famous video about how your countryman is “introduced” to the charms of the northern winter?

– I’ve seen this video, but I’m also familiar with the main characters! I wouldn’t want to be in his place. (Laughs.) I still have enough snow falling from the sky, I’m not ready to swim in it. What can I say, after watching, I began to look around more often. The main thing here is to be the first to take a snowball in hand, to equalize the chances.

– Hundreds of thousands of people saw on this video that priests can also joke, have fun and laugh. In your opinion, which is better: when a representative of the clergy maintains the image of an eternally serious person or when he shows that priests are also people?

– It depends only on the priest. Just like ordinary people, there are those who like to joke, there are those who are far from humor. We just need to remember that we are all human beings, with our own characteristics and characters. My opinion is this: if you are in a good mood, if you are on good terms with the interlocutor, why not make a joke, smile and cheer up both of you? Of course, we are not talking about services, not about behavior inside the altar. In order for people to come to the faith, to reach out to the church, we just have to remain human, be an example to others.

– How has the spiritual life in the Philippines changed after Metropolitan Paul became the ruling bishop in these territories?

– After Vladyka Pavel was appointed administrator of the Philippine-Vietnamese diocese, people seemed to become closer to the Church, many new priests appeared, new churches and churches in villages and large cities. In general, Orthodoxy is suitable for my country, I am pleased that the number of parishioners is growing, they go to services, pray, and learn this religion.

By the way, about the services: everyone is interested in the language in which they are held. If we are talking about large settlements, such as Davao, then priests read services in English, in Cebu and in Church Slavonic. And if it’s a small village, like the one where I come from, then only in my own language. But most often in the Philippines, of course, you can hear English, it is considered the second native language among the locals. All because the Philippines was once a colony.

– What is your life plan? Who do you want to become, how do you want to live in the Philippines?

– Now I’m trying to absorb all the knowledge that they give me. I’m trying to gain experience, to become a good priest. I want to return to my native land, get married, start a family and help people first of all. Moreover, I already have a girlfriend, I don’t know how fate brought us together. She hails from Tambov, the daughter of a priest. We met through the Internet and now, whenever possible, we try to come to each other, see each other, talk. So the plans are like everyone else’s: to live, to do good deeds, to grow as a person.

By the way, about the construction of churches in Ugra, as well as about the development of church building in earthquake-prone areas, such as the Philippine-Vietnamese diocese. Metropolitan Pavel of Khanty-Mansiysk and Surgut was awarded a high award by the Russian Academy of Engineering. The gold medal was awarded to him just for his great contribution to the construction of temples in Ugra and in the territory he manages. Temples in the Philippines are built or are being built in Kinabalan, Davao and other places.”During the ministry of Bishop Paul, 65 churches were built in the Khanty-Mansiysk diocese, 45 churches and chapels are currently under construction,” the diocese said.

From seminarian’s life

My name is Stefan Bingkal, I come from the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, from the city of Kinabalan in Sarangani province. I have a brother and a sister, we are all Orthodox. In my city there is a parish in honor of the Apostle Thomas. Our parents were baptized there, and then we were too. Since then, our whole family has become parishioners of this church. There are few Orthodox Christians in the Philippines, but their number is growing. People are gradually beginning to accept Orthodoxy, sometimes in whole communities and families. You will be surprised, but my uncle is a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church. His name is Fr. Joachim Gonzales. One day he asked me if I would like to study at a seminary? In the city of Davao on our island, courses were just opened at the educational center at the Church of the Blessed Matrona of Moscow, and I gladly agreed. My parents were also happy and supported me. I moved to Davao and settled in a house at the temple together with other guys, some of them also wanted to enter the Theological Academy in Russia. At first we got used to worship and study. Father Korniliy (Molev), now he is the rector of the Church of St. Matrona, taught us Russian and Liturgics, we often read and worshipped at church services, and six months later I entered the preparatory department at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. At first it was very difficult for me to learn Russian: I had a terrible feeling that no one understands me. It was especially difficult for the first six months in St. Petersburg, but gradually my Russian got better. Now I have other difficulties: there are nine subjects in my curriculum, and sometimes I don’t always have time to take notes at lectures. But despite the difficulties, I also have my favorite subjects. Most of all I like Liturgics, although it is not the simplest subject. I was lucky: I have good roommates. Mostly the master’s students live in our room – very friendly guys. Sometimes they help me with my studies. During the quarantine, when there was no common prayer in the temple, we prayed together in our room. Sometimes we drink tea and just talk. This communication helped me a lot at first and it helps me now. The daily routine on weekdays is different. On school days, we wake up at seven in the morning, after – an hour of joint prayer, and then breakfast. The classes at the academy and seminary begin at nine o’clock. At the Russian language courses, we study with the teacher at different times, sometimes even after lunch, but always for four academic hours a day. Other foreign students and I even bought books by F.M. Dostoevsky and A.S. Pushkin for the sake of interest, however, it turned out that it was still difficult for us to read such works. The first time I went to the temple was at the age of twelve. We have only priests serving in the Philippines, before moving to Russia I had never seen bishops. And here the services are most often led by the bishop rector, and when I got to the episcopal service in the academy church, I was very surprised. The services are so solemn and last so long, but I’m already used to it. And I’m used to St. Petersburg, I like it here, but the climate is unusual. I try to go out of the academy to the city about twice a week. I have my favorite places here, for example St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This is one of the tallest cathedrals in St. Petersburg! I also really liked the Hermitage: there are beautiful interiors and very interesting paintings. I think, this is one of the best museums in the world. Most of all, I remember trips to holy places – Optina, Pskovo-Pechersky and Alexander-Svir monasteries. In the Optina we were in the hermitage where the Monk Ambrose of Optina lived, and in the Alexander Svir Monastery I venerated the holy relics for the first time in my life. In the Pskov-Pechersk Monastery, I finally learned how monks live. The students and I were there on vacation and lived as novices with the brethren for almost two weeks. I was very surprised by the way of monastic life: monks get up early in the morning at five o’clock and go to the mass prayer service, after the prayer service – to the Liturgy. During the holidays, students from the Philippines and Indonesia and I often go somewhere – to holy places or to Moscow to the Patriarchal Compound in the Church of the Life–Giving Trinity in Ostankino, where the rector is Vladyka Sergiy, we also fly to Khanty-Mansiysk to Vladyka Pavel (Metropolitan Sergiy of Singapore and Southeast Asia, Metropolitan Pavel of Manila and Hanoi). After completing my studies, I plan to devote my future life to serving God and people in holy orders. I would like to serve in my native and beloved country – the Philippines, but as a future clergyman, I must fulfill the obedience of the bishop, the place of my further ministry will depend on him. Over the years of my life in Russia, I fell in love with it, it became almost my native country. I rely on God’s Providence, the Lord will manage everything!

Interviewed by D. Kupryakhina

“I felt: God is looking at me”

How a Filipino decided to be an atheist and became an Orthodox monk.

Once upon a time, this Filipino student decided that he was an atheist and broke with religion. And a few years later he found himself in Russia and… became a monk! How is this possible? Yes, it’s just that one day he saw something that shocked and turned his soul upside down. Hieromonk John (Gondayao), 26 years old, cleric of the Philippine-Vietnamese Diocese of the Patriarchal Exarchate of Southeast Asia: I was born and grew up in the Philippines, in Manila, the capital of this country. My parents gave me the name Leonil, diminutive — Leo. Father is a Protestant, mother is a Catholic, they never talked about God, they considered faith a personal matter for everyone. But we still agreed that all the children would be Catholics. That’s why my younger brother and sister and I were baptized in the Catholic Church. The school I attended was private and, of course, Catholic. Nuns taught there. They brought us up in strictness and piety, and I did not miss a single morning mass — I served as an altar boy, soon learned all the prayers by heart. My grandparents rejoiced at my religiosity and already saw me as a priest. I also wanted this and dreamed of a seminary. But then I was transferred to a regular school, and secular education affected me very quickly. I remember when we started studying world history, I first learned about Orthodoxy and was surprised: “Is there really any other apostolic church? Why are there several of them?” And the deeper I studied the history of Christianity, the more questions I had about what I was told in Catholic school. I continued to go to the temple, but I realized that my search for truth had just begun. To the joy of my parents, I no longer aspired to the seminary. A lawyer, a doctor, an engineer—my dad and mom wanted me to be. But my future profession was decided by chance. I helped a school psychologist, watched, studied, and I wanted to, as they say, get to know a person. After graduation, I entered the Polytechnic University at the Faculty of Psychology. I remember how a philosophy teacher once told us in class: “And there is no God at all! Are you crazy? Only a madman believes in God!” This professor stunned me. My whole life seemed to be reset at the moment, it seemed absolutely worthless. I thought: “If he’s right, then I’ve spent a lot of time serving an empty place?” I lost my faith and even started calling myself an atheist. And with the new worldview came new desires. A fun student life began! Studying was easy for me, I aspired to graduate from university and become a practicing psychologist. And I also became passionately interested in art, went to galleries, communicated on social networks with the same connoisseurs of beauty. One of them was an Anglican preacher. He told me the story of an icon that was accidentally found in their church during repairs — it had been walled up in the wall for many centuries, and no one knew about it. That pastor then told me, “God is always with us. No matter how much we hide from Him or even forget about Him, He is here.” And he showed the icon of the Savior Almighty. And then… something turned over in me. I felt: God is looking at me. His presence became so obvious that my atheism was gone. I immediately wanted to paint the face of God myself. But where to learn? There is no icon painting school in the Philippines. I searched, watched video tutorials, read a lot. And I came across a book by Michel Keno “Icon — a window to the Kingdom.” There, icon painting was talked about not as a craft, but as a key to spirituality. I read about the theology of the icon, about the history of church art, the sayings of the holy fathers. While studying iconography, I discovered Orthodoxy and painted three icons: Christ, the Virgin and Seraphim of Sarov, and took them to the Orthodox parish in honor of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God in Manila. This parish opened in 2017, just when I first came there. It was Sunday, and I had to stand for the whole service to meet with the priest — Father Philip. “These are paintings, not icons,” the priest told me sternly and added: “To paint holy images, you need to be Orthodox.” But I didn’t want to change anything, and I left, confident that there would be no new baptism. At home I prayed all night, putting my icons in front of me. And the next morning a clear understanding came: if I want to study icon painting, I need to be Orthodox. There is no one without the other. A week later I was baptized with the name Leo. “Without God, nothing is possible” I often repeated these words after baptism. Everything that happened in my life eventually led to Him. Since that time, I have not missed a single service in the church of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. The parish became my family: I served at the altar, sang in the choir, cleaned in the evenings, and Father Philip became my spiritual mentor. One day the secretary of the Orthodox mission in the Philippines came to us. He suggested that I go to Russia to study at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Of course, I wanted to live in an Orthodox country and get a good theological education. Thank God, my parents didn’t mind and blessed me. I came to Russia in the autumn. I remember it was very cold and it was raining, and I didn’t even have a jacket because we don’t wear them in the Philippines. At the beginning there were difficulties with the language, but I managed to cope with them quickly. I graduated from the first year with honors. However, I was not very happy about it. I had one wish: “I want to serve God, give all of myself!” Because there, in my country, there was a lot of missionary work ahead, and it was unrealistic to combine it with family. And I decided: before the start of the second year, on August 21, 2021, I took monastic vows with the name John — in honor of the Orthodox missionary, St. John of Shanghai. The end of the second year was special for me: on June 19, 2022, on the Sunday of All Saints, I was ordained a hieromonk. And now I trust in the mercy of God, I believe that He will support and strengthen me, because I stand before Him and am responsible for the people He entrusts to me. The Lord said: Whoever wants to follow me, deny yourself, and take up your cross, and follow me (Mark 8:34). Now I have a big priestly cross, it’s heavy, but it saves me. I will remember for the rest of my life the first service I held as a priest. It was the liturgy on the Monday after the Feast of All Saints. The temple was quiet, there were few people. I have been reading prayers for a long time in front of the Royal gates — the Church Slavonic language is still difficult. And the most touching moment was after the Great Entrance, when the consecration of bread and wine takes place. I felt intense fear and joy at the same time. I have two years left to study, then I will return to the Philippines. I want to establish a monastery there. So that it becomes a spiritual center and an example of life in Christ.

Prepared by Eva Kalashnik

Baptism in the Pacific Ocean

Features of the Orthodox mission in the Philippines.

In 2015, TV channels showed more than 200 Filipinos being baptized in the waters of the Pacific Ocean and taking communion just on the shore during the Divine Liturgy for the first time. It was not the first mass baptism of the inhabitants of the island state.
The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia where the majority of the population are Christians (mostly Catholics). ln recent years there are more Orthodox Christians here. In December 2018, the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in the Philippines were incorporated into the Patriarchal Exarchate in Southeast Asia. ln February 2019, the Philippine-Vietnamese Diocese was established within the exarchate.
Hieromonk Korniliy (Molev), the secretary of the Diocese, cleric of the Blessed Matrona of Moscow parish in Davao City and head of the educational center of the same name, tells the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate about the peculiarities of the mission in the Philippines.

The example of Father Daniel.
Father Korniliy begins his story from afar, when he studied at the Moscow Institute of Engineering and Physics. Near the dormitory he lived, there was the church of St Apostle Thomas on Kantemirovskaya street, where Fr Daniel Sysoev served as rector. The young man began to attend this church and entered the missionary school of Fr Daniel.
— After the murder of Father Daniel in 2009, we began to look at his ministry with different eyes, including as a missionary, – Fr Korniliy recalls. — It became clear that this was not just a good priest and theologian, but a man who suffered for his preaching – for Christ. And it became impossible to leave the work started by Father Daniel. I still teach at the school he created. Today it is called the Orthodox Missionary School at the Synodal Missionary Department. While studying there and being still a layman, I took part in several missionary trips to Africa, Mongolia, Cambodia, then to the Philippines, when our priests just started coming there. After graduating from my college, I continued my studies at the Belgorod missionary seminary. Its rector at that time was Metropolitan John of Belgorod, who also headed the Synodal missionary Department. He took me to study with him in 2013, because I wanted to go abroad after graduating from the seminary (I already had an invitation to carry out obedience in Cambodia and Laos).
While I was studying in Moscow and Belgorod, the Church in Asia has grown significantly. The parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Cambodia and the Philippines were under the care of Archbishop Sergiy (Chashin) of Solnechnogorsk (now Metropolitan of Singapore and Southeast Asia, Patriarchal Exarch of Southeast Asia). I began to serve in Cambodia, and then Vladyka transferred me to the Philippines, as there was a much greater need for priests there. Now for 3 years I have been serving on the island of Mindanao, the second largest island in the south of the country.
A shelter for Russian refugees.
The first Orthodox community in 1923 in Manila (the capital of the Philippines) was formed by emigrants from Russia. In 1934, on the basis of the appeal of the Russian diaspora in Manila, Bishop Victor (Svyatin) of China and Beijing established a parish in honor of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God. The Iveron temple existed until 1945, when it was destroyed during the liberation of the city from the Japanese invaders.
In 1949, after the Communists came to power in China, about six thousand Russian refugees left Shanghai. Of all the countries, only the Republic of the Philippines has agreed to temporarily accept them. The Russians were stationed on the small island of Tubabao. Among the first, two churches were built: in honor of the Archangel Michael and Seraphim of Sarov. The Holy Mother of God Cathedral was built from the former military marching church. Among the refugees was Bishop John (Maksimovich), the future St. John of Shanghai. He periodically traveled from the Philippines to other countries, primarily to the USA, to organize the relocation of refugees there. And he succeeded: in 1951, the Russians mostly left the Philippines.
A big interest in the Russian Orthodox Church began in 2013. This year, typhoon Haiyan, terrible in its destructiveness, occurred, having killed several thousand people. Fr Kirill Shkarbul, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, was one of the first to arrive with humanitarian aid from Taiwan to Tubabao Island. Communicating with him, the locals became interested in Orthodoxy, thought about baptism, invited him to visit them more often. Since Fr Kirill is serving in Taiwan, he began to look for missionaries and priests who could come to the Philippines and talk about the Orthodox faith. One of the first to respond was the priest Georgy Maximov. He and Father Kirill performed the first mass baptisms.
In October 2016, the Holy Synod appointed Bishop Sergiy (Chashin) of Solnechnogorsk as the Administrator of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. His Eminence began his activity with restoring the Iveron parish in Manila on Easter in April 2017. This parish has united Orthodox people of many nationalities, and its backbone became the Orthodox Filipinos interested in Russian culture. With the appointment of Bishop Sergiy, the priest Stanislav Rasputin came to the Philippines to work.
In December 2018, by the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Southeast Asia was formed with 4 dioceses: Korean, Singapore, Thailand and Philippine-Vietnamese. Metropolitan Sergiy was appointed head of the Exarchate.
The mission proceeds from below
— You served in Cambodia, now you serve in the Philippines. What are the main differences in the perception of religion in these countries? I ask Fr Korniliy.Cambodia is a Buddhist country, the Philippines is Catholic. Filipinos have a Christian worldview. They sincerely believe in God. You can see, for example, a tricycle driver (a local public transport – a motorcycle with a sidecar, where people are transported), who will cross himself before the road. When there was an earthquake, people ran out into the street and shouted: “God save us!”
ln Cambodia, Buddhist culture is widespread. People have no idea of the One God there, it is simply washed away by this Buddhist worldview. There are spirits being fed on every corner. There are special houses everywhere where Cambodians leave food for them. You won’t find this in the Philippines. There are some occultists and shamans here but, in general, people have a Christian understanding of the world.
Speaking about the specifics of the mission in the Philippines, my interlocutor emphasizes that this is not a “classic” version of enlightenment, when missionaries come to a new land and preach, then people study the basics of faith to be baptized. Here the mission goes “from below”. Local residents themselves learn about Orthodoxy from books, through the Internet and ask for baptism.
The difficulty lies in the fact, explains Fr Korniliy, that not one or two people come to Orthodoxy here, but often whole communities. So, for example, in 2015, four communities of Aglipay church were baptized at once. Those were representatives of the Independent Philippine Church, which originated in the early twentieth century and bears the name of its founder Gregorio Aglipay, a Catholic priest who, protesting against the colonial policy of the Catholic Church, went into schism. Over time, the Aglipay people began to have a crisis of faith. They saw that each of the communities believes in something different. And they began to search the true faith. They learned that there are Russian priests in the Philippines, and invited them to talk about Christ. The process of catechization has begun. As a result, these communities were accepted into the Russian Orthodox Church: thousands of people who needed to be taught our faith. They had their own church culture, but it is far from ours. It helps that they are ready to change, to learn, they really like it. There is a large amount of work here, and there are not enough personnel. This is similar to our nineties, when people went to Church en masse and had to be received and instructed, but there were not enough priests.
Study for priests and parishioners.
Fr Korniliy notes that when the Synod appointed Bishop Sergiy to serve in the countries of Southeast Asia, it became a new level of organization of the work. A diocese was formed, 5 deaneries appeared: Manila (Luzon and Cebu Islands), Davao (Mindanao and Leyte), General Santos, Davao del Sur and Vietnamese. Diocesan departments were formed: missionary, social and catechetical. A full-fledged diocese has developed.

There is a personnel shortage, a lot of problems, but now the work is more focused and we have a lot to grow.
In August 2019, by the decision of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Pavel (Fokin) of Khanty-Mansiysk and Surgut with the title “Metropolitan of Manila and Hanoi” was entrusted to be the ruling bishop of the Philippine-Vietnamese diocese. It was just recently the 10th anniversary of the Khanty-Mansiysk diocese in which he serves. He has extensive experience in organizing diocesan life. And he brought this experience to the Philippines. It is very symbolic that Vladyka Pavel served as a priest in the cathedral in honor of the Icon of the Mother of God “Joy of All who Sorrow” in San Francisco, where the relics of St. John of Shanghai rest. In 1949-1951, during the 27-month period of stay of Russian refugees on the island of Tababao, St. John walked around the entire camp every night and made the sign of the cross on all four sides. No typhoon happened during that period. After the people left for different countries, a terrible typhoon hit and destroyed the camp to the ground. And now St. John has brought Vladyka Pavel to work in the Philippines. We believe that this is not a simple coincidence.
After thousands of inhabitants of the archipelago converted to Orthodoxy, they had to be taught somewhere. That is why the Blessed Matrona of Moscow Educational Center in Davao was founded, headed by Fr Korniliy. Classes are held here for singers, elders of communities, future mothers. Educational activities are conducted among parishioners. Knowledge is given in a variety of fields – from the study of the rules of worship, including the performance of services by a lay rank and choir singing, to the subtleties of baking prosphora and sewing church vestments.
-At first, the center was organized in the city of General Santos, but not all priests could work there permanently. And it was not really a center but, rather, a base. When Vladyka Sergiy was appointed, he established a missionary center in Davao – the island’s capital and the third city of the Philippines. Here Filipinos can receive basic knowledge to go then to Russia to study in seminaries and theological academies. Before going to Russia, they need to undergo some training here, where the situation is close to the seminar realities. It is important that they in advance take an experience of the routine of the educational institution.
The first ordinations were performed by Vladyka Sergiy. For the first time, five Filipino people were ordained deacons at once and then one became a priest. Then Vladyka Pavel ordained two deacons as presbyters. In February 2020, during his archpastoral visit to the Philippines, Metropolitan Pavel ordained 5 elders of the church communities of the island of Mindanao as deacons. They are also trained in our center.
Bamboo temple.
I ask Fr Korniliy, what Orthodox churches in the Philippines look like. The priest says that in Davao, where he serves, it is a rented house, which doesn’t look like temple from the outside. In rural areas, these are mainly bamboo buildings with an earthen floor. Inside it is more recognizable – the iconostasis, candlestands.

Our Church managed to build three buildings of temple architecture. One of them was badly damaged due to an earthquake a year and a half ago, and is now recovering. The construction of another temple is ongoing. On February 22, 2020, for the first time in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Philippines, Metropolitan Pavel consecrated with a Great Rite the church in honor of St Seraphim of Sarov in Makalangot. Soon after that, many icons in this temple began to stream the myrrh.
There are 31 Orthodox parishes in the Philippines and 13 clerics.
The main work of our Diocese is to translate Orthodox prayer books and liturgical texts into Cebuano and Tagalog (the most common languages here). The texts of the services for the main feasts have already been translated. Orthodox Filipinos can celebrate the Liturgy in their native languages.
Fr Korniliy says that Filipinos adopt the traditions of the celebration of the feast of feasts – Easter – from the Russian Orthodox. Long fasts are new to Filipinos, but they try to observe them. Night services inspire them amazingly. But the peculiarities of the national cuisine are reflected on their Easter table.
The locals tried the Easter cakes, and they did not like them much, because Filipinos rarely eat bread. They did not find the cake as sweet as they like, for them it is almost tasteless. But when a local resident cooked Easter cakes according to a Russian recipe but putting five times more sugar in there, they became, in their opinion, already more edible. They like to eat sweet rice — this is a joy for Filipinos.
For locals, the main dish of any festive table, including Easter, is lechon – a whole piglet baked. They don’t eat meat often at normal times, because most of them live in poverty and can’t afford it. Therefore, cooking a pig is a great holiday. The meat is baked on a spit, on a fire, without spices (because they are expensive) and it turns out inside as boiled. To our taste, this dish is not very appetizing. But these are particulars. The main thing is that we have the same taste for Church and Truth. And the essence of the holiday remains the service in the temple and the Easter joy, which overwhelms Filipinos just as much as Russian believers.

Orthodoxy as a destiny

An Indonesian student about his spiritual path and impressions of Russia

The tradition of education of foreign students in Russian theological schools has ancient roots. In the XIX century, Russia turned out to be not only the stronghold of Orthodoxy in the world, but also the center of church education. Since 1850, Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Syrians were educated in Russian theological academies and seminaries. Some of them returned to their homeland after studying, while others remained in Russia. Among the foreign graduates were future bishops, theologians, church leaders. Today, the idea of getting a theological education in Russia is still popular among foreigners. A correspondent of the “Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate” went to the St. Petersburg Theological Academy to find out what use they plan to find of their theological education, whether it is easy to study, what they dream about and how they plan to serve in their homeland.

Difficult Russian

Academic Church in the name of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. Students of the Academy and regular parishioners gathered at the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. The temple is not crowded, the echoes of the pandemic are noticeable – not all students have started full-time training. Meanwhile, all those gathered are praying diligently, there is no usual whispering or exchange of greetings. I notice, on the right, a group of young people who are different from everyone else…

These are our students from Indonesia and the Philippines,-the dean and senior lecturer of the Faculty of Foreign Students of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy Nadezhda Vasilyevna Kolesnikova quietly says, – they always pray at divine services near the especially revered icon of the Mother of God “The Sign” of Tsarskoye Selo.
After the service, Nadezhda Vasilyevna takes me around the St. Petersburg Theological Academy and shows the audience where students from other countries study.

All my students regularly, without delay, come to worship services, they do not need to be reminded or warned in advance, – Nadezhda Vasilyevna says. – During the divine services, students of our faculty read the “Trisagion” to “Our Father”, they pray, they work in the refectory, like everyone else. They never refuse to obey.
It is clear that Nadezhda Vasilyevna is ready to talk for hours about her wards. She surrounded the students of the faculty, who have all their relatives and friends very far away, with real maternal care.

Foreign students study at the preparatory department for two years, – explains Nadezhda Vasilyevna. – The first year they study only Russian, pulling up their knowledge to the basic level. During the second year, they continue to study the language, and also master the main program of the department, which includes: biblical history, catechism, liturgics, history of the Fatherland, Church Slavonic and English. At the end of the training, everyone passes an exam in the Russian language and in theological disciplines.

In the corridor, we meet our students and all go together to the classroom where classes are held.

Is it true that Russians rarely smile? – I ask the guys on the way.

Yes! Stefan answers decisively.

Well, not always… Leo refutes.

Basically, yes, – Kirill sums up.
The guys interrupt each other and laugh.

Do Filipinos and Indonesians smile a lot?


Before the class starts, we have time to talk about the students’ impressions of studying and living in St. Petersburg.

What difficulties did you experience in mastering the Russian language? – I’m interested in them.

Oh, grammar!

Cases, verbs…

Pronunciation, accents…

Yes, everything!

The most emotional question is about the places they have already visited. Nadezhda Vasilyevna comes to the rescue.

We mostly visit museums and monasteries during the holidays, – the dean explains. – We went to Tikhvin, Kronstadt, the Alexander Svirsky Monastery. But even here in St. Petersburg, students can go out to the city on their own and go to museums, if I can’t accompany them. In St. Petersburg, students visited the St. John’s Monastery, the Chapel of St. Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Nicholas Epiphany and Transfiguration Cathedrals. We have all been to the Hermitage and plan to go there again. I can’t remember everything. For example, three of our students: Leo Gondayao, Kirill Benalon and Dimitri Situmeang, lived for a month in Pskov and the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery. We are going to visit Peterhof in the next vacation.

And what struck you most about Russian culture? – I ask the guys.
“Russian cuisine,” Kirill answers and smiles. The others nod in agreement.

Maslenitsa! – Dmitry is connecting. – Or when people plunge into the river on the feast of the Epiphany. But the most amazing thing in Russian culture is Orthodoxy.

Nadezhda Vasilyevna, smiling, goes on business, the guys go to classes, and I stay to find out from the young man what he was so impressed by the Orthodox life in Russia.

They offered to convert to Islam

Dimitri Situmeang is originally from Indonesia. Now he is 29 years old.

Dimitri’s father is called Gasudngan Situmeang, and his mother is Salavati Simamora. They are Protestants and still live in a small Indonesian village where Dimitri was born. As a child, he lived with his grandparents, and when his grandfather died, he moved to live with his uncle. In 2013, he received a degree in Economics from the University of North Sumatra in Medan. But Dimitri did not have time to work in his profession. The fact is that shortly before graduating from high school, he learned about Christ.

For the first time I heard about Orthodoxy from a Protestant preacher, – says Dimitri. – First he told about Christ, then about the Ascension of Christ and about the history of the first temple. I became interested and began to study articles about the Orthodox faith on my own. He began to visit the church of St. Sergius of Radonezh in Medan, where he was later baptized.

My uncle and aunt are Muslims. The issue of religion in Indonesia is very important in usual life of the family, and a few years ago they suggested that I convert to Islam. I explained that I could not, because Christ is our Savior. Unfortunately, my uncle and aunt could not accept my choice and asked me to leave their house. Medan is a big city, it has more than two million inhabitants. At that time, I was working in a promising company engaged in the export of various consumer goods, but since my uncle had arranged for me to take this position at the time, I lost my job immediately.

To Russia

For about a year, the newly baptized Indonesian lived in Medan at the temple and he did not have a permanent job.

“It was the most difficult period,” he recalls. – I was longing for my family and one day I decided to call my grandmother, whom I missed very much. In the conversation, she admitted that she really wants me to come home. I told her everything I could about Orthodoxy from the bottom of my heart, but she only sighed bitterly and did not understand me, because she is very old. After that, my heart felt even heavier.

Soon Situmeang was forced to move from Medan to Jambi. There is no Orthodox church in this city on the island of Sumatra, and the young Christian went to services in a Catholic church, but did not receive communion there.

“I cried and prayed to God to help me,” Dimitri continues. – Finally, I moved to Jakarta and found a job as an administrator at a Catholic hospital. I received a scholarship from the Catholic Church to study. Life began to improve. But soon my new friends began to persistently suggest that I convert to Catholicism. But I loved Orthodoxy very much and could not become a Catholic in any way. Therefore, I was very happy when I learned that I could study at an Orthodox seminary.

In 2019, Situmeang returned home and told his father and mother that he wanted to study in Russia. His parents, he said, were horrified. They had no idea where an unfamiliar country was located, and they did not want their son to study “at the end of the world”. But since it was a very important decision for Dmitry, in the end, they agreed.

I like church singing most of all

At first, the Russian language was the most difficult for him.

It’s still difficult, – Dmitry smiles. – For the first six months, I had a feeling that no one understood me, and I didn’t understand anyone. Now I am studying in the first year and I have improved the Russian language a little. We study philosophy and basic theology. Teachers give lectures, and I do not always have time to write down notes.

Dmitry says that he has made real friends in Russia. He has already got used to the usual routine: on school days, students get up at 7:30 in the morning, at 8:00 prayer, and at 8:15 breakfast. Then, at 9:00, classes begin at all courses of the academy and seminary. In addition, foreign students continue to study Russian with teachers and do this for 4 hours a day.

Most of all, I like church singing, – the interlocutor admits. – I really like to sing. Last year at the Academy I had obedience in the choir, this year I am already helping in the altar as a subdeacon of the Vladyka rector.

Ask for help from the Lord

For a long time, Dimitri dreamed of visiting Valaam. When in Indonesia, he saw a video about the monastery on Valaam and was eager to visit it.

The film was in Russian, I didn’t know the language at all at that time, – the future clergyman smiles, – but I knew one thing very well: I just needed to come to Valaam.

For the first time he was on the island in the winter, at Christmas. Dmitry was given the obedience to work in the refectory, although he wanted to be at the services with all his heart. And that’s why I was a little upset.

In the end, the Lord ruled, and I was transferred to obedience as an altar boy in the temple, where I immediately asked for the choir, – he continues his story about the pilgrimage. – They asked me what voice I sing in. I replied that I was a tenor. We went to the regent, Father David. He asked: “Can you sing in Russian?”. Of course I couldn’t. But I really wanted to and received a blessing.

Valaam became a native for the young Indonesian.

The monastery has a different way of life. Constant work, which is not a burden, – Dimitri is sure. – I communicated with the brethren, with people with pure souls, and I understood what grace is. Lay people who come to the monastery are looking for Christ here, and I understand them: in such places He is especially close. I have already made friends on Valaam – familiar monks. I remember how once I made a mistake and read the “Trisagion” twice (instead of thrice) for the divine service. After the service, I went to the hermitage and on the way I cried: “Lord, why?! I have read this prayer so many times!” One monk comforted me – there is no need to get upset, we must continue to read prayers in Church Slavonic more and ask for help from the Lord.

After some time, Dimitri came back to his favorite monastery. On the Feast of St. Sergius he met with the Patriarchal Exarch of Southeast Asia, Metropolitan of Singapore and Southeast Asia Sergiy.

It was some kind of miracle. Vladyka Sergiy knew that I was on Valaam and invited me. At that time I still did not have a cowl, I was in dirty clothes, in which I worked in the refectory and was very shy of my appearance. But when I came to the meeting, it turned out to be completely unimportant. We managed to talk, although at that time I did not understand Russian very well. I was overwhelmed with joy from the meeting with Vladyka. I really fell in love with him during this time. For me, this meeting was exciting and at the same time joyful. Later, in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Ostankino, I met Bishop of Jakarta, vicar of the Diocese of Singapore, Vladyka Pitirim, then he was still a hieromonk. Together with him and other students, we visited Optina monastery. Vladyka Pitirim treated us very warmly and fatherly, we felt his sincere concern for us on that trip.

Real freedom

After studying, Dimitri would like to become a priest and return home.

After graduating from the academy, by the grace of God, I will serve in Indonesia.
But first I want to reconcile with my parents and uncle. They still have not accepted my path, and it is very important for me that my parents understand me.

The future priest has an extraordinary dream – he wants to build a monastery in Indonesia.

I understand, it’s not easy, – says Dimitri, – because I’m not a holy person, here as God willing. And if in an ordinary business everything depends on money, then in such an undertaking everything is given by prayers. Why do I think that everything will work out? In Indonesia, people really want freedom, but everyone has a different understanding of this. In Orthodoxy, a person is called to be free from sin, that’s where real freedom is! And now I understand with all my heart the lines from The Epistles to the Philippians of the Apostle Paul: I can do everything in him who strengthens me Jesus Christ (Phil. 4: 13).

Daria Kupryakhina
St. Petersburg Theological Academy