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