My India Journal
by Papa Ephraim
Monday, September 17, 2018
Glory be to God for all things!
It is hard to believe that I am now on a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean towards Hawaii and then to India. It was just three months ago that I was peacefully sitting in my cell at St. Anthony’s Monastery—the same cell I had lived in for the wonderful past 23 years of my life. Nevertheless, I joyfully set out for my new life in Alaska, even though it was sad to leave such a beautiful monastery in Arizona. It was especially hard to say good-bye to all the dear monastics and laymen whom I had grown to love and who had grown to love me over the years. But the instructions of my dearest Geronda were clear, and so it was time for me to move on.
My prayer is that I will not lose my connection with everyone I met in Arizona, since I do hope to be able to continue visiting them regularly there, and I do want to continue communicating with them by phone and emails. But even if these hopes of mine fail for whatever reason, I am partly consoled knowing that our connection in Christ and our prayers for each other will never fail.
I thought that my new secluded life at St. Nilus Skete in Alaska would offer me plenty of time not only for communicating with everyone else, but also for prayer, reading, and writing books. However, so far I have been much busier than I had expected. Due to the rustic nature of life on that little island where St. Nilus Skete is, everything takes much longer. For example, it requires a couple hours to do “banya,” whereas taking a shower in Arizona (or anywhere with running water) requires just 15 minutes. This is because in order to do banya, I need to go across to the mens’ monastery. So this means that I have to get all my kayak gear together, launch my kayak, paddle across to Spruce Island, hike up the mountainside, do banya, change clothes, hike back down, get my kayak gear back on, paddle home, and finally put away my kayak and my gear.
But even other tasks, such as regulating the temperature of my cabin, require time and effort. I can’t just press a button on the wall, but I need to have already chopped, split, and carried the wood and kindling, and then I have to prepare and monitor the fire. Living without electricity and running water is certainly more work, but it is pleasant work that is conducive to health of soul and body. In fact, I dedicated an entire section of my unpublished book on monasticism to what the holy Fathers have to say about the value of physical labor, and it brings me great joy to experience for myself the wisdom of their insights.
Soon after settling down in Alaska, out of the blue, Mother Nina tells me that there is a priest called Fr. Athanasius in Hawaii who is looking for someone to accompany him on a missionary trip to India. I had no desire to leave my beautiful life in Alaska to a place that is its opposite in almost every way: in climate, in noise level, in percentage of Orthodox Christians, in geographic location, in topography, in population density, in pollution, in germs, in civilization, in poverty, in education, in politics, in language, in culture, in religion, and the list goes on.
So I was ready to politely decline Fr. Athanasius’s offer when he called me. But when he explained to me the fascinating story of what was happening in India, I was inspired to sacrifice my personal comfort and help him out. Another big reason why I agreed was because I do feel an inner connection to India and its people, being half-Indian. It overwhelms me to consider the responsibility I have before God when I ponder that you can probably count on your fingers how many Orthodox priests or monks there are in the entire world who are Indian or at least half-Indian. Besides, I figured that if my briefly visiting India would contribute to the conversion and salvation of those 45,000 souls, who am I to refuse to try to help them?
Fortunately for me, I will have the easy task of just being the chanter/sidekick on this 10-day trip. My job is simply to assist Fr. Athanasius conduct some of the services so that they can get a feel for what Orthodox worship is like. Fr. Athanasius is the one who will be doing the presentations to these hundreds of pastors. But it does seem probable that dozens (if not hundreds) of them will also want to speak with me. I just hope that God will put the words into my mouth that they need to hear. As Fr. Athanasius is saying, he is praying that God will save these people not because of us but despite us!
I really don’t know what to expect there. From what I have heard so far, the 500 Protestant pastors of 45,000 people there in India are interested in Orthodoxy. But I’m not so sure if that means that they are merely curious in learning more about Orthodoxy, or if they are eager to convert. I also don’t know what to expect after this visit. If they are not receptive to Orthodoxy, then it is unlikely that we will return. But if they are eager to become Orthodox, and if a good connection is established between us and them, they might want us and need us to return perhaps frequently. Maybe God will use us to help them become a new, permanent addition to the Orthodox Church. Someone in Alaska expressed their worries about losing me half-jokingly: “Oh, no; they are going to take you away from us and make you Bishop of India!” Needless to say, this would be the complete opposite of what my own will is regarding the path in life I hope to follow.