by Catherine Lesage.
At this point in time, our apostolate in Russia is making a major change.
Why Magadan? Many people have asked this ever since we came to Russia twelve years ago. If you’re going to have a mission house in Russia, why Magadan, a small city thousands of miles from Moscow; Magadan, the city built during the Communist era as an administrative center for the death camps?
As Jean Fox, former director of the women of MH, once said, "We entered Russia through the back door."
In opening the house in Magadan, Madonna House entered into a journey of faith. That journey was and is wrapped in mystery, and throughout it, the veil that prevents our earthly eyes from seeing the divine reality has been sometimes thin and sometimes thick.
At first, the veil seemed very thin, for many signs pointed to Magadan. In 1991, Trudy Moessner, the director of Maryhouse, our house in the Yukon, sent copies of Catherine Doherty’s book, Poustinia, with a friend, a businessman who was traveling to Magadan with the Rotary Club.
"Give these to anyone who can read English," she told him.
One person who received the book was Alvina Voropaeva, the translator for the tour group. Poustinia, a book that came from Catherine’s Russian heart, so touched Alvina that she contacted Madonna House.
She ended up visiting Combermere, getting baptized there, and it was through her instigation that we ended up opening a house in Magadan, her home in northeastern Russia.
I can’t say a lot about the beginnings of the house since I first went to Magadan in 1999. By then many changes had already occurred and many more were awaiting us.
That year and those following proved to be very difficult ones: illness of the staff, numerous staff changes, and political changes which caused difficulties in obtaining visas. Moreover, as the parish grew and developed and built a church, it gradually became able to take on more of what we had been doing.
This was, of course, a very good thing. But, "What is God asking us to do at this point?" we kept asking ourselves. What is he doing?
Between one thing and another, it seemed that doors were closing. The veil seemed to be getting thicker and thicker. We wanted to see ahead but we couldn’t. We were called to stand still in faith.
Then God began to thin the veil once again.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the Spirit began to call us to look at the possibility to moving to a different part of Russia. We listened to this call and began another stage in our Russian pilgrimage of faith.
Fr. Antoni, a Claretian who had been working in Siberia for the last fourteen years, had been asking us to establish a new mission in his city, Krasnoyarsk.
In 2005, Marie Javora, the first director of MH Magadan, and I, were asked by the directors of Madonna House to visit Krasnoyarsk and look into this invitation to a city of a million people, a city which contains a university, colleges, and institutes (and hence many young people), a city where a number of people had already shown interest in Madonna House spirituality.
A few months later, after our second trip to Krasnoyarsk, it was discerned by the directorate of Madonna House that we should open a house there. And since it is impossible at this time to keep two houses open in Russia, they decided that we should close the house in Magadan and re-locate in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
The memory that keeps coming back to me as I try to put into words the journey of Madonna House in Russia is not one that occurred in Russia. It is the memory of my first Byzantine liturgy in Combermere.
It was unforgettable. There were so many sights and sounds and smells: the icons, the music, the flowers, the banners, the incense, the ringing bells that hung from the processional cross. But what struck me most powerfully happened during the Consecration.
Just as the beautiful prayer of the Consecration was beginning, someone closed the curtains in front of the altar. I found myself saying to myself, "But I want to see! Why did they close the curtains? I can’t see!" Then suddenly I remembered a word often used by both Catherine and Archbishop Raya. Mystery.
I then understood that to really see what was happening at the Consecration, I first had to enter into the mystery. It was not my human eyes that would help me to do this, but faith. So I closed my eyes and slowly entered the mystery of what was happening behind the altar curtains, behind the veil.
Our closing the house in Magadan and opening another one in Krasnoyarsk is a mystery, too. When we opened the house in Magadan, no one dreamed that, some day, God would ask us to enter another "room" in Russia instead. But now, twelve years later, this is what is happening.
The seed that was planted in the soil of Magadan has indeed died to bear fruit. All the pain, joy, laughter, tears, trials, suffering, and love that we experienced there on this side of the veil have laid a firm foundation for the next step on our Russian pilgrimage.
And now we are in Krasnoyarsk. We couldn’t have asked for a better reception. Already many are drinking from the treasures of Madonna House spirituality and some are asking about making a poustinia.
And although we leave behind in Magadan friends who have indeed become family, the bonds that unite us remain very, very strong. Some of them may even visit us in Krasnoyarsk.
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