When I think back on my life, I can see that it took me years to find the courage to speak to a priest. Only this past year, seated on a bench, I found myself apprehensively waiting for Fr. Giampiero, chaplain of the Italian community of the church St. Louis of France, in Moscow, where I have been singing in the choir for some time now. In my heart, I prayed: “Lord, allow me to remain in Your Holy Church.” When he arrived, I told him my story in an unconnected way. He listened to me attentively, taking me seriously, and proposed that we begin a course of catechism to prepare myself to be baptized. I was expecting to be pushed away; instead, I received a fatherly embrace. Before my eyes, a way was opening towards what I had been desiring for years. The way, the truth and the life…
I was born in Moscow, in a family of engineers and physicists, a completely atheistic environment. In our house, you didn’t talk about God, if not to say that He was a myth invented by common folk to explain the world, back when science was not yet developed. In the contemporary world there was obviously no longer a place for religion: I too thought like this and was proud to be like all the others in my family. When I was five, my grandmother, herself a convinced atheist as well, read a children’s Bible to me and my sister. It was supposed to be useful for our cultural education and we considered it like one of the many fables that we were told.
Then, in April of 2009, I converted. Only many years after I would have really understood the importance of faith; however, that date in any event divides my life into a before and an after. Before I was proud to be an atheist; after, I understood that I believed in God all along. What happened that was so extraordinary? Nothing. I was 14 and wanted a dog and my parents had told me no. I felt offended and sad until the moment in which, all of a sudden, I remembered certain fights with my sister, certain moments of laziness and of disobedience. I desired to be different, more meek and humble. In that moment I realized that the good that I felt I was missing was God. I began to reread that old Bible for kids, and I learned to pray in the light of my still weak and uncertain faith that I had received like an unexpected gift.
The second important moment took place a year later, during a brief trip to St. Petersburg. Entering int a Catholic church for the first time, I felt at home, shrouded in a presence that loves, that forgives, that welcomes. From that moment forward, I sought to deepen my faith. I didn’t have anyone to turn to and I didn’t dare speak about it at home. In the meanwhile, I had begun to study at the School of Medicine. Everything I was studying added additional proof of God’s existence, convincing me of the genius and of the wisdom of the Creator. I understood that science was a demonstration of the fact that God exists. I took a course of philosophy and I was surprised again by the perpetual human search. In that period, I began to be part of a volunteer association of guides for foreign tourists. I would always avoid speaking about religion, at least until one day when I met a family from Salerno. They were great people, very open, and asked me the usual question: “But, are you Orthodox?” And I don’t know how, but I responded telling them the truth: that I was not baptized, that I was thinking about it, and that I wasn’t able to choose between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. That summer, I went to see them in Italy and with them, for the first time, I attended a Mass. What an amazing day!
When I came back to Moscow, I would often retreat into the Cathedral in order to pass an hour or two in silence and prayer. How many doubts I had! If my reason sought to convince me that the Orthodox Church was the best choice for me, my heart was pushing me in another direction. I prayed to the Lord to help me choose. A trip to Rome was decisive: daily Mass, the visit to the ancient churches, the sites of the martyrdoms of early Christians. When I got back, I began to go to Mass at the church of St. Francis of France. I was living with a sense of unease about lying to my mother about how I was spending those hours of my Sunday. After a year, I began to take a course on opera and nothing seemed more beautiful to me than the possibility to sing for the Lord. For that reason, at the end of May, 2015, I asked if I could sing in the parish choir. At home, everyone was relaxed: they thought that I was going to Church solely for the pleasure of singing. In the end, my meeting with the pastor made me feel welcomed all over again. How generous the Lord has been with me! That meeting with Fr. Giampiero was the most decisive moment of my path. I am profoundly grateful to him because he helped me to face my doubts, responded to my incessant questions and confirmed me in the faith.
In the picture, the baptism of Vera Sofia, celebrated by Msgr. Paolo Pezzi, archbishop of the Mother of God, in Moscow.