March 2010 - Vol. 38

.Wisdom From a Persecuted Monk

By John Karagoulis

This past October, I brought a group of Gappers (volunteer workers in our Kairos youth outreach programs) to visit an Orthodox Monastery in Michigan. This trip was inspired by our reading of “God's Smuggler” by Brother Andrew, a Protestant missionary to Eastern Bloc countries during the Communist era. In the book, Brother Andrew tells his story of smuggling Bibles to Christians living under regimes where outside books – particularly religious books – were not allowed to be brought into the country. The book has a lot to say about Christians  living their faith courageously even when it may cost them their freedom and their lives.

Our purpose in visiting the monastery was to meet with one particular monk – Fr. Nektarios, a man who has experienced firsthand living as a persecuted Christian. A Theology professor by training, Fr. Nektarios went to prison on two separate occasions in Romania – once for five years, and another term for six. In these 11 years, two were spent in solitary confinement without even a pencil to write with. In between his two imprisonments, he became a monk in response to what the Lord was doing in him during this time, and indeed his life is a testament to God’s grace. Upon his final release from prison, he was expelled from Romania and came to live in the U.S. He spent some time as a parish priest, and eventually moved to a small monastery in Michigan where he lives today. What better way to learn about living as Christians in the midst of persecution than to meet one? 

During our visit to Fr. Nektarios we sat with him for about an hour and a half and he talked to us on a whole range of Christian topics. I felt inspired to record some of the spiritual meat of our conversation because Fr. Nektarios has many good things to say about the spiritual life that we as charismatic Christians can take to heart. The two main points I want to share are:

God lives in us 
A key reason I love hearing Fr. Nektarios's story, and indeed one of the main reasons I bring the Gappers to the monastery, is that before he was imprisoned, he knew about God, but it was while he was in prison that he came to know God personally. Before his imprisonment he was a religious person who went to church, and knew the Bible, and taught theology. But it wasn't until he was stripped of all the dressings of conventional religious life – buildings, vestments, beautiful music, youth groups, retreats, even a Bible, that he could genuinely say that he got to know God in a personal way. He found God in the midst of his solitude because he realized that God dwells in us through his Holy Spirit. He quoted from the Apostle Paul, “ you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? ” - Ephesians 3:19. Since we are temples of the Holy Spirit, God can never be far from us, even when we would seem to stray from living a Christian way of life.

Keep a constant dialogue with Jesus 
Fr. Nektarios, quoting from Paul’s advice to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), encouraged us to constantly keep a dialogue with God, talking to him in a familiar ongoing way just as we do with other people throughout the day. ”Lord, I know you are with me here in the car, thank you for being with me.” It could seem very simplistic, even strange, but Fr. Nektarios reminded us that God cares for us even in the smallest details of our lives. If we have a problem with someone we love, tell Jesus straightforwardly. We don’t need to rely on a prayer book to form the basis of our prayers. ”The one who only prays when he prays, never prays” is what he said to us. Our lives are to be lived as a prayer. This is not to say that we need to cancel our prayer meetings and personal time of prayer, but is an encouragement to keep God at the center of our minds in all aspects of our lives. As charismatic Christians we might say “duh” but to hear these words from an Orthodox monk is remarkable! This served as a reminder to us to bring our whole lives to the Lord, to hold nothing back from our Father who loves us eternally, and who will withhold no spiritual blessing.

In our Gap program we have been blessed with this unique opportunity to learn from Fr. Nektarios, a living example of how all of us are to respond to persecution of our faith  –  to rely more on the Lord, not less. May we take his words to heart and strive to be more constantly aware of God’s providence and presence with us at all times and places.

(c) copyright 2010  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom