by Serafim Jens Christian Larsen
Late spring 2004, I was going to decide where to spend my summer holiday, it was a tradition in my family, that we use to spend our summer holidays abroad somewhere in Europe. I was a little bit indecisive on where to go that year, and I mentioned it to a friend and he said:
I think that you are a person who is able to feel this,
and when he said so I knew that I should go to Crete, I felt as a impulse in my body, that told me it would be the right choice.
My life situation overall in 2004 was at that time very difficult. I felt I was trapped. For more than 5 years I had not been able to enjoy my life, not even momentarily. I had lost my life even I was alive. For many years I had been playing a game, that little by little took control of me, and I was not aware of its seriousness until one day I realized it was too late. I felt I had been possessed and I knew it was very serious, not something I could go to the doctor and to ask him to remove. Since then the only aim of my life became to find back to the life I felt I had lost.
In the years that passed afterwards I was seeking for ways that could help me to get out of this situation, most important I meet with a clairvoyant healer, who worked with body mind /psychosomatic tools. The purpose working with her, was to learn to regain the sense of natural psychological borders which she explained had been spoilt since my very early childhood. I gained a lot of experience from this work, and It became an eye opener and made me aware about certain aspects in my life, I would not have known about otherwise. However I decided to end it after about 2 years, because I was not able to progress further with myself . The very moment I felt I was recovering, I would fall back to my old passions and I would be trapped again. My situation overall had become more serious, I was no more able to receive comfort, from another human being. I felt I was totally on my own.
I mentioned to my friend about my situation, having left my last ”anchor”, I told him that it was my feeling that the only thing or person I imagined could help me out of my situation, would be from a person who had more than human powers or supernatural powers.
Before going to Crete I read about the Island and it´s long history and I became fascinated about the time during the Venetian Occupation in the 16th century. I always adored the Italian kind of life style, I felt I could connect to it very much, I liked the language, the expressiveness of the people and the beautiful country. At that time there was a broadcast series about people who were hypnotized, describing past life experiences in detail, where they had been living, the name of city,- street and so on. It all appeared very truthful on the television. I believed also in the reincaration of the soul and It made me think I could possibly have lived on Crete in a past life, it could explain the feeling and the impulse in the body of mine. One day before flying to Crete ,and for a very short moment I had the feeling that the earth and sky became one, everything was in harmony and peaceful, I took this as a sign that a change for the better would soon appear.
From the windows of the plane just before landing on Crete, I watched the Cretan landscapes and tears came to my eyes, I felt I was coming home. As soon I was able to I went into the Capital town of the Island . I became touched in my heart, by the city’s atmosphere and it`s well kept middle-age town, and started walking around the city to look for past life experiences.
For some reason, I felt attracted also to go and visit the many and various churches , monasteries and caves where people had spend a life in solitary. When entering the Churches, I felt protected emotionally, a comfort I could not receive from a human being, and often I spend my time practising a Buddist Meditation practise ;Vipassana means to learn to see things as they truly appear. I recall an experience when sitting in a cave, with my eyes closed, I suddenly begin to see Christian crosses appear in my mind, the one cross after the other, simple crosses, detailed crosses, each of them different but of them were beautiful. Upon leaving the cave, I discover a stone, where people have been making the sign of the cross upon it. I began to think about the sign as a universal sign, and what was the symbolic meaning of the sign of the cross?
And I had other such unusual experiences.
One afternoon when lying down in the sand on the beach and just before falling asleep, a very beautiful golden bracelet with dark red pearls appeared in my mind, it looked like an antique treasure, laying hidden somewhere on the Island, and possible to be found. I always had this day dream to find a treasure, that would make me economic independant. From the outlook of the landscape, it was hidden, in a area where the landscape was barren and and with hills in succession.
Some days before the end of the holiday, I went to visit an older Monastery Called Moni Gonia, not far situated from here is the Center of Chania. The monastery dates back to the 16th century. It´s architecture is very simple that witnesses on the venetian occupation time, it is very beautiful situated on a hill near to the coast, and where the landscape barren! I was touched by the atmosphere at this place and I recall from sitting doing meditation in one of the side rooms to the church, now I see more clearly the outlook of the landscape where the treasure is hidden, I see a coast line, sand and dark blue water. Before my exit I passed by a small shop, selling church ”souvenirs”, and I decided to buy one small church souvenir, an icon with a stamp on its backside written on it:
” Holy icon. Copy of authentic byzantine art”.
The icon picture The mother of God with the child. I later found out that the Icon is called:
”Hope of the despaired”.
The colours on the Icon is almost similar to the colours on the golden bracelet, the treasure that had appeared to me.
I returned to the Hotel later on that afternoon and placed the icon next to my bed, then in the evening at about 12 pm I was taking up my Meditation . I had sat down on the floor for about 5 minutes, when something unexpected happened, the smell of incense came into the room, like the one from the church, and I felt there was a presence from the other world, it seemed far away but it also seemed very close. I got a feeling of the most beautiful place one can imagine, a place I had longed for always, and my first thought was; someone is watching me,- knows me and wants do me good, and after I thought, this means that Christianity is the truth, something I had never considered or believed to be true before, now within a few seconds, I was absolutely convinced that Christianity is the truth. From that day on a new perspective came to my life, and it gave me belief , that It would be possible to get out of my misery. How and in which way, I did not know and I did not think about either but I allowed myself instead to enjoy the rest of my holiday with hope for the future.
A small leaflet from the Monastery Moni Gonia tells about the guide called ”Lady of Gonia”. Although I have never been investigating it, I am convinced that the Lady of Gonia it refers to the Mother of God, that somehow confirms my experience of her presence at this Monastery.
When I returned home, I began to searched the internet for the meaning of the two words”Holy and Icons” which lead me to Orthodox Christianity. At that time I knew just a little about Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism I knew from the school classes, but I had never heard about Orthodoxy. I started to read different topics on orthodoxy;- Church History, the apostolic succession in the Orthodox Church, the division of the One Holy and Apostolic Church in 1084 an article about the healing of the body and soul through living and the practise of the orthodox faith. .
Often I had the experience I was guided by words or through pictures in my mind that made me take further steps, I would not otherwise have considered. I began to read the orthodox prayers. The kind of submissiveness it was something I had to get used to, also it took me time to see that Jesus Christ is God, I had always understood He was the son of God, but like a human being , not as God himself in a humans body.
I began to take up practising fasting also, on Wednesday and Fridays, not strictly but with a dedication to follow it the best I could. I got to know about a local orthodox perish dedicated to the Mother of God and I called up the priest, told him about my experience on Crete, and he invited me to visit the Church on a Sunday morning , he also let me understand that orthodoxy is not about a romantic dream, that one could get from having a summer holiday experience! Some time passed until I took the decision to visit the church
The Church was situated some 150 km distance away from my home, for the same reason I did not succeed to frequent it as often as I would have liked to, but from the beginning I felt well received in the perish and the Priest recommended me to read the The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware, as an introduction to the faith.
In the spring 2005 I was thinking about summer holidays , but I decided not to give it more thoughts, until one Friday evening, before going to sleep the word Rumania appeared to me. I decided to visit Rumania that Summer. It was my first visit to the Eastern part of Europe. I planned for a 2 two weeks stay.
My first impression after landing in the rural situated airport, was that I had come to another world. I felt an remarkable peace, everything seemed so quiet .The material condition of life on the opposite, I almost could not believe, in the village the people seemed to be living from keeping a small garden in the backyard or having some few animals. On the roads one would see horse wagons and in the fields people would still be working with their hand tools. Houses along the streets were worn out and falling apart, streets seemed empty except for children playing . Everything reminded me of what could have been a scenery from a western European village in the 19th century .
On the Sunday morning I decided to find the local Orthodox Church, only a few participators there, the priest was a young man but very dedicated to his service impressed, he acted like an adult and it impressed me .Later on that week, I got to meet with he and his wife, in all their poverty, it seemed as if Jesus Christ was present in their lives , in a hidden way.
For the second week I decided to hire a car, I had planned for a weeks stay in Moldavia, and more than one time I had experienced how impossible it was to get around in the country. Moldavia I had read about, and I knew this was the place where Orthodox Monasticism flourished. On my way, I passed through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains. It was a Sunday morning and I stopped by for the Sunday Liturgy another time. I recall when the Priest he was reading from the Gospel, pronouncing each of the words, I felt it as if God was speaking through him.
Later on the afternoon, I came to visit the Monastery; the Monastery of Pangarati and I was greeted by an enormous peace and stillness even before entering the Monastic area. I spend my entire holiday, going from one Monastery to the next, and I could feel each of the time this peace and stillness nurturing my body and soul. My trip ended in Bucovina, the upper part of Moladavia, which is renown for its richly painted Monasteries. peace and stillness nurturing me.
I became one of conclusion after end of the trip to Moldavia, that Europe had its own Tibet, hidden, and with the Christian sign of the cross.
Back home I continued to participate in the local perish. I told about my experiences in Rumania about the Monastic life and the peace I had felt and the whole tradition that seemed so alive up to this day.
In the beginning of 2006 our priest told me to get ready for my orthodox christening. I had a meeting with him at his home, talking about different topics related to the Church; the differences between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic. He described the Church as the body of Christ, with Christ as the head of the body and we members of the Church as parts of his body. At that time I did not really comprehend the true meaning behind these explanations . My intellectual understanding of the orthodox faith, was limited, I knew the Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware and had also bought the Orthodox Church by John Meyendorff. But I preferred to read from the descriptions of the Lives of the Saints , I simply found it more interesting and inspiring to read, and it was more easy to relate it to the experiences I had on Crete and in Rumania. This was about living the faith
After this meeting, I took the final step to leave the Lutheran Church. I also had to choose a new name that would connect me to the Orthodox Church, the Father advised to chose the name John (Saint John Chrysostom) which was already my name in my native language. However it happened some few weeks before my christening, one morning the name Serafim came to me, I started to read about the Russian, Saint Serafim of Sarov and and when reading about him, how he was saved by the Mother of God in his Childhood, I took it as a message and decided to take my name from him.
The week before my Christening, I prepared by fasting and by writing down my first confession. I was looking forward with great excitement and also hoping for a bigger change to occur in regard to the emotional and bodily distress I suffered from.
Everything related to my Christening all went quite smooth. I did not feel a bigger change, as the one I had been looking forward to. How I was content that now I could consider myself to be an orthodox christian because it made me able to receive the Holy Communion, as I could understand from the members in the perish, here was all the difference between now and before, that I had become a member of the Church that allowed me to receive the Holy Communion.
Part Two will be published tomorrow.