Interview with Margarita Kaplun, a Jew who converted to Orthodoxy
by Fr. George Maximov
The journey of Margarita Kaplun, a woman of Jewish descent and a daughter of an Assistant Rabbi. After personally experiencing the power of praying to Our Lord Jesus Christ, she was baptized and led her parents to faith.
Father George Maximov: Hello! You are watching “My Path to God.” The guest of today’s program is Margarita. She is an accountant. Please tell us about yourself and your background.
Margarita Kaplun: I was born in a Jewish family. My father was an Assistant Rabbi. We didn’t go to synagogue often, but celebrated the feast days at home. Naturally, father went to synagogue frequently, while my sister and I… when we were kids, they did not involve us in all this. Time passed and we grew up.
Once Mormons came to us. They taught us English and gave us the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon got misplaced somewhere, but I still had the Bible. I started reading it. I don’t remember how much of it I read, but I remember finding the Lord’s Prayer and memorizing it. The Mormons also gave me a picture of Christ knocking on a door. So I prayed. I was praying in secret. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I had some wishes and I prayed to God and talked to Him. After a while, all this was forgotten. In our family, we knew for sure that we were Jewish and that Judaism was our religion. Then unexpectedly my elder sister converted to Christianity.
Father George: How did you take it?
Margarita Kaplun: I thought that this was betrayal. I was simply shocked. Of course, at home I “persecuted the Christians”, in a manner of speaking. I didn’t understand why she did it and thought that she betrayed all our nation and our kin. However, the Lord somehow made it so that our father didn’t know about it. When he asked our mother, “Did Lena really convert to Christianity?” she said, “No, you know how Rita is, she is always making things up.” Somehow, everything settled down. After a while, I got married and had children. Then one of our relatives got sick. When it became clear that her death was only a matter of time, I started praying to God, “Lord, please, I beg you…” I cried out, “Lord, please save her, I love her so much, please help! I vow to be baptized, if you save her.”
Father George: Did you pray specifically to Christ?
Margarita Kaplun: Yes. I prayed to Our Lord Jesus Christ. Even though I occasionally went to synagogue and considered myself a Jew… However, somehow I knew that Jesus Christ was our Lord and that He was the only one you can ask for help when you are in trouble. Our relative got better, and I had to be baptized because I promised this to God. However, I was still wavering, “Isn’t this betrayal? Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I was too emotional?” Nobody could answer these questions.
Once when we were at our summer cottage, our neighbor came to us and said,
“We asked a priest to bless our house. Do you want to do it?”
I wasn’t baptized and neither were my children, but for some reason we said,
“Let’s do it.”
Father Antony came to us. He let my kids hold the cup with the holy water and blessed our house. Then we went to bless the house of my mother-in-law and on the way I told him that we weren’t baptized. He was upset, saying, “What do you mean, you’re not baptized? So, the kids are not baptized either? But you held the cup.” I saw that he was very upset about it. He probably said a prayer. I started asking him, “How does a person get baptized?” He said, “Maybe you should read the Foma magazine?” Well… I wasn’t sure about reading some unknown magazine… Once again, I didn’t get the answers to my questions. We came back to Moscow and I kept thinking about this. One night I had a dream. In that dream, I was sitting at the table with that priest and he was answering all my questions. All the questions were about the Scripture… Questions like “Why is Jesus Christ Our Lord?” I got answers to all my questions. I woke up feeling that unless we receive the Sacrament of Baptism, we will die. So, I called Father Antony and said, “We want to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.” He said, “Well, I need to talk to you first.” My dream was so vivid, that I said, “Why, I have been talking with you, Father, all night.” There was a pause and then he said, “Ok, then come over.” We came over and received the Sacrament of Baptism. Our neighbor, the one who brought the priest to bless our house, became our godfather.
Father George: What about that question about betraying your nation that bothered you earlier? Did you find the answer to it?
Margarita Kaplun: I can’t remember now what the priest in that dream told me about it, but I remember that I woke up feeling that everything was clear. I got up feeling so assured that…
Father George: That this question did not bother you anymore.
Margarita Kaplun: Yes. It didn’t bother me at all. The only thing I was afraid of was telling my father about my conversion. I asked the priest, “Can we take the baptismal crosses off the kids to keep peace in the family?” Father Antony said,
“It wasn’t you who put those crosses on, so you shouldn’t be the one to take them off.”
Father George: So, he let you know that you shouldn’t conceal this fact, but reason with your father somehow?
Margarita Kaplun: Yes, he said, “You have to tell him the truth.” So when we came home, I prayed and then told my father that we were baptized. I think only a person who lived in a Jewish family can understand my father’s reaction. He took it very hard. I saw tears in his eyes for the first time in my life. I thought that he would die right then. I ran to our neighbors and said, “He doesn’t want to see me now, please just stay with him, so you can help him if he is not feeling well.” Anyway, his first reaction was very negative, but my father loved me very much. I was his favorite daughter and we had a similar disposition, so his love for me made him somehow come to terms with this. Moreover, he started asking himself, “Who is this Christ who took away my daughter from me?” I heard him discuss this with his friends. They were asking, “Who are the apostles, who is Christ?”
At that time, we heard on TV that Priest Daniil Sysoyev was murdered. I wanted to know who this priest was, so I found information about him in the Internet, bought his discs,Discussions for the Catechumen and Exegesis of the Gospel according to Luke, and started listening to them. There were things there that were hard to take. Of course, he spoke about the Jewish people. His words were hard to take and I couldn’t agree with them. I started double-checking him. I thought to myself, “Let me double check”. For he never simply expressed his own opinions, his words were always based on the Scripture. And he always made very specific references. So when he quoted from the Old Testament, I checked and saw that the reference was correct. Then again, when he said something that I couldn’t agree with, I opened the Old Testament and checked to see if it was true. It was. So I started trusting him. I was as if in constant communication with him, and he helped me a lot. He taught me how to conduct an argument. Naturally, I had discussions with my father and now I knew what to say to him.
Father George: Thanks to the things you learned about Christianity from audio books?
Margarita Kaplun: Yes, Father Daniil Sysoyev’s audio books. We were studying, listening to lectures, going to confession and receiving Holy Communion. Father Igor performed the marriage ceremony for us in the church of St. Dimitry of Thessaloniki.
Father George: In the end, how did you resolve the problem with your father?
Margarita Kaplun: In one way or another, we kept on talking with him about Christ, Orthodoxy, the veneration of icons, etc. However, we never heard each other… That is what I think. Everything was very emotional. Then my father got sick with cancer. Our neighbor and Father Oleg came to visit us before the operation, and my father, a man who had been going to synagogue, suddenly asked,
“Pray for me, Father”.
Later, after the operation my father had difficulty walking on his own, so we went for a walk with him and ran into Father Oleg. With tears in his eyes, my father said to him,
“Thank you very much for praying for me.”
I don’t know whether he had a vision when he was operated, or was it something else, but I was very surprised. Things seemed to be getting better and my father started taking walks in Izmailovsky park. However, on March 31, when I walked into his room, I suddenly felt that my father was dying and that today was his last day. I have to say that after he got sick, we didn’t discuss Orthodoxy, because I didn’t want to upset him. I called my friend and said, “I don’t know what to do. I understand that people who aren’t baptized end up in hell. How can I come to terms with this, if this is about to happen to my close relative?” My friend supported me by both praying and giving me advice. He said, “Everyone has free will. You should give him a chance to make a choice. You must go and talk to him.” So after I came home from work, we started talking. We spoke of apostles Paul and Peter. We discussed that if God was with the Jewish people, then why was it that after the Crucifixion God’s miracles were manifested specifically in Orthodoxy. There were so many world-renown Orthodox saints, such as St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Xenia of Peterburg, St. Matrona of Moscow… However, after the Crucifixion there was not a single saint among the Jewish people.
Father George: The prophets have disappeared.
Margarita Kaplun: There is simply nothing there. My father was also confused about it. I think that he was afraid to even think about it, because he wasn’t content with lot of things in the synagogue. He did not see God there. That was why when he got sick, he didn’t ask his Jewish friends to pray for him. He stopped talking to them right away. He didn’t ask the rabbi either. You know, he sat, looked at me and said,
“Why didn’t you talk to me like that before?”
“I don’t know, dad. Do you want to be baptized?”
“I do, but I want to do this together with your mom. I want to be saved and I want her to be saved too.”
So we called our mom.
That was when we learned her secret. When my grandmother was dying, she asked to talk to my mom and her last words were, “Lyuda, you should know that you were baptized.” Mom was not aware of that. She couldn’t even share this with dad, as it would have caused a scandal. Now she could admit that she was already baptized and told us this story. My father professed his faith in Christ. We called Father Oleg. Luckily, he was at home at the time. He came over and performed the Sacrament of Baptism. My younger son and I sang while Father Oleg was performing the Sacrament. It was so surprising for me, because somehow I could remember the words. The next day, Father Oleg came and my father received Holy Communion. Then they took my father to the hospital.
My father lived for 10 more days after the baptism. We read the Gospel and the Book of Psalms and shared so much love during these days… You know, I don’t even feel that I didn’t give him enough. We said so many good words to each other, the words that we usually couldn’t say, because we were so emotional. And God made a miracle. My father had lung cancer and everybody said that people with such diagnosis die in suffering. But my father simply fell asleep.
After his death, we faced another issue. All our relatives are Jewish, but since our father converted to Christianity, we were going to bury him according to the Orthodox ritual. How should we do it? You know, I was scared, as I had to call everybody and explain it. I got scared… So my mother started calling the relatives and telling them, “My husband converted to Orthodoxy, so we will read the last rites according to the Orthodox ritual. It is up to you, if you want to come.” All our relatives came. The priest was performing the funeral service… My father lay there… He looked so handsome in the coffin… there was almost a light shining around him. Our Jewish relatives stood around… There was the Crucifix… And my father. We, church-going Orthodox people, also stood around. We felt that everybody was staring at us. When the priest started reading the Gospel, “Jesus said into the Jews”, everybody startled – “How? What? What was said to the Jews? (laughs)
So, we buried my father and put up a cross on his grave. Then we went to Father Daniil Sysoyev’s grave to say our thanks. We paid for a brick that would be used for construction of a church and ordered a prayer for the peace of the soul of my father, God’s servant Vladimir. There was another surprising consequence of all this. The father of our Jewish acquaintances got very sick… The doctors could not diagnose him. He was practically unconscious. Once he came to and said,
“Vladimir was baptized, so I should be too.”
Even though my father died after the baptism. So that man said, “I have to be baptized.” He received the Sacrament of Baptism and the service of the Holy Unction was performed a few days after. He received Holy Communion. And… he got better. Now he is even strong enough to go to forest and pick mushrooms. This was how God showed His mercy to our family that was headed toward everlasting death. We were so far away from Christ and never even stopped to think about such things. We just lived our lives, but God showed us the way to Himself and saved us. I am very grateful to Him. I cherish these miracles in my heart, and in moments of doubt, I remember what God did. I was desperate about the situation with my father, because I knew that there was nothing I could do. That was when God interceded.
Father George: You prayed, of course. I think that because of your prayers and your determination God let you know what to do and what to say. You know, I wanted to add something here. It happens quite rarely, but it does happen. Imagine a situation when a non-Christian close friend of an religious person is dying… I know that once an Orthodox person’s friend was terminally wounded. He was still alive, but it was obvious that he was going to die, and the Orthodox man kept thinking, “I should offer baptism to him, and if he agrees, baptize him right then, and there.” A layperson can perform the Baptism in cases of mortal danger. That person was too hesitant to offer it and his friend died without baptism. One should try to help people find the Truth and make a choice. If there is mortal danger and someone wishes to be baptized, but the priest cannot be there, any layperson can perform the Baptism by simply pouring water over the person three times and saying, “The servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
It is good that you didn’t hesitate to bring this matter up and your story shows how good the consequences of that were.
Margarita Kaplun: Yes. God let me know about Father Daniil Sysoyev at the right time. Father Daniil really loved people and wished that all of them would be saved. He made me feel that when you love somebody and want that person to be saved… You tell this to him or her not for the sake of argument, but so that this person could be saved. Because you understand what will happen if he is not baptized. Father Daniil Sysoyev really helped me with this and gave me the strength to do it.
Father George: Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said in the Gospel according to John,Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.(John, 3:5). This is the Truth that all Holy Fathers and the Scripture refer to. Of course, Father Daniil didn’t come up with this idea on his own. He simply reminded us of what was written in the Holy Scripture and what the Holy Fathers taught.
Margarita Kaplun: Yes. But you know… I want to share this sad observation with you: Jews often do not know their faith and do not read the Old Testament. They simply go to synagogue and that is it. That is why it is very difficult to talk to them. They don’t know such prophets as Ezekiel, Isaias or Malachi.
Father George: I know a person who was teaching in a Jewish College, although he wasn’t a Jew. When he mentioned the prophets of the Old Testament during his lecture, his students were very surprised.
“What, there is something else other than Torah? There were some prophets?”
Even the students of a religious establishment, although they knew Torah, had a very vague idea of what was there other than the Moses’s Pentateuch.
Margarita Kaplun: That is why it is very difficult to preach among the Jewish people—because they don’t know their Scripture. They even turn to Buddhism or astrology, not knowing that this is forbidden to them. Turning to sorcerers and psychics is dangerous. Of course, if people knew…
Father George: How did your other acquaintances take your conversion? People who convert to Christianity often change their social circles, even if there are no dramatic breakups. How was it in your case?
Margarita Kaplun: You know, living with God is good, because God does not leave you. God gave me an Orthodox friend. With her, we go along with our lives and God always gives us things to do. First, He took us to an orphanage, where we preached Christ. Then He took us to Kislorod, a charity foundation for children with cystic fibrosis… So, God gave me a friend to carry on with my life. Of course, I still have my old acquaintances, but our communication is basically limited to “How are you?” and How are things?” I mostly communicate with my friend. My mother was catechized and started praying. She reads the widow’s prayer every day, praying for my father. What we have is the result of my father’s actions. He made the decision and mother was catechized with him, so now she attends the church services regularly. That is how God leads us. Recently He led us to the Orthodox Missionary School, where we met like-minded students. In other words, God does not leave you.
Father George: How did you learn about this school?
Margarita Kaplun: We watched your program and saw the School’s phone number in the credits. So we called and talked to them. After passing the interview, we were registered in the school. We like going there very much, as the classes are very interesting. When I was preparing to talk to my father, I studied the exegesis of the Gospel according to Matthew… In the school, everything is studied in greater detail and it is easier to understand. Before that, my actions were purely emotional, but now everything is brought into focus.
Father George: What can you say to the Jewish people who are standing on the crossroads, thinking about Christ and Christianity, not sure whether they should convert or not? Maybe they worry about how others would receive that step… Based on your experience, what can you recommend?
Margarita Kaplun: They should ask themselves “What would God say?” rather than, “What would people say?” The Old Testament is a lock and the Gospel is the key that opens it. Unless you read the Gospel, you can’t understand the Old Testament. Because the prophets speak of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If you read Chapter 53 of the Book of Isaias attentively, you can see that he writes about crucifixion… The Book of Psalms also has a many prophecies about the coming of Our Lord. The entire Old Testament was preparing the Jewish people for accepting Our Lord Jesus Christ. Studying the Scripture is very interesting. Read and study it and don’t worry about what people say. Nothing matters more than what God says, because in the end we all will die and stand before Him. We will be answering for ourselves only and for the choice that we made… We make that choice here on Earth. Over there we won’t be able to correct anything.
Father George: The Gospel, of course, is open to all people. So a person from a Jewish family who accepts Jesus Christ is not betraying his or her people, but rather becomes a part of the history that started in Abraham’s time. Remember the promise that was made to him,
“And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis, 22:18).
What else could “the seed in which all nations were blessed” be, but Jesus Christ? Of course, Apostle Paul was greatly concerned that a large part of the Jewish people did not accept Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, in those times, there were Jewish people who sincerely accepted Orthodoxy and there are people like that now too.
Father Daniil once told me that when he was in the Middle East he met a Jewish family whose members had been confessing Orthodoxy for over a thousand years. They have records on their ancestry dating back to the eighth century and even at that time they were Orthodox. People who come to Jesus Christ as you did do not lose contact with their roots but rather find their roots. It has nothing to do with being Jewish, but the thing is that every person is rooted in God, for He created us so we would look for Him and find Him. The loving arms of Our Heavenly Father are open, and He is ready to accept everybody. In Christianity, people are accepted not as hirelings, but rather every person is lovingly accepted as a proverbial prodigal son, so that we regain the dignity that, knowing our sins, we couldn’t even have hoped for.
Margarita Kaplun: Yes. I find it noteworthy that when Jews were dying in the desert, God told Moses to set a staff and nail a brass serpent on it to form a cross, and said that everyone who would look upon it shall live. A lot of time has passed, and God dispersed Jews among the Orthodox people, but the cross is always before the eyes of Jews, for we have so many churches in Russia now, and in Israel also. Those who would look at the cross with faith would be saved. It is so interesting. Of course, Jews remain the chosen people, this doesn’t change…
Father George: However, after the Coming of Christ, chosen people of the Old Testament became the Church. This is what the New Testament says to the Christians, But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation… Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God (1 Peter, 2:9-10). These are not simply words. As St. Justin the Philosopher said to one Jew,
“What your people had in the Old Testament continued in us.”
The Church still has prophetic tradition. There are still clairvoyant elders, to whom God reveals his will as He did to the prophets of the past. There are clergy too. Those Jewish people who rejected Jesus Christ are missing out on these gifts, the gifts that are still available in the Church.
Margarita Kaplun: Yes, the better representatives of Jewish people became Christians. Reading the Acts of the Apostles, I was amazed that when Apostle Peter preached Christ, people asked him what they should do. These were the people who cried “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” because the Pharisees told them to. Now after realizing what they had done they asked what they should do. And Apostle Peter said,
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts, 2:38).
Father George: Yes. Three thousand people were baptized on that day. That was how the Church was born.
Margarita Kaplun: So you need to make an effort. To think. To overcome vanity and pride that prevent you from understanding history. I once told my father,
“Dad, just think about it—what if Jesus Christ is Lord? You just let that thought into your mind and see what happens. Read, think about it. What if it is so? Give this thought a chance.”
Thoughts come to our minds and we check them. Check this one out too. Sometimes you must be inquisitive. Especially when it comes to faith and salvation. We still feel that our life is not over when we die and that something happens with our souls thereafter. So why should we ruin our souls here? We need to get to the bottom of it and find the truth.
Father George: I hope to God that our viewers, especially those who are still on their way to the Church, would also let this thought into their minds and check it. Thank you very much for your story.