And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek… (Is. 11:10).
In the province of Sichuan in southwest China there is the city of Chengdu. The locals, who number sixteen million, adore spicy food. Their favorite dish is hogo (Chinese hot pot). For the Chinese it is a true culinary delight, though it looks rather strange: a dozen fiery red hot peppers floating in bubbling boiling water, mixed with garlic, herbs, spices, pork brains, and seafood. There are many Buddhists, Taoists, Confucians, rather many Protestants, Roman Catholics and seemingly no Orthodox in Chengdu. I learned all of this from a Chinese man who comes from this city. He recently embraced Orthodoxy and now he strives to live in Christ…
His path towards Orthodoxy ran through his love for Russia. Many years ago, when Maxim (he was baptized with this name) was at school in a lesson their teacher told them about “the big neighbor”—that is, Russia. Maxim remembered that Russia covers an enormous area and has a strong army. From then on hero of our story began to study the history of our country independently, and when he came to the history of the Great Patriotic War (1941—1945), he realized that his love for Russia was forever.
Maxim told me that he dreamed of becoming a pilot of the multi-role super-maneuverable SU-35 fighter. For this reason he came to love the sky, learned to be a pilot, but was always sorry that this aircraft was not adopted by China.
Although he had decided to link his destiny with Russia long ago, he only began to learn Russian a few years ago. He did it by himself and was amazingly successful. Within a year of beginning to study the language he could already type messages in Russian and a year later he could express his thoughts and understand when people spoke.
And Maxim had an extraordinary dream in that period of his life…
“This dream was imprinted on my memory; I felt from the bottom of my soul and heart that it was a calling. I saw myself inside a Russian church and heard a voice telling me: ‘Get baptized in Russia!’ I knew for certain that it was the Lord, though I only heard His voice and didn’t see Him,” he recounted. After that the same dream was repeated several times.
Preparation for Baptism
I first met him at a club where Russian students of the Chinese language and Chinese students of Russian communicate. He learned that I belong to the Orthodox Church and soon revealed to me that he wished to get baptized into Orthodoxy. His confession made me very glad, and I was even happier when Maxim asked me to help him in the preparation for Baptism.
He took it upon himself to cover all expenses, including airfare, accommodation, and food. By the grace of God we discovered that there is the Chinese Metochion of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra in Golutvino near Moscow. We came to Fr. Alexei Yusupov, who knows Chinese well and could speak with Maxim in person about Orthodoxy, about his faith and the way he believes in God. Fr. Alexei spoke with the catechumen for a long time, asking him questions on the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ for the expiation of all people’s sins, the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, the essence of Holy Communion, Confession, Baptism, and so on. After the talk Fr. Alexei said that Maxim was well prepared, that he knew much about God and the Church and admitted him to Baptism.
Before Maxim’s Baptism we attended the evening service. On that day it was celebrated partly in Chinese (the litanies were sung in Chinese, and the Gospel was read in both Church Slavonic and Chinese). I worried that Maxim might find it tiresome to stand through the service because he was not used to it, that he would understand nothing and have doubts about the correctness of his chosen path. During the service I asked him quietly: “How do you feel?” He replied: “I feel peace in my heart.” Then I stopped worrying and realized that everything would be well.
After the evening service Fr. Alexei kindly invited us for a meal. Although all the parishioners were speaking Russian, Maxim felt comfortable and took all the food he was offered. After that Maxim said that he didn’t feel shy at all, felt good, felt peace at heart, and enjoyed the meal.
Baptism and the first Communion
I was jubilant; observing the newly-converted man as an outsider, I was thrilled at the fact that the salvation of a soul was being accomplished before my very eyes. The service was celebrated according to the Typicon, and Maxim was given its Chinese translation so he could follow the service and listen to the priest’s prayers attentively. The huge baptismal font was filled with the water which turned out to be very cold! The fact is that the day, before the hot water had been shut off due to a problem. Fr. Alexei warned Maxim that the water was cold, and I saw that he was confused. But an instant passed, and the triple immersion was conducted by the pastor’s careful hand. The angels rejoiced! A new man was born who made a covenant with God!
After Baptism, Fr. Alexei had his picture taken with Maxim and presented him with several icons in the Chinese style of painting, along with a copy of the Gospel and prayer-book in Chinese. He wholeheartedly congratulated him on getting baptized and joining the true Church, exhorting him to fulfil all his baptismal vows.
On the way to the hotel I asked Maxim how he was feeling as a newly converted Christian, but he was unable to express the feelings that were overwhelming him. He also said that he had been afraid of cold water since childhood, and he was scared to get immersed in the water in the font. But as soon as he had put his right foot in, the water seemed very warm!
We devoted the next week to city tours, and then it was time for Maxim to start preparing for his first Communion. He did it properly: he read the morning and evening prayers, canons, the Gospel, attended the Vigil, read the whole prayer rule before Communion early in the morning, and we went to the Liturgy.
Before the service the good-natured Fr. Alexei heard Maxim’s confession. The latter spoke at length, and the position of his body (the bent shoulders, lowered head and hands clenched into fists timorously) suggested to me that his repentance was very sincere. The service began right after the absolution, and we occupied our place.
When the priest was reading the intercession lists with the names of the living and the departed aloud, two Chinese ladies entered the church: an older and a younger one. They had come there intentionally but got confused and had no idea where to stand and what to do. They decided to stand near us. Both ladies watched the parishioners very closely and tried to repeat their movements, namely to make bows and the sign of the cross. However, they were unable to cross themselves properly as they didn’t know what their finger position should be. Seeing this, Maxim bent forward to the newcomers quietly and without a single word showed them how to fold the fingers and make the sign of the cross. After receiving the desired help, the ladies were already crossing themselves and making bows confidently a minute later. Frankly speaking, I was dumbfounded by Maxim’s behavior. How was he, a newly-baptized convert, wise enough to gently show these young Chinese women how to cross themselves, without a single word, reproach, discontent or judgment?
There were only around ten communicants at church on that day. I spotted an adult Chinese man in the crowd who looked about fifty. A Russian woman was next to him—perhaps she was his wife. It was clear that he had been a churchgoer for many years, that he knew the services well and was not taking Communion for the first time. Looking at him, I didn’t feel that we were different, that we were of different nationalities. On the contrary, it seemed as if that perfect stranger were one of my relatives or friends. In truth, we are all one in Christ…
Life after Baptism
Maxim took Communion to the ineffable joy of both of us! I cannot stop thanking God for vouchsafing me to witness all these saving events! As it was after his Baptism, Maxim couldn’t express the feelings he had when he took Communion. He said that his soul had a new feeling, but it was impossible for him to express it in words.
Unfortunately, our stay in Moscow was nearing its end. It was time for me to return to my native town and for Maxim to travel back to China. Before parting we talked at length about the life in Christ, how important it is to comprehend your faith ever deeper, and how to struggle with sins. I worried for him very much. How would he live in China where you can count the number of Orthodox churches on the fingers of one hand? The nearest Orthodox parish is in the neighboring province and very far from Chengdu. Knowing that Maxim is busy at work seven days a week and nearly twenty-four hours a day, I realized that he would not confess and take Communion often, to put it mildly. So I parted with him with these thoughts, wishing for him the protection of his guardian angel, to be strengthened in faith and helped by God in all his undertakings.
I got home and was overwhelmed by everyday chores, so communications with my friend and brother in Christ became irregular. But I thought of him quite often, remembered him in my prayers and included his name in the intercession lists at church. Yet the same thought kept pestering me: How is he there, amidst Buddhists and Taoists? How are his family and friends treating him, knowing that now he is an Orthodox Christian? And one day by the grace of God I heard from him. Maxim phoned me late at night right from China and said, “Anya [a diminutive form of the name Anna in Russian.—Trans.], I am sorry, I realize it is very late in Russia, but I need to ask you a very important question. Now I am standing in front of the entrance to a Buddhist temple, today is a great festival and everybody is going to take part in the rite [I didn’t understand what rite it was.—Auth.]. I am standing and hesitating: I don’t know if I can go inside the temple now that I am a Christian. Is it a sin? I have decided to ask you right now, while my friends are yet not here.”
I was dumbfounded. Knowing that calls from China to Russia are very expensive, I explained to him briefly that now he mustn’t enter Buddhist temples and participate in their ceremonies. Maxim was very happy that he had not committed a sin and that the Lord had suggested that he call me. He firmly decided not to go inside and wait for his companions outside.
Another event happened some while later. Once I sent Maxim a text asking him how he was doing and what his mood was. In his voice message in he said response:
“Anya, I am in a rush now because I must get to my parents’ house urgently. They have given my former bedroom to my grandmother, and my former baptismal robe is there in the wardrobe. If she finds it, she will surely throw it away! I must hurry up if I want to preserve this robe. I am going to hide it in my new apartment.”
How great and wonderful are Thy deeds, O Lord! Save and keep Thy servant Maxim, don’t abandon him, don’t allow his faith to ebb away, strengthen him and have mercy on Him!
Dear readers, I humbly ask you to remember Maxim in your prayers so our brother in Christ can keep his faith and not perish for the Heavenly Kingdom.