(ACN) - Currently, there are about 100 young men preparing for ordination at the Orthodox seminary in Smolensk. This city which, according to the earliest documentary evidence, dates back to the year 863, is situated in the west of Russia, close to the frontier with Belarus. Ever since the early 1990s ACN has been supporting the seminary, which was reopened in 1988. Before the communist October 1917 revolution, Orthodox priests had been trained here for over 200 years. However, when the building was finally returned after the collapse of communism, it was in an utterly derelict and desolate condition. In re-establishing the seminary, they had to start again almost from scratch. ACN helped for the furnishing and equipping of the seminary, and we continue to help to this day for the training of its future priests. One of the fruits of this aid is that the seminary maintains close contacts with the Catholic parish in the city.
The young men preparing for ordination in the seminary of Smolensk today were all born during the difficult era immediately after the collapse of communism. Not a few of them had to find their own way to God, since their own parents and grandparents had already grown up in an atheist system. What they all share in common is the fact that, one day during their lives, they reached a point when they realised that God was calling them.
One of these men is 27-year-old Filaret. He comes from a family in which nobody was a believer. Despite this, he was baptised at the age of four. Speaking of his childhood, he says: "I was healthy, very strong, played sport, and it seemed as though there were no obstacles in my life that I could not overcome." But when he reached the age of 14 he became ill. For a long time the doctors could not reach any kind of diagnosis, but it turned out that he was suffering from a form of polyarthritis which affected first of all the spinal column and then the joints. "I couldn’t come to terms with this; I tried to fight my illness and intensified my training. But then, for the first time, I really understood what it means to be helpless", he recalls. The experience changed him. "When I think of myself and of my friends, I realise that we all had our dreams and our own ideas of happiness, but we were seeking happiness where it cannot actually be found. No wonder that it was precisely then that I began to think about God, the meaning of life and the origin of the world. This search led me to discover the Gospel, and my whole value system changed completely. What had happened to me was something quite inexplicable. I sat at home and read the Bible endlessly. It became the purpose and the guide of my life." The sickness grew worse. By the age of 19 the young man could scarcely walk. "The Gospel was my only consolation. It was precisely during this time that I prayed as never before, but I didn’t go to church. At the time I wanted to become a doctor, so that I could help people. Then one day I heard about the Orthodox monks and I realised that they were living in the way that I too would like to live. I got to know Father Ermogen, a priest and monk who was the leader of a monastic community. First of all I went to Confession and received Communion, then in 2010 I was received into the monastery. Soon after this I came to understand that I really can serve God and help people by becoming a priest." So it was that in 2011 he entered the seminary in Smolensk. For Filaret the whole thing is a "huge act of divine Providence". He adds, "The way of life, the teaching and the academic staff are an immeasurable source of profit to me, and they are forming me as a person and also as a future priest."
In order to equip these future priests with a truly broad horizon, the seminarians are all encouraged, during their training, to acquaint themselves with the works of Western theology too. For this reason the Rector wishes to supplement the seminary library, for example with the works of Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI and other noted Catholic theologians. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need will be supporting this project with a grant of $7,000.