From a purely secular perspective, I have been more fortunate than most others in my position. I grew up in a family of nonbelievers. But when I turned ten, I began to spend a lot of time with my grandmother, a Roman Catholic. She never taught me how to pray. She just prayed. Every morning and evening, she would read a simple prayer rule. She prayed so simply and sincerely that no one would even think of preaching atheism to her. My grandmother never doubted the existence of God or her belief in Him. To have a debate with her on any of these questions would have been odd and out of place.
The Lord cares about His sheep, and He will always send His messenger to everyone to let them know of His existence. One day, my grandmother took me to church. I had the feeling of extraordinary lightness and calm as I stood there. When I came from the church that day, I fell fast asleep. I continued to go to the Catholic church from time to time. At some point, I had a strong calling to take communion. I needed it more than I needed to breathe. I felt that it alone could save me.
For my communion, however, I went to an Orthodox church. An old acquaintance of mine, an Orthodox believer, suggested that I convert to Orthodoxy and take Chrismation. I did not understand why I should do that until I went to the liturgy of the Nativity of Christ. After the service, I spoke to the celebrant priest and finally made up my mind about converting. At my Chrismation, the priest said to me: "The Lord gave you a lease of His grace. You will have to work hard to keep it."
He was right. Immediately after my conversion, I was basking in His grace, I revelled in it. I enjoyed going to church and I never wanted to leave it. I was reading a lot of spiritual books and took communion often. But my first temptations did not take very long to arrive. Perhaps to teach me some humility, the Lord let me become explore other faiths and spiritual movements. All of a sudden, Orthodoxy felt bland, uninteresting and straightforward to me. I noticed that the people at my church were far from being saints. Elsewhere, however, people did not smoke or drink and engaged in meditation. How could I make sense of that? I began to look at the other religious teachings and traditions. I learned palmistry. I started healing people with my hands, seemingly for their good. But that kept me from going to church.
After several years of that kind of life, the Lord finally had mercy on me. He brought me to the community of the Lay Sisters of Charity. He let me rediscover the depth and beauty of the Orthodox faith by being among them. I came to know what living with God meant, and how the blessing of one's spiritual father and the pursuit of the Lord's ministry could make a difference. Here, among the lay and monastic sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent, I experienced the genuine love that I saw in my grandmother as a child. I began to make sense of my life again. The key to living in the spirit is not meditation, but humility and repentance. I am thankful to God for His loving and patient guidance and for not letting me lose His grace.
Glory to You, O Lord, glory to You!
Sister Tamara Saprunova
Galina Goncharova is a sister of charity at our Convent. She is also an inspired teacher of music and the leader of a musical group. In our interview, we discuss how her coming to God changed her life and gave it a new meaning.