We met the family of a member of the Convent's clergy, Father Sergius Khrapitsky, during the recent Orthodox festival of "Joy of the Protection of the Mother of God". Father Sergius and Matushka Anna have four sons and six daughters. Some of them shared their talent by making appearances on the festival's musical stage. In our interview, we focused on Fr. Sergius’ and Matushka Anna’s roles as parents in a large family and asked them questions about different aspects of their lives.
Fr. Sergius: To me, getting up early is a very relative notion. Sometimes, a priest has to stay up all night to pray. I got up at four in the morning today, and tomorrow morning, I may get up at six.
Matushka Anna: There is a division of duties between us: Batushka [Fr. Sergius] has to rise very early to celebrate the service while I may sleep later and get more things done during the day.
Fr. Sergius: Our first encounter that I remember, but Anna does not, was as singers of the Folk Choir of the Belarusian State University. I obtained my first degree from a secular university. At that time, I was a student at the Faculty of Radiophysics and Electronics, and Anna was studying at the same university in the Faculty of Philology. I had been singing in the choir since my first year at university, and Matushka joined later. She caught my eye because she was so lively and funny. She has remained very much like that to this day. Later, we also met at the University's spa resort. That's when we got the chance to get to know each other better. That was back in the 1980s during Perestroika.
Matushka Anna: But our first meeting did not amount to very much. We parted for several years after it. We needed these years to grow up and to deal with the changes that had taken place in our lives, but we never stopped being friends. We continued to call one another and exchange greetings on our birthdays and important dates. It was not until this later time that we met for real, and this was under the dome of the Cathedral Church, which was always open. This was indeed our meeting of a lifetime, one that changed our lives.
Fr. Sergius: It is simply not possible to balance the two. To hope that you can ever do it and manage all the things on your plate is wishful thinking. There will always be areas where we will fall behind and not keep to the timeline. Pleasing everyone is always a tough call. So, the first duty of a priest is to please God without neglecting one’s family.
God has brought me to view my family as my flock. I have a responsibility both for the larger flock and for the domestic one. With my Matushka's help, I am trying to be a good shepherd for my domestic flock. This used to involve doing a lot of housework. We were then living at a parish in Turov and had running water only at night. Sometimes, I had to get up at night, read the prayer rule (the services were frequent), and then wash the diapers, as an addition to the rule. Today, things are a lot easier. We have a lot more helpers, but I still have a lot of things to do.
Fr. Sergius: A baby is born with an inner prayer, even when it has not been baptised. This can be accepted as an established fact. The thoughts going through one's mind as a little child are similar to those in the mind of an Orthodox monk during prayer.
My coming to God was possible through the prayer of my grandparents. Although our parents were baptised, they did not practise their faith openly for various reasons. At home, we would celebrate Christmas and Easter but never go to church. The first time I went to church was during my school years.
Coming to God is one of God's mysteries.
When the practice of the Faith became popular, which happened after the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the baptism of the Kievan Rus, numerous churches began to open, including in Minsk. Neither of us was baptised at that time. God led me to be baptised and later to the altar as a priest. I had never planned to become a priest.
Matushka Anna: We have not brought all of our crowd here (smiles). Most of us are busy at home or at work; some are travelling. We have only brought artists and performers. They really add colour and spice to our modest lives and bring a lot to us by doing so.
Our eldest, Dmitri, has a degree in Chinese studies from the Faculty of Philology of Belarusian State University. He has put a lot of effort into the study of Oriental languages and is now in the process of choosing his future career and life path.
Our daughter Anastasiya has won several international performing contests and has been awarded a special stipend from the President of Belarus. Today, she is a senior instructor at the Academy of Music and a trainee at the National Opera. Six months ago, she sang the primary aria in the opera "Don Pasquale" by Donizetti. She is married, and our grandchild Angelina is the darling of our family. She is almost 3.5 years old.
Our son Adrian is doing his masters in exposition design at the Academy of Arts. He designed the Christmas tree outside Minsk's Palace of Sports, which was recognised last year as one of Europe's best. He is working and helps with the family, and he is also on his way to starting a family of his own.
Our daughter Cyrilla was named after a saint, Abbot Cyril of Turov. We spent ten years of our lives in Turov. Cyrilla is working but wants to become a student.
Our son Daniel is studying at the Belarusian Agricultural Technical University. He is very generous, kind and funny. He helps us look after our youngest children and is now at home looking after our small ones.
You have already met our son Seraphim; you saw him perform onstage on his tuba. He is very capable and has a good ear for music. He is in his final year at music school and is in Grade 10 of an English language gymnasium.
Our daughter Kseniya is a student at the Gymnasium College of Arts and is an aspiring art designer. She also goes to music school. She is very busy. She wants to become a professional artist, to sing, to dance and to play music. She can sew, knit, decorate and cook. She can do a lot of things. She looks after our small ones and will make breakfast and even dinner for the whole family when mom is not around. She is great!
Our daughter Liuba studies at the Republican Musical College. It trains its students to become professional musicians. So, she has to be very organised and dedicate a lot of her time and effort to music, but she also needs the time and space to enjoy being a child and relax. We are lucky that she is so gifted. She is also very gentle and caring. She is our darling, and we wish for her to fulfil her dream and become a professional musician.
Our nine-year-old, Masha, is also fond of music. She plays the flute.
We felt that our family was somewhat incomplete without a tenth child, and we decided to adopt a little boy from an orphanage. That has always been my lifelong dream. His name is Ilya, and he brought into our family a new perspective and a new way to see the world. Ilya is six, and he will go to school next year.
Slowly but surely, we are on our way to fulfilling our shared dream - to build our own house. We have been building it together for ten years; we hope to complete it soon so we can all have a home where we can gather as a family.
Fr. Sergius: These are very well known and were put forth a long time ago by the Evangelists. As Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). How does one lay down one's life for one’s friends? We do not know... But we come to the wider Church for the grace that it takes to build our relationships in our smaller church, the family. This is indeed a difficult task. The world today is living by some very different rules. It is not possible to avoid coming into contact with it, either for ourselves or for our children. It is thus very difficult to bring everyone on board, and we are not always successful in doing so. However, I never stop calling on people to consult the scriptures and model their relationships with their spouses, children and the rest of the world on their teachings.
Rather than forcing this model on others, we should be learning to transform the world around us little by little and work on or own personalities and our own relationships.
To say that we know it all, or have learned to do it all, would be a self-deception, and it would not be true either to view ourselves or our children as perfect. A faithful believer should know how to have doubt and ask questions. In his praise for Nathanael, Jesus said: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”(John 1:47). Nathanael had doubted that Christ was indeed the Son of God, and Jesus praised him for his nonconformity.
In music, too, healthy criticism can be very helpful. If a musician hears nothing but praise, he will eventually lose his skill. It is also like that in the family. If all we hear from one another is praise, we will end up in a state of self-delusion and miss our chance for eternal life. We as children and spouses are there to help each other learn to live a life of truth and to love. This is indeed the ultimate goal of a Christian's life.
The wife of one of our clergy, Fr. Sergius Nezhbort shares a moving and exciting story of her family’s decision to adopt two little boys from an orphanage and of overcoming the difficulties in building a loving relationship with them. In the…