Elena Yusfi
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Non-random meetings
Elena Yusfi

Sometimes in life there are such meetings, which are then remembered with special joy and gratitude. And you think - why was I given such happiness, acquaintance with such a person ... For what, and most importantly - for what? Probably all these "casual" acquaintances the Lord sends us to teach and realize that it is possible and necessary to always and in everything rely on His will; do not grumble, do not fall into pride or despondency, but simply conscientiously fulfill the mission that is entrusted to you. Such was my meeting with Father Priest Andrey (Ivaschenko), a Russian "Thai" priest. Thanks to my acquaintance with Father Andrey, Thailand no longer seems completely alien to me. The soul is filled with warmth at the thought that the Divine Liturgy has been celebrated in the Church Slavonic language for over 20 years in this distant country.

Thailand is annually visited by a large number of Russians, both as tourists and who came to permanent residence. Based on their numerous appeals to the Moscow Patriarchate, it was decided to open a Russian Orthodox church in Bangkok. The temple in the name of St. Nicholas was consecrated in December 1999. To date, 9 Orthodox churches have been opened in Thailand, belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church. In one of them, St. Vladimir's Church in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, Father Andrey (Ivaschenko) serves. Father is from the Ukrainian city of Krivoy Rog. As Father Andrei said, his mother instilled love for God and worship in him, and from early childhood she always took him to church with her. After graduating from high school, it was decided to enter the seminary. Of course, there was a sense of excitement from the realization of the responsibility associated with the priestly ministry. But, at the same time, there was an inner feeling of the correctness of this decision. Many times circumstances developed in such a way that there was no need to doubt - everything that happens is done according to the will of the Lord. Indeed, sometimes Divine Providence is so clearly manifested in human destinies, when, in absolutely incredible circumstances, everything suddenly turns "brick by brick". And in a completely new way the gospel words “your hairs on your head are numbered” (Matt. 10:30). It is with this - the awareness of the constant presence of God - that the whole story of Father Andrey about his life path was imbued.

  Fr Andrei came to Thailand for the first time in 2014, while still a seminarian, as part of the choir of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. The choir was invited to Thailand by Metropolitan Mark (Golovkov) to consecrate newly built Orthodox churches in this distant country. During this trip, Archimandrite Oleg (Cherepanin), head of the ROC mission in Thailand, invited those wishing to come to the Mission after graduating from the seminary. After all, Orthodoxy in Thailand was taking its first steps, there was a lot of work to be done and young, energetic priests were needed. And again, despite the difficulty of making such a decision, there was an inner feeling of the correctness of this choice - to go to serve in a distant and mysterious Thailand! Of course, upon arrival, it became clear that many difficulties lay ahead. At first, Father Andrei carried out obedience at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Bangkok. It was there that the fateful meeting with the future mother Maria took place. The young Thai girl was very interested in the unusual beautiful temple, and she went there to examine everything carefully. And Father Andrey was very impressed with what interest Pratumthip (that was the girl's name) examines the icons and frescoes. The girl asked a young Russian priest - who is depicted on the icons? Fr Andrei began to speak in good English about all the icons in the temple, and it was evident that his story made a great impression on the beautiful Thai girl. This is how the acquaintance with the future mother Maria happened. It was with this name that Pratumthip received holy baptism two months after this meeting. And two months later, in the same church, the wedding of Father Andrei and Maria, who became the first in the world and so far the only Thai Orthodox mother, took place. In his choice of a life partner, Father Andrei again fully relied on the Will of God.

A little later, I managed to talk to Father Andrey's mother. Inna Nikolaevna said that, indeed, at first it was difficult for them to imagine that their son would marry a Thai girl. But in personal communication, they were simply subdued by the sincerity, tenderness and kindness of his chosen one.

    I listened to the story of Father Andrei about the difficult mission of a priest in a completely alien, distant country, whose citizens are completely far not only from Orthodoxy, but also from Christianity in general. I had an association with priests who came to raise abandoned churches in remote Russian villages, where often at first they did not meet a single sympathetic person. Local residents, mired in the routine of a difficult rural life, were completely indifferent to the temple and sincerely did not understand why it was necessary at all. And only the selfless labor and tireless prayer of the priest eventually helped to melt the ice in the souls of these people and planted in them the blessed seeds of faith. But in Russian villages, the awakening of faith was also helped by the memory of Orthodox ancestors. And what can the priest rely on in a distant foreign country, the overwhelming population of which are Buddhists? What fortitude you need to possess in order not to break down, to continue to believe and work in the name of this faith ... Of course, nothing would have been possible without the help of the Lord. After all, it can only be explained by the Lord's Miracle that in remote Thai cities, where there are very few Russians, the problem with the singers was always somehow solved by itself. Absolutely incredible, but in the very first city where Andrei's father was sent to serve, the small resort town of Hua Hin, there lived a professional Russian singer! And since then, the Lord has always arranged so that wherever the young priest, Father Andrey served, there will always be a person who could help in conducting the service! And now Mother Maria has mastered church singing a little and can help at services. And now a graduate of the St. Petersburg Seminary, a Laotian, Konstantin, is serving in the church. Truly, the ways of the Lord are inscrutable! A Lao Buddhist who converted to the Orthodox faith, graduated from seminary in Russia, helps a Russian priest serving in Thailand during the Divine Liturgy ... Father Andrei says that he often has to serve in an empty church, but on such days the most important despair, because sometimes there are events that clearly show that if there was no Russian church here, the irreparable could have happened ... For example, a few months ago a Russian woman came to the church to Father Andrey, who was in a completely depressed state. She decided to commit suicide. The circumstances that led her to such a desperate step are hidden in a secret confession. But Father Andrey managed, with God's help, to find words that could lead this woman away from the brink of the abyss. After a while, she again came to the temple completely transformed. And there are many such cases. Sometimes one has to deal with rejection of the Orthodox faith by the local population. Thais are generally friendly. But it also happens that someone is annoyed by the very presence of an Orthodox church. Sometimes you have to face real aggression. About three months ago, a man armed with a large knife burst into the church during the Divine Liturgy, and began to threaten everyone present, while for some reason he shouted that he was a descendant of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Father Andrei, who already speaks Thai quite well, entered into negotiations with the attacker and was able to distract his attention a little, giving Mother Maria the opportunity to take her little daughter and other parishioners to a safe distance. Father Andrei tried to calmly talk with this man, who was clearly in an inadequate state, and was able to stretch out the time until the police arrived. Later it turned out that this person is in deep depression and needs treatment. The composure of Father Andrey made a great impression on the parishioners.

     By the way, the parish is gradually being formed. Of course, it mainly consists of short-term tourists. But there are also regular parishioners. For example, Daniel, an Orthodox American who moved to live in Chiang Mai. He helps Father Andrey as an altar boy. There are several Russians living permanently in Chiang Mai. Recently, a graduate of a religious school opened on the island of Phuket by the Russian Orthodox Mission, Father Pavel, was sent to the temple. He is a Thai who graduated from a Catholic school in Chiang Mai and converted to Orthodoxy. Recently, a joyful event took place in the parish - the wedding of a Russian parishioner of the church and a school friend of Father Pavel, a young Thai aviation engineer Kevin. A year before the wedding, Kevin converted to Orthodoxy. The sacrament of baptism was performed in the same church by Father Andrey. And at the wedding, he blessed the young and gave them the image of the Most Holy Theotokos Hodegetria.

     After the conversation with Father Andrei, an unusually bright and joyful feeling remained in my soul. They say that God speaks to us through certain people. Through father Andrey and others