Here’s how it all happened. Once I was in Africa on a working trip with my good friend and colleague, hieromonk Stefan. We were in the land of Cush, in Ethiopia, at the very heart of the continent. One day we came to the city of Gondar. (Sometimes it’s even called Gonder, but it’s not Tolkien's Gondor from “Lord of the Rings” - it’s an ancient Ethiopian city whose history is magnificent and glorious).
Of course, we weren’t there for the fancy streets of the business district. We wandered through the outskirts of Gondar, with two armed guards by our side - protection against any occasional trouble, which is quite common in those parts. And there was trouble even then, a few years ago. Gonder is close to the border of Sudan, so constant provocations, conflicts and other troubles are to be found aplenty. Nowadays, there is a real civil war going on there, Christian churches are being set on fire, Christians are being killed and mutilated by the hundreds: they have their hands cut off for making the cross sign. Thousands of people are being driven out of their homes. It was when the first signs of trouble emerged, that we actually decided to go there - we wanted to see the situation first-hand.
We visited a little church at the edge of a village. The locals were very glad to see us, they gave us a tour of the temple, told us where everything was and what it was for, chatting incessantly. The main priest, abuna, asked Father Stefan to come into the altar with him. “Sorry, you can’t come with us - he told me, - “Only the priests can come into the altar”. It seemed a little strange to me, because I have been in a lot of orthodox churches before, and inside the altars too - that never was a problem. But I decided not to argue. I thought I’d just look around and take some pictures instead. So, I went around the church, and saw a strange door. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. “If there is a door,“ - I thought - “Then someone must come through it, or why would there be a door at all?” So through the door I went. Having already entered, I heard someone talking quietly, and when he saw me, he stopped talking. When my eyes got used to the darkness, I saw two Ethiopian priests and Father Stefan standing in front of me. They were looking at me and smiling. I ended up in the altar!
The situation was ridiculous. I could hardly look at them and mumbled some excuse - what must they think of me, maybe they will think all Russians are rude inconsiderate bumpkins. And then abuna says, "velkom", so that's what God wants. Well, we had a great time together, but soon it started getting dark and we decided it was time to leave. Father Stefan and I went outside and said: that's it, brothers, thank you, but it's time for us to go. Soon it will be pitch-dark and we will not be able to get through the beautiful Ethiopia without adventures. And then Abuna said, "Wait, wait! We will give you an icon of our saint, he will save you from all troubles!", and ran back to the church for the icon.
Needless to say, by that time we had already seen some Ethiopian icons. They have this traditional style, very recognizable, a little naive to the untrained eye, but very vivid and expressive. So, we stood there wondering, perhaps our new friends were going to give us an icon of some Ethiopian saint that we’ve never heard about, and how interesting that would be.
A minute later, abuna returned with the icon and passed it to us very carefully. We looked at it and - hey, presto! It was Saint Seraphim of Sarov - one of the most renowned saints in Russia, the greatest of XVIII century elders. So much for an “Ethiopian saint”!
- Wow, - I said to them, - This is our very saint! Venerable Seraphim!
- No! - abuna argued, - Don't tell me! This is our Seraphim!
Well, what could I say? I had to agree that this saint was all theirs.
Why did I remember this story? To the fact that today the Church is celebrating the memory of St. Seraphim of Sarov. The very saint, always greeting his guests with a prostration, a kiss, and exclaiming "Christ is risen!", and calling everyone "My joy". Turned out that almost two centuries later he himself became a joy and consolation for all people. In Russia and even in Africa.
And, of course, I took a picture of our whole company with the image of "their" saint.