American Woman Becomes Orthodox Christian Nun and Moves to Russia - Mother Cornelia Rees (VIDEO, TRANSCRIPT)

More great content, memes, commenting and community not available on this site.

We are also on Facebook and Instagram which have been designated terrorist organizations by the Russian government.

Young Caroline never suspected that reading Dostoevsky novels would eventually lead to this . . .

Follow us! TelegramTwitterGab, and Reddit. More great content, memes, commenting and community not available on this site.

We are also on Facebook and Instagram which have been designated terrorist organizations by the Russian government.  ; - )

A young woman living in the American midwest, attending a Protestant church each Sunday with her parents and sisters, Caroline had no idea what Orthodox Christianity was, and she didn't know that one day she would become an Orthodox nun and have her name changed to Cornelia. She never suspected that her own father would eventually convert to Orthodoxy himself, getting baptized at the age of 93.

The following video interview follows Mother Cornelia Rees through the incredible journey of her life, as she left the Presbyterian church, investigated many different religions, and finally discovered Holy Orthodoxy. She tells of her adventures during many trips to and from Russia, as well as an entire year she spent as a monastic in Alaska, living in extremely difficult conditions. Find out how she conquered many challenges, and finally found herself living permanently in Russia, as a nun. Below the video, a full transcript is included.

Video translated thanks to Orthodox volunteers around the world. To help out, and for more info click here.


Spas TV presents

How I Became a Nun

Sretensky Stavropigial Men's Monastery (Moscow)


- Hi Mother!

So, how is everything going with the news?

- Actually right now there's too much going on. 

There's too much. It's hard to fit it all into five articles?

- Yeah, you know. Philaret says something, and then the church responds, and then the Patriarch responds to that, and it's all kinds of stuff going on.  

Dima, how is it going? Is everything fine? Is there no one else here except for you and Jesse?

- Well, only Fyodor came by. That's it. 

Did Dima leave a long time ago?

- No, just 10 minutes ago.

OK then, we'll go and look for him.


The office of the largest Orthodox web portal is located in one of the mansions on the site of Sretensky monastery. The English version of the website has become one of the most popular resources regarding the Orthodox faith around the globe. 

Its editor-in-chief is an American Orthodox nun, Cornelia Rees, whose life itself can serve as a visual sermon on Christianity and an illustration of the Gospel verse, "He who seeks finds." (Matthew 7:8)

Mother Cornelia Rees, a Protestant from Chicago, a slight smile and a slighter accent barely give her away as a guest from overseas. Her name there was Caroline. She grew up in Indiana in the family of a successful businessman and inventor.

- Were you brought up as a Christian?

Yes, I was. During my childhood, we went to the Presbyterian Church. But of course, it was always a bit uncomfortable to me.

- Why?

Well, because we had this preacher who was always yelling at everybody with such a stern face. We put on hats, special white gloves, and nice dresses with some kind of lace. We dressed up for the occasion. So we would be sitting there in our dresses and gloves, and this preacher would be yelling at us.

I especially remember one day when I started crying. This preacher simply scared me. Father elbowed me to stop. The more he did it, the more I cried. It all made quite a scene. After that at some point, we stopped going to that church.

-- There were many books in her parents' house, but only one writer - Fyodor Dostoevsky - touched her to the very core. Because of Caroline's love for him she even enrolled in the Slavic Department of the local university.

Later on, I desperately wanted to visit Russia, just to see what was going on there. My curiosity was torturing me. Why did it happen? When I had become sufficiently fluent in Russian, I immediately enrolled at a course at the Pushkin Leningrad State University.

- So you went there to...

To study there. It was during the Brezhnev era, so nobody talked about religion, but it was everywhere. You could feel it in the air. But atheism flourished at that time. The churches were closed. In Leningrad, the Kazan Cathedral was a museum. And we visited it as a museum. But the art and heritage spoke for themselves. I understood later why we have icons, why we have chanting. Because even if there is no one to preach, they preach themselves.

- Was it at that time that you got interested in Orthodoxy?

I was interested, but I didn't know what Orthodoxy was. For a Protestant, the iconostasis is quite unusual. The priest comes out and then he disappears behind it. Where did he go? And I realized that there is something much deeper to it than it seems at first. And... I could not get it out of my head, so to say, after this discovery.

-- But she still had a long way to go to become an Orthodox Christian, by trial and error.

- What else have you experienced while searching for true Christianity?

In the 70's and 80's, there were a lot of different New Age religions in America. Some ashrams were opening, and Buddhists everywhere, and yoga, and some Christian charismatic sects, and a lot of stuff out there. There just weren't any Orthodox churches, not at that time. 

So I had a friend. We agreed that she would explore certain religions and I would try others. And then we would kind of compare. 

- To compare different religions? 

Exactly, different religions, different churches. So I went to a Presbyterian church, a Methodist church, and she went to the Catholics or something. And we both also visited the ashram.

- Did it not appeal to you?

Not at all! I was there... It was all very unsavoury. 

I grew up Protestant, of course. And there are all these sorts of Western denominations out there. They are dying out. And why, they can't tell you themselves. But they're trying to revive faith somehow by offering some kind of entertainment for young people, some trips. But if one wants entertainment, one can go to a bar or to the movies. And in the essence of life is where Christ is found, that's it.

Well, they kind of picture Christ as a soft, kind man who is friends with everyone, loves children, loves animals, never hurts you. But the soul understands that there must be something, somehow, more profound about this, since you're reading the Gospel after all.

- How many years did it take you to find God?

Well, 15 years, I guess. Or 10. Somewhere in there.

St. Herman of Alaska Monastery, California

An Orthodox Christian from California

- Mother Cornelia, how did you convert to Orthodoxy? How and where did this happen?

When I was living in California, I had moved there, and I had an acquaintance who was about to convert, they were in the process of converting. And they introduced me to one monastery where the Father Superior was Russian, and the brothers were all Americans.

- So you came to the  monastery in Platina.

Yes. And that was just over the weekend when they were giving lectures on Orthodoxy. And since these were people who had themselves become monastics, they explained everything in English, and it became clear to me, and I realized that this was everything I had always wanted.

-- Two weeks later, not far from the California monastery founded by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, Caroline was baptized in the mountain river and received a new name, Catherine.

- How did it feel to be baptized?

Wonderful. A wonderful feeling. I really felt like a newborn human being after my baptism. It was so joyous. I have never felt such joy in my life, as when God transforms someone into a new human.

And when I went back to work, I was so happy, so radiant. I said hello to everyone. And my boss took me aside and asked, "Tell me, who is he?" I replied, "He? Who?" She said, "Well, the guy you met."

What did you say to her?

I said, "No, that's not it at all." That He was God. I met God.

And my boss felt that something had happened. That something completely extraordinary had happened to me.

Pechory Monastery

- How did it happen that you ended up as a monastery laborer in Pechory, back in the days of the Soviet Union?

Well, that was at the end of the Soviet period, Perestroika. At that time I was working in San Francisco, and it was really weighing me down. Something had to "give". Something had to change. And so I asked my confessor if I could go to Russia. And he said, "Yes, that's a good idea, go."

-- An Orthodox American woman decided to live in Russia at a time when many Russians did not know how to survive in their own country. She came in 1991 with a parcel of humanitarian aid — boots for a Russian priest.

I arrived in Moscow with these boots, called one sister and said, "The boots, I brought them. Can you give them to him?" We met, and she said, "You must take them yourself, I'll show you the way." So, she took me there. She was the spiritual child of that priest. And the priest turned out to be Father Adrian Kirsanov. And I gave him the boots and then I decided to confess to him. I somehow started to see him as my confessor. Later I went home, but I kept dreaming of going back, because Pechory just swept me off my feet.

- So, you were taking the boots to Pechory?

Yes, to Pechory. 

-- In the Pskov-Pechersk monastery at that time she had the opportunity to meet Father John Krestyankin, who not without reason was called the confessor of all Russia. When she arrived there she had not yet thought of monasticism. At the time, she met Father Ioann, and one of his cell-attendants said to him, "Here, Father, is an American woman who has come to see you." And he examined her carefully, walked around her and said, "She's not an American at all, is she? She's a Russian Mother, a Christian woman." And he walked by. Amazing how the elders can predict someone's future!

It just turned out that I was there, and I told the Father that I could not do without work. I had to work and I had a workshop in mind, and there was an opening. I said, "Can I get a job there?" And they agreed and said, "Well, do you know how to sew?" I said, "Yeah, a little bit."

Well, they taught me how to sew monk's vestments. That was very good because they taught me how to sew the inner cassocks. And that came in very handy later on. And it still does. It's still very good because I am able to make my own clothes.

- Did it strike you that there was nothing to buy, the stores were empty? 

The stores were empty, yes. I was hungry. I remember that during the first Lent, I was so hungry. I was so weak. I needed something to eat besides potatoes and potato soup. I had to find something else to eat. I asked for that, and they were very indulgent towards me. I asked, "Brothers, do you not have any nuts or something with protein in it?" And they... somebody had brought a bag of walnuts from Abkhazia, and they gave them to me.

- It was so hard, wasn't it?

Well, yes, that saved me, those nuts. I'm very grateful. Perestroika was very drastic in this respect.

- Was it while you were in Pechory that you came to the decision to take the vows?

Yes, yes, that's where I made my decision.

- And what influenced you to that extent?

When you know nothing about monasticism, it seems very strange and unacceptable as a way of life. But when you live in the midst of monks, then you can readily understand that there's nothing strange about it, that it's actually a very natural thing to do for a person who wants to live a spiritual life.

-- At the age of 33, with a decision to leave the world, she went to the "bear corner" of America — Alaska — to a monastery on Kodiak Island.

You come to Kodiak — from Kodiak you have to get on the small local planes like that one, the propeller planes. They were on pontoons. And they would fly from Kodiak to different islands and land right on the water. And the pilot himself would come out in his boots and carry the passengers ashore.

- And that's how you arrived at the monastery?

Meanwhile in the monastery, they are on watch. If they see an airplane, they know someone has arrived. Then they all go down there through the swamp to the shore to wait. And they stand there holding rubber overshoes.

Well, that's how I came to be there. The pilot carried me ashore. They gave me my overshoes, I put them on, and we went up there to the skete.

Well, that's how my monastic life began. I became a novice there and soon I decided to become a nun. But I was there for a year. It was not a blissful life by any stretch. I'll never forget it. We, especially in Alaska, had such a strict regimen. We used to get up at 2:00 a.m., the service started at 2:30 a.m. Obedience came pretty hard because we were focused on surviving there. We had to chop wood just to keep warm.

- Have you tried to be a missionary to your loved ones, to your family, to your sisters?

I tried, but it didn't work, because family, especially, they don't listen to words, they know you, they know what you were like when you were a kid. They know how nasty you were when you fought with your sisters, etc. It's not words that will persuade them. They must see for themselves. Unfortunately, they don't want to embrace Orthodoxy.

Only my father did it, but he has already passed on. He was 93 years old when he was baptized. A confessor told me once, "You should have your father baptized." At the time I was wondering how to do it. He was very materialistic and had abandoned church for quite a long time already. But it came to pass.

- Did you get him baptized yourself?

It happened, and it must have been by the providence of God.

Sretensky Choir, the choir of Sretensky Monastery — they had a church unification tour across the USA. And I happened to go with them to help with the translation, the logistics. And there were some very powerful people on that tour. Vladyka Tikhon, then Archimandrite, was there, five bishops, and bishops everywhere. Father Pavel Scherbachev was there too, and Father Pavel is fluent in English.

And there was this concert in Chicago. Of course I invited my father to the concert, gave him the tickets and said, "Come." I introduced him to all these people. He was just thrilled. Then he talked to Father Pavel in English; he really liked Father Pavel. And so like that, somehow slowly, very gradually...

And then one day we were having a private conversation. And I asked, "Would you like to be baptized? Why don't you become Orthodox?" He didn't understand any of it, but he said, "Yes, I want to."

- But how did you get him baptized? 

I had to bring Father Pavel there to Chicago. And my father had difficulty walking, his legs were unsteady. He could hardly walk with a walking stick. The men had to dunk him over the edge of that tank. And they baptized him, then they gave him communion right away, with the reserved Holy Gifts. I was looking at him. He was just like a light bulb, just like that, glowing. Even a materialist like him did it. So, I always think it just gives hope that with God's blessing and help, anyone can change at any time and become a completely different person.


-- After Alaska, back to California again, where in an Orthodox skete, Nun Cornelia translated the books of her acquaintance, elder John Krestyankin. She often traveled to Russia. And in the end, she realized that her second homeland was closer to her than her first.

- Why did you decide to move to Russia from the USA?

I was having a hard time without Russia. And I started coming here for all sorts of things, for all sorts of reasons.

- Don't you miss America? 

No, I don't. I miss Russia when I'm there. I guess that's my problem, isn't it? That's why I'm here. Thank God, Vladyka Tikhon took me in at the monastery. And there's plenty of work, of course. I feel that the Lord sends monks and nuns where they are needed.

The monastery already had an English website. There was a Russian website that was already very popular.


Yes, Pravoslavie ru. But the English version was poor. I'd even say it was misleading, because it wasn't written by native speakers. It was translated from Russian by the monks who kind of spoke English. The quality of translation was awful. So, I was asked to work with the English version of the website. At first it was very hard because I was alone, but I did the best I could.

- So you are now sort of an Internet missionary, aren't you?

Well, yes, I guess you could say that. It's an interesting thing because it's certainly not the work of a monastic to browse the Internet. Thank God, Jesse helps me with social media and news, because I struggle with that. But I also remember from the life of a saint from Optina... I don't remember which one. Was it Nektarius or Ambrose... He was asked, "And in the last times, what will we do? How shall we fight this godlessness?" He said, "Well, with whatever it takes." My Internet work is exactly this "whatever".

I mean, people spend time on the Internet anyway. Let our voice be present there as well. The Internet is a very important source of information for many people. Orthodox people in Pakistan read our website. They are accomplishing a very, very difficult feat in their circumstances because the Muslims outnumber them. Nevertheless, this Father Joseph came here, who... here, let me find it. 

The priest from Pakistan? 

Yes, he is from Pakistan. He keeps writing to me, "It's very important that you are here for us, that our Orthodox community has this English website, because we really need support."

- And how do you see the result of your missionary work today?

Well, you know... I was told by Father Cyril, an archimandrite, an elder... I saw him once. I talked to him about my translation work, etc. And he told me, "Sow the Word of God." We must sow it. Then, it's up to people - what kind of soil it is going to fall on. We can't do anything about it. 

- So then what?

We do our job. It's up to the Lord, how the Lord will enlighten people, how He will spark the true faith in them.

- So you are the sowers. 

Yes, we are the sowers.

Follow us! TelegramTwitterGab, and Reddit. More great content, memes, commenting and community not available on this site.

We are also on Facebook and Instagram which have been designated terrorist organizations by the Russian government.  ; - )

More great content, memes, commenting and community not available on this site.

We are also on Facebook and Instagram which have been designated terrorist organizations by the Russian government.