Conversation with Archpriest Vitaliy Kolpachenko
Archpriest Vitaliy Kolpachenko tells, how the elders of Optina blessed his trip to Athos and what miraculous events happened during this journey.
Let me introduce to you, dear readers of Pravoslavie.ru: Archpriest Vitaliy Kolpachenko, Rector of the Krestovozdvizhenskiy (Exaltation of the Cross) Church in the town of Khvalynsk, Dean of the Khvalynskiy District of the Saratov Diocese, Director of the Orthodox Gymnasium in the name of the Holy Martyr Count Alexander Medem. Father Vitaliy is also a historian with a university education, as well as the father of seven children, the eldest of whom is 17, and the youngest is three months old.
Father Vitaliy agreed to answer our questions, and the first question we asked was:
- In the life of every person, the Providence of God operates, but sometimes it is hidden, and sometimes it clearly reveals itself in some signs, significant meetings, words heard in time. Dear Father Vitaliy, could you share whether you had such signs, clear manifestations of God's Providence for you in your life?
The answer of our interlocutor turned into an amazing testimony of the miraculous Providence of God in a person's life and a real story. Here it is:
Archpriest Vitaliy with his family
God's providence is God's concern for man
The providence of God is present in the life of every person, and in the life of a priest, probably, it acts especially clearly. After all, what is Divine Providence? This is God's concern for man. Wholehearted care - both about his everyday needs, and most importantly - about the salvation of his soul. It is caring for a person's heart to be filled more and more with love.
How a photograph called me to the road
I experienced the effect of the clear Providence of God on myself, when I first visited Athos. Here is how it was. Once, in 2002, I arrived at Optina Hermitage, where quite unexpectedly a monk approached me, silently handed me a photo and left. The photo showed beautiful arks with relics. They took pictures from above, and only the table, the arks and the floors were visible. No inscription: where it was, what it was. Nevertheless, the photograph stirred my soul in a strange way, as if it was calling. I began to ask the Optina Fathers, where these holy objects could be located, and they answered me that it was very similar to Greece, to Athos. And after that, the thought of going to the Abode of the Mother of God did not leave me.
A thought to go to Athos
In 2002, I was just starting my pastoral ministry and served for a year in the church in honor of the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos Skoroposlushnitsa (“Quick to the Hearken”) in Saratov. In the spring of 2003, Bishop Longin (Korchagin), now Metropolitan of Saratov and Volskiy, arrived at our cathedra. When I first met him, I asked him one question:
– Vladyka, the thought of going to Athos does not leave me…
The elders teach to check every thought with time and prayer, apparently, therefore, Vladyka answered me:
- Come and see me about this in a month.
Exactly a month later, I was again at Vladyka Longin and confessed to him that the thought did not leave me. And then he blessed me to prepare the documents for the trip, since any clergyman can go to Athos only by invitation. Finally, a personalized letter arrived, and Vladyka blessed me for a three-week pilgrimage. After Easter, I went to the Holy Mountain. I had that same photo in my pocket.
A week is like one day
The first monastery I found myself in was the Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery. I was accommodated in a cell; I diligently attended all the services. I prayed at the head of the Monk Siluan of Athos and felt strong grace. I didn’t want to go anywhere else, to any other Athos monastery, tears of tenderness and gratitude poured out by themselves, and my first week on Athos flew by like one day.
Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery
Nevertheless, I planned to see other monasteries, and also be sure to find the place that was depicted in the carefully kept photograph. Then I went to the Serbian monastery of Khilandar. True, they discouraged me from going there, they said that there was a big fire there during Lent, and they are not yet accepting pilgrims.
There was a cross on the skullcap, which meant that my interlocutor was a bishop
But I really wanted to visit the Serbian monastery, and I decided to take my chance. I was accommodated there, invited to a meal in the kitchen (it seems that the archondarik, where guests are received, burned down). Next to me at the table, there was an elderly monk, who spoke Russian very well. He started a conversation with me, showed me the grass that the ascetics used to eat on Athos. He joked and was very easy to communicate with. I, a very young priest at that time, also relaxed and talked to this monk just as simply, also joking - until I made out the skullcap that was lying next to him. There was a cross on the skullcap, which meant that my interlocutor was a bishop. When he was distracted, I whispered to my brother cook:
- Excuse me, is that the bishop?
The cook nodded.
- Bishop, Bishop!
A silent scene followed on my part, worthy, apparently, of Gogol's pen.
Bishop Afanasiy (Yevtich)
When I arrived at the evening service, I stood quietly in the stasidia and began to pray quietly. One of the brethren of the monastery approached me and said:
- The Bishop is calling you.
With palpitating heart, I went to the Serbian ruler. He put me in front of the Three-Handed Icon and blessed me:
- Sing to the Mother of God!
I sang troparia, which I knew by heart, and Vladyka, apparently, was praying, because I felt how my soul was filled with joy, such spiritual exultation.
Then he blessed me to serve the Liturgy the next day.
This is how I met one of the famous contemporary theologians, Bishop Afanasiy (Yevtich). Then, more than once, jokingly, I recalled that this theologian spoke to me about the grass that the ascetics of Athos used to eat.
Then I visited other monasteries and finally found the one from my photo. I asked the holy fathers:
- Whose relics are these?
And many saints were listed to me, of which the name of one sunk into my soul - St. Nektariy of Aegina. I didn't know anything about him at that time.
In the next monastery on Athos, I met a Greek monk named Pavel. He spoke Russian well, knew about the lives of our saints, and himself read the works of Saints Ignatiy Brianchaninov and Feofan the Recluse. Father Pavel told me about his meetings with Elder Paisiy the Holy Mountaineer, about how the elder often repeated:
– Each person should become a factory of good thoughts.
Every person should become a factory of good thoughts
I really liked this comparison, I immediately imagined a waste processing plant, where a lot of unnecessary, indecent things are brought, and useful materials are obtained as a result. By the way, these plants are very profitable. Now, if only our factories of good thoughts were spiritually profitable!
I asked Father Pavel about Saint Nektariy of Aegina; the Greek left me for a few minutes, ran away, then returned with a small photo of the saint and said:
- This is a great saint!
- As for you Russians, the Monk Serafim Sarovskiy or the holy righteous Ioann Kronshtadtskiy, so for us is St. Nektariy of Aegina.
He handed me the photo and we took a warm farewell of each other. I went on, realizing very clearly that the Providence of God was leading me on this journey.
Dokhiar and the wonderful book
I really wanted to visit the Dokhiar Monastery, where the miraculous icon of the “Quick to Hearken” was located, because, as I’ve already said, I served in Saratov in the church in honor of this icon. When I came to Dokhiar, I met a worker, who worked there in obedience. He showed me the place of his obedience in the garden, and then he decided to give me some tea and invited me to his cell.
While he was preparing a simple meal, I looked at the books on his bookshelf. I came across a book called "The Biography of St. Nektariy of Aegina" by the Greek archimandrite Amvrosiy (Fontrier). I had to stay on Athos for a few more days, and I asked a new friend to read this book (in the end, he gave it to me as a present).
The book about St. Nektariy turned out to be extraordinary - in it, I found answers to many questions that worried me, and in this, too, one could see the clear Providence of God and His affectionate, Fatherly care.
And now I’m already sailing on a ferry to Ouranoupolis, and one question occupies my mind: should I spend the night in small Ouranoupolis and then go to Thessaloniki to the airport, or go straight to a big unfamiliar city and spend the day somewhere before the plane (all I had there was only money left for the road to Thessaloniki and a plane ticket)?
Thinking, I closed my eyes. Suddenly an old monk pushes me on the shoulder and introduces himself very cheerfully:
– Hello, my name is monk Raphail, I am a Serb. Come with me, I'll treat you to dinner and give you lodging for the night.
We got off at Ouranoupolis, he took me to a cafe, got some food and said:
- Help yourself! Then we will have to wait for my friend Soterius - he will take us to Thessaloniki.
He sat nearby, watched me eating, and his eyes shone with joy, because the Lord gave him the opportunity to fulfill the commandment of Love.
Raphail and Soterius
Soterius arrived; we got into the car and left for Thessaloniki. Monk Raphail turned to me:
- If you don't mind, we will stop by the cemetery; please, pray at the grave of the deceased son of Soterius.
We arrived at the cemetery in Thessaloniki; it had a corner in my heart: strict geometry, tombstones made of white stone, clean, well-groomed, and beautiful. We approached a marble tombstone, there was a niche closed with glass doors next to it. The niche contained candles, incense, coal, and a prayer book.
"Daddy, don't be upset! I'm going to Christ!"
Next to the headstone stood a marble book, the pages of which seemed to flutter in the wind. I asked Raphail to translate. Engraved on the page were the last words his son said to Soterius: “Daddy, don't be upset! I'm going to Christ!"
We made a litia, and I asked to be taken to the monastery of Ioann the Theologian in Suroti, to the elder Paisiy the Holy Mountaineer. We went there, but the gates of the monastery were closed. Raphail said:
- Never mind, tomorrow, before the airplane, we will call again!
Suroti. Grave of Paisiy the Holy Mountaineer
Saints are near
Soterius took us for the night accommodation; we drove up to a large, beautiful building. To the right there was a temple. I asked:
- What saint is this temple in honor of?
The answer was:
- In honor of St. Nektariy of Aegina!
Tomb of St. Nektariy
Soterius left us and drove away, but Raphail and I entered the hospital named after St. Nektariy, where the holy elder had come to be treated. Raphail went up to the nurse and said something to her happily. They laughed, looked kindly at me, and then I was allowed to go into the ward. There were six beds in the ward, all of them free. Father Raphail took his bag, threw it on one of the beds and said:
- This is my bed!
I accepted the terms of the game, threw my travel backpack on the second bunk and repeated to him in tone:
- This is my bed!
Then I saw that at the head of each bed were small round icons of saints. I looked: on my bed there was an icon of St. Nektariy. I thought: probably the same icons are on all the other beds. Nevertheless, I checked: there were other icons on other beds. The saint seemed to be next to me, patronizing, taking care of me.
The saint seemed to be next to me, patronizing, taking care of me
The next day, Soterius again took me to Suroti, but for some reason the monastery gates were again closed. My companion said:
- Don't be upset! You will come here again!
And indeed, in 2009, I was fortunate enough to once again visit Mount Athos and the grave of Elder Paisiy in Suroti. I also went to the Holy Trinity Monastery, to the island of Aegina - to St. Nektariy of Aegina. Then I already knew that the memory of the saint is celebrated on the day of the memory of the Mother of God Icon "Quick to Hearken" - it was in the church in honor of this icon that I served.
Venerable Elders of Optina
I venerated the relics of St. Nektariy on October 24, and this day is also significant. This is the feast of the Venerable Elders of Optina, who once blessed me for an amazing and wonderful pilgrimage - after all, it all had started with a photograph that was presented to me in Optina Hermitage.
There have been many coincidences and “non-random accidents” on my journey, and coincidence is the language God speaks to us. I was clearly shown, how much the Lord loves us, how the Lord cares for us, and with Him His Most Pure Mother and the Saints of God, and how the Providence of God leads us through life.
A small addition to the story. After our conversation, Father Vitaliy called me and said that upon his return to Optina Hermitage, he heard monastic singing: it was the brethren, who sang the famous chant “Agni Parthene,” which St. Nektariy of Aegina wrote for the Most Holy Theotokos.
Archpriest Vitaliy Kolpachenko
interviewed by Olga Rozhneva