Personal Stories: How a total stranger changed my life


The Story of Aviv Saliu-Diallo (Switzerland)

Sometimes my friends ask me, “Didn’t you know Fr. Daniel before he died?” I answer, “No.” I did not know him personally; in fact, when I saw a video of his sermon on the internet just once, I thought, “Well, that is really too much. Why start off immediately with hell and eternal torments? After all, you could scare people off with such words.” And as I always did in such cases, I turned off what I found disagreeable and went back to my business.

Although I considered myself to be among the saved, I had neither zeal for salvation nor real love of neighbor. I had somehow forgotten the Savior’s words (or maybe I just never really thought about them): So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth (Rev. 3:16).

About a half-year later I left Russia. I was living and studying in Switzerland where my family is from. I was living alone—my wife had stayed on in Russia for another year. I missed my beloved Russia and my friends. I was now surrounded by the Swiss, who I no longer understood; I had grown unaccustomed to them, and was more used to the lively Russian people and the unpredictability of Russian daily life. My spiritual father, who I wasn’t even obeying anymore, was back in Petersburg and here I didn’t even have anyone to disobey. I studied hard. I pined for God of course, and went regularly to Liturgy—something I didn’t always do in Russia, prayed and read the Lives of the Saints. I especially loved the Lives of the martyrs and fools-for-Christ. But despite my lukewarmness I still nurtured the hope of coming to God. During rare moments I dreamed of sainthood, about the power of grace that enabled the martyrs to endure torments and death, and the fools-for-Christ to endure mockery and difficulties.
Then, I received a brief note from a friend: “Yesterday in Moscow the well-known priest Daniel Sisoyev was shot right in his church. Perhaps you have heard of him?” He further related this event, and how Fr. Daniel Sisoyev baptized Muslims. He not only Baptized them but also catechized them.
I immediately opened the news sites and saw with horror the church, the police, and the mourning Orthodox people at night in the cold Moscow bedroom community.
Then I turned to the Orthodox internet and gradually learned who this famous priest was, and I tried to understand who would want him dead. I began to acquaint myself with a new term coined by Fr. Daniel: “uranopolitan”—not at all a cosmopolitan, or “citizen of the world”, but an uranopolitan, or citizen of heaven. I listened to his sermons and read the commentary to them. An Islamic threat could be heard. It is true, however, that much later when I read Fr. Daniel’s Live Journal I mostly saw angry commentary from nationalists.
To me it was all very clear: he was a martyr for his faith in Christ. I wanted to find out as much as possible about him; it was all unbelievable that there could be a martyr, a saint in our days! It only would have taken one quiet night in a train from St. Petersburg to Moscow for some negligible 500 rubles and I could have heard the voice of a future martyr, received a blessing from a faithful servant of Christ, and kissed the hand of a saint. But even more importantly I could have learned from him and helped him in his good work. In our days, in our pious Church, a missionary was selflessly laboring. And not at rock concerts or in the Orthodox press, but amongst Muslims, sectarians, and occultists. He was a missionary who was worthy of a martyric death.
A few hours passed and my brother Rashid came to visit. I had to tell him somehow, “Dear brother, your brother Muslims killed our priest…” No. He would not understand. Or should I start off by telling him about hell and eternal torments? “Rashid, we now have hard proof. A martyr for the Christian faith has died, consciously given his life, because he was convinced, he knew that you, Muslims, will go to hell.” Will he understand? He will probably take offense… “You cannot be saved without Christ. So repent, brother, because Mohamed is a false prophet.” Apparently, I am still too full of rage. I have to begin with prayer; I have to find an appropriate moment and appropriate words… I am still looking for them.
Now I have work to do. Missionary work. It was probably a whole week I listened to all of Fr. Daniels’ talks on mission and Islam that were in the internet. His voice is infectious and strong. I listen to them over again regularly, especially when my spirit falls. His expression is always joyful, radiant, and, please excuse the expression, but it is no accident that saints are depicted and described as “similar”—they express that Light which radiates from the Trinity one in essence.
During that week I made the decision: it’s time to act, time to serve God, and not simply pretend to be a Christian. I want to serve God as a missionary and I want to carry out that service according to the image that the priest Fr. Daniel who was slain for Christ left us. I tried to take my first steps, but nothing turned out right. I made contact with Fr. Daniel’s students and co-workers, who sent me a detailed answer to my letter, gave me wise instruction, and most importantly, moral support. I want to take this opportunity to thank them. They are true continuers of Fr. Daniel’s work, and he is a continuer of the plan of the Holy Trinity, for “the Church’s mission is a continuation of Christ’s mission. Christ is the First Apostle,” as it says in the documents of our Church.

I remember my first street sermon. It was two days after I had learned of Fr. Daniel’s martyrdom. After the Liturgy I went to the train station and waited for someone to talk to about Christ. A young man walked up to me; he looked like a drug addict, and asked me for spare change. I replied, “I cannot give you change, but I can give you something much more valuable.” He said, “Alright, give it to me.” “I will give you the word of God! God is Love!” But he just said, “Get out of here.”

That is how I began… I continued to go out on street mission for over a year, but not with such “pearls” as the first time, because I received advice from those who do street mission in Moscow. My experience allowed me to understand that one method might bring good results in some situations, but not in others. The Moscow missionaries continually testified about how people responded during street mission and what interesting conversations arise. In Geneva, no one was interested. Here in Switzerland, even the Mormons and other sectarians have given up street mission long ago. They probably decided that it’s a hopeless cause with these people.
But I did not want to give up and was always looking for other forms of missionary work. I had and still have a sister in the faith, Lydia. At home, they call her in by her African name, Neyat. She came to Switzerland as a refugee when she was twelve. On Sunday after Liturgy she would go with me to a café and listen to me retell Fr. Daniel’s sermons. They immediately went to her heart. “Here we are in Switzerland and we are silent, although we know perfectly well that Orthodoxy is the true religion. Why are we silent?” she would say. We started working on translations of Orthodox literature, and Lydia, who is absolutely fluent in French, gave me a lot of help in editing my translations. One time she came with me on street mission, and later had a good laugh at how the people reacted to me. But even though my preaching did not convert other people, it was of no little benefit to me. It is not easy to get up the resolve to go and do such a thing, you really don’t want to take the risk; but when you overcome yourself for the sake of fulfilling Christ’s commandment, something changes within you and you become closer to God. It is only that street mission turned out not to be precisely what we need to start with here; our bishop also confirmed this to me later.
Besides Lydia, another co-worker came to help me—eighty-seven-year-old grandpa Charles (his Orthodox name is Joseph). Charles taught himself to read and write Russian independently. Forty years ago he walked into a Russian Orthodox Church and said, “This is the paradise that my grandmother used to talk about”, and after some time he became Orthodox, converting from Catholicism. Charles offered to help me with a translation of Fr. Daniel’s Serbian Conversations into French. This work helped him to bear his grief over his wife’s recent repose.

We would sometimes argue over words in this book. “How can one talk like that? It’s not polite,” he would say is disbelief. “One can and should,” I would protest. He would say, “How could we give such sermons here, in Geneva? People will either not listen, or they will take offense!” I thought to myself, “Let them even kill us,” but I said that any thoughts can be adapted to a particular audience.
He helped me, and he liked it; so afterwards we worked together on a translation into French of the book, 300 Sayings of Ascetics of the Orthodox Church. I thank Joseph with all my heart—he is a truly believing man, a faithful servant of the Lord. We managed to find money to publish the French translation of 300 Sayings. While Serbian Conversations are more oriented toward the Orthodox reader, this book could be interesting to the heterodox; it could help them to get a taste of patristic wisdom. Now I have begun a translation of the sayings of the Optina Elders. We have also begun little by little to look for financial help for aid to the Orthodox mission in Africa. So far we have helped cover some essential needs of the parish in the Ivory Coast. Now we are studying the possibility of organizing Orthodox catechetical talks in Geneva. The lack of such talks is really felt.

I have understood that for a successful mission it is important that you yourself represent what you are preaching. I am trying to work on myself in this respect.
Perhaps what I have written has not turned out to be quite what I thought it would. I wanted to write about how Fr. Daniel’s martyric death changed my fate, and about how, thanks to his preaching, which cost him his life on earth and which reached me and others also only after his death, I became a sincere Christian. About how I stopped being indifferent to my salvation and the salvation of those around me. I wanted to relate how, thanks to this fervent preaching, I began to read the whole Bible and not just small portions of the Gospels—according to Fr. Daniel’s advice I began a daily rule of reading God’s word. I felt the need to have a church wedding and not just settle for a piece of paper from the secular registration office, because Fr. Daniel revealed to me the meaning of this and other Sacraments. It was Fr. Daniel who instilled in me the thought of needing to regularly partake of Communion. And his example inspired me toward the path of missionary work.

Fr. Daniel called all to the path. I responded in word and deed, but not in spirit. Therefore, despite the directive to bring my faith to a higher level, I a sinner have not yet succeeded in beginning missionary work in my country. Therefore, I ask everyone’s prayers for me, sinful slave of God Aviv, so that through the prayers of the Mother God, the martyrs of Christ, the apostles and all the saints, I would labor unhypocritically in a life according to Christ’s commandments.

Source of entire article: http://orthochristian.com/57660.html

CONVERSATION

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