Then from the heart of the tempest, Yahweh gave Job His answer. He said: Who is this, obscuring My intentions with his ignorant words? Brace yourself like a fighter; I am going to ask the questions, and you are to answer! Book of Job 38:1-3
By the Grace of the Mother of God
As a new columnist for Catholic Stand, I have accepted to write in the spirit of the creators of Catholic Stand to “educate, motivate, inspire, heal and unify its readers”. In this spirit, I would have decided to explain my journey into the Catholic Church.
I entered the Catholic Church in Québec, 1995-1996, with my family, but these events cannot be described even formally as conversion – a typical American “adjective” for those who are not cradle born Catholics. In fact, I was already baptised in Moscow at the age of 22 many years before, and I had been accompanying Catholic pilgrimages all over the world since 1985. My personal formula for these marvellous, mysterious and miraculous moments of my life was and remains: “Finally, que Dieu soit béni, we have found our Church!”
However, this glorious and generous entry into the “waiting room” of the Church of Heaven didn’t mean we had been actually received in the Communion of this Church on earth: I, an orthodox Jew together with my Jewish family, were in Canada because of my seven-year visit to teach and do scientific research. Back in France during the same year 1996, we were only familiar with the Jewish community life of our city.
A Baptised Orthodox Jew?
Hopefully, you are already surprised by the contradiction: a baptised Orthodox Jew? I was born in a Jewish family, just before the Second World War. Are you expecting I was raised as a Jew? It was absolutely out of question. My father, belonging to the great priestly family of Bilga – one of the grandsons of Aaron (1 Chronicles 24:14 ) – was a maternal orphan from a very poor family in Ukraine; my mother’s Grandparents were burned to death in their synagogue by Ukrainian nationalists. For these two families, the Soviet civilisation brought some education and professions.
As an officer, my father, died in the first days of the war with Nazis; the life of my Mother and of myself, a boy of one year, were spared by his sacrifice: we were rare Jews who were evacuated to the Ural in a train of stock cars – before Nazis took Ukraine and destroyed all Jews who remained there. My cordial and honest Mother, inspired by the stories of Jewish pogroms and Soviet and Nazi terrors, raised me as a young bolshevik.
My first impression of spiritual liberation came from my acquaintance with the modern science at the Moscow university. Now, after more than four decades of professional work, in Russia, France, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, USA, I understand why and how science became a noble daughter of the Catholic faith, later kidnapped, abused and sold, with her bad modern habit of dismissing the faith. However, as I have discovered, the best among my first teachers and later colleagues in Moscow were inspired, always secretly, by the Christian faith free from the external and internal abuses of the Russian orthodox church.
Russian Orthodox Believers
My second and crucial impression came from Russian orthodox believers freed from their prisoner camps – they opened for me the way to God’s Bible which I have never seen before. And not less important, thanks to them I have discovered the terrible and glorious Martyr of the Russian church. After a year of prayers and discussions with these former anti-Soviet enemies, I came alone to a modest Russian church for baptism. I became thus an enemy of the State, too, deprived of an important scientific or public career but always remaining effective scientist and active Christian. Finally, they threw me out of Russia, arranging it to look like the departure of a Jew to Israel– deprived of my citizenship and forbidden to ever enter my homeland.
Thirteen years later, immediately after the fall of the Communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I came back to Moscow as the representative of two good Western universities, to help my poor Russian colleagues.
At the moment of my departure from Russia, I realised the profound meaning for me personally of this particular manifestation of Divine providence: I was a Jew who was only aware of his ethnic Jewry, which might have reduced my professional and public options would I not be a dissident, was saved from the prison by an open door to Israel – a rare historical moment in the history of the authoritarian and violent Soviet state. I was profoundly desperate already and for many years before, about the plight of the Russian church – the church which was persecuted by Soviets through imprisonment and the violent deaths of its true Priests. I decided to go to Israel to find my Jewish family. It didn’t matter that I have had invitations from American universities.
It was there, working at Jerusalem university and learning the Torah and Talmud in Yeshivos, that I discovered that my family name is a Russification of the name of a great Priest of Israel. More important, I was happy to discover for the first time in my life that my religion had freedom to celebrate, to rejoice, to build a family, raise children, and to serve in a community. The spirit of great prophets was perceived in scholastic formulas of Talmudists – with their beautiful women proud to resemble Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and to have many children.
French Catholics Were Gracious
Invited to France to work, I joined a local French Jewish orthodox community. Still, I have never forgotten my Christian belongings – no Church as yet, but a hope to find it remained. It is important for an American reader to understand that I didn’t know the Roman Catholic Church – the Russian church never spoke about her Sister of whom she remains jealous. Still, after a few experiences, I could perceive the spiritual freedom and graciousness of some Catholics – the best example was the acceptance by French Bishops of their divine brotherhood with Israel, before Vatican II. The Moscow church, in her national humiliation, didn’t react to this, but the Russian Orthodox Church in France was furious: “Sure, we have to love Jews, because Jesus told us Love your enemies.” Do not imagine, that my Israeli science made me rich: I came as a poor man to France from Israel as I was four years before, coming from Russia – all the difference was my family situation: a new baby girl, born two months before, plus two boys of my Spouse’s first marriage. My wife was a Russian Jewish artist, who gave birth later to our six boys!
From Israel, I brought with me a profound feeling of dignity – to be Jewish and, thus, to providentially belong to the first people chosen by Our Lord, to be a saint and to serve Him for the divine conversion of humanity. From Russia, I brought my faith – Catholic faith, as I understand now. Especially, the Mother of God has been always kind to me there – divinely kind, in spite of all my errors and of my impatience. The particular Marian grace, bestowed on me in Russia, was the message of Fatima. It opened my eyes to the universality of the Church of Christ – the Catholic Church as I see it today – and on the moral and historical misery of the poor Russia converted to communism and spreading deliriously its disaster. I read about Fatima in Russian samizdat – in a small notebook printed on a typewriter.
After two years of work in France, I went in 1985 to Portugal, Coïmbra, to the city with the second oldest European university, to take part in a Mathematical conference and to visit Fatima – in the honour of Holy Virgin. Sure, I kept it secret from my Jewish brothers, but not from my spouse who was with me. There I bought my first Catholic book – the diary of the Sister Lucy. From this moment on started our regular pilgrimages to sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary – France, Belgium, Croatia, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Canada, Czech Republic, Spain, Mexico, USA. Together with the grace of meditation and prayer, this pilgrimages were and remain extremely impressive and instructive for us: the great and holy pedagogical mastery of Our Lady carrying through her prophetical messages the Voices of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Today, we belong to the Holy Catholic Church more than ever. My dear spouse has left us for Heaven, after a sickness of seven years. After five years of widowhood, I have married a younger Jewish-Catholic lady, a widow too, with five kids who are now baptised and active in the Church, depending on their age and talents. My spouse is an active historian of the Middle Ages and I am continuing to work in science and theology.
So, please, pray for us!