It is always interesting to get acquainted with new people. Especially, if these people come from other countries, where the cultural, social and economic atmospheres are completely different from ours. However, the Orthodox Christians are similar to each other no matter in what country they live. They are similar in the spirit of God, which enlightens us. But is this always like this? Is it always easy to be with God? We discuss these and many other questions with Father Mark Luimes, a cleric of the Canadian Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).
Father Mark, to begin with, could you tell us a few words about yourself?
I was born in Ontario, Canada. I grew up on a farm in a village. My parents were from the Netherlands, but they moved to Canada during their childhood.
I attended the Protestant church of the Netherlands. During my study at the university, I studied the history of the Byzantine Empire. Thus I learned about the Orthodox Church for the first time. My lector offered me to study Orthodoxy, and after that the Orthodox theme thrilled me even more. I read the book “Vindication of Tradition” by Yaroslav Pelican, which changed my views on how we understand and interpret the Holy Scripture.
Once I visited an Orthodox Church in Canada. I did not understand what was said there, but I felt a strong spiritual connection with Orthodoxy, and I was ready to accept it, while my wife was not. She would come to Orthodoxy only seven years later.
At that time, I attended services at the Bulgarian Orthodox church located not far from Niagara Falls. I was baptized there and served as a reader, as a subdeacon and, finally, as a deacon. I have served as a deacon there just for one year, but I still maintain good relations with the laity. Once, I even had a possibility to visit Sophia, Bulgaria together with a priest from that church.
In whose honor was the church?
The church of St. John of Rila. It was under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, although it is a Bulgarian church. When I served there, Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) was the Hierarch of the ROCOR. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was going to accept the new style calendar, and I asked for blessing to stay within the ROCOR and served for a certain period of time in the Orthodox Church of America (OCA).
When were you tonsured?
It happened in 2009, on the feast day of St. Nicholas. Archbishop Gabriel of Montreal and Canada tonsured me in the cathedral of St. Nicholas in Montreal.
I served as a deacon in the OCA for five years. I was “borrowed” from the ROCOR. On the feast day of the Three Hierarchs, February 12, I was tonsured as a priest. Now I serve as a second priest in the Intercession church in Hamilton, Ontario. It is not far from Toronto. Father Peter Shashkov is the Senior Priest there.
So you are a “young” priest…
Yes, an elderly person, but a young priest. My son is studying in the Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanvile. My spiritual father lived there as well. Eight times a year I visited this place.
Is your son the only child in your family?
No, we have two sons and two daughters. The eldest daughter is about to finish her studying in the theatre school. Another daughter is working in the city, and she is dealing with animal grooming – haircuts and so on. The third child, our son George, is studying in the seminary. The youngest one is 13, and he is homeschooled. Our youngest son is adopted, he was born on Haiti.
Father Mark, what brings you here, to Belarus?
I am here for my work. My secular activity is connected with programming. So I decided to use the possibility and visit the country as an average tourist.
It turns out that priests in Canada have to work during the week and serve only on the weekend?
Yes, for the most part. The priests who serve in the large churches do not work, but if you serve in a small church, then you need additional work.
It seems to me that Orthodoxy is in their blood. I had the opportunity to serve together with Archimandrite Alexis in the Holy Spirit Cathedral, and I was very impressed by that.
What do you think, what is the biggest problem the orthodox people face today in Canada?
Perhaps, the biggest problem is the same as at any time. I mean, fighting for salvation. There are also the things, which distract people from their salvation: work, different earthly worries… It reminds me of the proverb about the weeds, which suppress spiritual life.
The immigrants have more experience than the native citizens of Canada. However, it is really hard for them for the first time, as they have to work more to get on their feet. Or course, this distracts them from their spiritual development.
On the other hand, those people who have come to Orthodoxy and have been baptized, also have their own “bunch” of passions to struggle with. However, I see a great promise for development of Orthodoxy. A large amount of new missions and churches appear all over the United States. The dynamic is good. I hope it will spread all over America. It surprises me that for the last 15 years so much churches have been built! This growth inspires me.
It often can be in our life that a person comes to the church, takes part in the sacraments, partakes of the Holy Communion, but then his faith faints, and the person leaves the Church. What should we do to make people come and stay?
I would like to give an example from the Old Testament. Our life is like the history of the ancients Jews, who were held in slavery by the Egyptians. Crossing the Red Sea became their baptism. They rejoiced after that, they had a spiritual growth. But they did not know that after that growth there would be the desert, they did not think about that. We can compare their trip across the desert with the period of godforsakenness. At the same time God was always with them and provided them with everything they needed to survive. When the Jews crossed the river of Jordan, it was their second baptism, which is death. This is an example of spiritual life.
After the baptism a person feels special glory, he feels that he is close to God. Then God makes us go through the period of “godforsakenness”. However, people should remember that God never leaves them, that it is just the period for working on yourself, for spiritual development and strengthening. It is kind of a desert a person has to cross to become closer to God.
This is why we should strengthen each other. If there is no desire to pray, we should force each other to do this. If there is no desire to go to church, we should help each other to go there. We should support each other in such moments of temptation. This way is hard.
Such periods can last for years. A person goes away and it can happen that he never comes back…
God sends us as much trials as we can endure. Not more. Sometimes even the holy fathers, who lived in the deserts and prayed there for 40 years, could not feel what they wanted to feel – some kind of glory. But they never gave up, they continued to stay with God and pray, without paying attention to what was happening around them.
Let us speak a little bit more about you and the period when you have come to God. What did you feel then?
For me, as for a person who was grown in Protestantism, it was kind of an intellectual process. With time my developments became more spiritual and became a part of my DNA. At first it was quite easy for me to explain why I was Orthodox. Now it is more difficult, but at the same time I can understand and feel my faith far better. It is like with the marriage – it is easy to fall in love and see the best traits of a person, but later it will be not so easy. However, after I have lived 25 years with my wife, if you ask me about this, I just do not have the words to say…
What piece of advice can you give our people, who dither and cannot decide whether to go to church or to stay in bed on Sunday? How can a person force himself to go?
I am glad to be a priest. Otherwise, I could be one of those who idly lie on the couch. Therefore, I wish that people, who can become priests or just somehow serve the Church spiritually, that they do this.
I would like to mention gym as an example. A person has to force himself to go there and constantly increase the workload. He has to make it a habit. The same concerns visiting the church, in a spiritual sense, of course.
When your children visit the church, it is especially vital to give them some solace. And after that, to buy them an ice cream or go to café together. The liturgy will be a joy for them in this case, but not a duty. In no case, you should be too serious and strict in relation to your children’s church and spiritual development, because this can only push them away.
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