Published by Pemptousia Partnership, June 16, 2015
Ms. Jessica Precop traveled to the Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan to interview Father Roman Braga, who grew up and served in Romania under a communist regime. We are very thankful to Ms. Precop, Father Roman, and the Sisterhood at the Monastery for making this interview possible. The interview was commissioned for the OCA Wonder blog, on which it originally appeared.
Why is suffering important as a Christian?
Suffering is good not only for Christians but for everybody. Because if you do not suffer you do not understand anything. Suffering is a good experience. And in the scriptures it says that suffering is a sign that God loves you. In the Epistle to Hebrew Chapter 13, St. Paul says that if you do not suffer you are not children of God. Who is the Father who does not chastise His children? He punishes His children because He loves them. If you do not suffer you are not the sons of God. After you experience suffering, you understand more and better things in this world, much deeper than the others who do not experience any suffering. So suffering is maturing you in your spiritual life. You should not avoid suffering but you should not look for it. God takes care of that. There is a lot of suffering in the world. So many families who have children in the hospital. My doctor has a daughter 11 years of age with bone cancer; they are young, what a suffering for that family whose daughter may be dying. We ask ourselves why?
God allows into this world to have beggars and crippled people and all this because otherwise we would not be able to be charitable. We have to exercise our love because love is not just the word, is it something that we must do. And you do things for those who need them. So that is why there are orphan children and crippled people and so many other things, for us to exercise our love for our neighbor because Jesus said love God with your whole heart and whole mind but love your neighbor as you love yourself. But if my neighbor does not need my love what is love? Just a hand shake? That is not love. Or to give him a hug? That is nothing. Go there and take a crippled person on the street and give him a hug and ask him what can I do for you? That is love. Not to live for yourself; to live for others and always to deny yourself; to forget yourself and remember that others exist. That is Christian life. Not to say “what about me, and me, and I;” Who are you? You are nobody. Try not to pay too much attention to you. But when you say can I do something for you? Maybe you need me? That is meaningful Christian love. So suffering in this world is permitted by God that other Christians might concentrate their love on those suffering people and do something for them, to sacrifice themselves for them. In our own life suffering is permitted so we understand why Jesus was crucified.
I am able to forgive. I pray for those guards that tortured us in prison. I am not against them because I understand they were forced to do that. And you forgive only when you suffer. When you do not suffer you do not want to forgive, then you are condemned. There was a movie-maker who came and made a movie with me and Fr. Calciu. The interviewer said “how can you forgive them?” Well why not? They are the image of God. We know that in that kind of regime they were forced to kill us, to torture us, to do what they were told to do, otherwise their families would not have bread to eat. You are able to forgive when you suffer. When you do not suffer you are not able to forgive. You say “no, no, no, you should not do such and such a thing and if you do you should be punished because you did it”. So suffering is very important in Christian life.
How is life in America different than your experience in Romania?
I thought I came to a free country. And that is true; you have the freedom to do anything you want, as long as you do not to hurt anybody. If you hurt anybody for sure you have to suffer the consequences. Speaking of the freedom of conscious and thought, I doubt that we are free because being free to do everything you can destroy yourself if you are not mature. Freedom without responsibility is not freedom. Only when you are prevented of doing what you want to do, then you understand freedom. But when you say “I want to do everything I want” you are not free. Think about Genesis, the first book in the Bible, when God created man, he did not understand what freedom was until God told him you cannot touch this tree; the tree is a symbol, it is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So if God created man free, then you ask why He gave him a limit: “do not touch this.” Without this limit man cannot understand what freedom is. Freedom is just a word if you do not have restrictions. So freedom without discipline is not freedom. And many in our culture here in America think that they do not have to respect anything or anybody; they are free to do everything. This is not freedom.
What are some ways we can find Christ today, in the American society?
Well Christ first of all is in you. Christ is not just some nice guy. He is God and God is within you. God is in our conscious, in our heart, in our minds, is not something material you see outside of yourself. You find God in yourself. You descend in your personality. We are eternal, we never die, the body is going to the cemetery but the conscious, the person is continually living. So when you descend into yourself, your conscious is infinite. And this infinity is the temple of the living God. St. Paul says many times you are the temple of the living God because God lives within you. You find God when you know yourself, when you know who you are. If you neglect that, “I don’t have time to think about myself” you will never find God because God is not something material, you do not find him in a specific place. God is always with you if you want Him to be with you. You find God when you find yourself. “Who am I?” Pay attention to these verses of the scriptures: “you are the temple of the living God because God lives within you.” And Jesus said: “remain in Me and I in you. I am the vine and you are the branches” if you do not remain in me you do not have sap to feed yourself and you dry up. People who complain they do not feel God they are dry branches. They have to remain in Christ and to accept Christ by saying: “Lord, come, I am here. You created me. Open my heart because You created this heart. You created the door, enter please.”
You have to talk with God everywhere you are. Walking on the street, driving the car, you can say “Lord You are in the front seat, I know that You are here tell me something. Why did You create me?” You have a lot of things, an infinite number of things to converse with God and God wants you to talk with Him because prayer is not as much as you read in the book or how long you are kneeling, prayer is the whole life. When you eat, when you drink, when you drive the car, when you discipline your children: You are in a state of prayer. Life is a liturgy. It is not only in church that liturgy takes place, the liturgy is outside the church building too. The whole life should be a liturgy- if you have the feeling of the existence of God. But you have to get that feeling of the existence of God… how? I always say, especially to young people, have a dialogue, a permanent dialogue with God. Sure you are busy: you eat, you prepare your exam if you are a student, you work and you are very busy but always say: “Lord I know You are here I didn’t forget You. Look at me and do not abandon me.” See many times this permanent dialogue with God becomes a prayer because prayer is a communication between man and God.
Prayer is not just a short time and you say “I finished my prayer” and that’s it; you never finish your prayer. The definition of prayer is this: the feeling of the presence of God in you. And if you have this feeling of the presence of God you are in a continual prayer. If you pray only when you pray you don’t pray at all one of the monks said. So don’t pray only when you pray, you pray all the time because prayer is not “give me, give me.” Prayer is to say I love you and I want to spend time with you. Ask God something. And don’t worry God is answering you even if you don’t think it. He’s giving you good hints and good suggestions on how to resolve your problems. So to find God in our culture here is to be conscious that God exists first and God exists not outside of yourself but inside. And God is always with you and you can get the feeling of the existence of God.
~Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), https://myocn.net/god-is-always-with-you/.