We met the family of a member of the Convent's Clergy, Father Sergius Khrapitsky during the recent Orthodox festival "Joy of the Protection of the Mother of God". Father Sergius and Matushka Anna have four sons and six daughters, and some of them have appeared at the festival's musical stage with some talented performances. In our interview, we focused on their role as parents in a large family, and asked them questions about different aspects of their lives.

Getting up early and feeling tired

Fr. Sergius To me, getting up early is a very relative notion. Sometimes, a priest has to stay up all night to pray. I got up at four in the morning today, and next morning I may get up at six.

Matushka Anna: There is a division of duties among us: Batyushka [Fr. Sergius] has to rise very early to celebrate the service, while I may sleep later and get more things done during the day.

How they met

Fr. Sergius Our first encounter that I do remember, but Anna does not, was as singers of the Folk Choir of the Belarusian State University. I obtained my first degree from a secular university. At that time, I was a student at the Faculty of Radiophysics and Electronics, and Anna was studying at the same university and the Faculty of Philology. I had been singing in the choir since my first year at university, and Matushka joined later. But she caught my eye because she was so lively and funny. She has remained very much like that to this day. Later, we also met at the University's spa resort. That's when we had the chance to know each other better. That was back in the 1980s, during the Perestroyka.

Matushka Anna: But our first meeting did not amount to very much. We parted for several years after it. We needed these years to grow up and to deal with the changes that had taken place in our lives. But we never stopped being friends. We continued to call one another and exchange greetings on our birthdays and important dates. It was not until this later time that we met for real, and this was under the dome of the Cathedral Church, which was always open. This was indeed our meeting of a lifetime, one that changed our lives.

... balancing work and life

Fr. Sergius It is not possible to balance the two. To hope that you can ever do it and manage all the things on your plate is wishful thinking. There will always be areas where we will fall behind and not keep to the timeline. Pleasing everyone is always a tough call, so the first duty of a priest is to please God without neglecting his family.

God has brought me to view my family as my flock. I have responsibility both for the larger flock and for the domestic one. With my Matushka's help, I am trying to be a good shepherd for my domestic flock. This used to involve doing a lot of housework. We were then living at a parish in Turov, and had running water only at night. Sometimes, I had to get up at night, read the prayer rule (the services were frequent), and then wash the diapers, as an addition to the rule. Today, things are a lot easier, We have a lot more helpers, but I still have a lot of things to do.

... the path to priesthood

Fr. Sergius A baby is born with an inner prayer, even if it had not been baptised. This can be accepted as an established fact. The thoughts going though one's mind as a little child are similar to those in the mind of an Orthodox monk during prayer.

My coming to God was possible through the prayer of my grandparents. Although our parents were baptised, they were not practising their faith openly for various reasons. At home we would celebrate Christmas and Pasha, but never go to Church. My fist visit to Church happened during my school years.

The coming to God is one of God's mysteries.

When the practice of the faith became popular - which happened after the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the baptism of the Kievan Rus, numerous churches began to open, including in Minsk City. Neither of us were baptised at that time. God led me to take baptism, and later to the altar, as a priest. I had never planned to become a priest.

Matushka Anna: We have not brought all of our crowd here (smiles). Most of us are busy at home or at work, some are travelling. We have only brought the artists and performers. They really add colour and spice to our modest lives, and are helping us a lot this way.

Our eldest, Dmitri, has a degree in Chinese studies from the Faculty of Philology of the Belarusian State University. He has put a lot of effort in the study of Oriental languages, and is now in the process of choosing his future career and life path.

Our daughter Anastasiya has won several international performing contests, and has been awarded a special stipend from the President of Belarus. Today, she is a senior instructor at the Academy of Music, and a trainee at the National Opera. Six months ago, she sang the primary aria in the opera "Don Pascuale" by Donizetti. She is married, and our grandchild Angelina is a darling of our family. She is almost 3.5 yeas old.

Our son Adrian is doing his masters at the Academy of Arts. His study area is expo design. He authored the design of the Christmas Tree outside Minsk's Palace of Sports, which was recognised last year as one of Europe's best. He is working, and helping our family, and he is also on his way to starting a family of his own.

Our daughter Cyrilla was named after a saint, Abbot Cyril of Turov. We spent ten years of our lives in Turov. Cyrilla is working, but wants to become a student.

Our son Daniel is studying at the Belarusian Agricultural Technical University. He is very generous, kind and funny. He has helped us look after our youngest children, and is not at home looking after our small ones.

You have already met our son Seraphim - you saw him perform on this stage on his tuba. He is very capable, and has a good ear for music. He is at his final year at musical school, and is studying in Grade 10 of an English language Gymnasium.

She is a student at the Gymnasium College of Arts, and is an aspiring art designer. She also goes to musical school. She is very busy. She is wants to become professional artist, to sing, dance and play music. She can sew, knit, decorate and cook. She can do a lot of things. She looks after our small ones, will make breakfast and even dinner for the whole family when mom is not around. She is great!

Our daughter Liuba studies at the Republican Musical College. It trains its students to become professional musicians, so she has to be very organised and dedicate a lot of her time and effort to music. But she also needs the time and space to enjoy being a child and relax. We are lucky that she is so gifted. She is also very gentle and caring. She is our darling, and we wish her to fulfil her dream and become a professional musician.

Your nine year old, Masha, is also fond of music. She plays the flute.

We felt that our family was somewhat incomplete without a tenth child, and we decided to adopt a little boy from an orphanage. That has always been my lifelong dream. His name is Ilya, and he brought into our family a new perspective, and a new way to see the world. Ilya is six, and he is going to school next year.

Slowly but surely, we are on our way to fulfilling our shared dream - to build our own house. We have been building it together for ten years; we hope to complete it soon enough, so we can all have a home where we can gather as a family.

... the spiritual foundations of a strong family

Fr. Sergius These are very well known, and were put forth a long time ago by the Evangelists. As Christ has said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15: 13). How does one lay one's life for one’s friends? We do not know... But we come to the wider Church for the grace that it takes to build our relationships in our smaller church, the family. This is indeed a difficult task. The world today is living by some very different rules. It is not possible to avoid coming into contact with it, either for ourselves or for our children. It is thus very difficult to bring everyone on board, and we are not always successful in doing so. However, I never stop calling on people to consult the scriptures and model their relationships with their spouses, children and the rest of the world on its teachings.

Rather than forcing this model on others, we should be learning to transform the world around us little by little, and work on or own personalities, and our own relationships.

To say that we know it all, or have learned to do it all would be a self-deception; nor would it be true to view ourselves or our children as perfect. - A faithful believer should know how to have doubt and ask questions. In his praise for Nathanael, Jesus said: Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit (John 1: 47). Nathanael had doubted that Christ was indeed the son of God, and God praised him for his non-conformity.

In music, too, health criticism can be very helpful. If a musician hears nothing but praise, he will eventually lose his skill. It is also like that in the family. If all we hear from one another is praise, we will end up in a state of self-delusion and miss our chance for the eternal life. We as children and spouses are there to help each other learn to live a life of truth and to love. This is indeed the ultimate goal of a Christian's life.




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