A day in the life of Nguyen Alexander

December 8, 2011.
° Hue, Vietnam. The dissident priest Nguyen Van Ly (64) is deported from a rest home in the archdiocese to the concentration camp Nam Ha in the north of the country. Van Ly, who is half paralyzed after having suffered four strokes, still has to spend five years in prison.
° Moscow, Russia. With a German film crew the dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov (61) revisits for the first time the ‘camp of death’ Perm 36 where he was imprisoned in the 1980s for six years.
The first man is a catholic, the other an orthodox Christian.
They have never met each other, but they are kindred spirits. Since the mid-1970s  they are fighting the same fight against a totalitarian communist regime. They both peacefully work very hard towards freedom in general and religious freedom in particular.
Their continuous fight has physically affected them. Both are partially paralyzed as a result of their imprisonment.
This double novel contains two parallel stories.
We follow Van Ly and Ogorodnikov during 24 hours while:
° a driver, a nurse and two guards accompany Van Ly during his journey by ambulance from Hue to the camp Nam Ha.
° Ogorodnikov, who is accompanied by a German journalist and a filmmaker, first takes an air plane and then a taxi to the concentration camp Perm 36.

Each book has eight chapters that follow the divine office in monasteries: the matins at midnight, the lauds at 4:30 a.m., the prime at 6:00 a.m., the tierce at 9:00 a.m., the sext at noon, the none at 3:00 p.m., the vespers at 6:00 p.m. and the compline at 9:00 p.m. 
Both trips take place at the beginning of December, during the Advent. In this liturgical period believers of the Catholic and the Orthodox Church look forward to Jesus' birth on Christmas. But what can Van Ly and Ogorodnikov still expect?

Another common thread is music. Ludwig von Beethoven’s  opera Fidelio (Ogorodnikov) and his Ninth symphony (Van Ly) play a key role.
Furthermore we can figuratively ‘hear’ on the one hand the Vespers of the Russian Sergei Rachmaninoff, and on the other hand the Peace song of the Vietnamese composer Kim Long.

The conversations portray their life story through flashbacks.
Their stories are largely parallel and result in a hopeful climax.
Both realize that their lifelong struggle was not in vain. In Vietnam a people's church massively emerges from the catacombs, while in Russia a new generation opposes the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin.

This double novel has not yet been published in English.


Chapter 1

The hell of Perm defeated

1. Midnight

“I’ve got to go.”
   Dima yawned. “Shit. Tomorrow breakfast meeting at half past eight. You, too, should go to bed because you look tired.”
   I tightened my ponytail.
   “Yeah, but we must continue to protest against the fraud.”
   “Hey, did you really think that United Russia would lose the elections?”
   “Where’s your critical mind, my son? Do you think it’s normal that my mother is still on the electoral roll? She’s been dead for more than two years.”
   “Jesus. Just a couple of votes. Do they make any difference?”
   “A couple of votes?”
   Outraged, I straightened my back. “I’ve seen with my own eyes how government employees were bussed from one polling station to the other because according to the law they are supposed to vote where they usually work. In theory the election is free, but many workers were required to take a photo of their ballot. And how many entrepreneurs put their staff under pressure in You Tube videos to vote for the Party of Swindlers and Thieves. And I'm not even talking about the fraud during the counting”
   “Honestly, how many votes would Putin’s party really have won?”
   “No more than thirty percent. Do you realize now why we denounce that fraud? If the presidential elections in March 2012 I would be honest I doubt that Putin would win.”
   “Look at him: our eternal dissident! Are you going to prevent Putin from winning?”
   “Yes. We are currently creating a new party: Moral Russia.”
   Dima got up and pointed to the yellowed poster behind my desk when I was a candidate in the 1990 elections. “Your political microbe isn’t dead yet.” In an automatic reflex he checked his iPhone messages. “Cool. Do you know that there’ll be a protest march again on Saturday? On Facebook there’s a call to form a human chain around the Kremlin.”
   These social media really have an enormous mobilizing force! “Your generation wakes up, Dima!” I challenged him. “You can’t remain indifferent.”
   He shook his head.
   “Calm down! We have so often talked about that. My wife and children have priority. I respect your commitment, but I also know the price you’ve been paying for that idealism for the last forty years. I’m not like you. I want to lead a normal life.” He stretched and let out a deep sigh. “Sometimes I really don’t understand you. Why are you going back tomorrow to that damned concentration camp? Why, after 24 years, open that cesspool of the past again? Don’t do it. Tell the German TV crew to get lost. Let bygones be bygones! Only then you also will have peace.”
   “The … air…plane and …. the ta…; ta…xi are ordered.”
   “Do you really want to go back?”
   When my emotions surface I always stutter.
   “You … I …” Because of my partial paralysis I couldn’t say more than one syllable.
   With his hand on the door handle of my apartment Dima rubbed more salt into the wound. “You never told me what has happened in the camps. What do I know about you?”
   I felt as if my breath was cut off. I knew that reproach. But what could I say? I closed my right eye to avoid his gaze. As if it were a movie, images of the past swirled in my mind. Can words ever express those horrors? I wanted nothing more than delete these images from my hard disk. But these grooves extend to my bones.
   I gasped for breath. “I’ve been struggling... for years …” Slowly my words came back. “Only, I see that … Why doesn’t any dissident open his mouth? … Seventy million people were locked up in the Gulag … Many more than the fifty million claimed by Aleksandr Solzjenitsyn ... ” The sweat was beading across my forehead. “The people responsible for the darkest chapter in the history of the 20th century and perhaps in world history have never been punished … And their heirs are still running the show.”
   Dima’s smile irritated me.
   “You didn’t vote for Putin, did you?”
   “Vote? Fuck you.” Dima’s laughter echoes through the room. “I’ve never voted.”
   “Don’t you realize that nothing stands in the way of the creation of new Gulags?”
   Silence and head shaking. Dima didn’t like my sermon, but I continued. “Standing on the sidelines and cash in as a successful software designer. That’s easy.”
   “Isn’t that my right?” He was piqued. “I’ve built up my business from scratch with these two hands and the brain cells between my ears. You seem jealous.”
   “I’m not interested in money. And anything I have, I give away. It’s unpalatable that the Gulag is embedded in the mindset of every Russian. In a country that has never known a moment of freedom, even my own son uncritically accepts the lies that the media serve every day like sweet porridge. Because of Russia’s regained proud nationalism nobody raises his voice against our corrupt rulers. That’s why they can go about their business undisturbed by anyone.”
   “Don’t exaggerate. No one has ever interfered with my doings.”
   “Wait till you do something that the Kremlin doesn’t like. Do you know that Putin has never distanced himself from the policies of Jozef Stalin? And in the history textbooks used in secondary schools the Gulag is called ‘a form of rational action’.”
   “Just a minute. Aren’t you exaggerating now? Last month you were impressed by the memorial in Butovo.”
   “Butovo, Butovo. That’s a mere palliative. The government and the Orthodox Church maintain a profound and guilty silence.”
   I bit the bullet: I decided to tell him about my most important decision in many years. “I’ve … decided to … break that silence.”
   This was a weight off my shoulders.
   Stunned, Dima didn’t know how to react. 
   “It’ll be a difficult … journey to Perm … tomorrow. Scars will be ripped open again. But I’m happy … that I’ve made that decision.” I heaved a sigh of relief. “Do you know … who has convinced me to do this? Your daughter Anna.”
   “She spent a few days here when you were in India last month. We had a long talk. Her simple questions opened my eyes.”
  “Jesus. Now I understand why she’s been so secretive lately and why she absolutely wants to come along tonight.” He feels in his pocket. “Here. I almost forgot. She gave me this envelope.”
   “For grandpa.” I recognized her handwriting.
   “Careful. You may only open the letter in Perm. An order from my daughter!’
   “And she’s only eight years old! Someone will follow in my footsteps.”

“Take good care of yourself , " Dima said on the sidewalk.
   Spontaneously we embraced each other. That was years ago. The bleak December wind bit through my coat. "Greetings to Mary and the children!” I called out to him, still clutching Anna’s letter in my hand. While I was waving, I heard church bells somewhere in eastern part of the city. Would that be the Petrus monastery? When the wind blows from that angle the shrill sound rises gently above the relentless traffic noise. The monks will go back to bed after the Matins, but Moscow never rests.
   Suddenly a sense of uncertainty overtook me. Bells remind me of Advent which is now in its second Sunday. Looking forward to Jesus’ birth has a special meaning for me this year. What will my future hold? And what is going to happen to Russia? 
   In the distance Dima turned into the Lenin Boulevard. Via the ring road he turned into the Peace Boulevard.

The Peace Boulevard. That name rings like a bell in my ears.
   July 1971.  On a Friday evening in my hometown Chistopol I put some clothes in my suitcase.
   “Don’t you have to go to the hearing?”
   “Fuck the secret service, father. Our neighbour drives his truck to Moscow tonight. I’ll go with him as stowaway. Don’t worry. He won’t tell anyone. We’re  leaving now.” 
   “What? Do you realize what you’re saying? You’re on the run? Have you ever considered the consequences? You know that the KGB is dangerous. Are you going to dig your own grave at the age of 21?”
   He wanted to grab my suitcase, but I pulled it towards me.
   “You’ve been drinking again.”
   Father blushed a deep red, but before he could react I said: “I want at least make something of my life. I’m not going to bury myself in this petty provincial nest with its corrupt bureaucrats. I can’t stand it anymore over here.”
   Father grabbed me by the collar. “Where is the respect for parental authority? Here in this house I’m still the boss. And you, you should start listening. The KGB will search for you and find you. And they won’t only destroy you but us as well.”
   At the kitchen sink Mum was crying softly.
   I pulled myself free from his grip.
   “My mind is made up. I will not end up like you.” 
   Outside the driver honked.
   “Go my boy”, Mum said. For the first time she signed my forehead with the cross.
   While father plopped down on the couch with his empty glass of vodka, I ran down the stairs.  

The Institute of Cinematography near Peace Boulevard. I dreamed of it for years. As a small boy Mom had to shatter my dream after each visit to the movie theatre. As I grew older, my fascination with the silver screen only increased. And the Soviets really could make movies! That was their main propaganda weapon. Their movie industry was world famous. It was my dream to write movie scripts. When I closed my eyes, I saw the most famous actors act in ‘my’ movies. I didn’t lack fantasy.
   In the majestic building enrolment was under way. What a maze of corridors! I bumped into a foreign student.

“Ward. Nathalie Ward. I’m from the UK.”
   “Pleased to meet you, I’m Aleksandr. You speak Russian rather well.”
  “This is my second year. Anyone living in Moscow has no other choice than to speak Russian. Where are you going?”
   “The screenwriting department.”
   “I’ll show you the way.”
   We walked through the long corridors. She noticed my suitcase.
   “Have you got a place to sleep tonight?”
   “No,” I said timidly.
   “My apartment is around the corner. I have plenty of space there.”

The 200 places for Soviet students were highly sought after. Moreover, the Institute of Cinematography counted as many students from other communist countries and a few stray Westerners. After nine entrance exams I passed as the best candidate.
   During the ultimate test I answered the smile of the KGB agent with a wink. The secret service hadn’t traced me yet.
   “Classes start on Monday, September 1 at 9:00 am,” the director said at the meeting of the students. “The wing with the student accommodation will be accessible as from mid-August. On the notice board in the hall you’ll find the list of the rooms and the names. Don’t forget to register your residence permit for Moscow in the town hall of your place of residence with your certificate of enrolment.”

‘You here!”
   My heart was beating in my throat when the mayor of Chistopol, with whom I was in conflict, got me in his sight. He immediately grabbed his telephone.
   “Please come here and pick up our lost son!” he shouted with his obnoxious voice.
   A few minutes later two KGB agents burst into the town hall.
   “Ah! Our homing pigeon has landed?” The chief of the local branch sounded triumphant.
   “Papers!”, ordered his colleague.
   His facial expression changed when he saw that those were in order.
   “The Institute of Cinematography? How did you get in there?”
   I remained silent.
   “Don’t have any illusions”, his boss snarled. “We’ll get you in the end.”
   With sorrow the mayor also saw me leaving the town hall as a free man. I ignored him.
   Back in Moscow Mum called me. “The KGB-chief of Chistopol has died in a car accident.”
   I realized that he had been killed because of my departure. My life insurance was the Institute of Cinematography which was almost untouchable because of the many foreigners who were studying there.

Irony and sarcasm became my style of life. I had long hair, I wore jeans and the blue jacket of a former soldier of the White Army. That army had been defeated by the Red Army after the October Revolution of 1917 in a bloody civil war, but nobody remembered the meaning of that uniform.
   One day the Venezuelan Ramirez Sanchez from the university for foreign students took me aside. I didn’t understand why. The man only spoke Spanish and was assisted by an interpreter. His black hair was slicked back and he wore dark glasses. I couldn’t see his eyes. He called himself an agent of international communism and he recruited students for an elite training in guerrilla techniques in the Crimea. “Like missionaries we are going to spread communism worldwide.” Did he laugh or did he grin?
   Of course I brushed him off. But a few years later, at the time of the hostage crisis at the headquarters of OPEC in Vienna, I recognized him. Sanchez was the terrorist Carlos.

“Andrei Tarkovski will be your supervisor ," my professor said at the start of the second year . "He is working on a special project. Just find out if that’s your thing.”
   I found Tarkovski’s office in a basement.
   “Firstly you should watch my previous movies”, said the gruff forty year old who had jet black hair, a big moustache and a few pimples on his right cheek.
   In the archives department I watched Ivan’s Childhood and Andrei Rublev, two of his movies that barely ever were in circulation in the Soviet Union, because both the psychological drama about a boy growing up during World War II as the chronicle of a medieval icon painter surreptitiously criticizes the Soviet system.
   For days on end I was dazzled by one of the most touching movies I had ever watched. I immediately understood why one of the geniuses of movie history was not allowed to lecture at the Institute of Cinematography.
   “Well, what did you notice?” Tarkovski asked. “Five words.”
   “Anti-soviet, … loneliness, … urge to survive, … symbolism, … perfectionism and … spiritual longing.”
   “That’s six words.” He smiled. The wrinkles on his face showed the grooves of his years of lonely struggle.
   “Listen. I'm going to make something that has never been shown. The Mirror will be a movie without logical structure or plot. Individual scenes will sketch the psychology of the protagonist. Would you like this project?”
   I was petrified, but my body language betrayed my enthusiasm. At the end of the academic year Tarkovski wrote a glowing report on my internship. “Work for me after your graduation.”

While I put on my beige pyjamas I noticed the book Doctor Zhivagoby Boris Pasternak. That lament about the demise of the Russian intelligentsia paints an unflattering picture of the October Revolution. The bookmark on page 276 drew my attention to the famous quote: “Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”
   Next to Doctor Zhivago stood the books Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I saw the markings with a red pen of years ago. “But there is only one truth; consequently, only one nation can possess the true God...The sole "God bearing" nation is the Russian nation.” I read in Demons.
   I scratched my head. I've never been a fan of the messianic vision of Dostoevsky with his "Holy Russia". However, what appeals to me, is the great importance he attaches to the idea of ​​community and the spiritual dimension as also shown in the films of Tarkovsky. However, reading Dostoevsky’s work put me on the track of the presence of God as a creative force.
“Fancy a visit to the illegal book market?” Vlado, my Bulgarian roommate at the Institute of Cinematography asked me on a Saturday morning.
   On a large square KGB agents were surreptitiously watching from a distance as hundreds of people were cautiously whispering. They all had one or more books under their arm. Here books that were not found in shops or libraries were exchanged or sold. Most books dated from before 1917.
   “The New Testament?” someone behind my back asked. “Only ten rubles.”
   Inquisitively, I turned around. “I only have five rubles in my pocket.”
   “Seven and a half”.
   I opened my wallet. Without saying a word, he took the money in exchange for the book.
   On the way back a mysterious feeling overwhelmed me. I didn’t dare to open the book. It was lying in my room for months without me ever touching it. Vlado even hid his money in it.
   One day I nevertheless put it in my bag. By train we travelled to the secret archives of the Institute of Cinematography in a forest outside of Moscow. Reading the Gospel of Matthew fascinated me from the first lines. I was overwhelmed by an unprecedented feeling of joy.
   Normally we, as brazen-faced students of the Institute of Cinematography, used to fight with the ticket inspector because we didn’t want to pay. But today was different.
   “A ticket for each of us”, I said.
   My classmates looked up in surprise.
   “Not awake yet?” Vlado asked.
   “Or do you have too much money?” his neighbour grinned.
   Unperturbed , I read on.
   Later, at the archives, we studied camera settings, photography, aesthetic design and building up scenes of The Gospel according to Matthew by the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini.
   I could hardly believe my eyes. The text that I had read recently served as script. Due to a lack of special effects, the film exudes authenticity. The dramatic staging with rough characters strengthens the inspiring wisdom of Jesus' words. He is strict and sometimes brutal with his disciples. He draws crowds of people to him, but he also chases them away.
   The communist and atheist Pasolini showed me the way from an abstract idea of ​​God to the living Christ. Afterwards I preached to my surprised fellow students.
   “What now?” asked Vlado. “Our eternal critic promoting this movie as the truth? No, we don’t buy it.”
   “Mama mia, not me!” his neighbour burst out laughing.
   Their laughter didn’t touch me. I couldn’t put into words the sensation of the presence of God in my life because I was full of vitality, energy and freedom.
   I listened to the shortwave broadcasts of religious programmes of The Voice of America and I discussed matters of faith with kindred persons. We were more than ten people to attend the first secret meeting in the apartment of Nathalie Ward. The KGB couldn’t just burst in over there.

I was looking for kindred spirits. But Moscow was a gray city with thousands of anonymous apartments between skyscrapers in sugar baker's style. The inhabitants looked as gray as the concrete pens they inhabited.
   I spoke to young people on the street that stood out by their look, their attitude or their clothing. That approach worked.
   The first person I ran into on the streets of Leningrad was Vladimir Poresh. We talked all night. This student of French and Romance Philology had said goodbye to communism after having suffered an inner crisis and devoted himself to the deepening of his faith. However this soured his relationship with his family. His father was the rector of the Sports Institute in Smolensk. Moreover, because she thought she had failed to educate her son well, his mother stopped teaching at the university.
   Tatiana Shipkova whom I later met in the streets of Smolensk took care of her former student Poresh like a second mother. As a man of honour he gave up an academic career for his religion.
   My odyssey through the Soviet Union took me to Riga, Vilnius and Kaliningrad. And with the Trans-Siberian Railway I arrived in Novosibirsk, 3,300 kilometers from Moscow. Along the way I met communities of hippies. They drank tea, wore long hair, constantly discussed and had a lot of interest in religion. Because they were demonized, they kept their meeting places a secret until the last moment.

As a final project I wanted to make a movie about a meeting of young Christians in Estonia. Following the approval of a fictional scenario I was given a cameraman and movie equipment. In July 1973 we went hitchhiking to a clearing in a forest near Tallinn. Along the way we crossed a group of hunters, but I was so nervous that I hardly paid attention to them. Participants showed up in groups. It was a happy reunion. Some gathered some wood and made ​​a fire. We drank tea.
    I counted two hundred attendees when I called everybody together to view all the commitments. In the first movie shot we sang the popular version of the Canticle the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi:
            Lord, teach me to love and serve God.
Make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love …
   We had shot that scene three times when I suddenly saw armed men in the distance. Everyone panicked when the men showed up from all sides. We were surrounded. Some were preparing to escape but the firing of guns made them change their mind. My plan had been leaked.
   Moments later ten trucks with KGB agents arrived.
   “I do have a permit”, I shouted.
   “Show it to me!” the brigadier general snarled.
   The man checked my papers. “This must be a forgery. It’s simply impossible that you would get permission for such a meeting.”
   “You’re wrong. Look at the stamps and the signature of the director of the Institute of Cinematography.”
   The man shook his head. “We’re going to investigate this. In the meantime everyone is arrested for identity checks.”
   Those who didn’t spontaneously get up felt the butt of a gun in their back. The booing and jeering only made the KGB agents more aggressive. We were rounded up like animals.
   “Well, well, you had a fictitious script approved!” A few days later the brigadier general banged his fist on the table at KGB headquarters. “You are aware of the consequences, aren’t you?”
   I remained silent.
   “The director of the Institute of Cinematography has already been fired. And you are next in line. Moreover your residence permit for Moscow has been cancelled. There is place for you in the watch factory in Chistopol.”
   The man grabbed me by the collar. “You’re expected over there!”
   Since returning to my home town was not an option, I went into hiding at a friend’s place. However I could never stay in one place for more than 72 hours because of the control by the janitors.

Because of the flood of memories I couldn’t sleep. I switched on my bedside lamp. I looked at the icon on the wall, an heirloom from my grandmother. As a child I saw her pray to the icon every day and after her prayer she always kissed the icon. On her deathbed she let me in on her secret. “When your father was out working, when you were still a baby, I pressed the icon to your forehead every day.”
   Music is my tried and true recipe to unwind. I searched through my small stack of CDs. I’m very fond of the opera Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven, but this charge against tyranny couldn’t relax me in the middle of the night.
    I put on a CD with the Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninov. This music conjures up the sacred atmosphere of the Orthodox monasteries and churches.

Early 1970s almost all religious buildings were closed. The Danilov Monastery served as a factory and juvenile detention centre and Saint Basil's Cathedral on Red Square with its onion domes was a popular attraction for Western tourists.
    Attracted by Orthodox chants one day, I entered a church where apparently Mass was being celebrated. When the Holy Communion was distributed an indefinable force drove me forward.
    Some women stretched their arms. Some wept. For the first time in their lives they saw a young person receiving communion.
    "We’re so happy that we are able to experience this," someone shouted.
    After Mass, the women approached me.
    "Why all this commotion?"
    "Did you first go to confession with your starets?" asked a very old woman who had wound a rosary around her fingers..
   “I don’t have a spiritual guide. I only recently discovered Christianity."
    The woman looked disappointed. "As a believer you can’t be without a starets. He decides when you are ready to receive communion. Besides, you first must fast for several hours."
    "I haven’t eaten yet today," I reassured them.
    The women thanked me and kissed my hand.
    The next Sunday I attended another Mass. At once I noticed some KGB agents. I recognized them a mile way. When the priest boarded a luxury car with driver, I realized that the clergy was in league with the regime.
    Now I understood the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. "That the Church is led by atheists in a dictatorial way is a spectacle that hasn’t been shown in two thousand years."
   Yet not every pope or priest was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
   “We are in the line of fire”, were the first words of the sermon that I heard when entering the church of Dimitri Dudko. I had to squeeze in but one could hear a pin drop.
   “We are surrounded by atheists," he fulminated. "There is no place where we as religious people can find shelter. All newspapers, schools, theaters, cinemas and libraries are staffed by atheists and all laws are designed to stifle us." Dudko clenched both fists. "The Communists have imprisoned and murdered many popes and religious people. The church has been decimated, but the core is still alive after more than half a century of persecution. They will never be able to destroy us! Never!"
   Straightforward and very committed to his cause. With his waterfall of words Dudko immediately won my heart. In his Saturday talks, he answered all questions honestly. I applauded his blunt attacks on the official church. And on Sunday mornings after Mass we conducted in-depth discussions at the table.

At that time I had become a member of the underground press, the samizdat. The distribution of pamphlets was not evident because the government checked the photocopiers and during searches the authorities systematically confiscated typewriters and carbon paper. In addition, there was a chronic shortage of paper.
    With regard to samizdat there was only one rule. The more interesting the information, the faster and on the larger scale they were distributed. Initially I signed my texts on recent religious developments with my initials, but later I used my full name, because the more one talked about you, the better your own security. Being renowned in the West was the best guarantee not to be arrested.

The world of the dissidents was small. I had already met Andrei Sakharov a couple of times when one day I accidentally ran into him on the street.
   "Good to see you. I was looking for you. I’m giving a press conference next Tuesday in my apartment. "
   I was taken by surprise.
   Sakharov noted my surprise and laughed. "The authorities also will be surprised. They call the reign Leonid Brezhnev the "period of stagnation". Come on, I have another word for that: lethargy. I’ve invited all the foreign correspondents. We’ll have a ball."
   That was the most sensational news in years.
   "I 'm going to give an overview of the general political situation," continued Sakharov enthusiastically. "Could you via your network explain the recent religious developments? My grandfather was a priest, but I am not well informed in these matters. Furthermore, a specialist will explain the emigration of the Jews. What do you think? "
   "I feel very honoured," I stammered.

I was very nervous for days on end. I tried to organize my thoughts, because I had never ever talked to the press.
    It was oppressively hot that august afternoon when I went to the small apartment Sakharov had in a suburb of Moscow. KGB patrols were lurking, but they didn’t intervene.
    Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, welcomed me warmly. I was impressed by the material of the film crew from Norway and I hesitantly shook hands with ten foreign correspondents. Many were wearing their hair long and were dressed extravagantly for Soviet standards. After his speech Sakharov was faced with a barrage of questions.
   "Why do you openly revolt now?" asked the journalist of Newsweek.
    "On moral grounds," Bonner replied.
    "The Soviet Union has become a totalitarian society," added Sakharov. "I can no longer breathe freely. How can I do scientific research in such an oppressive atmosphere? In international politics this regime hides behind a sympathetic mask and wants as many countries as possible to rally to the communist cause. But many do not realize that these actions are extremely dangerous. Any criticism is ruthlessly suppressed and human rights are systematically violated. The number of prisoners of conscience has increased alarmingly. That has to stop. Our constitution guarantees all freedoms. I demand these freedoms to be respected! "
    Eagerly the journalists wrote down his every word.
    When it was my turn to speak I was so impressed that I barely could find the right words.

Sakharov was at once the most important dissident in the Soviet Union. The fact that a top scientist openly criticized the regime was unprecedented. Because of his work for the fatherland the "father of the hydrogen bomb" had been awarded the Lenin Prize, the Stalin Prize, the State Prize and he had been declared a Hero of Socialist Labour three times.
    He opted for an open confrontation under the influence of his second wife, Yelena Bonner. She was a tough cookie.
    Sakharov remained provisionally untouchable because the government was terrified of negative publicity in the international public opinion. However the KGB guarded his home day and night and followed his doings. He knew that his phone was tapped and that he would no longer have a moment of rest.
   Meanwhile in the Soviet media he was faced with an avalanche of criticism. The Communist Party newspaper Pravda described him as the supplier of slander. Forty members of the Academy called his performance "unworthy of a Soviet scientist ".

I was impressed by his direct approach and his blunt language. During his second press conference he denounced the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes. "I demand an inspection by the International Red Cross: not only the psychiatric institutions, but also the prisons and the concentration camps should be inspected"
    To my surprise his appeal gained approval. For the first time in the history of the Soviet Union, foreign psychiatrists were allowed to visit the Serbski Institute in Moscow. But the visit bore little fruit. The international observers noted that the Soviet Union accommodated a verybroadconcept ofschizophrenia.

    Moments later, Sakharov summoned me to his home.
   "Working as a street sweeper and keeping the neighborhood of the hospital on Peace Boulevard clean, wouldn’t that be a nice job for you? I know the director. You would get a salary and you would be allowed to live in the gatehouse. This way you could quietly do your thing. What do you think? "
   I was over the moon. Finally I wouldn’t be a vagabond anymore. For over a year I had slept in a different bed almost every night.
   Street sweeping is not my favorite thing, but I got the job of my life. In less than two hours my daily work was done. Furthermore I focused on what had concerned me for months: the creation of a Christian Seminar, which is not obvious because such an initiative was without precedent in the history of the Soviet Union.
   Because of her critical nature and the peace and stability that she radiates, Tatiana Chipkova played a decisive role. The moral authority of this intellectual and spiritual woman, the only member of the group that was older than 35 years, provided a counterbalance to our youthful enthusiasm. As for myself, I was close to the underground culture.
   There was a growing consensus to focus on the search for truth from a religious perspective, never to go out into the outside world and to only admit trusted people that are known to the core members.

In my gatehouse 25 interested people attended the first meeting of the Seminar. Some came from Minsk, Riga, Kiev and Leningrad. We openly discussed life's big questions.  However, speaking uncensored didn’t even happen among friends. "Where three people are gathered, there is a KGB agent in their midst" says the proverb. For the first time we didn’t have time for defending the faith; all the energy went into the study and the deepening thereof.
   We shared not only the dislike for the Soviet way of life, but we were also seeking a new society. The understanding of the tradition of orthodoxy and the lives of the monks and the Church Fathers we experienced as a gift. I felt the hunger for a contemporary interpretation of this centuries-old tradition, but I had no idea yet what that might mean in practice. We enthusiastically talked until the early hours.
   With the connivance of Director Abraham my visitors stayed until dawn in the hospital. After too little sleep, the atmosphere at breakfast was still euphoric.
    "This building is imbued with a spirit of freedom," beamed Vladimir Poresj. "I hereby declare it a Free State."
    "Never before have I felt such a brotherhood," said Tatiana Chipkova.

Dozens of new interested people showed up at our meetings. However, I made sure not to be in the spotlight at any time and in the samizdat not a word was written about the Seminar.
    In Leningrad Vladimir Poresh founded a branch and Tatjana Chipkova did the same in Smolensk. Our network silently spread out to ten cities, with Novosibirsk as the farthest point.
    Yet our conservative approach didn’t guarantee tight security. After a few months, latecomers signaled KGB agents around my house.
    "Then our safety is guaranteed," I joked.

One day Tatiana Chipkova brought her old phonograph. We listened to a recording of the opera The legend of the invisible city of Kitezh by Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov.
   The scratches on the record didn’t bother me. I closed my eyes and in my mind I was in the invisible city of Kitezh: a legendary city that sank into a lake.
    "This imaginary journey is a metaphor for our search for the true spiritual life," said Tatiana.
    Our new way of life was powerful and full of meaning. I realized that you can live with the truth when you go against the pressures of the world around.


Chapter 2

2. Five o’clock in the morning

That damn alarm clock. With one blow I silenced it.
    As hungry as a bear, I hobbled to the refrigerator, but I restrained myself. During Advent, I tried to fast as much as possible. The previous ten days I had only drunk strong tea. Fasting is beneficial for body and mind, but requires an iron discipline. Since my time in the concentration camps, fasting had become easy for me.
    However, there would be a break soon because of the visit of the German TV crew. I couldn’t possibly ask them to fast as well...

Outside my breath froze on my glasses. It was at least minus twenty degrees Celsius.
   On the wide avenue to the metro station Beloruskaya cars were randomly parked. Here reigned guaranteed chaos at the morning peak hour.
   All the roads around the station were closed. Probably one or other dignitary had to travel from Putin’s country house to the airport.
   "How much longer", shouted a driver through his window. "I've been here for almost half an hour.” He started to honk, and then a deafening cacophony of bells and whistles erupted.
   The police stared ahead impassively. They were deaf to any criticism.
   Moments later a fleet of government cars accompanied by motor bikes raced through the street. The armored cars with a single blue light were followed by some vans. What use is such a show of force at this early hour?
   When the cops left the traffic started to flow again. With clenched fist the driver continued his way.

In the distance the journalist Radko showed up. He was a robust man in his fifties. He held a tripod in one hand and a camera in the other. At a short distance followed filmmaker Roland. He looked older and had short legs.
    As we stood in line for a metro ticket Radko looked at the group of statues that represent the fire of the revolution. Further down the mosaics on the walls showed happy farmers.
    "The Holodomor?" He asked sarcastically. "How many people died in Ukraine because of the famine that was triggered by Stalin?"
   “Here you see the false ideals that were hammered into us," I said. "Stalin considered artists the engineers of the human soul."
   "Engineers?" Radko burst out laughing.
   ”Don’t laugh. Their mission was to show reality in its revolutionary development. Artworks had to radiate optimism and heroism and arouse the masses to make more enthusiastic efforts. That was a deadly serious matter."
   " Not the brown line number five," I warned Roland. "That’s the ring around Moscow. There, the green line number two."
   Two cops who didn’t like the film material that Radko carried stopped us. I feared that we would have to bribe them. Luckily my guests could show the papers of their hotel and also for the agents it was still too early in the morning.
   On the platform two homeless people were searching for some heat after the previous freezing night. But the cops arrested them.
   ”Only those who pay are left alone," I told the journalist. "This iron rule also applies to the homeless as well."
   The scene unfolding before my eyes hurt. These are the people we give free food to three times a week. In the presence of my foreign guests a sense of shame overtook me.
   "Was the government also so harsh with the seminar?” Radko asked.
   I took a deep breath.

The pioneering days of the Seminar were exciting. The KGB couldn’t come to grips with us and saw with dismay how after a short time we reached a few thousand people. That was unprecedented. After all, we had no structure or organization, we worked anonymously and didn’t strive for religious freedom
    The Secret Service did not understand how in every city where we landed spontaneous support grew for a new branch. To me, that was evident. There was a great craving for meaning and, moreover, the religious humus had not gone after half a century of church persecution and atheist propaganda.
    The seminar did not grow into a mass movement, but illustrated the growing interest in society for religion. And that instilled fear in the Communists, because in their eyes that threatened the regime.

“May I become a member?”
   An obviously pious chap wanted to join our group, but he showed too much interest in our operation and organization.
   I could see what he was up to. He was a mole of the KGB.
   “Shall we teach him a lesson?”
   Everyone agreed.
   I invited him to the next meeting. The man couldn’t believe his ears when I proposed to canonize Stalin for his merits for the Orthodox Church during the Second World War. The other members agreed with absurd arguments.
   “Why don’t we create a branch of the Seminar in the Kremlin?” suggested Vladimir Poresh. He turned to our guest: “Do you think this is a good idea?”
   “Mm. I’ve got a better idea”, Tatiana Chipkova said. “We always claim to be Christian and ecumenical. Why don’t we invite the Pope to our next meeting?”
   Afterwards we pissed ourselves laughing, but we never saw the man again.
   The KGB was aware that the authentic faith and the strong bonds of friendship made our movement inaccessible to outsiders. As a result of this, we remained out of the firing line for a long time. That tolerance was in stark contrast to the systematic persecution of all dissident movements.
   Moreover, the Secret Service couldn’t make any sense of our ecumenical approach. Although most participants were Orthodox Christians, also Protestants and Catholics attended the meetings. To us, our Christian identity was central and we desired to meet Western Christians. I spoke with Catholic students from Italy, France and Czechoslovakia and asked Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to bring us into contact with American Christians.

The famous writer wanted to help us but our meeting in early January 1974 was canceled because after the publication in Paris of his book The Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn suddenly was known worldwide and in the center of attention. He had made that step after the suicide of his secretary. The woman had caved in after a five-day interrogation. She had told the KGB where she had hidden the copy that Solzhenitsyn had given her.
    "This book is a result of a sick imagination and a cynical distortion of reality," lectured Pravda. In the book fragments circulating in the samizdat, blood and horror dripped off every page.
   Based on his personal experiences and testimonies Solzhenitsyn analyzed the repressive regime. It was an open secret that atrocities had taken place under Stalin. Many relatives of friends had stayed in the Gulag. But they were silent. I only knew the story of my grandfather who had lived hidden in a forest. When he was hiding during World War II for three years Mama brought him food every day.
    Solzhenitsyn laid the responsibility for the human drama with the communist ideology which left no room for deviation from the norm, rather than with Joseph Stalin

At great speed a subway car arrived. Roland got a seat and when the doors closed the train continued its fast journey.
    Return ticket to the Finnish capital Helsinki for 8,000 rubles. You couldn’t possibly ignore the garish posters of Air Baltic in the underground train.
    "Helsinki?" said Radko. "Didn’t the Helsinki agreements generate more freedom?"
    "The opposite!"

On paper, the Soviet Union recognized in 1975 respect for human rights and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. But the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Andrei Sakharov soured the atmosphere. Fearing that he would not be allowed to re-enter the country, his wife, Yelena Bonner, collected the price. But on the day of the ceremony Sergei Kovalev, Sakharov's friend, was sentenced to seven years in a prison camp.
    From then on the Seminar was also persecuted. During a meeting with seven members the police raided my house. Everyone was arrested and all the furnishings were confiscated. I lost my job as a street sweeper and lost my home. Also, hospital director Abraham was fired.
    Two members were interned. Psychiatrists announced that they would remove the religious crap out of Aleksandr Argentov’s head. Eduard Fedotov was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

I wanted to visit Fedotov in the Serbski Institute, but I got no further than the hall.
    Only after much insistence, I could speak with Doctor Levitsky. He accepted the packet containing the Bible and a prayer book.
    "Do not get me wrong. I have nothing against the faith, "said the psychiatrist.”That's one thing that everyone must decide for themselves. But you are talking about Eduard as though he were a healthy person. However, he's sick. Religion is to him an obsessive idée fixe. Your Eduard lives in a world of illusions. Faith doesn’t help him, but it undermines his health and isolates him from life, although he is an excellent young man. You can go to church, pray and receive communion. But why always preach? Believe me, we want the best for him. "
   "I want to see how you are treating Edward ," I insisted.
   "Sorry. For security reasons, I can’t let you do that. Because we don’t have enough rooms he is in a room with aggressive patients. But don’t worry, he gets the best treatment."
   "I want to talk to him," I screamed. "You can’t deny me that right."
   "Right? You don’t have any rights here" and with a measured smile, he added: "His father and mother share our opinion."
   Levitsky turned around and snapped his fingers. Four nurses kicked me out of the hospital. I could still see how the psychiatrist with a dismissive gesture threw my package on the counter. That would surely end up in the trash.
   Powerless I stood on the street. Poor Eduard. I had only one option left: writing a letter to Philip Potter, the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. In it I gave an overview of the harassment directed at the members of the Seminar and I advocated the release of Argentov and Fedotov. In an accompanying letter, seven prominent popes and laymen supported my call. 
   The letter was smuggled out of the country and landed on the desk of Potter. He announced the creation of an advisory committee on religious freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
    The KGB was furious. I was arrested and only released after having been interrogated for 24 hours. Shortly afterwards the nightmare was also over for Argentov and Fedotov.
    We were euphoric.
    "There are few reasons to triumph," I warned "The net around the Seminar is about to close."
    The next weeks and months the harassment continued. We set up a solidarity fund. Many voluntarily deposited a portion of their wages. With that money we supported any member who had lost his job.

I urgently needed a new job in order to avoid being convicted as a parasite. But everywhere I applied for a job the Secret Service made sure I was shown the door. Like that time when I cleaned the stables of the horse races in Moscow. The friends who had given me temporary shelter were told to fire me: at first the Secret Service was polite, later they threatened my friends.

Meanwhile, I quietly worked with Vladimir Poresh on our religious-philosophical magazine Community. We were putting the finishing touches to the first edition when one day I suffered paralysis. My lip was partially paralyzed and I had difficulty speaking. In the evening I went to the private residence of a doctor who secretly sympathized with the Seminar.
   "Is it serious?”
   He frowned. "I don’t know what caused it. We should do a brain scan and also do some muscle tests. You have to be hospitalized. "
   " But I don’t have a residence permit for Moscow. "
   "I know people who can help you in the Hospital of the Academy of Medical Sciences. What is the name of your family on your mother's side?"
   “Firsov. But what if the KGB discovers the fraud?”
   He smiled. “Sometimes medical files disappear for unknown reasons. Carefully follow my instructions."
    The next day I was admitted in that elite clinic. Patients received the best care over there. After a few days my condition had improved but one test was still planned.
    Suddenly Vladimir Poresh showed up in my room.
    "What are you doing here?"
    "I couldn’t wait any longer. Here is the master copy of the first issue of Community, the crowning glory of years of labor. It’s more than two hundred pages. Will you do the final check of the texts? Starting next week, we will make the copies that will circulate in samizdat."
    "What you are doing is irresponsible. Now that I have long been in the crosshairs of the secret service, I am sure that the leaders of the Seminar will be shadowed to pick up my trail”
   "Don’t worry. I’m not followed. Yesterday I took the overnight train from Leningrad to Moscow but I had disguised myself."
    A few hours later, a nurse came to get me.
    "But won’t this test take place tomorrow?"
    "A patient didn’t show up. Will you come? "
    I didn’t show my surprise and I casually hid the texts under my pillow. I didn’t see another possibility.
    On my return, I saw to my dismay that the folder was gone. We had underestimated the power of the KGB. I used the fire escape and I disappeared as quickly as possible, because I expected a raid at any moment. I would have to go in hiding again because under no circumstances I wanted to bring the doctor into disrepute.

Soon after I was arrested on the street and pushed into an armoured unmarked van.
   The Secret Service agents drove to a forest near the capital and stopped at a clearing. Seven black-clad men emerged from a holiday home with their rifles at the ready.
   One of them waved me away with the back of his hand as if I were an annoying fly: "We set you free."
   But the men formed a circle around me so I couldn’t possibly run away. Suddenly I saw a small opening. I ran out of the encirclement and ran. At every moment I expected a shot in my back. But that didn’t happen. The men were in hot pursuit. I stumbled and they surrounded me again.
   While they pushed and shoved me around, a discussion started about what they were going to do with my dead body
   ”Are we going to torture him first? " someone asked.
   "Let’s do that first."
   "Where would you shoot him?”
   I hobbled on and someone ordered: “Kneel!”
   "I only kneel for God.”
   The man fired a few shots above my head. “We don’t want any new martyrs."
   I saw a path and I ran in that direction. The path led to the edge of the forest. In the distance the silhouette of a small town was visible.
   I managed to escape and I ran like hell, zigzagging through the bushes. I heard shouting, swearing and a few shots. The sweat ran down from my body. Every moment could have been my last. I finally reached the first houses. My enemies didn’t dare to shoot in the urban area. I lifted my eyes to heaven and prayed.
    In the station, I took the waiting train to Moscow.
    A few minutes later I was in the company of the KGB agents. Squeezed between their shoulders, I could barely move. As they tapped their rifle barrel on the floor, I could feel their hot breath on my neck. What a terrifying intimidation technique!
   It was already dark when I arrived in Moscow. Behind me echoed the footsteps of my enemies in the silent streets. In my mind I went through the list of friends who could give me shelter.
   Tatiana Chodorovitch was the best option. She was a friend of Andrei Sakharov and well known to Western journalists. The KGB would think twice before using violence against her.
   "Quick! Let me in!" I commanded her as she opened the door.
   A fraction of a second later her iron front door closed on the nose of the KGB agents. They tried to ram the door, but we put a cabinet against the door and pushed with all our might. The bolts held.
   More than I, Tatiana was terrified. After all, she was putting the finishing touches on a new number of the underground dissident magazine Chronicle of Current Events. She hid the stacks of thin paper and her typewriter below the threshold of her kitchen. Only with a trick one could shift the shelf.
   I lay down on the sofa but the slightest sound made me jump.
   The street lamps shone on an icon of the Mother of God that was hanging on the wall. It looked like the icon my grandmother had. That image gave me inner peace. A little later I dozed off.
   At dawn Tatiana came into the living room. She had barely slept. I gave her material for the next issue of the Chronicle. She eagerly wrote everything down.
   Meanwhile, I saw through the window that KGB agents were guarding the building. I ran out of options
   "Be strong," Tatiana said when she opened her front door. We hugged.
   Again, I was followed by agents.
   In a desperate attempt to shake them off, I walked between two apartment buildings into a courtyard. Panicking, I pushed against a door. To my surprise it opened.
   I ran up the stairs to the top floor, expecting to be arrested at any moment. Out of breath, I opened the edition of the New Testament that was in my back pocket. My eyes fell on a verse in the First Letter of John: “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God remains in you, and you have overcome the evil one."
   A sense of calm descended on me. I kissed the New Testament and put it back in my pocket.
   Minutes went by without me hearing anything.
   I carefully descended the stairs, but I saw no one. The agents were gone. I was free again, at least for a moment.

After the failed first attempt we at once made plans for a new number of Community. Again this almost came to nothing, because we didn’t know that our phone was tapped. The police raided the house of Tatiana Chipkova in Smolensk. Seven copies of the 283-page new number were intercepted. Luckily I had hidden a few examples at the last minute.
    The KGB was therefore surprised when one month later nineteen copies of the magazine circulated in the underground press. Some found their way to the West.
    However, the publication marked the end of the academic career of Tatiana Chipkova. Because of "unscientific behavior" she lost her job and had to return her diploma and her doctorate. The latter she had obtained with the highest honours.  

The baby with his roguish curls on the arm of the young mother next to me on the subway cried all the time. Even his pacifier brought no solace. Some fellow passengers and I smelled what was going on.
   "Who as a child never has left a great message in a nappy cast the first stone", I comforted the embarrassed mother. I think my joke succeeded, but not everyone appreciated my sense of humor.
    When the mother turned around, I saw the baby with his chubby cheeks. He is looked exactly like Dima.
I was so proud when on March 30, 1977 our son was born. We wept with happiness.
    When Yelena Levachova attended a meeting of the Seminar for the first time, it was love at first sight. But our relationship was not to the liking of her parents who were fanatical communists. Yelena grew up in a 'closed' suburb of Moscow. Her father, an army colonel, worked in a secret research institute that designed missiles that could disable satellites.
    Pregnancy, the birth of Dima and the announcement of our marriage were the next steps in Yelena’s hellish journey. Because we didn’t recognize the Soviet Union, we were not lawfully married. Pope Dmitri Dudko, my starets at the time, went into a private room for a religious celebration with the friends of the Seminar.

"The situation in Moscow has become untenable."
    At a meeting of the core group we all were very worried as more and more participants in the Seminar were intimidated.
    "And we can’t find a new meeting place," added someone.
    "I see a way out!"
    My friends looked puzzled.
    "I met some monks of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev who are living underground. They gave me money to buy a house. On their advice, I went to Redkino, 150 kilometers from Moscow, looking for a home. I proposed to move our operation to that house. Over there we could hopefully live, work and shape the Christian community of which we dreamed away from the tentacles of the KGB."
   “Did you buy that house?” someone asked.
   “That’s impossible at your age” someone else said.
   “In order not to arouse suspicion, I asked my father to make that purchase. I've just phoned him. He agrees. "
    "What are we going to live on?"
    "We don’t need much. With the proceeds from the vegetable garden and the fruit trees we can provide for our livelihood. "
With my wife and Dima and ten members of the Seminar we wanted to take a room in the house in Redkino, but the Secret Service didn’t condone this so easily.
    In response, the KGB created a dead zone around me. Family members, friends and even neighbors were put under pressure not to speak to me. The aim was to fully isolate me. I felt like a stranger in my own country. The kindred spirits who came to Redkino by train, were picked up at the station. After consulting with my wife and my friends, I decided to temporarily go into hiding in order to quietly prepare a new issue of Community.
   “I’ll manage”, Yelena said approvingly. I hugged her.
   I first got shelter in Georgi Vins family home. He was a leader of the Baptists who was behind bars. Later a monk of the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev hid me. My wife knew where I was staying, but any form of communication was excluded.
    Meanwhile, my description was circulated in the Soviet Union. Again hundreds of KGB agents shadowed my family and friends, hoping to find me.
    One day I arranged a meeting with my fellow brother at arms Vladimir Poresh in the studio of an artist in Moscow. I came in through the back door, but was spotted by a KGB agent. Immediately, the building was surrounded. After an unsuccessful attempt to force the door, the building was guarded day and night. Because at night the guards were sleepy, we chose the fourth night for our escape. We rushed out, jumped over the fence and surprised the sleepy guards in their cars.

Six months later I surfaced again in Moscow at a press conference at Andrei Sakharov’s apartment. Upon my arrival the KGB-agents, who were standing guard outside, immediately called their headquarters.
   “We thought you had disappeared from the earth," joked Yelena Bonner.
   ”You’re a little thin, but you look good," said Sakharov.
   ”I’ve got a lot of hot information on both the Cave Monastery of Pechersk Lavra in Kiev , the persecution of the underground church and the state of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. "
   The journalists were in their element. After they left I stayed behind with Bonner and Sakharov. Chills going down my spine, I realized this might be our last meeting.
   "The barometer indicates lightning and a storm is approaching," sighed Sakharov. "Respect for Human Rights will not improve for the 1980 Olympics.  No one will be spared. Neither will we be spared."
   Not much was left of the sacred fire that he showed a few years earlier. The wrinkles in his forehead had become deeper. The communist system was grinding him down. I tried to instill courage in him but I read in his eyes that he knew that when I would leave this apartment a special unit of the Secret Service would be waiting for me. Maybe I’d be behind bars that same day.
   While Sakharov went to the terrace, Bonner hugged me. "Saying goodbye is not his thing”
   I was barely out the door when I was arrested.

   “Get in!” ordered a high officer of the KGB. I looked up. Sakharov went inside. He didn’t want to see how I was taken away. He knew that soon he could meet with the same fate. I was not afraid and I was quiet. Or was it resignation?

“It’s high time you no longer act like a hero," said the officer at the KGB headquarters. "We’ll give you one month to leave the Soviet Union."
   I protested: "Why should I leave my country? I don’t want to leave. You occupy our land and you only bring fear, cynicism and hatred. "
   "One month!" the man shouted.”Got it? If you haven’t emigrated within one month, we’ll arrest you and you'll never get out of prison. You will die in prison, forgotten and abandoned by everyone."

I consulted my friends. Some insisted on me leaving the country. They were convinced that I could achieve much more by continuing my struggle from abroad.
   I received an invitation from writer Anatoli Levitin - Krasnov to go to him in Switzerland. Shortly before his emigration, I had a good contact with him. At that time he gave me all the books he couldn’t take with him. Later we corresponded with each other via Swiss tourists who acted as couriers.
   And Aleksandr Shmemann, the dean of the Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, asked me to come to the United States
   My mind said yes, but I followed my heart.

"Today in Russia a new generation of believers stands up," I said at a meeting of the leaders of the Seminar. "We have the responsibility to show our faith not only in words but also in deeds. With our blood and our flesh we should prove that those words are not hollow. It is a privilege for me to suffer for Jesus Christ.
    Some wept, but didn’t ask me to reverse my decision
    Others announced that they also would brave arrest
    "Without suffering, faith has no sense," I said "By accepting my arrest I want to prove as a living witness to the religious persecution that Christianity is not an abstract idea."

During the little time left to me, I did everything in my power to continue the operation of the. Seminar. Covert communication was of great importance. I taught the members how to secretly transmit messages and we developed a coded language and a system to hide messages.
   I prepared myself mentally for my stay in jail by much praying and fasting regularly. But the latter was difficult to get used to. Sometimes I was afraid of not being able to lead a life of dignity behind bars. The detention system in the Soviet Union had a bad reputation.
   When I was arrested on November 20, 1978 I felt mentally strong. I knew I was going to go through a tough period. But I drew strength from Jesus' inspiring words in Matthew's Gospel that I remembered from the film by Pasolini: "When you have faith, even if it is as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain: move from here to there and it will move. Nothing will be impossible."


Chapter 3

3. Six o’clock

   At the terminus Rechnoy Vokzal we had to switch to a minibus. Although not six o’clock yet there was a long queue.
   "The direct link to the airport is still not ready," I apologized. "The road infrastructure hasn’t kept up with the population growth of Moscow from seven to seventeen million people.”
   Radko paced up and down. Queuing was not his thing.
   ”Don’t worry," I said. "We’ll catch our flight." I shook my head. "You have no idea what it was to grow up in the Soviet Union! Every day we stood in line for hours to buy bread, butter, milk ... and even the newspaper."
   Two older women attracted attention by their singing. I recognized a tune that Rachmaninov has incorporated in his Vespers. Their attire showed that they belonged to the Old Believers, a denomination that broke away from the Orthodox Church in the 17th century. They collected money for the homeless I read on their collection box. I didn’t have a lot in my pocket, but I gave them a few rubles.
   In the swarming sea of ​​people in and around the station, many homeless people were wandering around. They carried their meager belongings in plastic bags. Some were still sleeping under their cardboard blanket. Others stared blankly ahead, with or without a bottle of vodka in hand. Their eyes showed oceans full of bitterness, frustration and loss. Some were accompanied by their inseparable dog: the only living thing that still gave them affection.
    "How many homeless counts Moscow?" asked Roland.
    "Certainly half a million."
    "Were there homeless people under communism?"
    "Less, but they lived hidden."

Despite the early hour, traffic progressed slowly. In the neighborhood industrial sites have risen out of the ground like mushrooms. The surroundings of the soulless airport building were barely visible because of the snow. However I saw endless rows of gleaming luxury cars in the parkings. The executives earn big money while the foot soldiers, like the passengers of our minibus still only get a pittance.
    After the security check, we went to the new terminal C. The flight to Perm would leave at half past eight at gate number 7.
   Roland looked at the latest gadgets in stores. All major brands were represented. But my eyes hurt from that glamour and glitz. The prices were expressed in dollars, and made me dizzy. To convert to rubles you have to multiply by thirty.
    Every time I came here, I noticed how fast Russia is moving towards a dual society. In my youth, under communism, there was still some equality. But the gap is growing between the small group that bathes in luxury and the great majority who just get a few crumbs of the increase in wealth.
   In the kiosk my eye fell on the newest version of Fidelio by Italian conductor Claudio Abbado. "Opus 72, Beethoven's only opera, is often called the Song of Conjugal Love" I read on the back cover. "But the real issue is the struggle against tyranny and oppression."
   It reminded me of a show a few years back in Moscow. The staging referred to Communist repression under Stalin.
   I don’t know much German. But the texts of the arias of Floristan who is trapped in the dungeon I know by heart. This topic is still of actual importance after two hundred years.
   Radko showed me the Novaya Gazeta. The front page showed a picture of the protest against Putin.
   "Does that paper still adhere to its independent investigative journalism?”
   "Certainly, however since the election of Vladimir Putin in 1999 already six employees have been killed, including star reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
   My thoughts went to Anna whom I once met. The counter of the number of murdered journalists stood at eighteen. And this didn’t include journalists who were killed abroad. The fact that only one case was solved illustrates how bad the judiciary works.
    "In Russia, your profession would be life threatening," I joked, but I was deadly serious.
    "It's half a miracle that there still are people standing up for truth and justice, because Putin wants to control all the radio stations, TV stations and news agencies."

Engrossed in the reading of the Novaya Gazeta while queuing to go aboard, I suddenly froze.
    "Incredible!" I exclaimed. "Look. Here’s an article about Viktor Cherkesov."
    "So what?"
    "He's doing all purchases for Putin."
    Radko wanted to know who Cherkesov was.
    "Every dissident who was imprisoned in Leningrad in the 1970s would shiver when hearing that name. Do you know whose teacher he was?"
    "Look at their pictures on the Internet. They look like brothers. "
    "Did you meet Putin when he was a KGB agent?"
    "The Fifth Department of the KGB of Cherkesov shadowed the activities of the Seminar. I'm not sure I've seen Putin at the time. He started on the lowest rung of the Secret Service. He was one of thousands of employees in Leningrad.

The KGB systematically reported about anyone they were watching. The reports contained only code names so that only insiders could understand the messages. I myself was called the 'pharmacist'.
    When I was called at the trial of Vladimir Poresh in Leningrad as a witness in late 1979, Putin had just been transferred to Moscow. Over there he worked his way up to become the big boss of the KGB, until President Boris Yeltsin appointed him in 1999 as his successor.
    But Putin didn’t forget his teacher "If you want to know the true nature of a person, look who his best friend is," says a Russian proverb. For years, Cherkesov led the anti-drug brigade on an unlimited budget, until President Dmitry Medvedev fired him in 2008. But now he holds a top position again.
   After sixteen agents had tried to break my silence Cherkesov personally intervened. The man was notorious for his sadism and his unorthodox methods of interrogation. He was the most cynical man I had ever met.

    "Is our friend's tongue stuck?"
    I didn’t move a muscle.
    "What do you think of a visit to the roof?"
    His two aides grabbed me tight. In handcuffs I was dragged into the elevator and on the eighth floor they dragged me onto the roof. Since the wind was howling. I instantly became numb from the cold, because I was only wearing my prison clothes and it was fifteen degrees below zero outside.
   "Do you know why this building is called the 'Big House'?"
    Because I didn’t respond, Cherkesov slapped my face.
    "Look, over there, on the horizon is Siberia! Do you see that? In our camps your tongue will become loose. I recommend the mines of Kolyma. That is the coldest and most inhospitable region of the Soviet Union, but underground it’s cozy and warm. And you get to eat there as you work. Agree?"
    Gradually becoming excited because his intimidation didn’t work, he ordered his employees to hang me over the edge of the roof. Below me I could see the traffic on the roads of the city.
    This was psychological terror of the purest kind. My whole body was trembling. I tried to straighten my back, but I realized that I was at the mercy of that monster.
    "Careful that no accident happens," Cherkesov grinned when an employee loosened his grip for a second to scare me.
   “You know”, he whispered in my ear, “last week my employee couldn’t hold one of your colleagues anymore. His brains were too heavy. Ha, ha, ha.”
    I detested his cynical smile. The drool almost ran from his mouth.
    "We had to order a garbage truck and the cleaning service of the city to clean up the mess," he said. "Do you know how much that costs?"
    How many before me had he treated this way? I clenched my teeth to withstand the shivering and the fear and I focused on the icon of the Mother of God of my grandmother. The longer my unfortunate situation lasted, the more certain I was that they wouldn’t throw me off the roof.
    Meanwhile Cherkesov continued to pace up and down.
    "Hasn’t the fresh air loosened your tongue yet?"
    I didn’t react.
    When he started to feel the cold, Cherkesov yelled: "Take him down to solitary"

I didn’t give in, but in the dungeon it was damp and clammy. In the tiny cell where I couldn’t do three steps was only a concrete cylinder with a diameter of 25 cm on which I couldn’t possibly sit. From the ceiling hung a lamp that hardly gave any light.
    Because I couldn’t swallow the muck in the rusty bowl, I went on a hunger strike.
    The next day Cherkesov came to greet me.
    "Isn’t our friend hungry yet? What a pity, now all that good food goes to waste." He grinned. ”I give you good advice. Beware of the rats at night. They’re fond of human flesh. You wouldn’t be the first to ... Hey, what's on the menu tomorrow? Rat meat? Ha, ha ha. "
    Yes, rats were running around here. But no, I wouldn’t be intimidated.
    I wrestled through those hard days and weeks. In addition to the ever biting cold, I was almost mad with loneliness and suffered from the perpetual silence, while I physically weakened further. Only prayer kept me afloat.
   Prison regulations required that a prisoner should be artificially fed after seventeen days. I didn’t  know whether it was day or night. But when my body smelled like acetone, I was artificially fed.

The seats with the letters a, b ​​and c in row number 18. Since everyone had a lot of luggage boarding progressed slowly.
    "I like sitting at the window," said Roland. "Then at least I can see something."
    I sat in the middle seat and Radko sat in the aisle seat.
    "How was that forced feeding in jail?" asked Roland as if he had guessed my thoughts.
    "Ask your probing questions in turn. You could make a career in the secret service, " I joked.

With my hands tied behind my back a tube was forcibly pushed in my nose until it reached my stomach. Then a hot porridge was injected causing a burning feeling in my stomach. That was a terrible torture. Even after weeks, drinking a sip of water seemed like a cat clawing at my stomach. That scenario repeated itself every two days until I ended my hunger strike.
     Because of that cruel approach most hunger strikers ate their porridge, marking the official the end of their hunger strike. But they didn’t bring me to my knees. Stalin eliminated his opponents, but under party leader Leonid Brezhnev we were incessantly tortured, both physically and psychologically.

Shortly before the start of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow the KGB celebrated one of its greatest triumphs. Pope Dimitri Dudko, my former starets, said on television: "I rescind everything I've said and done.” He looked dazed and was probably drugged.
   What an embarrassment for the man who had baptized more than five thousand adult converts and whose sermons and enthusiasm had inspired so many.
   "When Dudko is on the side of my persecutors I take up his cross," I told the officer who triumphantly showed me the television images "His capitulation only makes me stronger."
   At that time the authorities were preparing my court case. The KGB was looking for a criminal offense to turn me into an ordinary prisoner. Sixteen detectives handled my case. But none of the hundreds of people who were interrogated lodged a complaint, until I was accused of raping Tatiana Polyakova,  a girl with whom I had had a relationship in 1969.
   In the presence of representatives of the judiciary Tatiana repeated her accusation. The rape allegedly took place in the apartment of my parents.

   “It was on a Sunday afternoon, " she said in a soft voice.” He began to caress me and wanted to go to bed. But I didn’t want that. Then he forced me to have sex. "
   I almost fell off my chair.
   " Where would I have raped you?"
   " In the bed of your parents."
   " That can’t be, because that was a folding bed. We lived in a studio. And that bed was folded every morning due to the small living space. "
   " Were you alone?" asked a judge.
   "Of course."
   "And what about my grandmother?” I exclaimed. "She died in 1970 and never went out of the house in those years”
   Confidently I said:” What did the bed look like? Which blankets were on it? And describe the pillows that grandmother had embroidered. "
   "I can’t remember ... that well ... it happened so long ago ..."
   There was a silence.
   "Pink. I think the pillows were pink."
   "There were no pillows, as grandmother couldn’t embroider! "
   ”Miss Polyakova” a judge sternly said.” Describe the rape. I want to know all the details. "
   When she looked up, I look her straight in the eyes.
   "Like I said ... I ... am ... "
   She started to cry.
   " Why, Tatiana?" I asked.
   "The KGB has promised me a house if I would accuse you!" she exclaimed.

If Tatiana had stood by her accusation she would have got the most coveted item in the Soviet Union, while it would have meant my death sentence.
    My process was a charade. In order to end the Stalinist arbitrary convictions the Penal Code of 1960 stipulated that every accused had the right to a trial, but the arbitrariness remained prevalent. Indeed, the courts asked no evidence from the Public Prosecutor. And anyone who came before a judge was always sentenced. At best he would get a milder punishment.

When my case was heard, I had been on a hunger strike for one hundred days. Only the forced administration of food kept me going. Before I entered the court room, I went to the toilet. I heard familiar voices outside. I stood on the toilet seat and through the window I saw to my delight many family members and friends of the Seminar on the steps of the courthouse. But they didn’t get a seat in the public gallery. All places were taken by people that had been carefully selected by the KGB. In the hallway noise arised because my parents and my wife were not allowed in the courtroom.
    "Mr. President", I shouted. "I demand that they attend the trial."
    "That is against the law," he replied. "They are called as the last witnesses, and to ensure the objectivity of justice they should only then enter the courtroom." The man was applauded.
   "In that case I refuse to attend this charade"
   After some consulting the judge allowed my parents and my wife to sit in the press gallery.
   The court case was a succession of evidence against me, even from people I had never met. But every time my lawyer or I refuted the allegations, we were jeered by the audience.
   "His whole life my son has shared everything he had with others, and he has worked hard wherever he went" testified my father "Can you tell me, as a member of the Communist Party, what he is accused of?"
   But the judge silenced him. Also other witnesses who testified for the defense were silenced, and the court didn’t allow the alleged evidence to be questioned. The file didn’t show any evidence. I was about to be sentenced for leading a parasitic way of life and not for my religious activities.
   On the last day of the trial, I was allowed to make a speech. My speech was inspired by J'accuse, the open letter by Emile Zola in the Dreyfus case in France. Because the court and the spectators constantly interrupted me, I spoke for five hours.
    "Of the Communist ideals in which I believed as a young man remains only rhetoric, because behind it a ruthless dictatorship is hiding. The real reason for my prosecution is my religious faith, but you are too cowardly to acknowledge this. I therefore refuse to confess or repent." Physically exhausted but combative, I concluded: "You don’t scare me. The struggle continues."
   In 1979, the court sentenced me to six years of forced labour, followed by five years internal exile.

On the plane, we got a sandwich with cheese packed in plastic for breakfast, my first solid food in ten days. The bread was as tough as the packaging, but it tasted good.
    The three men sitting in front of us were drinking vodka as if it were water.
    Roland frowned.
    "Every Russian drinks an average of eighteen liters of alcohol per year, a sad world record," I explained.
    "What is the government doing about it?"
    "Department stores that are open 24 hours a day are not allowed to sell 'iron dragon', the popular name of vodka, between 23:00 pm and 6:00 am but the sale of beer and wine is allowed.  Putin is a crafty fox. He will never launch an anti-alcohol campaign, as Mikhail Gorbachev did in 1986. This led to the massive distilling of samogon or illegal vodka, which is still going on. His popularity plummeted because of this campaign and this accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union."
   "Can you address excesses such as alcohol abuse?" asked Radko. "Can you reverse course?"
     "That’s what I’ve been trying since my release from the Gulag in 1987."

Glasnost, or openness, and perestroika, or restructuring, those were the magic words of party leader Gorbachev during the late 1980s. Although everyone was convinced that communism would continue for another hundred years, the cracks were becoming more numerous and larger. At the Moscow Film Festival I watched Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky. I also had cooperated with him on that movie. The corruption was no longer covered up and censorship disappeared. Before my eyes the implosion of the Soviet Union took place.
   From the re-established Seminar the umbrella organization Christian Democratic Union of Russia was born. The CDUR was also active in journalism, politics and above all socially involved because Moscow increasingly saw ragged poor people surviving on the streets and we gave clothes and food to them. In 1991 we opened the first ever private soup kitchen in the Soviet Union. Every day hundreds of disadvantaged and homeless persons came to the shelter for a meal. They could have a shower in the basement and we gave emergency medical treatment, too. Our volunteers delivered food to the homes of ill people.
   It was a miracle that we had enough food every day. When the need was greatest, we always received support from the West. And when the power was about to be cut off, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn paid the bill. Six years later, the soup kitchen made ​​way for a luxury restaurant and a fitness centre. We had given out nearly two million free meals.

Two rich kids with their iPhone noisily walked in the aisle of the plane. They especially wanted to be seen. Were they eight or nine years old?
    I looked back for a moment. They wore jewelry and designer clothes. I loathe so much decadence. The past twenty years, the underbelly of society has grown. "One of the most distressing situations is that of the street kids. According to UNICEF there were 600,000 street kids in the 1990s. "
    "I think of the horror images I filmed in Romanian orphanages," Roland said.”I wonder what has become of those children twenty years later. How can someone who has grown up there lead a normal life? "
    He put his finger on the wound. Helping vulnerable children is a huge task.

“Come in," said Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Russian parliament in his majestic office. Meanwhile a television crew from Independent Television News was packing their cameras.
   "The situation of the street children is serious." He showed me the article Moscow, the city where children are sold for a bottle of vodka by the British politician David Alton.
   "We need many hands. The government can’t do everything. We are looking for reliable charitable institutions that could participate in the search for a solution. What do you think of a round table conference? "
   " I support your initiative. But I don’t understand why you only know us when the international press shows up. Why were my previous letters left unanswered? Since last year we’re running a free soup kitchen where dozens of street kids come every day. Why we don’t we get food from the collective farms?"
   Khasbulatov uneasily turned in his chair. "Your letters haven’t reached my desk," he lied as he blushed. "But I will investigate that case. And we will assist you wherever possible."

   "First aid for our soup kitchen and only then establish a shelter," said someone at the meeting of the CDUR.
    "We’ll continue to remind the president of his promise," I said. "But as Christians we must help people in distress."

   "The city of Moscow will create ten new shelters for street children" announced Mayor Gavril Popov at the conference. He got applause from everyone present.
    "Thanks to foreign charities we give food to the street children who come to our soup kitchen," I started my intervention. "Food is a basic need. But children especially need a protected environment. The CDUR wants to set up a shelter. That will be called Island of Hope. Volunteers will organize the reception of the children, but I ask support for the rental of a building."
   “I don’t agree”, Popov said. "The government giving money for a private shelter is a bridge too far. The education concerns the whole community. Only the government can undertake this. As if our state orphanages are not working properly."
    "Didn’t you read the report by Human Rights Watch about the appalling abuses there?" I rubbed it in. "And didn’t you watch the broadcast of Independent Television News about the humiliation, physical violence and sexual abuse? The whole world is speaking about this shameful situation. Out of ten young people who stand on their own feet when they’re eighteen years old only one manages to lead a normal life. Is that what we want for our street children?"
    Popov became very angry. "Western human rights organizations lecturing us! Where do they get the nerve? Where do they get the right to interfere?"
   But I gave him tit for tat. "Have you, Mr. Mayor, ever seen or spoken to a child living on the street? What are your personal experiences? "
    "I know the problem all too well," replied the slippery eel.
    "Well there you go" I said.
    "It seems that God the Father has risen in our midst!" Immediately part of the audience applauded him.
   "You may well have been elected mayor as an independent candidate," I replied, "but you are at heart still a communist. You have to thank the party for your career. And you’re still using communist methods. Do you know that the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain have been torn down? "
    Popov’s face showed all the colors of the rainbow, but I remained unperturbed.
   “The real reason for your refusal is that you can’t stomach that the CDUR has won six seats in the municipal elections in Moscow. We are potentially dangerous to your career. That’s why you’re working against us. The announcement of ten new shelters is sheer populism. You throw dust in our eyes. You have no vision, and with institutions alone you achieve nothing. How can ten homes accommodate at least 60,000 street children in Moscow? Finally, a question: how many rubles are guaranteed for this in the budget of the city?"
   " I will not be lectured by an idealist who claims to know everything better but who’s not even elected to parliament," Popov grinned. "As if you don’t want use your shelter for political purposes"
   I was outraged. "No, I don’t. And to prove that to you that we will also create a shelter without government support."
   I realized that this was a tough promise. But I wanted to teach Popov a lesson.
   ”These kids are dear to me. You've probably never heard of "caritas". And the words charity and love of fellow man are not in your dictionary. As a neocommunist you’re only out for power and filling your own pockets and those of your friends.
   "Haven’t the last two charitable organizations been shut down?” said Popov. "They had ties to the Mafia and were involved in money laundering. Who are you working for?
   The conference was getting out of hand and Khasbulatov closed the meeting.
    "I wish you a lot of success with your shelter," Popov sneered as he left the room.  "Do send me an invitation to the opening ceremony. "
That was the only time that the issue of street children was on the political agenda. This conference only saved appearances.
   However, this collision with the influential mayor of Moscow cost me dearly. It took three years to be able to open our shelter. I was introduced to the mysterious ways of the bureaucracy. Even the legal validity had been questioned because the shelter was not registered, although no registration process existed. Even writer Franz Kafka wouldn’t have been able to dream up such nonsense.
   I didn’t give up. In April 1995 Island of Hope accommodated three underage girls who tried to survive in the neighbourhood of the Kursk station. And at no time the thirty beds were unoccupied. Girls were given priority because once on the street, they inevitably ended up in prostitution. Removing them from that environment was delicate because the police often protected their pimps. The most tragic issue was teenage pregnancy.
    Everyone helped with the household chores. The basic principles of ethical behavior we taught them were at odds with everything they had seen before. Because most residents were not registered, they could not go to school or did not receive medical assistance. But with the help of many people we could cope. We received small gifts.

"Are these rumors true?" asked the head of the Criminal Investigation Unit of the police in a raid on the shelter. "Is this a drug den? Or a brothel? And do you have ties to prostitution rings? "
    "By what right do you come in here? Where's your warrant? "
    "When there are serious indications of involvement in criminal activity a warrant is not necessary."
     "Who said that?"
    Before my eyes three volunteers were arrested. And a few hours later my computer was seized in a new raid. Because I refused to hand over the documents of the building and the founding deed of CDUR I also was arrested.
    The next day, the staff told me that they had gone through hell. "We had to accuse you of beating, making disappear and even murdering the girls. If we didn’t obey we would be put in prison. Someone threatened to conscript us into the Russian army to fight in Chechnya. But we didn’t give in. "
    "I can’t stand it anymore” sighed one of them.”I have a wife and three children. I'm going to stop my commitment."
    I was saddened, not by that statement, but by the perverse intentions of the police. "Be aware that they want you to quit because without volunteers our operation stops."
    A few months later, a new raid took place. During interrogations some residents’ heads were shaved, they were abused or transferred to a state orphanage. Fortunately, no one testified against me. Otherwise the shelter would have been closed immediately. The complaint by Amnesty International to the Russian authorities came to nothing.

Shortly afterwards, I was faced with two gangsters from the Ukraine.
    "We’re here to pick up a fugitive prostitute who’s sentenced to death. According to our information,  she’s hiding here. "
    "Even if what you say is correct, which I doubt, the answer is no. You have no right to enter this private property ... "
    Unexpectedly one of them sprayed an acidic gas in my face. My chin burned, but my glasses protected my eyes. Then the other assailant wanted to murder me with an ax. But while he swung the ax, the iron blade came loose. It flew into the wall, so that only the wooden handle hit me.

After the condemnation of the attacks by the European Parliament, the shelter was the scapegoat. Why? I revealed that corrupt bureaucrats had eighteen orphans declared mentally ill so that they could confiscate the flat that the orphans had obtained. Even a mass grave was discovered in which orphans had been dumped like animals. Furthermore, the presence of children from Chechnya was a thorn in the eye of the authorities because of the horror stories they told about the actions of the Russian army.
   In 2001, the shelter moved to four apartments that we purchased with the support of the Sant'Egidio lay movement. And later we built a new shelter in Buzjurova, at 54 kilometers from Moscow. But there also we were attacked.

   ”Is the shelter in Buzjurova open again after the fire last year?" asked Roland.
   "Since this summer twenty orphans, teenage mothers and refugees are living there"
   "Isn’t that only a drop in the ocean?”
   "Our resources are limited because we are completely dependent on foreign aid. We do what we can. Since November15, the beginning of Advent, there’s a large Advent wreath hanging in the shelter. For our residents it’s a beacon to which they cling. They live in the expectation of a better life. "
   My motive is Jesus' words in chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.”
That movie from the film by Pasolini came again to my mind.