The Witness of Fr. Roman Braga
In the fall of 1999, I was a young man not yet twenty, searching for a deeper and richer faith. I was on the threshold of adulthood, between a child’s world, in which everything is tidy and safe, and everything is OK so long as you follow the rules, and the thousand disillusionments of adulthood, the far messier real world. All I knew of Christianity was that, if you thought the right way, did the right things, read the right books, you would be OK. All of that, of course, I can say in retrospect – at the time, I just wanted to be right, and to be confident that I was right…to not lose arguments about religion anymore. And I thought that was the right thing to want.
For me, to hear about Orthodox Christianity was a bolt out of a clear sky – I had never before even hoped that the Church of the Apostles might have survived the 2nd century, much less that it might still exist. It was because of that claim (however little I believed that it could be true) that I agreed to attend a Divine Liturgy at the Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan.
I remember very little about that service, my first in an Orthodox Church. I didn’t know enough to know how little I knew. I remember incense, and simple music, and understanding very little (I wasn’t used to processing the meaning of a chanted service, and much of it was in Romanian). I remember an icon of Saint Nicholas that looked like Santa Claus, if Santa Claus were everything that he ought to be. I remember people who worshiped standing up, and the sun sifting through windows and smoke to fall on thick carpets. And I remember Fr. Roman.
I heard his voice before I saw his face, since he was serving, facing the altar – I remember that it wasn’t a strong voice, but nonetheless deeply striking, quiet and prayerful. But when he turned, and spoke, and smiled, I saw something that I do not think I had ever seen before. I saw a man who was no longer worried about being right. Somehow his face and voice and eyes conveyed that his entire existence was right, that his relationships were right, that he was at peace with himself, with God, and with his fellow man. I saw an old man, short and frail, who I later learned had been broken physically long ago – but he was more whole than anyone I have ever known.
I never came to know Fr. Roman well, but that day, I learned that it was possible to be right and not lose arguments anymore. I learned that the True Church still existed, and I could join it – but far more importantly, I learned that being right was the wrong goal. It was only a step on the path to being made whole – and by far the least important step. And when I think of what a whole human being should look like, I will always think first of Fr. Roman Braga.
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