Usually when people hear the word Orthodox, they either think “Greek” or “Russian,” and some even think Orthodox Jewish. However, my Orthodoxy is known as Serbian Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy itself is the oldest branch of Christianity, and it spread to Serbia from Greece. The Greeks played a great part in converting us to Orthodoxy, and our own Saint Sava, a former prince of Serbia, fell in love with the religion.
He fell so much in love that he left his crown to go and become a monk on Mouth Athos. Eventually, he came back to Serbia and helped make our nation what it is today. He helped build the first churches and schools in our nation. He is known as the father of the Serbian people and a special protector of the Serbian children. Due to Saint Sava, most Serbians are born into Orthodoxy, and so was I.
I was born on October 27th, which is the day of Saint Paraskeva. Ten years later, my sister was born on this day too, and when I was six years old Saint Paraskeva came to me in a dream and told me to be good, to listen to my parents, and to go to church. She also said that if I did all this, she would always take care of me, and to this day, I feel she has.
I was born in a time of turmoil. Serbia was in war and everything was falling apart in our nation. It was difficult to get by; however, thanks to God, we survived.
For the first eleven years of my life, I lived in a small town close to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. There was a beautiful, 100-year-old church of the Holy Trinity. My family was not very religious. We went to church sometimes and did all the traditional stuff that a Serbian family is supposed to do. However, that changed. My uncle became very religious, and he even started working at the church.
Sandra and her uncle at a monastery during her childhoodI always say that my uncle is my angel sent from God, because without him, I would not care much about my religion. I was six at the time, but every weekend my uncle took me to monasteries and churches all over Serbia. I remember this particular monastery where I met a nun for the first time. I loved those days. I met amazing people and got to be away from home every weekend. Then when I was nine my uncle moved to the U.S. with my grandparents. For the next two years, my church life weakened.
Fortunately, two years later, we too moved to the U.S. and that was all a gift from God. The day we had a meeting with an American ambassador, I kept repeating “Our Father….” all day. I really wanted to come here, and God granted my prayers.
When I came here, I was again reunited with my uncle and along with him my church. I started going to church again, and I even joined the choir. Six years later, I am still in the choir, and there is nothing more important to me than my religion.
It is ironic that my faith intensified in a nation that is filled with so many religions. However, there are reasons for this. I noticed that here in the U.S., the Serbian community is much tighter. We are like a big family. Everyone knows each other ,and church is our way of sticking together. Also, one place that really strengthened my faith is a Serbian Orthodox Monastery of the Nativity of the Mother of God, in New Carlisle, Indiana. Nativity of the Mother of God Monastery in Carlisle, Indiana. I spent a lot of time there in the past three years. I have worked with the sisters, sang with them, read with them, and they have become a big part of my life. There is nothing better to me than going to the monastery and feeling the presence of God through the love that the sisters and the people who go there show me and to each other. Going to the monastery has also allowed me to meet many great priests who to this day help me deal with the many problems that I face as a teenager. Also, at the monastery, I got to meet our Bishop and he has become like a father to me. He and the abbess have become spiritual parents to me, guiding me through the ups and downs in my life.
The church has also blessed me with meeting many great people. I have gotten the chance to go to a Greek monastery and a Russian church. Here, I became friends with people from Romania, Greece, and Russia. I met one girl from Russia and still to this day she is like a sister to me, and we often spend our Fridays talking on Skype. As I have grown, my religion has grown with me. Each day it is a new experience of learning how to show love towards people and how to deal with everyday problems. I think the main reasons that my religion has grown here is because I finally realized what a blessing my religion is. People who are born Orthodox usually take it for granted, and sometimes it takes a little change in our life to see how much we have been blessed. I now realize that too.
So now, 11 years later from when St.Paraskeva came to me, I see that she took care of me. She has watched me and guided me. She and God have given me the strength to endure everything that has come my way, and I will forever be grateful for this. My religion has also helped me decide what I want to study. I plan to study Greek and Russian so I can be close to my church and its people, which is everything that I love.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.