Father Clement Nehamaiyah, Orthodox priest in the city of Chandrapur, India
She was the daughter of our neighbors. Our houses stood so close that you could hear each other talking. One day Ekaterina (she got that name later at baptism) came up to my brother and asked him to tell her … about Christ and Christianity.
She knew that our family follows this strange and incomprehensible religion for most Hindus. We were Anglicans, and my brother was even an Anglican pastor. Later, in 2012, it was he who would discover the truth of the Orthodox faith – first for himself, and then for our entire family.
Chandrapur, India. Photo: Saurabh Chatterjee/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
So, every evening, our whole family gathered together and sang Christian songs, and she listened. In other time, she and my brother talked for a long time about religion over the telephone. As you can see, I had almost never figured in this story yet. Almost, because my brother used my SIM card for calls – you could talk with it for free. It was a trifle, which subsequently would acquire great importance.
It was 2013. Katya, like our whole family, had already converted to Orthodoxy by that time. Then one day she suddenly told my brother that her parents wanted to force her to marry an Indian, and asked us for help. We thought for a long time and decided … to steal her! We told her our plan on how to take her abroad – and she agreed.
We bought black Islamic clothes, on the appointed day she had to go to the indicated place, and there was already a car waiting for her. She left the house as usual, said goodbye to everyone … and after a few hours she “unexpectedly” ended up in another country. My family and an Orthodox priest from Russia helped her financially. She stayed there only a few days. Realizing that it was unsafe to be abroad alone, she returned to India and settled in the home of an Orthodox family, our good friends who lived in another state.
But let’s go back to the day when Katya ran away from home. The evening came, her parents began to worry. They called everyone, searching for her. They came to our house, but we acted surprised and said, “Yes, how bad it is that she’s gone!” Meanwhile, my brother was constantly in touch with her, everything seemed to be under control. But we made one mistake: she left her SIM card at home, and her parents quickly found it. They looked at the call history, saw that she often called my brother, but the SIM card was registered on me!
At night, her relatives began to call me. I took the rosary and began to pray – I was scared. They called me to come to their place. There were questions about where she was. I had denied everything. They let me go, but they said that the next day they would go to the police and there they would do everything for me to confess. And indeed, the next morning, they called me from the police station and invited me to come. I did not know what to do…
At that time, my mother worked as a nurse, and she talked about our problem at the hospital. Her colleague advised contacting a friend who, according to him, could help us with something. When we visited him and talked about the family that threatened us, he agreed to go with us to the station. A neighbor called me on the way to the police, I picked up the phone and heard, “Be careful, her parents hired a killer to kill you.” The voice in the receiver even told me the name of the killer. I immediately retold everything to my brother and our new acquaintance. What our acquaintance said simply struck me, “Ah, I know him and have been looking for him for a long time! It’s so good that I’ll finally find him through you.” Our mysterious friend made several calls and said that the problem would be solved soon.
As we later learned, our new friend turned out to be one of the main bandits of the city. He had long wanted to get even with the killer that was hired specially for me. As soon as the killer found out who was looking for him, he instantly disappeared from sight, he was no longer seen in the city. When all of this was revealed, we were shocked. Before we could not even imagine who this man was who literally saved my life.
But that is not all. It turned out that Katya’s parents hired … a dark magician to harm me! The neighbors suggested that we turn to another, “white” sorcerer, but by that time we were Orthodox, so we would reply to everyone saying, “We are Orthodox, and therefore we ask for help and intercession only from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Every day our whole family read the Psalter. It seemed that every word was written about us and for us, in every line there was comfort from God.
But I still had to go to the station. There we realized that the police were bribed by Katya’s parents. There was real psychological violence in the interrogation room, and no one was going to register my complaints of threats.
For many hours I was tormented by the same questions, but I continued to repeat that I did not know anything. Then they began to beat other people in front of me, adding that the same thing would happen to me if I did not tell them the truth. “You’re next,” one of the policemen said.
I saw the officer going to get a bludgeon. I got cold. But suddenly one of the officers said: the chief of the police came to the station for an unscheduled check. They were forced to meet him. “Get out of here,” they said in exasperation, because my detention was illegal and could infuriate their superiors.
That day the Lord saved me again! But for another week I had to come to the station and sit there until the evening. This exhausting expectation of uncertainty was used as a device for me to start talking. There was no food and water, only my brother was always there – and it encouraged me very much.
They took my passport, which was also illegal. And at that time I had plane tickets to Thailand, where I was to receive a recommendation for admission to a theological academy in Russia. So how could I fly then?
We went to a lawyer and told him the whole story. He agreed to help me to return the passport, but warned us to never call our problem religious, “Say that you love each other, because in such cases even the state helps.” Well, I had to agree. The passport was eventually returned.
15 days passed. Katya returned to our city, she was very worried that she became the cause of our family troubles, and could not afford to hide any longer. She was afraid that her further absence would provoke many more terrible things…
Immediately upon her return, her parents found her and locked her at home. However, less than a month passed, and she ran away from them the second time, but by herself that time. She called my brother because she had no idea what to do next. We decided that I would come to the airport to meet her and we would fly together to the capital of India, New Delhi.
There is an organization in New Delhi, which helps lovers to be together if their parents are against it. We went there immediately upon arrival.
We played an unhappy couple brilliantly, like real Bollywood actors! Representatives of that organization sent letters to the Ministry of the Interior, the police, and Katya’s family, in which they made it clear that she and I were now under surveillance and protection. Then they asked us to sign a bunch of different papers. Only later did we learn that one of them was a marriage contract. But I was not going to get married!
“What? How? Why?” – we were perplexed when we had a marriage certificate in our hands. And the organization that protected us answered, “You should have known! Didn’t you come here for this?” The thing was done, we couldn’t undo it…
From New Delhi, Katya left for the Indian state of Karnataka, to the house of our Orthodox friends, to start working and living, practicing Christianity and not being afraid of persecution. In the meantime, I was still able to fly to Thailand. Then I breathed a sigh of relief, “Finally it is over!”
I stayed in Thailand for almost a month, received the recommendation and returned to India, and a year later I went to study at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Throughout this time, I realized that she was alone in an unfamiliar city with strangers. We constantly wrote messages to each other, since there was still no possibility to get video calls at that time. All this went on for a year.
And at the academy, when they found out that I was married, all my friends began to rebuke me, “You see, she is alone there, she is suffering! As a Christian, you cannot leave her, you need to come up with something.” At first I resisted, since my task was completed: she was free and safe. But in the end, I succumbed. If it were another girl, I would hardly have agreed, but Katya, as I started to realize, really liked me.
I called my mother and brother almost every day, discussing what we can do. Katya, by the way, back in 2014, moved to my parents’ house: a girl usually cannot live alone in India, and in her case it was especially unsafe. Since according to the papers she was my legal wife, her family, even being in the immediate vicinity, could not do anything to her. My friends helped Katya and me to stop hesitating: we knew each other well and understood the situation, so we decided to finally become a real family.
I spoke with Bishop Ambrose (Ermakov), who at that time was the rector of our academy, and he blessed us for a wedding, and even agreed to marry us at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. While I was studying at the academy, Katya returned to India, lived with my parents. She came alone to Russia only twice: at the wedding and on the day of my ordination. In January 2016, we got married and began to live like real spouses, for which I still do not get tired of thanking the Lord.
When I graduated from the academy, we returned to India together to serve the Lord and preach the Gospel. Katie’s parents still do not want to establish a relationship. Sometimes they invite me to lunch or a walk in the city, and the neighbors always warn me, “Do not go, it is dangerous.” For some reason, they still can’t come to terms with our choice. But we have forgiven them a long time ago.
Ekaterina, the wife of Fr. Clement
My parents are Indians, but they sent me to study at an Anglican school. There was a small temple there, which I began to attend in secret from my parents. At first, it was only out of curiosity. I knew that everyone in Clement’s family was Christians, and so I decided to ask them about the unknown Christ and His house, which I was drawn to after studying.
I called up Clement’s brother, Polycarp, who was then still an Anglican priest, and he told me about Christianity. We could talk for hours! Of course, the calls were a secret: in an Indian family, the daughter does not have a complete freedom, she is completely subordinate to her father or older brother. I was obliged to profess Hinduism, but the more I learned about Christianity, the less I saw the truths in the religion of my parents.
Over time, I realized that I wanted to be a Christian. I was secretly baptized outside the city by an Orthodox priest: he came to India just so that through the sacrament of Anointing, Clement’s family, who had long dreamed about this, could join the Orthodox Church.
At first, I tried to observe the external rituals of Hinduism so that my parents did not suspect anything, and prayed to Christ in my heart. But over time, it became increasingly difficult. I stopped going to a Hindu temple. Every Indian has a small home “church” at home for daily prayer, and I began to avoid this place. Indian families are very conservative; they honor traditions, especially religious ones. The daughter must behave impeccably in order to preserve the honor of the family. That is why my “strange” behavior first alarmed, and then angered my parents.
Arguments and even beatings started. I was forbidden to continue studying. I kept silent: I was simply scared to say that I secretly changed my religion. One day my parents found my Bible, which Clement’s brother gave to me, which I had wrapped in the cover of a dictionary for precaution. It was then that the truth was revealed.
They tore the book and said, “If you don’t give up all of this, we will give you in marriage.” And marrying an Indian meant only one thing – a complete loss of freedom. My family was wealthy, so I received many offers from real millionaires, and I refused every one. My parents were seething with rage!
At some point, Polycarp and I decided that I needed to run away from home. First I went abroad, then returned to India and settled with an Orthodox family in a distant city. I did not suspect the horrors that occurred with Clement and his family because of me! As soon as I found out about the situation with the police, I decided to return home so as not to put Clement at such risk. My parents took me from the police station where I turned for help and put me under house arrest.
I thought it was over, that I could never live a happy life in Christ again. I could not stay alone, as I was constantly guarded by one of my relatives. But after 15 days I had the opportunity to escape. I was sent to visit a relative who was on my side. “Come on, you have five minutes while I sleep to hide from here,” she offered, and I happily agreed.
I rushed straight to the airport. There, I was completely bewildered and very excited, I called Polycarp and said, “I don’t know what, but please do something because I left home.”
It was safe at the airport, because there was a lot of security, but this security was comparative. Together with Clement, who came to me, we flew to New Delhi, and, on the advice of his friend’s lawyer, turned to the agency for the protection of young couples. There we were completely unexpectedly married, although there was no spark of love between me and Clement!
After that we parted. I settled with a friend of the Orthodox family in Karnataka, where I found a job and finally was able to freely practice Orthodoxy. I knew that Clement was going to enter a theological academy in Russia, I knew about all his trips.
It was hard for me to realize that we could only be friends, since there was no talk of a real, non-fictitious marriage. I understood: he was the one whom I saw as a husband, even if it was only in my dreams. He was a sincere believer, and I really liked it. Moreover, so much suffering fell on his lot, and all because of me and my family – and how persistently he endured all the difficulties! Then I felt how much I love him.
I was filled with incredible happiness when I found out he wanted to marry me. I immediately packed up and came to the St. Petersburg Theological Academy in Russia. I remember this day perfectly: January 24, 2016. It was then that we were married in heaven.
Father Clement gave me life — a new, free, happy life with Christ and in Christ. I am grateful to God for everything that happened to us. After all, if things had been different, maybe we would not have been together?
Photography courtesy Thomas Mission
Translated by pravmir.com