Tatyana Mendesh Korreiya shared her journey to Orthodoxy in an interview by Fr. Dimitriy Smirnov.
I became Russian Tanya at birth. My father named me so. Many people think that I took the name on my own because I liked how it sounds. But that’s not true.
I grew up in a foster home in Ivanovo, Russia. I am a daughter of a politician. Some time ago children of politicians in Africa, Latin America, and Asia were sent abroad to friendly countries to save their lives. When a politician, a confirmed communist, was executed, his entire family was also annihilated…
I was sent to Russia to be saved. I was four or five years old then.
I consider Russia to be my Motherland. I speak Russian fluently, though with an accent. I graduated from a very good school in Ivanovo–one of the best. At school we weren’t prohibited from speaking our native language. Moreover, it was an international school – kids came from various parts of the world. And to prevent us from forgetting our language, we had teachers of native language there!
I have four native languages. First comes Portuguese. Then Creole – Guinean people are considered to be Creole. There is also a tribal language, that my dad and mom spoke, but I don’t know it at all… If you try and pronounce the name of my tribe in Russian, you’ll get something like “Maniaku”.
Now when student-friends from Guinea-Bissau come here, they laugh at me: “How could it be that you are from our tribe, but don’t speak a word!” But I really don’t know a word. And what’s funniest – I dance folk dances, though no one ever taught me to dance. I guess it’s in my nature. Dancing helps me calm down. I started to dance at school.
Without right for a Motherland
I’ve lived in Russia for already 25 years, but I still don’t have a Russian passport: I am denied it. Sometimes I just hear “no” for an answer, sometimes various excuses. What’s strangely funny – I’ve had a child here. Okay, they can say “no” to me, they always find some excuse (“It was the Red Cross that helped you? Do whatever you want now”), but the child was born here. And he should already receive a passport now, because he’s 14.
What can I reply to the authorities? Yes, in past times the Red Cross helped us. But later many of us could not go back, because we had nowhere to go. No where. Almost all of our relatives were killed. If I had anyone to go to or was sure that I would be able to settle there and survive, I could go and stop this arguing with officials. But I grew up here.
My younger brother Samuel left Russia for France, it’s easier for him there, and he has already registered to obtain documents. Yet I’m too stubborn and so decided to stay here. I have nothing against other countries, but my soul is here.
Behind the fence
At first I was afraid of the Church, though my father was Christian. I liked icons, Christian pictures, but I could never enter any church. Whenever I heard a church choir even far away – I would always say: “No, no, thanks a lot, but I don’t need it”.
It’s because I always fainted when I came to a church doorstep. I would faint the moment I came to the church door.
Each time, when we argued with my peers and they would say something critical about the Church, I would defend it. Even though I never attended church myself…
I overcame myself and stepped inside church when I finally admitted that I’m having a tough time. I had no one to talk to. It happened not long ago, a year or year and a half ago. I then found support from people there, from parishioners.
I’m generally lucky in meeting exceptional sisters in Christ. Let me tell you about and interesting experience.
I remember how we went to Suzdal when I was a child. There were ancient, very beautiful churches there. But I couldn’t go inside any of them. Because even when we passed by them in our bus, I fell into hysterics, I started to cry and fainted. But I really wanted to go inside. And there was one sister (don’t remember her name), who said: “You need to have Communion”.
I said: “Are you crazy? What are you talking about?” But she persisted: “You need it”. Then I said: “Many things that I see in my dreams later happen in reality. And it scares me… And, you know, I’m not baptized”.
I really was not baptized. Yes, in Guinea-Bissau babies are baptised at birth. But in our family in was different. At home, in Africa, I didn’t attend church, though in our country it’s common to attend church every Sunday. My dad prohibited my brother and me from attending church.
I was baptized by father Alexander in the church near the Guinea-Bissau Embassy in Moscow. I can’t remember the name of the church. During services I always stood at its doors and listed to hymns – I knew I just couldn’t come in.
So one day I was waiting outside and asked the priest: “What if I want to be baptized? Can I?” He asked me: “Have you been baptised in another confession?” – “No, I was not baptized at all”. “Why did you choose Orthodoxy then?” I explained that I’ve lived here all my life and I really like the history of Russia. I also like the Catholic Church, but it’s not for me…
Father said he would give me a probation period – one month. If I attended the church regularly during that month, he would baptize me. I told him that I physically couldn’t enter a church. And he said: “You try. At first, try to step in. Just stand inside, not at the doors. I often see you at the doors. You should try to come in. Maybe, this decision will pass. If you see that you don’t need this, then you shouldn’t be baptized. But if you see this is for you, then we’ll talk about your baptism”.
So I attended church for a month and a fortnight. I came in and stood near the entrance. A couple of times I fainted there. People took me out, but each time I returned thanks to my decisiveness.
I’m strong-willed by nature. I go on tours – I dance African folk dances. The audience often treats dancers like dolls that can be touched … I say: «You can’t touch me. Just watch the dance», – and no one would touch me.
I said to myself the same thing regarding church: if I can be persistent on stage, why can’t I come and pray here? I began to force myself. In the beginning people helped me, and then I did it on my own. I would stand for a while, and when I felt dizzy, I would go out. I would breath some fresh air and come back.
«Arguing» with St. Tatiana
In church I met a woman who told me about you, Father Dimitry.
When I came to church, I would begin to talk with the icons, and immediately burst into tears… I guess she saw me then. She came up to me and asked: “What happened to you?” I said: “Nothing is going right, I’m helpless. , . All myplans go wrong for some reason”. “What saints are you praying to?” “I pray to all of the saints. I don’t have any favourites”, – I replied.
Now I have best-loved saints. They are Mitrophan of Voronezh and Seraphim of Sarov. And also when I’m praying, I do not appeal to the Lord directly, I first appeal to the Theotokos. I guess I consider Her to be – the Mother. I tell Her: “Please, pray with me to Your Son”. Only after that I pray to the Lord.
I also became very attached to St. Tatiana. I often argue with her, though, when something goes wrong!
I like the Icon of the Mother of God “the Inexhaustible Chalice” very much.
I’ll tell you why. When I felt awful, I fell into the drinking habit. And I didn’t even notice how alcohol began to play a major role in my life.
And that woman from church told me: “Go to the Holy bishop Mitrophan of Voronezh church on Khutorskaya Street, and pray there not to him, but find the icon of the Holy Theotokos“the Inexhaustible Chalice” and pray to it. Thus, I came here.
You, Father Dimitry, saw me, when I came here for the third time. I said to my friends: “I saw a priest in my dreams”. They are used to hear me talk nonsense.. And suddenly they hear“I dreamed of a priest”… “Well, describe him”. And I described you.
When I came into church and stood in the corner, you saw me and I burst into tears. I came home and said: “Katya, can you imagine? I saw the priest from my dream that I told you about”.
I talked to you and you that I’m scared, because all that I dream of happens in reality. You then said: “So what? What have you seen? Are you alive there?” I said: “Yes”. “Fine. So live on”. And that actually calmed me down.
Previously, I was afraid to sleep, but after I began to go to you for confession, I was able to fall asleep peacefully. While before I had to go to church three or four times a week to calm down.
You helped me to get work in church, and now I peacefully enter the church each morning. Before work I pray at home. I always get up early, around 7 a.m. – and do my morning prayers.
People in church eventually got used to me, they say “hello” now. When they saw me before, on the contrary, they would open their eyes and whisper among themselves. Now if I miss a Sunday, they ask: “Why weren’t you in church?” I explain, and they then say: “Okay, but make sure you come next Sunday!”
Everybody knows me, even those women that sit near the church and ask for alms. I know them as well! When I come, we always greet each other and talk. Then when I give them alms, they always ask how I am.
And now I feel good. I am at peace…
Translated from Russian by Olga Antonova
Edited by Sophia Moshura