". . . Of Such Is the Kingdom"
Father Georgi Edelstein
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the transcript of an interview by American Orthodox musicians, Dana and Sue Talley, with Father Georgi Edelstein, Kostroma Region, Russia.
Dana Talley: What kinds of gifts are appropriate for orphans?
Father Georgi: That is an interesting question. At one time we received an excellent supply of jeans and nice clothing. I gathered the poorest children in the orphanage and in the village and passed them out to them. In a couple of days some of the boys came to my church and gave the things back. Other boys, who came from more well-to-do families, but who could not afford things that came from the United States, were teasing the boys and saying, "Well, you are beggars and the priest went especially to America to beg for you. Maybe your American uncle will give you something else if you join the priest and go there and beg." And, of course, the orphans felt humiliated.
So we organized the children into eight groups according to their age and said there would be a competition to run from one church to another and back. That was for the boys of 16 or 17, others were to run a shorter distance, and kids of seven or eight were to run only 100 meters and back. Kids could take what they wanted first place, second, and so on. That gave us the possibility to give more to the needy without making the children feel beggarly.
It sometimes happens that a priest not only teaches, but he learns things that one never learns in seminary. When the competition was over I went out of the church and heard a girl crying bitterly. Her grandmother was dragging her home, but she didn't want to go. The grandmother explained she was the second in her group, but was accidentally overlooked for a prize. Well, she was very upset, and I told her, "Oh, but your prize is in the church. Let's go there." So we went, and there were 15 or 20 dolls there--Barbie among them. At that time every girl in Russia was dreaming of a Barbie. So I said, "Just choose any of them and take it." So after looking them over carefully the girl took a dirty old doll with one arm loose, and something else missing, and she said, "I'll take this." But I said, "There are better dolls here." "No," she said, "I prefer this. This one looks like my child." I asked her to explain why and she said, "Well, Father, you teach us to take care of the poor and the miserable and I feel that this doll needs me more than Barbie. Barbie is happy, but this doll is miserable. I'll sew on her arm and give her a good dress."
I met the girl in two days and, I am sorry to say, I tempted her. I said, "Maybe you'd like to play with Barbie and take her." She looked at the dolls attentively but indifferently and said, "I was right. My girl is not beautiful, but she looks happy now and I am sure she will love me as much as I love her." I was trained as a priest to understand such things, but I think that if you gave me the possibility to choose anything material, I would always choose the best. This girl didn't and I think any priest in Russia can tell you hundreds of such stories--how we always learn from our congregation.
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© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report