January 15, 2014
For Fr. Alexei, an umbrella was an essential thing to have. He had lost the last two within a week of purchasing them – both times on a bus, on the way to serve Liturgy. After making sure that his suitcase – which was even more essential – was all right, Fr. Alexei got off the bus. It was getting ready to storm. There was no one there to meet him this time, so he shifted his suitcase into a more comfortable position and set off on foot. A strong wind picked up, and it began to rain. It was awkward carrying a heavy suitcase in one hand and an umbrella in the other: it was also ineffective. A sharp gust of wind tore the umbrella away and carried it off. Fr. Alexei only sighed, without setting his old suitcase down even for an instant: it contained his vestments, liturgical Gospel book, and vessels. “My suitcase is my church,” he would often say. Were he to lose his suitcase, hundreds of the country's inhabitants would be deprived of the Liturgy.
Although it is a short drive to the house in Concepcion where the community meets on Sundays, it takes much more time for Fr. Alexei to prepare for each Liturgy than it does for other priests. The community holds services in a house loaned to them by local Arabs who have embraced the Orthodox Faith, but the parishioners have to bring all the liturgical accessories themselves: not only the vestments, books, and vessels, but also the altar table, analogion, candle stands, icons, etc. Thanks to Fr. Alexei's efforts, the mission has grown in strength and numbers over the last years. Only 15 years ago there was not a single Orthodox parish in Concepcion, the second largest city in Chile. Today more than two dozen people attend the Liturgy on Sundays.
Fr. Alexei arrived at church thoroughly soaked. He did not catch cold this time, but that has happened in the past. Every month Fr. Alexei travels between three missions, two of which are a seven-hour drive from Concepcion, where he lives. Getting to parishioners quickly had been out of the question: Fr. Alexei’s secular job as a professor supports his family, but there is no money for a taxi, and it is extremely difficult to use public transportation, trying to make transfers while carrying a suitcase. There was only one option: to purchase a car. When another service had been cancelled because Fr. Alexei had yet again fallen ill due to a soaking by tropical rain, it became clear that things could not go on in this way: a car must be bought.
Since Fr. Alexei did not have enough money, he turned to the FFA for help. After purchasing a used car, the first thing he did was bring a large wood-carved crucifix to Concepcion for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The crucifix was a gift to the parish from a craftsman in Santiago.
Travelling from parish to parish now takes up much less time, and the absence of an umbrella no longer threatens the church services and Fr. Alexei's health! Thank you to everyone who helped Fr. Alexei!