I recently interviewed two people who have gotten to know Fr. Rafael over the years. One was Fr. George Lagodich, senior priest at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Montreal, and other Arthur Shtrevensky, a parishioner there. Read on what they have to say about this wonderful man!
How did you first meet Fr. Rafael? Fr. George: I first heard of Fr Rafael about three years ago and his mission through a close friend who was working in the DR. Fr Rafael also visited Canada shortly thereafter on a trip that was organized paid for by this friend. We had an opportunity to meet in Montreal. A very humble person. The purpose of this trip was for him to meet with people that could possibly help him in the DR.
Arthur: I met Father Rafael through my brother-in-law Ivan. Ivan did contract work in the Dominican Republic in the spring of 2017. After arriving to the city where he would work, he immediately tried to find an Orthodox church. By happy coincidence, this was the temple of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God in the city of Sosúa (Puerto Plata district). Father Rafael served there as rector. Ivan immediately got acquainted with the priest and parishioners and sent us photos from services and meals of the parish.
What was your impression of him then and his current missionary work?
Fr. George: I was most impressed with his commitment and never ending energy to truly serve God via being a servant of the people. I was also very impressed by Fr. Rafael’s humility and knowing his weaknesses. He has energy abound but knows that he is not the best of organizers when it comes to building and managing his physical resources. He is not ashamed of this and works hard to complement this through others. Whilst in Montreal he was able to organize several people to plan on flying down to the DR to help him with; Choir: We were to have one or two of our choir masters help him with improving his kliros. Physical: Local individuals with knowledge of construction.
I was also very pleased to meet an individual who realizes that building a mission requires more than just monetary resources. A mission is about people and their commitment and contributions. Fr. Rafael’s drive and energy so impressed a local French Canadian entrepreneur that he himself eventually converted to Orthodoxy once he got involved with assisting Fr. Rafael and discovered Orthodoxy.
Arthur: It so happened that on Good Friday on the removal of the Shroud were only Ivan, Fr. Rafael and his matushka. Fr. Rafael and Ivan together carried the Shroud. It was very touching and sad at the same time. The Lord is crucified on the Cross and only three are by his side. It was clear to me that the Lord called Ivan to the Dominican Republic to help Father Rafael endure the Shroud. But not only that became clear to me. The Lord seemed to call us all to help Fr. Rafael in his missionary service in the Dominican Republic. Since then, I dreamed of meeting personally with this priest.
We met for the first time in the monastery of the Holy Trinity in the city of Jordanville, New York State. Ivan and I arrived to bring our father to visit us in Montreal. The fact is that in our suburb of Montreal there is a church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. I thought that our parish should definitely get to know the priest better. So that our parishioners could help the parish in the Dominican Republic personally. And so it happened. All the parishioners were very happy to meet Father Rafael.
What about the Dominican Republic and the missions there is special to you?
Fr. George: “The DR is a beautiful island that welcomes many tourists and in particular many Orthodox. An ideal situation once people begin to discover that there is a place to worship on Sundays and major feast days.” Arthur: “Father told about the life of their parish. Invited me to visit. Help was needed very soon. The Fr. Rafael's old car suddenly died after over 15 years of service. To bring her back to life, it was necessary to quickly raise money for repairs. Our parishioners then raised 600 dollars. This, of course, did not solve the problem, but only delayed the solution. Therefore, it was very good news for me that the FFA undertook to help Father Rafael with raising funds for van. This is a great solution. The van will serve both the parish and many needy people.
If you talk about Father Rafael and his missionary activity in the Dominican Republic, there will not be enough books. What I saw with my own eyes from the photographs that the priest sent me was that he serves Christ, the Church and people, forgetting about himself. Do not let these words seem pompous to you. I see that the priest is teaching the law of God at school, although no one has asked for it and he does not receive any compensation for this. The children are happy to hear the word of Truth, which is so rarely heard today. Young people come to Father Rafael and are baptized in Orthodoxy, wanting to serve Christ with their lives. People in need receive all possible help and words of comfort from the priest. He visits people in jail. Brings them clean linen, paid out of pocket by him. Father, together with parishioners, arranges Russian culture days and much more.”
How do you think a new van will help the Fr. Rafael and the Orthodox people in the Dominican?
Fr. George: “About five years ago I agreed to marry a couple in the DR. This proved to be a challenge in regards to finding a parish and an Orthodox priest. We were able to make proper arrangements but it was not easy. Fr. Rafael’s energy and commitment to serve makes this a attractive possibility for the future.
As part of my lay job I once travelled to the DR and had the opportunity to meet with many locals who are wonderful people. Through them I heard of an Orthodox parish but it was quite a distance from the hotel property where I was staying. Life for the locals is a constant struggle. They are able to support their families but traveling even short distances is not easy. Fr. Rafael’s van will help him travel to provide pastoral services. In addition the van will give Fr Rafael the means of supplementing the parish’s income as he will be able to provide transportation services to tourists. He, himself is an accredited travel specialist in the DR.
One other impression that has stayed with me is that Fr. Rafael visits the local prisons. He also organizes Russian festivals for the locals. He is not of Russian descent but studied in Russia and has a true love for Russian customs and traditions.Through his festivals he shares this love with the locals.” Arthur: “I think that we all need to help Fr. Rafael in his missionary work, if possible. And the point here is not only in buying a car for the parish. To help the parish with the organization of the choir. They need help catechizing adult Dominicans. Need Orthodox literature in Spanish. I think it would be very useful to introduce other Orthodox parishes in Canada and the USA to the parish in the Dominican Republic. That there is a living connection between the parishioners.
About the van and how it will be useful to the parish. This is a great car. Very economical and reliable. The van can serve as a passenger bus (12 seats) and freight transport. I know that many parishioners live far from the church, and the priest often drives them out. Fr. Rafael himself can earn a penny by driving tourists. He works as a guide with several travel agencies. Someone wise said: "If you want to feed a person for a day - give him money. If you want to feed a person for life - give him a fishing rod." It is necessary to help the parish earn some money so that the priest does not walk forever with outstretched hands. A van would be a great help to them.