Old-Rite Orthodoxy in Pakistan is the flame of the ancient Orthodox faith amongst the nation’s dominating non-Christian religion and is like an island of salvation in the destructive ocean of worldly vanity. One may ask: how could Orthodox Christianity arise in Pakistan at all? After all, it is well known that the present day spread of Christianity includes mainly Europe and Russia, amongst others.
As we remember, apostle Thomas went to preach in the direction of India and his sermon was extremely successful, with whole nations encountered on his way turning to the faith. As apostle Paul wrote: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). However, not all nations have preserved this faith, because, as we know, the flame of faith after some time died out in these parts.
Much later, in the 15th – 16th centuries, the Latin Church penetrated these places with its missionaries. Pakistan is a country in which almost the entire population is made up of Muslims, and they do not like having Christians there. Today, the Christians in Pakistan live just as the Old-believers lived in Russia following the schism in the mid-17th century, experiencing the brunt of persecution and religious discrimination. No, no one exterminates them physically, but living in such conditions is not easy, and they find solace in their faith in God. “I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8).
A few years ago, many Christian communities of Pakistan became interested in ancient Orthodoxy – the source and the only pure stream of the true, soul-saving faith. These Christians of Pakistan were at first adherents of the New-Rite faith, which, as we know, arose as a result of the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church during the mid-17th century. In the aftermath of the schism, one part kept the pure Russian Orthodox faith, unchanged, and preserved the customs of pious ancestors and saints (the adherents are called Old-believers, but they are Orthodox Christians by right). The other part, the New-Rite, was constructed from incorrect reforms of the Ancient Traditions which ultimately led to the shattering of the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society.
Church historians (B.P. Kutuzov, for example) and writers, such as A.I. Solzhenitsyn, rightly point out that this reform was not needed, and at times, the hierarchs of both Churches themselves talk about it (the Russian Old-Rite Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church).
By God’s providence, after learning and understanding the Old-Rite faith, as well as communicating with Old-believer clergy and parishioners in Russia, the congregations of several thousand people, led by father Cyril Shahzad, joined the Russian Old-Rite Church.
Of course, this does not mean that the Old-believers of Pakistan will now wear the traditional Russian sarafan and kaftans when praying in church, as they are already accustomed to wearing their own traditional and decent clothes. Their joining the Church however, means that they are now part of the Body of Christ – the new Israel. English is widely spoken in
Pakistan, therefore, Orthodox texts written in Old Slavonic are translated into English, which they use to translate into their own native language, Urdu, in accordance with the original prayers in Old Slavonic. One could say, on the contrary, that the Old-believers of Pakistan could learn Russian and then Old Slavonic, but in order to be an Orthodox Christian, it is not necessary to know these languages. In the history of Orthodoxy, the languages used in liturgies were the native languages of the worshipers, so that they could reach out to God with prayers that they wholeheartedly understood.
Father Cyril’s decision to join the Old-Rite Church was made in 2017 when he visited Rogozhskoe – the Moscow Metropolitanate of the Russian Orthodox Old-believers Church in Russia. During his time in Russia, father Cyril also visited the Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, the heavenly patron of the Pakistani community (the main church community in the city of Sargodha is named after St. Sergius of Radonezh). During his time in the Trinity Lavra, father Cyril was visited all the ancient churches of the monastery, to venerate the relics of the venerable saints Sergius and Nikon of Radonezh, as well as other holy relics in the monastery.
During his travels in Russia, father Cyril was greatly imbued with the spiritual culture of the Russian Old-believers and its history in Russia. He spoke very warmly about the parishioners and after arriving at Rogozhskoe, he immediately entered under the “patronage” of an elderly parishioner who, as he said later, became like his mother. Every person, regardless of what language they speak, understands the language of kindness. Most of all he was struck by the church worship, in which he in time became involved. It must be noted that he served quite well and, sometimes, with a slight accent, he uttered prayers in Old Slavonic.
Father Cyril, the first Old-Rite Pakistani Orthodox priest of many centuries, trained in Rogozhskoe, learning the basics of the ancient Orthodox worship and participating in performing the sacraments. He was also invited to attend various ceremonies, including a wedding ceremony, burial and an infant baptism. With much to take in during his time in Russia, father Cyril would get tired, yet he always carried himself with a positive and uplifting attitude to keep learning. During his stay in Russia in 2017, father Cyril had time to meet many people in the Old-Rite Church. He especially became friends with his mentor and translator, father Nikola Bobkov, who was at that time the second priest serving in Rogozhskoe.
Father Cyril also became friends with father Mikhail Rodin and he visited him in Balakovo (in the Saratov region) where they served together. There he visited one of the centers of the ancient Orthodox faith, the Cheremshansky monasteries. There is a video on the internet showing father Cyril singing psalms in Urdu while in Cheremshan. Father Mikhail is also the director of the Edifying Department of the Old-Rite Church, so the time spent in Balakovo was particularly beneficial for father Cyril.
Many of the Old-believers at Rogozhskoe did not want to part with father Cyril. They valued his spiritual knowledge and his stories of Christian life in Pakistan were not only interesting but also edifying. When asked at the airport before his departure, if he was afraid of being a Christian amongst many non-Christians, he replied that “not a single hair will fall from his head without God’s will”.
When father Cyril flew back to Pakistan, there began an abundance of people joining the Old-Rite faith. Most of these people joined through chrismation, while others joined through baptism (complete with the proper three whole body immersions). There are several
communities in Pakistan, including Sargodha, Islamabad (the capital city), Jakhania and others, which are not yet registered communities. During 2017–2018, father Cyril travelled to these communities, and as a result, more than 1,000 people joined the Old-Rite faith, with many catechumens (people who are in the early stages of instruction for admission to the church but who are not yet baptised) and people who interested in the faith. Photos of baptisms in various Old-Rite communities in Pakistan show pure happiness on the faces of children and adults being baptised.
In 2018, before the feast day of the myrrh-bearing women (the second Sunday after Holy Pascha), father Mikhail Rodin from Balakovo flew to Pakistan with the blessing of metropolitan Korniliy. Father Mikhail teaches English and also began studying Urdu. He was festively greeted by Pakistani Old-believers at the airport in Lahore.
Although Father Mikhail stayed in Pakistan for just over ten days, he managed to accomplish a lot during his visit. Firstly, he presented ‘reserve’ Gifts (to be used for holy communion that is given to Old-believers whose health is declining), because at the time of writing this article, the Pakistani Old-believers are praying church services without a liturgy, and therefore without Holy Communion. It is hoped that in the very near future, liturgical services will begin to be prayed. Last year, after his first trip to Russia, father Cyril brought to Pakistan donated pre-sanctified Gifts from the Saratov parishes. This should have been enough for the first wave of baptisms and anointings.
Secondly, Father Mikhail also brought with him many icons. We must pay tribute to the Old-believers who generously donated icons to Pakistan, especially the Old-believer community of Sergiev Posad. After all, where would icons be sold in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? Unfortunately, nowhere. Christians there are not particularly honored. Thus, it was with much gratitude that the Old-believers of Pakistan accepted the icons from the Old-believers in Russia, especially since basically their only icons were printed pictures. These pictures were replaced by wooden and copper icons (painted icons would not have been allowed across the border). The icons have been consecrated and now they are part of the spiritual culture of the Old-believers of Pakistan.
Thirdly, father Mikhail imparted knowledge of certain services and prayers to father Cyril. Together, they were able to perform the first water consecration in the community.
Also during this time, the first Paschal cross procession in the Christian quarter of Pakistan took place. The Old-believers walked the prayer procession with the newly donated and consecrated icons. The priests censed throughout the procession and everyone sang the hymns of Pascha in Urdu. Many of the residents who live in the Christian quarter, including Protestants, Catholics, and New-Ritualists, watched the first ever procession with curiosity. There has never been such spiritual joy and wonder amongst the locals. With God’s help, everything went wonderfully. It should be noted that the authorities have become more favorable, since the mission belongs to the Russian Orthodox Old-believers Church, which promotes good relations between Pakistan and Russia.
Quite often, on various internet resources, father Cyril and fellow Pakistani Old-believers share photos of their services of worship. They pray evening services and the hours, without liturgy. Especially interesting is their singing tradition. They often sing psalms and prayers altogether in their traditional chants which they have learnt by heart. To present the full picture of the spiritual life in our communities in Pakistan, one more thing must be added.
Christians come with joy to all services in the chapel. Both young and edlerly worshipers come to the communal prayers – with the majority of parishioners made up of youth.
When father Mikhail returned to Russia, he was accompanied by father Cyril, matushka Alla and father Cyril’s parishioner, John. They were met at Vnukovo airport with the old Russian tradition of presenting bread and salt as a sign of hospitality and friendship to the guests. The bread and salt was presented on a traditional Pakistani scarf as a sign of respect and greeting (in Pakistan, it is customary to meet a person wearing a necklace of flowers or a traditional long scarf). For matushka Alla, this was her first time abroad and for John, this was his second time in Russia, so it was particularly nice for him to recognise familiar places during his second visit.
Many of the Russian Old-believers who closely associated with the guests during their time in Russia observed that Orthodox Christians of Pakistan are deeply faithful in their everyday lives. It was touching to see that in the tradition of the Orthodox Christians of Pakistan, they would often end a conversation with: “God bless you”, which is very reminiscent of the Russian Old-believer form of thanks – “Spasi Hristos” (Christ save you).
During their first week in Russia, the visitors from Pakistan joined in the feast day of the holy myrrh-bearing women and the Council of the Metropolitanate, where father Cyril spoke about the mission in Pakistan. For the church service and cross procession on the Sunday of the holy myrrh-bearing women, father Cyril donned the priest’s robes and walked alongside father Joachim Valusimbi from Uganda, amongst the other clergy. This was the second time that father Cyril had attended the feast day, but the first time he participated as a priest. Matushka Alla and John also enjoyed this feast day and they greeted father Cyril after the procession with spiritual joy.
At the Council of the Metropolitanate, father Cyril gave an account of the life of the Orthodox community of Pakistan. Father Cyril explained that the community needs to expand their prayer space, as they currently pray in the community’s office, and expressed the hope that they will be provided with an antimins to serve liturgy in Pakistan (this was later organised by metropolitan Korniliy during father Cyril’s visit and taken back to Pakistan). Building a church in Pakistan is not as difficult a task as it is in Russia. In Russia, especially in the northern regions with very cold temperatures, more building materials and heat insulation materials are needed, as well as reinforced roofing against the winter elements; whereas in Pakistan, the climate is hot, making the construction of the future church not as extensive.
In the workload of the Old-Rite Pakistani priest, helping those less fortunate takes an important place in his duties. In Pakistan, there are entire communities of people who have become poor and destitute for various reasons. In the present day, father Cyril takes patronage over them, and matushka Alla, being a primary school teacher, teaches the children languages (both native and English) as well as primary school subjects.
In the conclusion of his account to the Council, father Cyril appealed to those present and asked for their continual prayers to help the development of God’s Church in Pakistan.
During this second visit to Russia, the Pakistani Old-believers, together with father Joachim Valusimbi from Uganda and Old-believers from Moscow and Australia, also visited the parishes of the Kostroma diocese. With the service of the local and foreign clergy, a hierarchal liturgy was performed in the town of Durasovo, with elements of the service in English. The
visiting delegation from Moscow included English-speaking, Russian Old-believers and several litanies and hymns (‘Our Father’ and The Creed) were sung in English. For the first time in an Old-Rite church in Russia, father Cyril read the Gospel of the day in English (after the same Gospel was read in Old Slavonic by hegumen Manuel). Bishop Vikentiy, the bishop of the Yaroslavl-Kostroma diocese, stressed the need to develop and support Christianity in distant regions, as well as the importance of preaching the ancient Orthodox faith in languages understandable to those people. At the end of the trip in Kostroma, the evening prayers were prayed in English in the church of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It must be highlighted that the Christian Old-believers of these communities met the foreign Old-believers for the first time and were overjoyed that the Church of Christ is not limited only to Russia.
Soon after returning to Moscow, the divine liturgy was performed in English in the newly returned church of the Intercession and Assumption, in Gavrikov Lane, Moscow. The hours, psalms and hymns of the liturgy was read and sung in English. About forty people gathered for worship at the Saturday liturgy service. Three priests – father Nikola Bobkov (the rector of the Intercession and Assumption church), father Joachim Valusimbi (Uganda) and father Cyril Shahzad (Pakistan) – read prayers from Old-English, ancient Orthodox prayer books (the translation of which were edited and approved in our Church for the service). The choir, under the direction of brothers Vasiliy and Ilya Gladyshev from the city of Rzhev, sang using materials from the soon-to-be first English Obikhod of our Church (the Obikhod is a collection of Russian Orthodox liturgical chants).
As part of a conference during the week of the myrrh-bearing women in Moscow, father Cyril told about cases of healing in Pakistan, and not only of his parishioners, but also people of other faiths who come to him for help. In the community, father Cyril performs prayer services for people’s health or he reads a prayer over the person who is sick and, as a result of God’s power, the person is healed of their ailment. Perhaps the most incredible case was the healing of a person who was born deaf-mute, who began to speak on the third day after baptism. Locals who learned about these cases of healing began to come to father Cyril for help and were also cured of their illnesses. The Lord Himself gives strength to the Orthodox Christians of Pakistan in accordance with their faith.
In September – October 2018, father Cyril again visited Rogozhskoe, where he attended the World Old-believer Forum on October 1–2. At the forum, he spoke about the progress of the ancient Orthodox mission in Pakistan and, in addition, gave several interviews to Russian TV channels.
The faith of Christ is ignited in different parts of the world, as evidenced by the ministry of father Cyril in Pakistan, which with God’s help, multiplies the Body of Christ and is turning people to the true and soul-saving path to the Kingdom of God.