This is a story for those with a bleeding heart for romance and who love a good cry.
As I go through Holy Week in my church, I am overtaken with sadness, not only for images of Christ's passion-suffering, but for another life that I will never have.
I am reminded of late-August 1997 and 2000, when I visited Russia for church conferences, when I was in a different church, University Bible Fellowship (UBF). While there with the group, we got to visit some of the most extraordinary places ever to see. There was the Smolny Cathedral...
and St. Isaac's Cathedral...
both in St. Petersburg, Russia.
There's the spectacular St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square in Moscow, the nation's Capital...
But then there was the most beloved sight my eyes ever beheld. Her name is Elena. This is a roughly-scanned picture of her, compliments of one of the "co-workers", such as they are, in her chapter of the UBF, located in Novosibirsk, deep in the heart of Siberia... [picture omitted]
I'm positively heartbroken to recall the tale of how I met her and fell in love with her. I believe in my heart that she felt the same way, at least at one point in time. The circumstances of our meetings shout it out loudly. There we would be, standing, facing each other, not knowing what we could say to each other, because we spoke different languages. You see, in this wretched UBF church, they practice a modified form of *arranged marriages*.
I am not kidding you. They expressly discourage dating of ANY kind in the church. I know--I'd gotten in trouble for this kind of thing in the past. If you are a "growing shepherd" in the church, they will bring up the idea of possible marriage with the higher-ups in the church, who are in Chicago, Illinois.
If they like the idea and think you're ready, they will allow the local "leaders" to talk to you about it. Then they would SUGGEST someone to you. ONLY THEN are you allowed to ask the other person out on a date. [Since dating is forbidden, some sort of modified courtship. A great majority of UBF married couple don't even "date".] If the chemistry's there, then you will be married. [Or even if the chemistry's not there, you will encouraged to "overcome your emotions" and get married anyway.] If not, you can "put up a fuss" and your marriage will be postponed.
Well, back to Elena. As you can now gather, my thought was to NEVER bring up to my "leaders" about my secret love for Elena. As it is in the UBF code, AMERICAN MEN SIMPLY DO NOT MARRY RUSSIAN WOMEN. [Actually, they did on at least one occasion, because UBF leadership arranged it so.] If I were to reveal my secret love, my hopes would be dashed and I would never be allowed to travel with the journey team to Russia ever again. Yet, if I kept silent... what then? Nothing. I would die with my secret. It pains me even to type these words...
I was so heartbroken over the matter, and convinced in my inner being that there was no reasonable solution, that in 2001, I attempted suicide. I loved Elena more than anything in the world, but couldn't live in a world where this wretched apostate and heretical church would stand in the way of any such thing. Obviously, I didn't go through with it, but it DID force me to quit the church once and for all. What now? Would I now be able to finally state my plea? I thought of writing her a letter, telling her how I felt. This was difficult because, of all things, I was afraid that my move would've been interpreted as a brash advancement against the church and an attempt to pull away a sister from Christ. For you see, by leaving UBF, I was overtaken by the devil in THEIR eyes.
Instead, I simply wrote to her and her Siberian chapter, hoping that word hadn't spread out there that I left the church here in the US. All I wanted was something, written by her, her chapter or ANYTHING, telling me that things were as I remembered them. I received a three-line e-mail message, with a group photograph as an attachment. I clipped out Elena and threw away the rest.
Now in 2006, I have no idea what is going on, whether she is now "married by faith" or what have you. She probably is, and I will never know. In 2004 I made a bold attempt to find out the latest news, but the local "leaders" put a stop to my inquiry... those seething scoundrels, wretched evil-doers. Curse UBF and its sinister cult-like practices!
There is one kind of happy ending though.. For in visiting those cathedrals, I was introduced to the Russian Orthodox Church, which I later joined and have since been much more fulfilled in my faith.
Here I am, getting more depressed, fatter, lonlier. For I vowed in my heart that if I would not marry Elena, I would not marry. Call me foolish if you will, that's okay. I've thought out my battle, and I lost. End of story. I now only have a broken heart never to be mended.