Staunton, July 28 – One of the side stories to the Moscow protests yesterday that is attracting a fair amount of attention in Russian circles is that of the Russian Orthodox priest at the Church of Cosma and Damian who gave refuge to demonstrators who were being pursued by the police and the Russian Guard.
It turns out that he is an Italian, the Pravoslaviye i Mir portal reports (pravmir.ru/chto-izvestno-o-svyashhennike-kotoryj-prinyal-v-hrame-protestuyushhih/).
Father Ioann, in the world Giovanni Guaita, was born in Italy’s Sardinia in 1962. His mother was a mathematician; his father a doctor and politician; but Giovanni from childhood wanted to become a priest. His parents visited Moscow when he was only ten and their stories about it let him to fall in love with the country and its church.
At the age of 17, he left home and went to Switzerland to study. After graduating from universities in Geneva and Rome, he came to the USSR for the first time in 1985 and has been in Russia almost constantly since 1989 (radiovera.ru/pravoslavnyiy-svyashhennik-italyanets-svetlyiy-vecher-s-ieromonahom-ioannom-guaytoy-26-10-2016.html).
Initially, Father Ioann says, he thought about Orthodoxy only “as a part of Russian culture; but then, following meetings with the martyred Father Aleksandr Men he grew into Orthodoxy as he puts it rather than experiencing any sudden conversion (tv-soyuz.ru/peredachi/tserkov-i-obschestvo-beseda-s-ieromonahom-ioannom-guayta-chast-1).
After working as a translator, he got a job in April 2009 in the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for Foreign Church Relations and a year later he was made a deacon and then a priest. In May 2014, he left the Department and has been the parish priest at the Church of Kosma and Damian in Shubin ever since.
As far as yesterday’s events and his church are concerned, Father Ioann says that “the church was open as usual. It is always open and we always admit everyone. That is our responsibility, that is because we are a church. Therefore today, we did not do anything special or out of the ordinary.”
When the OMON forces were chasing the crowd of young people down the street and many of them, mostly young and “certainly more than a hundred,” entered the church, “I suppose that many of them wanted to find shelter with us. Some came to us because it was simply frightening; others fear that they would be arrested.”
For us, the Italian Orthodox priest says, it didn’t matter. Anyone who enters a church has the right to expect that “he will be received with love, independently of his political views.” When they had been there for some time, he led them in a prayer about what was taking place in the streets.”
“I must say,” Father Ioann says, “people prayed with greater satisfaction and interest.”