12/04/2019, 10.31
RUSSIA
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Father Ilja, a priest-taxi driver, describes his mission

by Vladimir Rozanskij

His superiors removed him from his parish so he drives a taxi to support his family. Being a taxi driver allows him to be a priest in contact with "real life". "A chance encounter in a car between strangers can mean much more to a person than so many fiery sermons from the ambo".

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Ilja Solov’ev, a Russian Orthodox priest works as a taxi driver. Ordained a priest 17 years ago, he graduated in theology and in ecclesiastical history, Father Ilja decided to add a "real job" to his official mission, partly out of necessity, but mainly by spiritual choice. He says that being a taxi driver allows him to carry out his ministry in contact with "real life".

On his Facebook page, he recounts that about a month ago, ecclesiastical superiors removed him from parish work, which allowed him to support his family, and he therefore decided to look for another source of income: "Sitting at the wheel of my taxi I identify with the Russian emigrants after the revolution, who, having found themselves in a foreign land, were forced to earn their living with a humble job, despite their highly placed origins and lost wealth”. Many priests in Russia, moreover, work in other jobs alongside that entrusted to them by the diocese, to try to supplement their salary.

Appointed three years ago as parish priest in Moskovsky village, Father Ilja thanked the community with which he finished building the church, declaring that he did not want to ask for another parish after the transfer. To the question of the parishioners, he replied that he "sees no humiliation in doing honest work".

Recalling the experience of the worker-priests in the Catholic Church in Europe of the last century, he argues that "for a priest who works like the laity, new possibilities of mission are opened up, even if materially they seem to be smaller than  preaching in the church; the casual encounter in a car between strangers can mean for a person much more than so many fiery sermons from the ambo”.

For Father Ilja the beginning of "work in the world" was like coming out of a golden childhood: "We must recognize that the average priest does not know the life of his own flock very well, in general he knows almost nothing about real life". In the taxi he was able to see the world without "parish embellishments": "People talk to priests in a very different way, from how they communicate in common life, even when they are against religion and the clergy". The parishioners often automatically assume a "role play" in community life in which they try to present the best version of themselves.

In the taxi, the priest hears the conversations of the passengers on the telephone, or between themselves, without being able to avoid listening to them; he realizes the vulgarity of the young, presumption and malice, as if in a sort of involuntary "confession". Many speak only of money and how much they earn, and almost never of books or films, or positive contents. In the "street" language the low level of education and even knowledge of the Russian language is also evident; to express themselves, many use slang and meaningless terms.

However, Father Ilja believes in the fundamental goodness of human beings, which he always tries to appeal to with kindness, often obtaining surprising results in revealing the humanity of his interlocutors to themselves. When, on the contrary, he is forced to "turn the other cheek" in the face of vulgarity and offense, he still believes he can give an evangelical witness. The priest-taxi driver does not confuse the roles, and does not try to preach from the steering wheel: "I drive the car with the fear of God, I try to respect the rules and be honest with the passengers and colleagues, to live my work with true Christian spirit ... this too is a service to others, and therefore to God. So, have a good trip! ”, concludes the priest who brings others to their destination.

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