Polish does not always mean Catholic

December 20th, 2013 1:05 pm

Magdalena NASUTA in conversation with Pawel PUSTELNIK

We met with Magdalena Nasuta, a law student from Białystok and a member of the Polish Student Christian Movement – The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Poland at Lingua Franca Summer Camp in Miclauseni, Romania. Magdalena talked about being an Orthodox person in Poland and the sense of community that being in a minority gives you.

Pawel Pustelnik: There are not too many Christian Orthodox people in Poland?

Magdalena Nasuta: Indeed, we are not too many. As far as I know we are around 500 000 people. In Poland where I was born and live there are 95% of Roman Catholics, so we are in minority. However, most of the Christian Orthodox live in Podlasie  (Podlachia, a region in the eastern part of Poland),  where I come from so it’s not uncommon to meet Orthodox people there. If you go to Gdansk or Poznan people might react “Wow, you are Orthodox, I cannot believe it!”. Also abroad, sometimes it’s confusing for people who make a simple equation: Polish means Catholic. In Greece for example, people believed that I was Orthodox when they saw an Orthodox cross I was wearing.

PP: Are these reactions similar in Poland?

MN: Well, we are not seen as ETs but it is definitely not a common thing. For me, when I see Muslim people in Poland it is quite surprising. When I am outside of my area people usually ask a lot of questions: do you believe in the Blessed Virgin? How do you call the church building? People do not know even the basic things about the Orthodox Church.

PP: It must be quite demanding to be constantly questioned. How do young Orthodox people in Poland cope with that?

MN: I would say that the young Orthodox people are closely bound to each other. When you meet an Orthodox person from another city or region you feel a special bond. I guess it is a result of the fact that we are a minority in Poland and we are very attached to our tradition and our religion.

PP: Do you think you are more attached than Roman Catholics or Lutherans?

MN: I think that it is mostly due to a relatively small number of Orthodox people. Our situation is far from the Catholic reality, in which you meet people and it is quite obvious that they are Catholic too. I think it is mostly about encountering the other, a person of a different denomination than the prevailing one.

PP: I imagine that the fact that you are not too many, your Student Christian Movement, Bractwo Młodzieży Prawosławnej w Polsce (The Fellowship of Orthodox Youth in Poland) must work energetically.

MN: Yes! We are all over Poland, we have six centres according to dioceses. The one in Białystok where I belong is probably the most vivid as there is the largest Orthodox population in Poland and also the board of the whole organization is in Białystok, in the heart of the Orthodox Church in Poland. It would be much more complicated to make people come to Warsaw for example.

PP: So what is going on in the young heart of the Orthodox Church in Białystok?

MN: The Fellowship started working at the parochial level and people were meeting there once a week, usually with a an Orthodox minister and discuss various issues. We organize camps both in Poland and abroad. One of the most popular meeting is the camp at Góra Grabarka – once a year in August we meet there for two weeks and we help the nuns. These are very simple but needed things: we paint walls, do some gardening…

PP: And what do you talk about during your weekly meetings?

MN: About everything, really. It depends also on what our guests suggests and what the youth wants to know. It can be about ecumenism, how to pray, how to deal with certain sins, what we feel, etc.

PP: A religious know-how?

MN: Yes, we often share our experiences or ask about the problems we are struggling with.

PP: Do you argue?

MN: Not really. Of course, each of us has view on various issues, but we rather agree. There are not any sharp divisions. I think it depends also on the guest. If there was a person who would present very controversial views, I imagine it would look much different.

PP: Do you think that this unanimity of views is good?

MN: Yes, definitely. This makes us closer to each other. We do not argue. We think in the same way, we have the same views on the issues.

PP: You mention that you talk about ecumenism. Your area is very interesting with regards to the religious and denominational composition. How does your ecumenical cooperation look like?

MN: Białystok is a place where the Orthodox Church meets with the Roman Catholic Church. The ecumenism is a very tangible and practical thing for us. Let’s say there is a Polish national holiday. We pray both in Orthodox and Catholic churches. Then, we have an Orthodox scout group established by my friend Marta Całpińska and as far as I know they attend camps together with Catholic scouts.

PP: How about the university life?

MN: I am not aware of any Orthodox initiatives at the university level. You know, at the university, people who study have firm outlook on life and they rather focus on more scholarly work. I study law, so religion is a very sensitive topic, we do not talk much about it. There are a lot of atheists so basically it is better not to talk about religion.

PP: Białystok is an important academic center, I imagine there are international students coming as well. Do they interact with the Orthodox spirituality? What is their encounter with the Orthodox Church?

MN: There are a lot of students coming from Spain. They are very interested in understanding the Orthodox Church, they often come to visit churches, ask about our beliefs, about the liturgy. It is something new for them.

PP: Your Fellowship is associated with WSCF Europe. How does it translate to your activities?

MN: On our website there is a place where advertisements about WSCF events and each of us can apply. One person in our board is responsible for the Fellowship’s international work and they encourage us to participate. It is very democratic – anyone can go. Unfortunately not too many people actually apply. Some time ago there was literally no interest – people did not know that there were such opportunities. Also, people were mostly focused on their local activities. Perhaps people were also a bit afraid of how people will react to what we think. Now cooperation with WSCF it is becoming more advertised and promoted. I am sure that in the future our participation will develop.

PP: Many SCMs in Europe are active on a local and regional level, is it a case for the Fellowship as well?

MN: I think that the camps at Góra Grabarka are the largest challenges each year. Last year there were around 120-150 volunteers who came. People are ready to offer their time and participate. In May we meet for three days and talk with clergy, participate in liturgy – it is more of community building.

PP: What are your plans for the future?

MN: We are definitely going to continue organizing the camps for youth. The May meeting that I mentioned has lost a bit of it impetus, we will do our best to make it well-attended. We also face a situation that people leave the Fellowship, so we will try to keep those who are with us and attract more people. Obviously, we are striving to make the international cooperation an important part of our work.


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