Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Remebrances of Anastasia Titov

The following was sent to me by my friend John Granger of

My name is John Granger and I met Mrs. Titov when my family lived in Houston , 1996-2001. We were recent converts to Orthodoxy and went to as many services as we could at St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Church. Mrs. Titov, or Anastasia as she insisted we call her, was the choir director there. On Feast Days that fell during the week, oftentimes there were very few people at the Evening Vigil services or the Morning Liturgy. Anastasia and Rustik and Barbara Karnauch, however, were always there at the kliros to chant in English and Slavonic, as frequently as not with only my seven children and a few adults to listen. These are some of our fondest memories of life in Houston because of the kindness and good times we shared with the Karnauchs, Mrs. Titov, and the clergy at St. Vladimir’s. We asked Anastasia to be godmother to our son Timothy, born in 1998, and she agreed.

I remember celebrating Theophany at St. Vladimir’s one year when it was the priest, the kliros regulars, and my family. After the blessing of the waters and before we left for home and work, Anastasia pulled me aside and said she wanted to show me something. She dug into what she called her “God-bag” where she kept the music books and notebooks for the choir and pulled out a photograph about the size of a postcard and of a similar feel. In the picture were thousands of people standing on a snow covered frozen lake. They surrounded a central group of Orthodox priests and hierarchs. Men in rason held processional banners and icons on either side and the back of this group and one held an oversized cross. There was a visible hole in the ice. The thousands of people faced the camera and their numbers filled the picture from edge to edge.

I asked her where the picture was taken. Anastasia explained that it was taken in Harbin , China , on Theophany when she was a little girl. “This,” she said, pointing out the picture and looking me in the eye while smiling, “this was Theophany!” As I looked around the church in Houston , empty then except for the priest and the large glass container of water he had blessed, I marveled at the difference in the two scenes – and was grateful once again for the opportunity we had to worship with people like Mrs. Titov and the Karnauchs whose faith and fidelity bridged this difference and united the two.

I asked Mrs. Titov once if she and her husband Paul had come straight to this country from China after the war. “Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head and laughing at my naiveté. “They wouldn’t allow me to come. I was, after all, a sparrow.” Paul nodded his head and smiled at their inside joke. It turns out Anastasia had gone to the American consulate in China for the visa paperwork necessary to escape the Communists taking over the country. The young man who reviewed her paperwork told her that, unfortunately, she could not immigrate to the United States because she was, as a Russian born in China , “White Chinese” and subject to the quotas set for Chinese immigrants.

Anastasia told me she stood up from the chair in front of this young man’s desk, and, with as much disdain as she could muster asked him, “If a sparrow is born in a barn, sir, does that make the sparrow a cow? Do I look or sound Chinese to you?” The American official, sad to say, did not appreciate the avian treasure before him or her brilliant analogy. Anastasia by good fortune and St. John’s intercessory prayers (he was then in the Philippines ) was only able to escape the Chinese Communists in whose barn she was trapped by flying to South America .

Two quick notes about her unfeigned piety: first, Anastasia, because of her bond with her patron saint, made it a point to go to every baptism held at St. Vladimir’s. At my boy’s baptism, though she was weak and not feeling well, she insisted as Timothy’s godmother that she had to walk behind the priest as he circled the baptismal font. These three trips around could not have been easy for her but she seemed almost to be running or dancing, her head well in front of her body except for the candle she held. This is the mental picture I will always have of Mrs. Titov. I think of her, though, each time I confess. Anastasia did not commune every week but she did confess and receive at least at every major Feast that I can remember. Stone-hearted and self-important as I am, I don’t often feel or think much of anything after I confess. I think of Mrs. Titov when the prayers of absolution are said over me in my callowness because she would always be crying quietly after confessing as she prepared to receive. Memory Eternal!