EDELWEISS OF MY HEART
“We have to return to our Roots”
A conversation with Fr. Gabriel Bunge from Switzerland
Nun Cornelia Rees
About fifteen years ago, I had a unique opportunity to visit the hermitage of a Catholic priest-monk and theologian in the mountains of Switzerland. He was well known for his writings on the holy fathers of the early Christian Church, and no less well known for his unusual—from the modern, Western point of view—monastic lifestyle. Somewhat familiar with how Catholic monasteries generally look today, I was not expecting to feel so at home as an Orthodox monastic in his Catholic hermitage.
After ascending a wooded mountain path to a small dwelling among the trees, we were greeted by an austere looking, elderly man, his gray beard flowing over black robes. His head was covered by a hood bearing a red cross embroidered over the forehead. It was as if we had been transported to the Egyptian desert, to behold St. Anthony the Great. As he and his co-struggler Fr. Raphael treated us to tea, we talked about the Church, East and West, and about the Russian Orthodox Church. But there was no talk of them joining that Church—it would have been uncomfortable to even mention it.
We felt that we had come into brief contact with a monk who was one with us in spirit, although he was not in our Church, and we parted with joy at this pleasant revelation while Fr. Gabriel made the sign of the cross over us in the Orthodox manner.
Fr. Gabriel never had and still does not have electronic communication with the outside world, and we heard very little from or about him after our visit. Nevertheless we did not forget him, and in the intervening time we never ceased to think how good it would be if he were in communion with us, the Orthodox. But never would we have tried to approach this subject with him—we somehow felt that God was guiding him as He sees fit.
Fr. Raphael, a Swiss, has since passed away, and Fr. Gabriel is the abbot and sole monk of what is now the Monastery of the Holy Cross, part of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was baptized Orthodox on the eve of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Moscow, August 2010. He is now Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel.
Recently in Moscow on a very demanding schedule, Fr. Gabriel still took the time to talk with us.
—Fr. Gabriel, although you have talked about your life in other interviews, tell us again a little about yourself.
—In live in Roveredo, a tiny village of about 100 inhabitants. My monastery is above the village in the woods, in the mountains of the Lugano region, the Italian part of Switzerland.
—You had been Catholic from childhood?
—Yes, but not a practicing Catholic all my life. My father was Lutheran, and my mother Catholic, and I was baptized Catholic. But as it often happens in these cases, neither of my parents practiced their religions. Neither my father nor mother went to church. And so neither did I. But as young people always go their own way, I rediscovered the faith of my Baptism. At first I went to the Continue reading ““We have to return to our Roots” – A conversation with Fr. Gabriel Bunge from Switzerland & Nun Cornelia Rees”