Five Questions: Anelia Rotunda

Photo is of my daughter sleeping with the Icon of Christ blessing the children. She had had a bad dream that particular night and had reached to the icon on her nightstand for comfort and was able to go back to sleep.

Welcome to! Tell us who you are.

My name is Anelia Manova Rotunda, and I am an Orthodox Christian mother, a wife to my amazing husband, and a Sunday school teacher at our home Parish, St. Mark Orthodox Church in Bethesda, MD. I am now a homeschooler as well. I was born and raised under a communist regime in Bulgaria. During my childhood years, I had absolutely no knowledge of God as my parents were atheist. I left Bulgaria at a young adolescent age. I was 17 years old when I first boarded a plane bound to the United States, where God has had me build a life over the past 20 years. Coming to know God in my early 20s was the single greatest love affair of my life. In the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance, to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”

I now hold an American passport granting me the privilege to live in one of the greatest countries in the world. But before I am any of these things, I am a child of God. I am a member of the Body of Christ. I am a lost sheep whom the Shepherd found and saved and redeemed and forgave and restored. I am a daughter of the King of Kings. I bear His image and I am sealed by His love. For it is not a passport that defines my identity nor a stamp that chronicles my journey. It is rather the seal of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, that same God that calls me His own, that defines who I am.

What do you most enjoy sharing? What do you feel most called to share?

What I find easiest to share are my struggles (for I have those in the greatest abundance) along the narrow path that leads to Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. As I mentioned above, I was not raised in a Christian home. I came to know Christ through God’s loving mercy and grace. Once I saw the light of Christ, my life was no longer the same. My journey as a Christian has been one of many blessings and many trials—years of searching Christ, denying Him, coming back to Him, begging for mercy, then betraying Him again and nailing Him back to the cross, then washing His feet with my tears of repentance over and over again. He has never once turned me away. He has extended grace to me when I didn’t think it was possible, He has welcomed me back, His prodigal daughter, so many times and put a ring on my finger and sandals on my feet. He has called me His own and His love overshadows me despite my unworthiness. I am a living proof that God came into the world the save sinners, of whom I am the greatest.

The world of social media is complex. What do you see as difficult and as redemptive about sharing your journey in this way?

It is difficult for us, humans, to dare to be vulnerable with others and share the not-so-picture-perfect moments of our daily lives, the extreme lows. We much prefer capturing happy moments. But life is messy. We live in a fallen world. We ourselves fall. I fall A LOT. DAILY. But in those unpolished, unfiltered, untouched by perfection moments we have a chance to experience God’s redemptive love and His tender mercies up-close and personal and the greatest gift is the realization how desperately, utterly, and totally we need HIM.

What is your earliest, distinctly Orthodox memory?

I became an Orthodox Christian as a young adult. The account below is certainly not my earliest distinct Orthodox memory, but perhaps one of the most memorable ones for me. My family and I were attending Evening Vespers at St. George Rotunda, a 4th century church in Sofia, Bulgaria, built by St. Constantine the Great. The Rotunda church “St. George” is the oldest Christian church in Bulgaria, completely preserved from top to bottom. Not only was it built by St. Constantine the Great, but it was also the home of one of the 7 Ecumenical Councils, the one in Serdica (Sofia’s ancient name), which took place in 343 AD. It was during this council that the Nicene Creed was confirmed. This holy place was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans for the duration of five long violent and bloody centuries (1396-1878) during which the Bulgarian land was saturated with the blood of countless martyrs who died for the Christian faith. After the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottomans, the church was restored as a Christian temple and resumed performing its most important function, for which it was built all these centuries ago—to lead the people to God.

And there we were, on a cold and rainy December evening, entering a 1,700-year-old temple. It was dark and chilly outside. It was raining. Vespers had already started. The scent of incense welcomed us as soon as we opened the door. The flame of burning candles danced in the dimly lit space. Five layers of murals covered with frescoes stared at us from the walls. There was a handful of people inside. A small choir sang beautifully. The priest was doing an Akathist to the Mother of God, and every other word he said was “Rejoice.” At this point my four-year-old son, exhausted and jetlagged, fell asleep in my arms and I found a simple folding wood chair and sat down. The comforts of the world (or the lack of them, rather) ceased to matter to me. My belly was empty but my soul was nourished at this point. My body felt heavy as I was carrying a sleeping child on me, but my spirit was soaring. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I felt at home in my Heavenly Father’s House. True, I had been in my homeland for a week by this point, but I had just entered my Heavenly Father’s House. “Rejoice,” the Priest kept saying reciting the Akathist. “Rejoice!”

I began hearing with my own ears the song Heaven sings over us. I saw all the ways God is glorious and all-powerful, sovereign and all mighty. I was no longer fixated on earthy things. Instead, I was fixated on the Healer, the Author, the Master… Though rain and cold raged outside, I was hidden in the shelter of His wings. I had everything I needed because I was in His house. I was aware I was in the presence of the King of Kings, a host of Angels and a multitude of Saints.

The Saints… My eyes were searching the murals and frescoes trying to identify the scenes and saints depicted. Layers and layers of frescoes. Hundreds and hundreds of years. I thought of the multitudes of people who were baptized here, who lit candles and prayed for their loved ones, who confessed their sins and received the Sacraments in this very space for so many centuries. The frescoes on the walls did look very old. The bodies clothed in garments were more visible than the faces. My tired eyes only saw the halos around the heads and as I strained to see more, I suddenly realized it did not really matter which saints’ frescoes I was looking at. They lived pure and holy lives, and a lot of them died for their faith. The world might not remember and know all of their names. Their faces might have faded away from the walls and our collective human memory, but God knows each of them by name and they are rejoicing in the presence of the Most High in the Heavenly realm… and that is all that matters.

They left no fortune behind them. It is highly unlikely any of them lived the American dream. They stored no treasures for themselves here on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, their treasures were heavenly… for where our hearts are, there are our treasures also. My faith in God the Father, in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit… that is my treasure. A pure heart, a humble spirit, a constant need for repentance, keeping away from the spilling of speech, refraining from judgement of others, striving for inner peace, keeping silence, practicing the Jesus prayer, loving those who misunderstand and hurt me, crucifying my own passions, seizing every opportunity to worship and praise God, pressing in and pressing on while looking to the author and finisher of my faith… that is my treasure…

What do you hope will be the mark you leave on the world as you pass through it?

I would like my life to be a living proof of a loving God. I would like to, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach Christ at all times, and if necessary, use words.”

I wouldn’t want people to remember me with anything but for having seen the light of Christ burn in me (even though at times it feels it is barely flickering). Yet, it is that same light that extinguishes the darkness in my own heart. I pray my scars are an ever-present reminder of the places I have been, the pain I have endured, and the Healer who has made me whole. These very scars are my own testimony of my personal history with God, of the Father’s relentless pursue of me and His desire to grant me life abundant.

As I struggle daily on my own journey of sanctification, the two most frequently murmured prayers I pray are “Lord, Have Mercy” and “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Praying them while I try to overcome my passions and crucify my earthly desires, I strive to remember the infinite and divine love that our God holds for us in his heart–a love so great to give us His only begotten son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for us, but also rose on the third day and gave us hope that we, too, may have life everlasting! I have nothing to offer in return except for my heart, cracked and bruised, yet healed, mended and redeemed by His very own presence. … and gratitude for what humanity was given on a cold December night in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and still receive daily in our lives—grace, forgiveness, redemption, hope, salvation, healing, wholeness, mercy… All undeserved… All freely given to us by the Father. All because of Christ and what He accomplished on the Cross!!! Glory to God!

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