We continue to publish the materials of Spas TV program My Path To God where Priest George Maximov interviews people who converted to Orthodoxy. The guest of today’s program is former rock musician Igor Kapranov. After “personal growth” practices, his spiritual quest led him to Christ. This path was not smooth: His first attempt to go to church was unsuccessful. However, God led Igor to Valaam Island, where he found love and peace. He also understood that the Good News must be brought to people through the talent that God gave you, so currently Igor Kapranov is singing in an Orthodox choir. He will tell us about his search for God, and we will learn how to glorify God through music, and whether or not hard rock may be Christian. We will also hear his thoughts on how many times we should attempt going to church and what to do if they don’t let you in.
Father George: Hello. You’re watching My Path To God. The guest of today’s program is Igor Kapranov from St. Petersburg. In the past, he was a famous vocalist in the rock band “Amatory”, now he is a singer in an Orthodox choir. Igor, please tell us how you began your journey to God.
Igor Kapranov: My path to God started in my youth, when I was 19. I felt a very serious existentialist crisis.
Father George: What were the symptoms of this crisis?
Igor Kapranov: I understood that I could no longer live the way I did, just to have some fun. All my friends kept on “enjoying life to the fullest,” and felt very comfortable. Constant parties, nightclubs, and drinking alcohol—this was their lifestyle. Many of them still live like that and don’t worry about anything.
I felt an abysmal emptiness. I felt I needed something bigger. My inner voice told me that I had to look for answers in the Church. However, my first attempt to go to church was unsuccessful. I couldn’t talk to any priests because I was kicked out of the church.
Father George: Why?
Igor Kapranov: Probably because of my appearance. Tattoos and piercings are not usual for an Orthodox parishioner. So they judged the book by the cover. I was a little bit upset and even hurt. I thought, “So if not here, I’d keep looking elsewhere.” Nowadays we have quite a few options, as there are a great number of various sects and occult teachings. So I decided to go to personal growth training.
Father George: What is that?
Personal growth training covertly promulgates the occult view of life.
Igor Kapranov: It is very popular nowadays. Training takes two or three days. The trainer/psychologist discusses various topics with you and you identify your goals and what you want to achieve. There are business trainers who help you improve your business and increase sales. They also have personal growth training. This training is used to promulgate the occult view of life in a covert way. This was what happened to me.
My trainer was into Reiki. After lengthy talks that last for many hours, people are emotionally drained, but I noticed that when the trainer came up to a person for a while, that person cheered up a bit. So I asked him directly what it was. He told me what this technique was called and how to gain this ability. Father Seraphim (Rose) precisely described this practice as the devil’s imitation. For example, if we in the Church have imposition of hands, these occultists also use imposition of hands to initiate newcomers. That was how I gradually got involved in the occult view of life.
Father George: Was it based on the Reiki system?
Igor Kapranov: Yes, it was based on the Reiki system. There is no notion of God as a personality there; there is only some non-personalized cosmos, some kind of energy that they do not define, nor do they explain where it comes from. This indifferent cosmos responds to some of your requests, but it doesn’t care what happens with you. You think you control it and can use it, but then at some point you start to understand that this cosmos is controlling and using you. In other words, you are being gradually prepared to act the way the dark force wants.
Father George: Quite often, members of such movements say, “That is what people who don’t really know our teaching say. They simply misunderstand it.” Did you study this teaching seriously enough to tell us about your experience?”
Igor Kapranov: I was a Reiki Master. It is the third degree. The next degree is held by people who can initiate newcomers. I used this practice quite actively. Mostly on myself. Of course, these energies do exist. Any person can experience them. But it is important to understand the source of these energies. We can’t drink from a poisoned well. Often these movements do not have any dogmatic foundation. If they do have it, it is very vague and does not provide specific answers.
Father George: Did you feel that Reiki gave you what your internal spiritual quest lead you to? Or to the contrary, did you realize that it was not there?
No efforts are needed. No asceticism, no work. You get everything very quickly. This is “spiritual fast food”, so to say.
Igor Kapranov: You know, I felt as if some kind of super power was given to me and I became an extraordinary person. Like in the movies about superheroes. Feelings that you are not like the others is a very pleasant thought for today’s vain people. You don’t have to make any efforts or do anything. These energies allow you, for example, to sleep less and eat very little. No efforts are needed, no work. You get everything very quickly. This is a “spiritual fast food”, so to say. The results are almost instant and you can easily reach some high degrees. This, of course, was very flattering.
Father George: Were those practices in any way connected to the rock music to which you dedicated most of your life?
Igor Kapranov: This is directly connected to rock music. When you’re involved in some creative activity, you are definitely ripped off. Because you don’t clearly understand the source of your creativity. You think, “I’m doing a good thing, composing and playing good music, putting up a good performance.” You get immediate feedback—the fans want to see you and talk to you… This creates an illusion that everything is possible. That is, there are no boundaries that show you what you can or cannot do. Everything is allowed!
Father George: In this situation, what motivated you, a quite successful musician and a celebrity, to go back to the place where they kicked you out?
The Gospel says, “Come and see”, and I wanted to come and see. So what if they didn’t let me enter the church?
Igor Kapranov: My natural stubbornness probably played a part in it. I didn’t despair because they didn’t let me enter the church. I decided that I must go there again and fully understand what it was. So I started reading the Holy Gospel. And the words, Come and see (John 1:46), touched me. I wanted to come and see. So what if they didn’t let me in?
I had a friend who was started going to church a fairly long time ago. He lived on Valaam Island for about five years. I met him and asked him to take me along. He said, “Sure, let’s go.” So for Passion Week we went to Valaam to visit one small monastery that followed the strict rule of Mt. Athos. I didn’t know anything about Orthodoxy; it was a totally different planet to me. I had no idea about God; I just thought that there was some cosmic impersonal being. So I went there with this insolent thought: “I don’t know what God is, but I know for sure what He is not.” That is, I had some inner assuredness that I already have everything, I have achieved a certain stage, and then… When I got there, I saw, one can say, an early Christian community where people shared their meals and did not have any personal belongings. This community was gathered around the Eucharist. It is well described in the Acts.
When I came there, I simply started attending the services.
Father George: Was is difficult?
Igor Kapranov: Quite the contrary! I couldn’t explain it yet, but I felt good in the church. I wanted to understand what was happening. Why do these people wake up at night and go to pray in the church? It amazed me! The services, the quiet singing and the Liturgy itself produced a lasting impression on me. I was accepted as if I was their old friend, and this was one of the deciding moments: I felt the benefit of the Sprit. This peace and love, when people help you to come to God rather than hinder you. And not by words, but rather by their personal example, their personal lives and their commitment to Christ. This is baffling, of course. Because you see people living a very spiritual life without proving anything to anybody or forcing anything upon anybody. This makes you wonder.
I came up to the abbot and asked him to hear my confession. We talked and I confessed for the first time. After that, I participated in the Sacrament of Unction and then the miracles started happening.
Father George: What miracles?
Igor Kapranov: I was sick when I came there—I had a furuncle in the ear. It was very painful. I couldn’t sleep or do anything… Usually, when I had this problem, I went to see a doctor and sometimes they even had to operate. Here, I simply went to confession, got anointed in the name of the Lord, and the next morning the inflammation was gone. When I woke up, I started doing the usual things and suddenly realized that there was no pain. Through this Sacrament, the Lord began to draw me nearer to Him.
Father George: How long did you stay on Valaam that time?
Igor Kapranov: I stayed there for Passion Week. During this Passion Week, the Lord changed me completely. When I came back home, I was so full of joy that I wanted to hug everybody, take them all to a church and tell them, “How can you miss this?! This happy feeling of wholeness you get through communicating with God is here within your reach.” That was when I realized that neither some candle seller nor any other person could separate me from Christ. I was as thirsty as someone in a desert, longing to drink the living water. The Church has it in abundance. This includes the Holy Scripture and the Sacraments that allow us to experience God’s blessing. This is also the joy of knowing that God is our Father. I wanted to share this joy, first with my family and then with all my friends.
Father George: How did your relatives and friends react to your changes?
Igor Kapranov: Of course, they noticed the changes immediately. Because I was happy. They saw how inspired and joyful I was, but they didn't understand what was happening. Christ changed me. First, I accepted this with my heart and then started to understand it with my mind. I started to understand the teachings of the Church. The saints, especially Silouan of Athos, or rather his book, helped me understand what happened to me.
Father George: Preparing for this interview, I looked up in the Internet what your band’s fans wrote when they learned that Igor Kapranov decided to quit music. They were perplexed. Did this happen at the same time or later?
Father Kapranov: This happened later. Some time after meeting Christ the blessing’s impact on me weakened. And when there’s no help from God, we are weak, so the passions that didn’t bother you before attack you like enraged wild animals. I’ll give you an example. When the train brakes, it cannot stop right away and moves by inertia for some time. The same thing happened to me. I understood that I had to step on the brake and did it, but my old life and old habits still affected me.
I quit everything at once, including my band and my music, and went to Valaam to work there for a year.
Yes, I quit my “spiritual” Reiki practices, because they became useless and boring. It became obvious that since this path was not taking me to Christ, my Savior, I didn’t need it. Because Christ is the Path to Salvation and the Truth. However, such vices as drug addiction didn’t leave me. During my musical career, I developed a strong addiction to drugs. As you know, sin is suicidal. It pulls you in. At some point, I hit rock bottom so hard that I understood that it was either I go with Christ or I die. I chose Christ. That is why one day I quit everything—my band, my music—just before recording the new album… and went to Valaam to work there for a year and strengthen myself spiritually.
Father George: So what happened during this year?
Igor Kapranov: Many things. But the most interesting thing was that I started to understand that without God I was nobody and if God took away his support, I’d fall right away. I began to feel that God cares about me personally. I began communicating with Him. During my stay in the monastery, I learned to pray. It is very important. And of course, I got a spiritual father. He made me feel love for the Liturgy, because the Christians’ life is perceived though it. During the Liturgy, the Holy Scripture is read and then we meet Christ; and just as in ordinary life, Christians are waiting to meet Christ. These aspirations became stronger. I started reading the Gospels more. Thanks to modern preachers, like Father Daniil Sysoyev, I got interested in dogmatics, missionary work and Church Fathers. It is a real treasure! I couldn’t even imagine how immense that treasure was. The Orthodox Church indeed is a storehouse of colossal spiritual treasure.
Father George: Maybe some of our viewers have similar problems. Could you tell us how God helped you overcome your addiction?
Igor Kapranov: It is possible only through repentance. Profound repentance and tears. That is when the blessing comes that helps and purifies you.
Father George: Did you come back to St. Petersburg after spending a year on Valaam?
Igor Kapranov: Yes.
Father George: I know that in the West there are rock and heavy metal musicians who say that they play Christian rock or Christian metal. Did you want to follow that route?
The internal rhythm of a Christian doesn’t match the rhythm of rock music, let alone heavy music.
Igor Kapranov: If some musicians can successfully do that and believe that they really shed the light of Christ, I hope God helps them. But I really don’t have it in me. Moreover, I believe that the inner state of a Christian does not lead in this direction, but rather steers away from it. When a person gets in touch with God by praying and living a spiritual life, such a person gradually calms down and his inner rhythm no longer matches the rhythm of the music he’s playing. In this case, if you try to press on, the results will be somewhat artificial. Why can Protestants naturally play what they call “Christian metal”? That is because they don’t have God’s blessing. They don’t know God. They only know the emotions invoked by the music. It’s the rhythm, the feeling of a certain thrill they get from playing the music. But if you sing about Christ in this rhythm, in this groove, this doesn’t mean anything. I would even ask, “Who will come to God after these songs?” And if they meet Him, He would say, “What was that?” Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew, 7:21).
My inner rhythm totally changed. The things that used to be natural for me—these sounds of the fallen nature of man—have become absolutely foreign to me. I couldn’t find myself in them. I could have continued making that music professionally, but if I’m not doing it wholeheartedly, why should I lie?
Father George: What were your relations with your bandmates? Did they understand your choice? Did they take offence to your leaving so abruptly?
Igor Kapranov: I think that they did take offence. I don’t regret leaving the band and I think that neither do they, because they successfully continue their activity. I think that they didn’t understand me, but that is okay.
Father George: How did you move on to church singing? I know that you are also into Byzantine singing.
The singing must facilitate praying.
Igor Kapranov: If we follow in the footsteps of the Church Fathers, we see a certain tradition. In Russia, it was plain chanting. We adopted the Byzantine singing tradition and here it acquired its own flavor. It is ancient church singing, and through this singing you can feel the presence of God during services. Singing must facilitate praying.
Father George: Many things depend on whether or not the singer is praying and on the singer’s attitude toward singing.
Igor Kapranov: Yes, of course. There are people of various ages in our choir, from 20-year-old students to 50-year-old professional physicians. They come to the choir not for the money, but for the sake of singing. They are happy and accomplished people.
Father George: There is a big difference between what you used to sing and what you sing now.
Igor Kapranov: Yes, there is, but there are similarities too. For example, church singing, especially plain chanting, is done in a speaking position, that is the voice is not changed, and people sing just like they speak, using their natural voice.
I learned about church singing on Valaam in a very natural way. They have a very good tradition: First, you just stand near them and listen attentively, then they start including you in the choir for some songs and you join the tradition. By the way, they started using books with sheet music on Valaam only in the last century. Before that, singing was a tradition that was passed from mouth to mouth. By the way, the Byzantine tradition is a very good illustration of the meaning of Holy Tradition, when whatever is written is far from being the complete picture. When the cantor sings looking at the sheet music, we hear that he makes a lot of embellishments. Sheet music is just a foundation. The same goes for the Holy Tradition—When we read, we understand that there is something more behind the words, something that concerns life and spirit.
Father George: You mentioned that you wished to share your knowledge about Christ that overwhelmed you at that time. Did this wish fade away? Did you implement it later?
Spreading the Good News about our Savior and talking to people about Him is natural.
Igor Kapranov: I think that the nature of Church itself is missionary. What is the Gospel? It means Good News. It is Good News that we are reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. It is natural to spread this news, especially because if you read the Holy Scripture, you simply cannot fail to notice Christ’s constant pleas to go and preach the Gospel. Of course, this wish is implemented when I talk to friends and relatives, in the Internet or at various missionary events, when I’m invited. When we meet actual people, real miracles happen. God gives you the right words and you just wonder how the right words came to you. Many people thank us and ask, “Why haven’t we met earlier?” This is happening because people have this thirst that must be quenched. We are just signs showing the direction. People have to go the distance themselves.
Our desire to spread the Good News is the evidence that Christ came to this world to save all people. He stretched His hands out on the cross to embrace every repentant sinner. If you are in doubt, you can simply look at the cross and understand that He waits for you with open arms.
Father George: You mentioned miracles. Can you tell us about the miracles that happened with you or people you knew?
Igor Kapranov: Yes, of course. I think that every Christian feels it in his or her life in one way or the other. You can especially feel it when you visit sacred places. I was on Valaam and the relics of St. Sergius and St. Herman are not the only sacred objects there, for there you also see the brotherhood of men who abandoned everything in the name of Christ. This is the real miracle. Also, the Eucharist and Liturgy are the greatest miracles that could happen in our world. Through these miracles, people meet Christ and begin their spiritual growth.
I had another interesting example: I was going to visit Mt. Athos, but there were some problems and I needed something to encourage me. So on Christmas day 2011 I walk into my room and see that my icon of Theotokos began streaming myrrh. I was in great shock and called my sister to confirm that I was not hallucinating. And it was indeed streaming myrrh. This is one of the examples. But I think that the biggest example of God’s participation in my life was how I met my wife. We found each other online at the Orthodox singles site and got married in three months. It was a real miracle.
Father George: I think that our viewers would like to know how you evaluate your former work. Some people think that all heavy music is satanic. Some think that this style of music is not worse than any other style. What do you think?
Igor Kapranov: You know, I don’t think about that. This is no longer part of my life or my interests… But people who are into rock music often talk to me and I think that for creative people this music can be that step on the stairway to heaven that will lead them further. You can’t say that all that music is satanic. However, there are certain energies around that music and the cult of “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. If a musician living in this cult is not affected by this, it is very good, but I practically don’t know anybody like that. Fairly often this music in one way or another facilitates destruction of the musician’s personality. It happens gradually. They think it is cool. They think it is cool to be a rock musician, do drugs and live thinking that, “you’re a star”. This is part of that life. At some point, this becomes that rock bottom that you can hit and bounce off and maybe come to the light of knowing God.
Father George: Thank you for your story. I remembered how I came to God. I had an episode similar to what happened to you. I started going to church when I was a teenager. Once I came there with my cousin and one of the old ladies that worked in the church snapped at us for some reason and said, “Go away, you shouldn’t be here!” We left, of course. Our feelings were hurt, but, you know, I felt that this church was mine as much as that old lady’s. We didn’t argue with her or talk back and left as she told us to do, but after a week I came back to this church and nobody asked me to leave. Naturally, I don’t want to justify anybody’s rudeness, because it is wrong in any case, but I think that such situations happen to us for a reason.
Igor Kapranov: Absolutely.
Father George: Maybe in your case the meaning was so that you could come to church when you’re ready for this step and could take it more seriously.
Igor Kapranov: No question about it. You were right to say that those who are afraid that some people in the church may not welcome them should be resolute and feel that this church is for them as much as it is for those who have been coming there for a long time. By the way, I remember that once Metropolitan Illarion (Alfeyev) publicly apologized for all those old ladies who hurt anybody’s feelings at any time. He was indeed sincere and I felt that he sympathized with the people whose feelings were hurt. It is very important not look away from the problems, but identify them and try to resolve them according to Christ’s commandments.
Father George: I hope to God that all our viewers that are currently on their journey to God would find the strength to complete their journey. Thank you very much and God help you.