“The mill turns as the wind turns” was a proverbial expression that Fr. Cosmas, an Orthodox monk from the USA, could not make any sense of when he first came across it in a Gagauz story that he was reading. Fr. Cosmas’s life story is in itself worthy of attention, but what is important for us here is that Fr. Cosmas is now an exegetical advisor in training for the IBT Gagauz project. Indeed, his first trip to Gagauzia this past March was a meeting between an unusual personality and an unusual culture. Fr. Cosmas has had a very special interest in the Turkish language for many years. After gradually becoming a Christian, then an Orthodox Christian, and finally a monk, he suddenly learned that there is an entire people of Orthodox Christian faith and a language that is very similar to his beloved Turkish. These are the Gagauz, a people group located primarily in southern Moldova. Over the next two years, Fr. Cosmas established contacts with two Gagauz-speaking Christians who are dedicated workers in the Gagauz Bible translation project -- IBT translator Viktor Kopuschu and his brother, IBT field-tester Fr. Sergiy Kopuschu (an Orthodox priest). Fr. Cosmas studied their language and started earning a reputation among the Gagauz as a foreigner who writes stories and articles in Gagauz.
Fr. Cosmas continues his story about the intriguing folk expression: “When we visited a real mill that was preserved in the town of Beshalma in Gagauzia, the mill happened to be a whole building like a small house on a central pole. The building rotates 360 degrees, and there is a long pole at the back of it and a number of stakes pounded into the ground. They move the whole building to face the wind, because in Gagauzia the wind can come from any direction, so the entire building is rotated to face the direction the wind is blowing that day, and then they tie the end of the pole down to the stakes, so that it would stay there. The meaning of the expression is that in the course of living we have to adapt ourselves to different things that happen in life. So it is not just about the blades of the windmill turning. It is people who have to make an effort and turn the mill.”
This expression seems to reflect the very situation in which the Gagauz people find themselves nowadays. As Fr. Cosmas puts it, “The Gagauz look very favorably on the time when they were part of the Soviet Union.” Now many are confused about their own identity, and they have to make special efforts to recognize it. “I would say they suffer from the ‘Rodney Dangerfield complex’. They don't feel any respect. Among Turks they are looked down on for not being Muslims, and among Orthodox Christians they think they are looked down on for being Turkish. So when somebody does appreciate them, he gets an extravagant response.” Fr. Cosmas continues: “A prominent Gagauz author in her poem describes her conversation with a young boy. She asks him, 'Are you Gagauz?', and he replies, 'My mother and father are Gagauz, but I am Russian.' This is a situation that actually comes up in reality; young people think of the Gagauz language and the Gagauz culture as something that belongs to their grandparents, to old people and to people in the villages, but a young modern up-to-date Gagauz person is going to try to be like a Russian person or actually move to Russia to get a job. And they study Russian, they study Bulgarian, they study Moldovan, they study French and German and other languages, but most of the time they do not study their own language.”
It is only people themselves who can make an effort to “turn this mill”. Such are language enthusiasts like Fr. Cosmas or one of his new Gagauz friends, who has multiple talents as a painter, sculptor, singer and a recording engineer. This Gagauz man has his own studio and produces albums of young Gagauz singers solely and deliberately in their mother tongue. In order to encourage a promising singer in her early twenties to value the language of her ancestors, he set up a meeting between her and Fr. Cosmas. She was utterly surprised that this American (and an Orthodox Christian at that) spoke Gagauz but no Russian! Fr. Cosmas shares his impressions of their meeting, “She sings in Gagauz, because she memorizes her songs, and so she sounds like a native speaker, but she doesn’t speak the language either with her friends or with her parents. She did that when she was very young. But now she was in agony during our conversation. So embarrassed, because she couldn’t think of how to say anything. Once it was time to leave, she couldn’t even remember how to say ‘good-bye’ in Gagauz.”
During his trip to Gagauzia, Fr. Cosmas received an enormous amount of attention and was even awarded a medal by the governor for his service to Gagauzia. “When things like this happen, this is not about me. This is about them and about their feelings of themselves. I do not let it inflate my ego”, Fr. Cosmas humbly comments. “They were very eager to meet me, just because they felt that an honor was given to their country, language and culture.” A local woman shared that when she addressed Fr. Cosmas in Gagauz and heard him respond in her mother tongue, her whole being was filled with utmost delight. What a contrast this foreigner was with many Gagauz young people. They are eager to study foreign languages in order to get a better job, while he is eager to study their heart language just because he loves it.
But the most unexpected surprise that came as a result of Fr. Cosmas’s visit was that he somehow managed to persuade an audience of 80 or 90 very critically minded priests that Bible translation in Gagauz is really needed. “The local bishop came up with the idea that I should attend the meeting devoted to the Bible translations into Gagauz. I am a monk, so I am under obedience, and the next day I was taken to that meeting. I did not know how to read the audience because I was meeting that enormous group of people for the first time. They were asking questions and making objections in Russian, and it was translated to me into Gagauz. I was speaking Gagauz and it was translated back into Russian. So it was very difficult for me simply to know what was going on, because there were several layers of language and I did not know how serious the objections were going to be,” Fr. Cosmas recalls. “To my astonishment, the next day I was told that the bishop wrote a letter to my bishop in California, and it turned out that he gave his blessing.”
In a local Gagauz newspaper there is an article about Fr. Cosmas, although it is written in Russian. The journalist concludes, “When we forget our mother tongue, we forget our history.But all of a sudden, somewhere on the other end of the world, there arise people who accept our language and our culture as though it were their own.”
Let us hope that the wind is blowing favorably for the Gagauz-speaking Christians at last. And let us pray that the mill has already begun to turn due to the efforts of mother tongue enthusiasts, like those mentioned in this story who are devoting their lives to translating the Bible into their heart language and also all those that are ready to support them.