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I was born in the city of Nganjuk, East Java, on February 20, 1971. But I spent my childhood in Jombang City, not far from my birth place. I am the half brother of Fr. Daniel Byantoro; we have the same father but a different mother. I was born of our second mother, and Fr. Daniel was born of the first mother. In his childhood, Fr. Daniel lived with our first mother, his birth-mother, in a different town, half an hour away from my hometown. Jombang is a heavily Islamic City, with a famous Islamic Boarding School that belonged to the family of the third President of Indonesia, the former President Abdul Rahman Wahid, who was a very moderate Islamic cleric. It also has an Islamic University and various Islamic lower and higher educational institutions. Among family and friends I was known as “Wawan”. It was in this Jombang City that I received my education from Kindergarten to High School.
When I was a teen, I had a wide variety of friendships and acquaintances. One of them was a group of friends who were interested in the secret arts of magic, many of which are to be found in most of Indonesia and in almost all countries in the Far East. The city of Jombang is especially famous for that kind of magic, with various “gurus” and their brands of magical and mystical sciences being promoted. I began to learn such a magical science. I found that there were no difficulties and no obstacles during the difficult and arduous periods of learning and training in order to achieve the supernatural and magical power I greatly coveted. At last I achieved the highest ranking among the members of these mystical adepts. Finally, I was promoted to be the instructor and trainer at an Islamic religious boarding school (“pesantren”) to teach this mystical and magical science in order to achieve supernatural strength and power. It was during this time of teaching the mystical and magical art in this Islamic religious boarding school (“pesantren”) that I came across Christianity.
In this Islamic religious boarding school (“pesantren”), there was a group of people whose sole determination was to convert Christians to Islam. It was the common belief of almost all Muslims that Christians are infidels (“kaffirs”) that need to be converted to Islam. At last, after I learned a little about Christianity, I decided to visit a nearby Church; but, to my surprise, I did not find anything that I considered to be “infidel” during this visit. Instead I met Christ personally in this Church.
In the year 1992, I graduated from High School, and I ventured on to explore my potentialities. I wanted to learn about real life. Leaving my native town in Jombang City, I went to the island of Sumatra (more than 30 hours away by bus and ship from my hometown in the island of Java) in Lampung Province (South Sumatra). I found that, in this new place, life was very harsh; I became the leader of a violent gang thanks to my supernatural power and strength. The motto of life in this new place was “either you stab someone’s back, or be stabbed at.” Therefore I led a life of violence, where daily fighting among the gangs was a common reality.
With the passage of time, I, who was the leader of the much-feared gang in town, met a man by the name of Trubus, and he converted me to Roman Catholicism. At last I was baptized, but I still did not know much about Christianity, and was still attached to my magical power and belief system.
Being the leader of a gang, I had many opponents and problems; it was because of one of these problems that I was forced to leave Sumatra and return to Java. In Java, in the year 1994, I visited my other half-brother, Fr. Yohannes, the younger full brother of Fr. Daniel, who told me a lot about the Orthodox faith. I was interested in knowing about this new faith, and I learned something about its beliefs. But, I was so offended when he told me about icons, that I could not accept Orthodoxy because it smacked idolatry to me, in spite of my dabbling in magic.
Furthermore, there was one thing that Fr. Yohannes said that infuriated me. He said that “Christ is the Guru of all gurus, and no one can defeat Him.” The gang in me came to the surface; I was very angry upon hearing that there was even a possibility that anyone could be said to be invincible above my own supernatural power and strength. I felt directly challenged by Fr. Yohannes’s statement. With the high ranking position I had as a teacher of this oriental magico-mystical science, I felt that my supernatural power was greater than that of anyone else. Through my years of training, I could even knock a person out and he would fall to the ground without a single touch, only by striking the empty air so that the energy of the air did the rest. I also had the ability from my training that no weapon could easily harm me, because my skin, by virtue of my magical power, became as hard as iron. In addition, another supernatural power I achieved through training and the use of talismans and mantras was that I could make my body so light that I could jump in the air as though I were flying, as long as my feet could touch something, such as on a flying leaf or on the leaves on the trees. I felt that I was invincible.
Along with all my supernatural abilities, I practiced daily meditation, where many times I reached an out-of-body experience. During one of these out-of-body experiences in my meditation, I felt that I visited the kingdom of the “Jinns” (Genies), accompanied by my spirit-guide, who was in the form of an old man clad in a white robe and a white head-band. In Islam, it is believed that God created the Jinns out of fire. There is no idea of fallen angels in Islam, so the jinns are purely an independent spirit-race, half-way between human and angels. Some of them are infidels, but some of them are righteous jinns, hence, Muslims. All the women in this kingdom that I visited were exceptionally beautiful and wore costumes worn by ancient Javanese royal ladies, while all the men looked like monkeys to me.
With all these experiences and exceptional powers that I had, I became a very self-confident, self-conscious, arrogant, and angry young man. I felt the remark of Fr. Yohannes on the invincibility of Jesus Christ as a personal challenge to me. I began to challenge Fr. Yohannes to take me to an Orthodox Church and especially to challenge Fr. Daniel, who brought this belief to Indonesia. I wanted to try to fight the power of Jesus Christ as it is taught in the Orthodox Church. So Fr. Yohannes brought me to Solo, where Fr. Daniel was doing his missionary work.
Exorcism and Baptism
In Solo I attended morning worship every day, followed by the teaching given by Fr Daniel. When everyone left the simple Church building of that time, after completing the lessons of the day, I tried my magico-mystical power against Jesus Christ. At that time, the Holy Trinity Church was not yet built; Fr. Daniel used a simple rented house that became the site of the present-day Holy Trinity Church. I stood up in front of the icon-screen, which was made from simple plaited-bamboo material. Actually, it was easy for me to knock it down by simply stomping my feet on the ground and hitting my fist in the air toward the icon-screen, but what happened then was shocking to me. Instead of knocking the icon-screen down, the power of the energy of the air that I sent to the icon-screen bounced back to me, and hit me so hard that I fell on the floor. I went out from the Church, but I still could not believe what had happened. Next, I tried my supernatural power against an electric bulb outside the Church, and it broke into pieces, which meant the power was still there. I entered the Church again, and tried again to knock the icon-screen down, but the same thing happened. Repeatedly I tried, and over and over I was knocked down to the ground.
I began to wonder who this Jesus Christ might be, and more importantly I began to be interested in the icons that at first I thought to be idols. After long pondering, slowly I began to confide to Fr. Daniel that, every time I entered into that simple Church building, I felt that a power left my body and made me feel very weak, but when I came out from the Church, that power returned to me. Immediately Fr. Daniel asked whether I practiced magical arts, and whether I had some magico-mystical power and practiced the chanting of mantras. Having admitted that I did, Fr. Daniel immediately asked me whether I had magical talismans or amulets. I admitted that I had. Fr. Daniel asked me to give the amulet to him. The amulet was in the form of a large belt sewn from a blue cloth that I always wore around my waist. I hesitated to give the talisman to Fr. Daniel, because no one is able to touch the amulets without being knocked to the ground by its sheer power. But Fr. Daniel retorted that no power is above the power of Jesus Christ. I was shocked to see Fr. Daniel did not show any fear at all.
With a certain degree of skepticism, I removed the magical belt from around my waist and gave it to Fr Daniel. To my surprise, Fr. Daniel took the amulet without any harm; he could even carry the amulet with his left hand, and nothing happened to him. He threw the amulet down to the floor and stepped on it while calling upon the name of Jesus Christ. Then he took a scissor and cut the belt open, and there were written mantras in Arabic, dried flowers, and other charms inside. Fr. Daniel told me that he had to perform exorcism over me, and I obeyed him. Immediately Fr. Daniel spoke an exorcism prayer over me. I felt as if I were being torn apart. I saw my spirit-guide in panic and begging for mercy, while at the same time I heard the prayer of Fr. Daniel driving out this spirit-guide. I had been used to this spirit-guide, who many times gave me information about what was going to happen. I felt a deep pity for him, but I was powerless. When Fr. Daniel continued his prayer, I felt something snatched away from me, and I collapsed.
When I woke up, I felt so weak that I tried to produce the power for a test; nothing was there anymore. Fr. Daniel told me to be baptized immediately for my own protection. I was baptized by Fr. Daniel and continued learning Orthodoxy under his guidance. Fr Daniel taught me the Jesus prayer as a replacement for meditation practices. I was bothered by the fact that, every time I started the Jesus prayer, the experience of my former meditation came back again with the old man clad in a white robe and white head-band appearing and crying for mercy and begging me not to leave him. He was asking for me to return. Daniel told me firmly to ignore this appearance of the spirit and his request for mercy from me. He taught me about the Devil and his cohorts, the demons, and told me very clearly that the old man who had been with me all those times was actually one of these demons. With a very strong effort, I was finally able to fight this demon, and his voice slowly faded away. Of course, it took many months to be freed from the influence of this old man demon.
To America and Back Again
In the year 1995, Fr. Daniel sent me to Ben Lomond, California, in the United States of America, to learn iconography under the guidance of Fr. Luke Dingman. He was one of the members of the former Evangelical Orthodox Church who converted to Orthodoxy along with Fr. Gordon Walker and friends. I stayed in Ben Lomond for a year. In 1996, I returned to Solo and studied in the university, majoring in architecture. In the year 2000, I was invited to Kerala, South India, by Fr. George from Mar-Thoma Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, a friend of Fr. Daniel. In this place, the majority of the people are non-Chalcedonian Orthodox of the Syriac tradition. I lived in the Seminary in Chungam area, in Kottayam City. I painted icons for the Church and taught iconography to the students there. After completing what I was invited for, I returned to Solo, Indonesia, helping the ministry of Fr. Alexios. I married the sister-in-law of Fr. Alexios; my wife is the young sister of his wife, Presbytera Helenni. To our joy, soon a healthy and handsome baby boy named Uriel was born.
From America, Fr. Daniel contacted me, asking me about the calling of my life. I told him that I was interested in the ministry, especially since all this time Fr. Alexios had been training me in theology and liturgical life. At last, when Archbishop Hilarion came to Indonesia, I was one among those ordained by His Eminence. I was ordained by His Eminence on February 19th, 2006, in the Holy Trinity Church, Solo, Central Java, Indonesia. With my ordination, there are now 4 children of my late father, as well as a son-in-law of his, who have been ordained into the priesthood: Fr. Daniel, Fr. Yohannes, their half-brother (and my older birth-brother), Fr. Matthew, myself, and my older brother-in-law, the late Deacon Panteleimon (the husband of my half-sister, Debora). Now, I feel the call of God to approach my former gang members in Sumatra and convert them to the faith while ministering the Lord in their midst. I am waiting for the time when I can leave for Sumatra. For the time being I am serving our new Orthodox Community in the village of Simo, not far from Solo. May God be praised in all things!