God has mercy only upon those who regret their sins and
atone for them either by repentance or works of charity.
St. John Chrysostom
My dears, children of God, believe in God, trust in Him! Accept everything in life:
joy, dejection, prosperity, and poverty, as mercy and the truth of the path
of the Lord, and fear nothing in life, except sin.
Archimandrite John (Krestiankin)
From the earliest age, we are told how important it is to make rational decisions. Our parents teach us to reason so we don’t end up in a difficult or hopeless situation in the future. Sometimes they scare us, warning that stupidity or sluggishness may deprive us of favorable conditions in life. After all, to live well, we must study well, and then find good work. We need to prioritize, always strive for the best, and be ready not to pass up an opportunity. This is all true. Parents are usually correct. Parents are such special people given by God to a specific child, to make his life better and safer, to protect him, and most importantly—to love him. But sometimes reason and love come into conflict, and then you are surprised to discover that they can be enemies. Then you find out that this war is not news and lasts so long that sometimes it seems that it doesn’t exist at all, or that it is a part of creation; and sometimes, suddenly, in the life of one concrete person, this war unfolds with all intransigence, cruelty, and truth.
The theme of this story is abortion. I think it’s important to state that from the outset, because people today are really looking for the positive. There is none here. Well… it’s not quite so categorical. The positive exists, in fact, but it’s not so obvious. If you are attuned to a light story with pleasant feelings—you won’t find that here.
The women, about whom we will be speaking, are very dear to me. Their names, appearance, and even the setting have been changed so as not to give them away. I’m not judging anyone, but only grieving with them, and praying to the Lord for forgiveness. As St. Ephraim the Syrian said, “Do not attack your brother in the day of his sorrow, and do not attach a new sorrow to his soul’s affliction.”
It’s summer in St. Petersburg. Many disperse, leaving the churches empty. The wind is warm, the sun is playful, the tram happily clanks along the avenue, and two women have decided to stop for tea. They just happened to grab me.
In a small apartment—a long table and some stools, the sun freely streams through open windows. Larisa puts a kettle on, and sits on the edge. She’s a little over fifty, with dark wavy hair and big beautiful eyes. Even though smiling, she remains sad. I really like Larisa. She’s very kind and tender. There’s another girl with us, around thirty years of age. She’s silent, unwrapping cookies, and arranging the cups. She smells like vanilla. The women are quiet and silent, and it’s hard for me to be with them. I don’t know how to be modest. I always feel too visible and annoying.
Larisa smiles at me and asks, “Green or black?”
“Always black,” I say too loudly, and I mentally roll my eyes.
She nods and smiles sadly. The kettle boils and clacks. The girl is sitting behind the table and finally subsides. We are making tea, exchanging meaningless phrases, then they trail off.
I hear the kids on the streets making noise. Laughter and squeals alternate with demanding shouts and completely incomprehensible noise. I can literally see them playing. If I had a mustache, I would have laughed in it, but I don’t have one.
“Are you alright?” Larisa asks me.
“Yes, the children,” I said, nodding my heads towards the window, “lords of a sunny day,” and I ask the typical question in such instances: “Do you have any kids?”
“Yes,” Larisa nods, “a daughter and a grandson already.”
I whistle for and ask the girl, “And you?”
She frowns, nervously stirring her tea. Then she takes a breath, and in one gulp says, “I got pregnant at sixteen, but my mom persuaded me to have an abortion. I won’t have any more kids. I am unworthy of this gift; real mothers don’t do that.”
I was a little shocked by this confession, and stared into my cup, waiting for something.
“I had an abortion too,” Larisa quietly says, “a long time ago; and I can’t forgive myself either.”
“And how could you forgive?” the girls asks, and I can hear muffled indignation in her voice.
The voices subside on the street, and I can see the children run to play in another yard, and the day is already not so joyful.
“It’s not for me to forgive. I hope the Lord will forgive me. But I can tell you about it, if you want…” Larisa says, smiling sadly.
We are silent, and she begins her story:
“It was horrible from the very beginning. It seemed that circumstances were pushing me, but an open wound remains in my heart. Anyone who says that abortion doesn’t mean anything is a liar. You never forget it. Time passes, and you begin to think about how old your child would be; and now he would already be walking to school. It’s very difficult. If instead of fear for the future I had known that life would be forever fractured by this one decision…” Larisa says, sighing heavily.
The girl silently stood up and closed the window. It became dark and stuffy. Then she sat close to me. Her cup was still at the other end of the table. I felt the world had shrunk down to the three of us, and time froze. It was a mystery.
“My mother told me I was too young, and I had no husband,” the girl mutters. “And you can’t find work with a child. And now I think about how he would be ten…” she says, grabbing her throat. She’s pale. “So grown,” she whispers chokingly.
Larisa rubs her arm: “You can’t beat yourself up about it; you have to repent,” she says. “God is merciful. There is no sin which will go unforgiven if you sincerely repent; but despair is from the enemy. You must not do it.”
I felt uncomfortable and worried that my presence was disturbing the women.
“Forgive me,” I said nervously. “Maybe I should go?”
“What, Vassa?!” Larisa says, surprised. “Why?”
“Does it bother you?” the girl asked. Obviously, she had misunderstood me.
“Not at all,” I objected. And it was the honest truth. “It was just by chance that I came over here…”
“Nothing happens by chance,” the girl says, interrupting me.
“When I came to the Church,” Larisa continues, “I immediately realized what I had done. The horror of realization was so great that I didn’t eat or sleep, but only cried, not knowing how to be comforted. I didn’t know how to go on living. Then a friend invited me to a monastery, saying there was an elder there whom we could talk with. I went immediately. The elder heard me out, went to pray, and then he returned and gave me a large prayer rule. I was supposed to read it for forty days with prostrations and fasting. He said that if I keep trying, God will let me know.”
“What kind of rule?!” the girl exclaims with undisguised hope, but Larisa shook her head:
“The elder forbade me to pass it on,” she answers.
“What happened next,” I ask impatiently.
“And then...” Larisa says, lowering her eyes. “Then these forty days began. I was ready to read even more. I was afraid forty days would be too little, and at the end of the period I had a dream. I as if awoke in my apartment and I heard a noise in the kitchen. I went there and saw a huge vat standing in the kitchen, and a demon jumping around it and stirring something in it.
“‘You have come?’ he asked me. ‘Well, go and see what you have done.’ I was seized with wild terror, and I as if already knew what was there… in that vat. I awoke from fear. I wept to the point of exhaustion…” Larisa went silent and looked at me. I went breathless from her look. She wasn’t crying now. There was nothing else in her eyes—deeper than just tears, purer, more dispassionate than distress. There was grief in them, and I recognized it. She smiled at me, but remained sad.
“Did you continue reading the rule?” I ask.
“The dream returned,” she says, and again lowers her gaze. “Again I heard someone in the kitchen. I went to the kitchen, knowing that today was already the last of the forty days, and again there was the same demon: ‘Look at what you have done.’ I went up to the vat and saw that it was full… children’s bodies and body parts. I cried out and covered my eyes with my hands, and the next moment someone took my hands from my face, and I saw a young man dressed in a cassock… beautiful and so familiar. He stared me straight in the eyes, and I understood everything. I understood that it was my unborn son, who should have been born to become a monk. He was a gift of God—a man of prayer for our entire family. That’s why the evil one approached me. And I… My son stood, turned and walked away from me. There was no longer anything in the kitchen—neither the tank, nor the vile demon—just the back of my son, walking away. I cried and begged him to forgive me. I didn’t want to believe that he would just leave; and suddenly he looked back and said just one thing: ‘Pray for me, mama,’ and I woke up.”
I nearly left immediately after Larisa’s story, mumbling something about urgent business. I was shocked, embarrassed, and didn’t know what to think or how to feel about it. I had a lump in my throat. How to survive a woe created with your own hands? How to make it through… Lord, have mercy! I didn’t and don’t judge anyone who has made or is making such a decision. Freedom of choice is God’s gift to man, like life, and love, but we don’t always understand that in reasoning intelligently about the future, we can be deadly wrong, irrevocably.
Two years passed since we had this conversation. I thought about it the whole time, deciding how to tell it, and whether it was worth it. I tried to understand what this conversation could give to other people. After all, the moment of such a decision is intimate. In fact, it happens in the soul of a girl, or a woman. What difference does it make what others say? They won’t then be untangling this mess! Now I know that in this moment the unhappy girl is tightly surrounded by a ring of invisible enemies, who scare, whisper, pressure, and lead to despair. Family can turn out not to be friends, and friends not to be family. Then I decided to ask the girl herself. Could anything have stopped her then? And what would she say to other girls finding themselves on the same path?
And she said, “When you go for an abortion, you are cold on the inside from fear and doubts. There is no faith, only emptiness…
“Actually, you know that you’re doing something horrible, but everyone tries to persuade you that it’s from fear for your health, that you’re scared of the operation. But health has nothing to do with it—you’re going to kill your child, and the horror is all from that. Everyone says that at such an early date there’s nothing there—it’s a lie. Everyone knows the baby is already alive and real, from the first day. Only the lies of those around you and your own insecurities can push you to such a path. If only I had known then that the moment of becoming pregnant is the moment when the Lord Himself had decided to bestow a child upon me and make me a mother! And it means that God Himself knows I am ready. If only I had understood that there is an enemy who is making haste to destroy my soul, rob my child of life, and to do so he lies, and frightens, leading me to despair, and there’s a whole army around me helping him in this. If only I had known then that the Lord never abandons even one mother without help and sustenance. We need only to pray to Him, and He will help. If only I had known that I would never be able to forgive myself for this choice. If only I had known that parents are special people to whom God has given to a specific child, to make his life better and more secure, to protect him, and most importantly, to love him. If my mama had said, ‘Don’t worry, dear, I’m with you,’ then nothing could have made me walk that corridor. You don’t need much to not walk this path: Believe that everything will be okay, rely on God with all your heart, and most importantly, don’t listen to the enemy. Death is what the enemy has chosen for us. The Lord gives life everlasting! And to all those who have gone through this, I say: All the pain in your life is from unrepentant sin. Make haste to God and repent, and He will heal your soul. Everything can change, as long as we’re alive.”