In our previous article we introduced our readers to the Pokrov (“Protection”) Orthodox Children’s Home. It is a delightful, cozy little house (a converted village hall) in the village of Yakovlevo near Moscow. It provides shelter and education to children from the most difficult backgrounds, from all corners of Russia. Once they had nothing: neither hope for the future, nor trust in people, to say nothing of faith in God. At Pokrov they have all of this.
It is amazing that Pokrov is a non-state institution; that is, it exists by the mercy of God and the donations of generous people. Some people bring food or clothes to it, others support it financially. There is also an icon-painting workshop at the local church which brings in some modest return.
We can only imagine how hard it is to try and find permanent sponsors for a children’s home in our difficult times. Not only do they need to feed and clothe the children, they also need to educate them and to pay the staff workers, namely cooks, teachers and tutors. But the result is rewarding: the saved life of a little human being, who will turn from darkness to light; a child who will turn over a new leaf in his life that will be painted only in bright colors. Moreover, the children sincerely pray to God for the forgiveness of sins and salvation of their parents.
Nine of their own children and a children’s home into the bargain
Do you know many families that more than five children? For modern society it is seen as an exception to the rule. We tend to worry that we will hardly be able to feed and clothe “so many children”…
Isn’t it true that today one must be a real hero to take on his shoulders the indeed heavy responsibilities of keeping and maintaining a children’s home?
A lot has been written about the Pokrov Children’s Home, yet the personal life of its founder and director, Archpriest Vitaly Tkachev, still “remains in the shadows”. Not many people know that he and his wife Ekaterina have nine of their own children besides their foster children. And we can only marvel at how Ekaterina finds time and energy to take care of and devote time to both her own and their foster children. She needs to be a mother to each of them, to show her affection for them and give them good advice… It seems she already sees no difference between her “biological” and foster children. In addition, Ekaterina is the director of the choir that was set up at Pokrov. So she is in charge of all the organizational work, namely tours, rehearsals, costumes, performances…
So let us come to this wonderful, united family’s home and ask them very important questions. How we can grow in sincere, genuine love; how we can learn to love our own children, somebody else’s children, our relatives, and even strangers.
Once your fifth is born, nothing scares you!
It was peaceful and quiet in the village of Yakovlevo despite its proximity to Moscow. Trees with their waving branches towered above the road that led us up to a small, cozy house beside the church. This is where the family of the rector of the Church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God lives, with the children’s home situated a few miles away.
Everybody was waiting for us, so the door of the house opened and the whole household cordially greeted us at the doorstep—Fr. Vitaly, his wife Ekaterina, and the hubbub of excited, cheerful children behind them.
I will try to enumerate all of them.
Nikita, sixteen, is the oldest. He is a tall and handsome lad. Next to him is Nastya [a diminutive form of the name Anastasia in Russian], fifteen; then come Anya [Anna], thirteen; Pelagea, twelve; Kuzya [Kuzma, Cosmas], nine; Natasha [Natalia], eight; Vasilisa, six; Ulyana, four, a sociable and affectionate child; and, lastly, little Xenia who is settled in her mom’s arms because she is one year old.
The whole family was so happy to see us as, if we were their closest relatives for whom they had been waiting a long time.
“Our kids like guests very much,” Ekaterina explained. “They constantly ask us, ‘When are we going to have guests again?’”
The household helped us take off our coats and we sat down together around a big, long table.
While Ekaterina and the older girls were fussing with the dinner items in the kitchen, the younger children stayed with us. The trusting four-year-old Ulyana sat on my lap and started to tell me about something.
Fr. Vitaly explained to me:
“She is trying to tell you that we recently celebrated the first birthday of our youngest, Xenia, and each prepared a handmade present for her.”
“It is wonderful that you are teaching them these things!”
“No, that was not from us. It was their own initiative!”
“Fr. Vitaly, why do you love and adore children so much? You were raised in a large family, weren’t you?”
“No, I wasn’t. I have only a brother and a sister.”
“Did you dream of having a big family?”
“No, I did nothing of the sort! (Laughs). It was the Lord Who ordained that we should have many children! He has given us children, and glory be to Him! The only thing we must do is rely on God’s direction! This concerns every aspect of our life, including having children. We cannot be two-faced: ‘Here I will seek God’s will, but there I will decide for myself.’ If you rely on God, you must do it wholeheartedly and allow Him to guide you through your life’s path.”
“You are speaking about this because you are a priest, but it is very difficult for ordinary people to accept these things… By the way, had you already been ordained by the time your first child was born?”
“Exactly! I was an ordained priest when our oldest son was born. My first church was in the town of Lukhovitsy [some seventy miles south-east of Moscow]. Then I was transferred here, to Yakovlevo, and several years later the rector of this church died. Everything was in desolation and ruin here. Just imagine—the house where we are sitting now was a decrepit little hut at that time. And we already had five children (Kuzya was the youngest). But little by little things sorted themselves out by the grace of God. This house literally grew with our family. At the same time, the church was gradually restored.”
“As far as I understand, the church was restored with donors’ funds. So you had sponsors, didn’t you?”
“Yes, by the grace of God one of our parishioners was a shareholder of a bank. He helped us very much. We opened our children’s home with his support too, but after the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis the benefactor stopped supporting us. And we had to seek for financial aid ourselves.”
“Tell us how the idea of opening a children’s home was conceived. You had five children at that time.”
“I think it was a gradual process, so we were morally prepared for that. I remember that when we lived in Lukhovitsy I read about Fr. Nikolai Stremsky, about his Holy Trinity House of Mercy in the village of Saraktash in the Orenburg region. Do you know about him?”
“Yes, I do.”
“They have about seventy children from orphanages in their family. As I was reading that story I thought that it was so wonderful. It was really helpful. It was about saving the lives of children rather than just giving a piece of advice to somebody... At that time I had no idea that one day I would have an opportunity to found a children’s home too.
“The Lord Himself arranged everything, and I just relied on Him. The woman that we mentioned in our previous talk approached me. Her situation was really difficult—she had neither a home nor a job. We took her children in and soon we thought that there were probably more children in similar situations somewhere else. Our sponsor suggested that we repair our old village hall nearby. It enabled us to receive new children here. So it was the Almighty that was guiding me, and I just trusted in Him.”
At that moment, while Ekaterina was serving the dinner, I could not refrain from asking a question:
“Ekaterina, what was your reaction when your husband told you that he was going to open a children’s home?”
“Honestly? (Laughs). My first reaction was not very good. I think I was concerned purely in a feminine way. Every time we were expecting a new baby I worried a lot and was afraid of complications. But I settled down as soon as our fifth baby arrived. Remember this! Once your fifth is born, nothing scares you!”
“How do you manage your work and all the household chores? Do you have a special secret?”
“The only ‘secret’ is the ability to love. I don’t mean self-love. I mean to love the ones the Lord gave you—your husband and children. To love all your nearest and dearest more than yourself. (Smiles). And, for example, if it is hard for me to wake up in the morning, then I say to myself, ‘I work as a tutor in our children’s home, that is my duty. Now I must get up, tidy myself up and go to the children with a smile on my face!’ That is why I am always in a right state of mind and have time for everything.”
I followed Ekaterina out with my eyes until she disappeared into the kitchen.
“Every child is born with what he needs”
“Fr. Vitaly, please, tell us how one can convince ordinary people (who live in our secular world where large families are a rarity) of the need to have as many children as God sends them? We tend to have apprehensions about having many children. We fear that we won’t have enough money to provide for them…”
“It largely depends on our personal relations with God, whether or not we wholeheartedly trust in God. People very often say, ‘First I will make my career, then I will save up and buy a flat; and after that I will start a family…’ In some cases people resort to abortions and afterwards remain childless as the Lord doesn’t send them children. Why? Because they should have placed their trust in God alone in the first place. It applies to such serious aspects of life as child-bearing in particular. The birth of every child is a miracle of God and it doesn’t depend on us… Trusting God with all our hearts must be above all things! However, today the world calls on us to plan everything. And we hear the words ‘birth control’ or ‘family planning’ continually!”
“What does ‘a difficult situation’ mean?!” (Fr. Vitaly is indignant). “Don’t they have a piece of bread for their child?! I think anyone can find some bread to feed his child! It is a matter of the needs and requirements of modern people. Many have very long wish lists… But let us recall how our ancestors lived.”
“You are right. Modern man’s requirements keep increasing. But what do you do if you have more and more children, while your budget remains the same?”
“I don’t believe that ‘the budget remains the same’. There is a fine Polish proverb: ‘Every child is born with what he needs.’ I have observed this phenomenon in the lives of so many of our clergy and parishioners. For example, one family from Moscow recently moved to our village and purchased a tiny house that was unsuited to their needs. And now they have five children. And I see that the Lord has been providing for them—things are really getting better, they have enough money to meet basic needs, and their property is being extended. It is a matter of trust in God. If somebody is depressed and keeps complaining, ‘Oh, all is so bad and terrible! Why do I have so many children? How will I feed and clothe them? Everything is so expensive! Oh, what school will they go to?’ he is murmuring against God. If you are with God, this is the way you think: ‘We give thanks to God for giving us another day of life and giving us all we need for today.’ ‘Each day brings its own bread’, as the saying goes. According to your faith be it unto you (Mt. 9:29), Christ said.”
“But if there is a difficult situation and the doctors have prescribed contraceptives?”
“Oh, doctors… They often prescribe something like that… Modern medical practice and doctors are guided by different principles. As a matter of fact, doctors are not always to be trusted. It would be best to trust in God wholeheartedly in such situations. We also have had many life and death situations with the children… But the Lord turned all these situations around for our good.
“As you know, God tests our faith during our lives. He temporarily moves away from us and allows us to experience sorrows and trials. And the Lord sees if we can endure this and if we really have the gift of faith.”
The woman of the family makes final decisions!
At last Ekaterina sat down at the table with us and I made up my mind to trouble her with a question:
“Ekaterina, imagine the following situation. An Orthodox woman goes to church and wants many children. But her husband does not agree with her. What can she do to make him change his mind?”
“How is it this woman is unable to convince her husband?! (Laughs). Isn’t it right that the woman in a family makes final decisions?!!”
Ekaterina began to smile:
“I come from a very patriarchal family. And, for example, I have never troubled Fr. Vitaly with our children’s problems… Neither with nighttime feeding nor with childhood diseases. However, Fr. Vitaly is always willing to help me, at any time.”
I turned to Fr. Vitaly with surprise, and he nodded.
“Today women demand equal sharing of responsibilities between wives and husbands,” Ekaterina went on. “They want their husbands to help them with their babies at night, to bathe them, to change their diapers, to walk with them after work and so on because they want to have a rest. But after that they are surprised that their hubbies don’t want any more children.
“Many modern women don’t want to be ‘just mothers’. They strive to fulfil their potential in one or another profession, but their children clash with their work. In reality, if you trust in God, you will be able to use your talents and abilities with children. This is exactly what happened to me, although I had never thought about it. I have an education in music and I was able to use it in my work with children. We have our own choir and the children have the possibility to perform together with excellent singers. It is so important to them. Besides, all of us sing in the church.”
I gazed at Ekaterina in admiration for a few minutes and then asked Fr. Vitaly automatically:
“Fr. Vitaly, where did you meet such a wonderful wife?”
“At a library! (Laughs). It’s true. Though we had known each other before because we attended the same church. But it was at the library that we talked with each other for the first time.”
“Fr. Vitaly, family psychological services are very popular today. If a marriage is showing signs of breaking up, do you think that a qualified psychologist can help a couple save their marriage?”
“To be honest, I don’t think he can. And I have several psychologists among my parishioners… I will repeat myself: it is a matter of trust in God, for no one can put our lives in order better than the Creator. Psychologists see things in a different light. Psychology as a science is directed to absolutely different things. Psychology is focused on self-love, whereas Christ teaches us a self-sacrificing love for others, to serve our neighbors. Even a friend of mine who is a psychologist says that the principles of psychology cannot be applied to believers.”
Love for God is absolutely voluntary
“Fr. Vitaly, there are so many children under your care; most of them are from unhappy families where nobody talked about God with them. I know that you baptized many of them. How does one raise children in the Christian faith properly? For even in priests’ families children are often unwilling to go to church and pray when they grow up, not to mention other extremes.”
“Oh yes, priests’ children… It is a special subject. The main thing is not to force any of them to do anything. After all, love for God is absolutely voluntary. We personally don’t impose anything on our children and they are free to do whatever they want.
“We say to them: ‘Such are our rules. But you are free to act at your discretion.’ At the first stage of their life at Pokrov children just observe those around them. Little by little the grace of God begins to work in them and they begin to pray, go to confession and Communion of their own accord. It is up to them to decide whether or not they pray or go to church with us. Each of us is driven by love. For it is not without reason that God gave us free will.
“My older children, for instance, never miss morning and evening prayers. It would be as if against their nature to ‘skip’ daily prayers or a Sunday service.
“And Ulyana (who is four years old) recently told us, ‘I don’t want to go to church today!’ We replied, ‘Well, then stay at home alone. But don’t touch or turn on this or that!’ When we came back home, she said, ‘It was so terrible to be alone! I wished I had gone with you!’”
“You old shrew are disturbing everyone!”
“So, one shouldn’t force his children to go to church, right?”
“Certainly not! All should be done with love. Children are quite free at our church to do what they like. That is why large families like to visit our church. In our church nobody will ever drive a child out if he is running and making noise.
“This is thanks to my spiritual father. He told me the following story connected with our oldest son Nikita. He was a very active child and he would scamper around the church, annoying some of our parishioners, especially one old woman. And one day the latter came to confession and knelt down in front of one priest (my spiritual father) in tears. And she told him her story. Once she was standing at the service and in her mind kept hurling curses at Nikita, while he was ‘running about too noisily’ and ‘disturbing her prayer’. All of a sudden she heard a voice telling her very clearly, ‘You old shrew are disturbing everyone here!’
“Why so? The priest explained to me that children are always closer to God than we are. Although we adults stand still and straight at church like statues, we frequently have vain thoughts and judge others, thus moving away from God. Meanwhile, children run and laugh at church, and that’s the way they communicate with God Who is always closer to them.”
“Fr. Vitaly, thank you for this important talk. Although I wanted to talk more about your family, let us now proceed to another important subject, namely the needs of your children’s home. I am sure that some of our readers will want to help you. What are your most pressing needs?”
“With the blessing of God we have just opened a home for boys. We want to teach our girls to be good wives and housewives, while our boys must grow into real men, so we need to open as many sports groups and various workshops as possible. Our boys (a small minority) have never felt very comfortable among girls, so we stopped admitting new boys some time ago. Now, with the new home—glory be to God—we can admit both girls and boys.
“First and foremost, we need skilled, qualified personnel. We can provide employment and accommodation to a family that can work with children. We want our boys to be taught and trained by men. And, of course, financial aid is vital to us. We need to equip our children’s home with all the necessary facilities and pay our staff workers on time.”
“In our previous article we talked much about the numerous miracles occurring at Pokrov and about the closeness of God to this place. Can you tell us about some miracle?”
“The fact that we exist is a miracle in itself!”
Everybody can offer their mite and help the Pokrov Orthodox Children’s Home.
You can learn more about the needs of Pokrov by contacting its Deputy Director Yulia Vladimirovna Maksimova: +7 (926) 080-21-70.
You can also transfer money to the card of Sberbank of Russia of the father-confessor and Director of the Pokrov Children’s Home Archpriest Vitaly Mikhailovich Tkachev:
4276 8383 5106 0670