Each of us has his or her own memories and special God-sent people and life events. I miss those whom I met on my paths of life. Whenever I see or learn that someone has a need I pray for them to God as I rarely have a chance to help people substantially. When speaking with the poor, I try to give these people (who do not receive simple human attention, love and care) the opportunity to pour out their souls to me, to share their worries and concerns with me.
There is a bus stop on the central motorway near our church. I remember this stop changing year after year. Once it was converted into a kind of a shop: it was ironclad, shelves were welded in it and fruit and vegetables laid out on them. The stop then looked smart, cozy and festive. Some time went by, and this tiny shop was closed. It stood empty for a long time and only iron shelves were occasionally used by passengers who, while waiting for a bus, placed their bags on them.
Thus the stop once became a refuge for Achiko. Earlier he had lived in another country, faithfully and honestly working on railway, but in the hard years of disorders and conflicts he was deported to his homeland. On his return he learned that he had no right to live in his house any more. It was rumored that his sister had sold his house without his knowledge. Though Achiko had other well-off and powerful relatives, he for some reason made a decision to spend his nights on the street. He was a clever and open man and from time to time we managed to learn new details of him and his life. Once it became known that he was well-educated, knew English and had earned a lot of money in the past years. Kind-hearted people gave him mattresses and blankets and he whiled away long cold winter nights at the bus stop, arranging a bed for himself on one of the shelves. During daytime compassionate salesmen from small local shops kept his belongings. Priests from church, learning about his misery, suggested he to go to a monastery and live there for a while. And, indeed, he went to a monastery, stayed there for some time, but again and again returned to his bus stop. And who knows why he did it…
Seeing his extremely difficult life, full of troubles, I grieved much about him and did not know how to help him. And I used to think: what if we invite him to live with us for some time? It was very hard, even next to impossible to make up my mind to do that. I, a young woman, lived in a small private house alone with two teenage children in a very deserted spot, and my son, a teenager, protested against settling a strange man in our dwelling. As for me, lying in my warm bed I tossed and turned for hours, unable to fall asleep for sorrow and fervently praying to God, asking Him to help this poor Achiko in whose eyes I saw repressed pain and torture. And I prayed for all the poor and destitute who had neither shelter nor food.
Sometimes we met with him near the church and talked. These were usual conversations of two acquaintances who know each other well. I tried to relieve his mental anguish with endearing words…
One time I said to him gently how my heart ached for him. And Achiko’s face at once became so serene, he gave a very special, warm smile and said, “It is only this sympathy and those kind words that give me strength to live on and to endure all.” I asked him how he stood the withering frost in the street at nights. He answered that he had grown use to it and God gave him strength. Indeed the Almighty kept and protected him through that incredibly severe winter, which was so rare for our southern country (that is, Georgia). But soon the time was ripe and his soul was prepared to meet with God. Who knows what Achiko was thinking of during his last night, what he was praying for and what he was asking of the Lord… What he was thanking Him for… What he saw…
Our Achiko passed away in April: he froze to death one night, though night frosts are a great rarity in spring in Georgia. May the Lord remember him in His Kingdom!
Several months went by. And another man, named Sergy, came to live at the bus stop. He had quarreled with his family because of alcoholism and decided never to come back home again. He was short and fragile, emaciated because of illness, broken-hearted and very weak. He could hardly stand on his feet together with other beggars near the church. Many people brought him something to eat, and at the stop where he lived there was always food, but he hardly touched it. Having raised a considerable sum of money, he kept it at a neighboring shop and dreamed of going to a bathhouse. But he did not have enough energy for that and would simply lie at his bus stop where some people had brought him a sofa. What does one think about when he or she lives in utter loneliness in the presence of everybody? What were his concerns?
One day I was going home after a Divine Liturgy and suddenly spotted Sergy’s eyes… This was a shocking look! I realized that he felt an unbearable pain and that nobody saw and understood this. “Do you feel bad?” I asked, coming up to him. But he was only looking at me, having no energy to answer. People called for an ambulance and I dashed inside the church for a priest. The latter at once came and began to confess Sergy who was dying. For what did the Lord vouchsafe him to repent right before his death? Why was He so merciful to that poor alcoholic Sergy? How he atoned for his sins before God and people, only the Creator knows. He received Sergy’s soul in the last minute through His priest, while many people for many years pray for such an end to their lives. May the Lord vouchsafe all of us to have a confession before our calling to eternal rest!
Among my beggars friends there was another young man named Sergy. He was tall, very thin, fair, handsome, very well-mannered, interesting, unobtrusive and kind. He suffered from frequent sharp pains, and in order to alleviate his pains he drank. Many parishioners knew his family. They said he had a very intelligent and wonderful family; even his grandparents were respectable people. But the illness and his inner state made Sergy live in the street and beg. There was a lot of delicacy and defenselessness in him. Years passed. His pains grew worse and he could hardly bear them. I tried to get medicines for him and somehow to support him.
Once I came into the church when there was no service and saw Sergy talking to my confessor—he wanted to confess. Being an involuntary eyewitness of his confession, I was stunned by his ardent desire to cleanse his soul by repentance, although he lived in the street among those whom our citizens treated as social outcasts. The sin was his heavy burden, and he sought for the Lord’s forgiveness. Sergy confessed and several days later I learned from other people that the Lord had taken his soul to Himself.
For many years another pauper used to stand at the gates of our convent, but few people took him seriously, with the exception of our nuns. He looked very miserable. Short, thin, squint-eyed, with a swollen blood red face, he suffered from epilepsy. He also drank and could not give up that harmful habit. Many years before, he had had a family. He even had a daughter who lived somewhere and whom he always remembered. He liked to talk with me very much. Seeing my friendly attention, he would somehow blossom out inwardly, begin to tell me about his life and problems, and ask me with interest and in detail about many things; and at least for a short time this heartfelt sympathy from another human being made him happy. He was always very glad to see me and every time with concern asked me about my life, tried to give me a good advice and wished me comfort and consolation. We had a particular friendship based on sincere mutual sympathy and desire to support each other, if only by a word.
Months passed, one after another, and the illness exhausted him greatly. Totally worn out by the fits of his ailment, he naively tried to conceal from me that he drank. Knowing that it really upset me seeing him drunk, he wanted to assure me that he had given up drinking… And I, seeing that he was not changing his ways, fervently prayed to God for him, for the Savior alone can change and heal a man.
Very shortly before his death he decided to be baptized. A priest baptized him in honor of the Holy Prophet Moses, and it filled this poor man with some childish pride and sincere joy. It was that joy with which he lived for a very short time and then reposed in peace.
And I knew a poor woman who used to lie by the road to another church near the metro. I was staggered that she, a sick old woman, would lie on a blanket in the cold street, with water of melting icicles flowing down straight on her from the roof… Being unable to pass her by, I got into a conversation with her and learned that she had close relatives to look after her. They even had a house to live in, but they had absolutely no means of subsistence. Glory be to God, our city residents are compassionate and merciful: seeing people in the street who got into trouble they give them food, money and so on. She said frankly to me that whenever she lies all day long in that way, she manages to raise money sufficient for dinner and other needs. Had she stayed at home, they would have not been able to make both ends meet. And I thought by myself: what terrible torments she has to endure in order to earn this money given her by the merciful God and generous people! And who in the world is entirely safe from sudden miseries in this life? But I know for sure that Christ is always with us in such moments and leads us by ways known to Him alone, which are concealed from everybody. And not only does the Lord look at a sufferer’s heart, but also at the hearts of all those who see and know the sufferer—those who assist and those who ignore him.