Orthodox Christians don’t need any convincing that “a mother's prayer can retrieve a child even from the bottom of the sea”. There are so many examples of this that everybody seems to know of such cases. It’s a pity there is no proverb of this kind about a father’s prayer. It is largely explained by the fact that fathers pray more seldomly, and, much to our shame, in general there are fewer believers among men than among women. I know some are keen on arguing about this statement, but there are no churchgoers among such debaters.
I have a high-ranking boss. Born in an ordinary village like me, he achieved everything not through connections and family ties but by his intelligence and hard work. We maintain very good relations, though it would be a liberty on my part to say that we are friends. He is much older and wiser than I, and he holds a high post. He is a man I have infinite respect for as a director, a teacher and a mentor.
We first met ages ago, when I was an energetic young guy who had just come out of the army and worked at a district newspaper. At that time he was already the manager of one of the best regional (or even national) enterprises and was generally renowned. I knew him not only as an able administrator and a charismatic leader but also as a man of principle, a sincere and not nominal Communist. Of course, he didn’t believe in God; he was indifferent to matters of Church, faith, and religion but was not a militant atheist.
Later, when I left journalism, I was privileged to work under his direction at an agricultural production cooperative for four years. He had changed profoundly by then. Though he had retained his tough character, a strong intellect, an iron will, the ability to make instant decisions, with sharp words and actions, the former atheist had become a believer and was building a church in his village. Maybe his knowledge of theology couldn’t be called extensive, but his faith was serious and steadfast. I remember my boss going to a priest in drought, asking him to perform a prayer service for rain. He stood with some old women by a spring with a candle in his hands. And the fact that clouds were gathering from God knows where and drizzling over his agricultural production cooperative, while the neighbors’ standing crops around were fading and burning out in the sun, was quite natural to him and not a miracle. If it kept on raining in harvest time, he saw to it that prayer services were conducted for the skies to clear—with the same positive results, as I witnessed myself.
We had no time for heart-to-heart talks during work, and in fact my former boss is not the kind of man who would pour out his soul to someone else. But one day he shared something personal with me. We were travelling all over the district on business. My boss was sitting at the wheel, and I was sitting on the seat next to him. We got into a conversation. I remember his story:
“Valery, you know, some of my acquaintances and fellow Communist Party members think I don’t really believe in God, that I only pretend. They say I have become a ‘turncoat’ and a ‘timeserver’. ‘When there was much to gain from being a member of the Communist Party, he did it; and now that it is fashionable to stand with a candle, he is only too glad to do that too.’ But that is human folly. Nobody could care less about such things as whether or not I believe and pray. Is there any sense in me demonstrating or proving anything to anybody?
“I joined the Party according to my convictions, not for appearances’ sake or for career. I really believed in Marxism-Leninism, in the victory of Communism throughout the globe and a brighter tomorrow for mankind. And I worked conscientiously everywhere to speed up the coming of a brighter future—I am speaking without any pomp.
“One day my little daughter got sick. It seemed to be an ordinary cold. So we didn’t take her to a doctor, choosing to use folk methods of treatment. But towards the night of the third day her temperature rose to forty degrees C. (104°F.). We gave her fever reducer, rubbed her with vodka—and all for nothing. We ran for a pediatrician, who lived close by. He came and gave her an injection. We were waiting. The doctor took her temperature. It was about forty degrees C. He gave her another shot, but with no result. Half an hour later her temperature was 40.5°C. (104.9°F.). The temperature kept rising. It was already forty-one degrees C. (105.8°F.), and my daughter was unconscious! As I looked at her I realized that she was dying, and I was powerless to help her.
“I ran out into the adjoining room, came up to the window, leaned my head against the glass, looking outside but seeing nothing. The only thought I had in my mind was: ‘What should I do? What should I do?’ I was used to solving all problems myself and was convinced that everything in life was in my hands. But it turned out that the most important thing didn’t depend on me. And I understood that all my convictions, the ideals I served, for which (as it seemed) I lived and labored, were worthless. My daughter was dying; and even if Communism were to win throughout the globe and the universal happiness of mankind were to come the next day, it would mean nothing to me. If I had taken her to the hospital, the situation would probably have been different. But now no one and nothing could change anything. And it suddenly occurred to me: If God exists, everything is possible to Him. And I cried out to Him in my utter despair, ‘Lord, if You exist, save my dear daughter!!!’
“A few minutes later the pediatrician entered my room and said: ‘The temperature seems to be dropping.’ Not only had it dropped—it went back to normal 36.6°C. (97.88°F.) and didn’t rise again. In the morning my daughter was already watching cartoons and eating with gusto, without a single cough. As if she hadn’t been sick.
“I would be lying to you if I said that from that point I changed drastically, reformed and became a different person. But I did come to understand that God exists; and since there is God, you can’t live as if He doesn’t exist. If you are baptized in Orthodoxy, live as a Christian. Go to church when you can, confess and take Communion. And if you are a believer, there are things you shouldn’t do and words you shouldn’t say. I cannot always hold myself back, but I try. Whenever I lose my temper, I check my impulse just in time and ask Him, ‘Lord, forgive me!’”