It’s not as hard as you would think with children during self-isolation. My sons are ten and five years old. We read, do woodcarving, do exercises, and go for walks near the house. Of course, we pray at home and watch broadcasts of Sunday services. We discuss various topics: friendship, good and evil, how the saints help us, and so on.
My younger son recently asked, “Is it true that miracles still happen now?”
At first I gave kind of a corny answer: Isn’t it a miracle that we’re alive, that even during quarantine no one can take away the joy of Pascha, or of dad’s name day, and so on?
Later, I remembered a miracle that happened to me personally.
In the 1990s, I worked as a correspondent for the Interfax news agency. The work was exciting—I liked everything about it. One day, the head of the politics division where I worked said I was being entrusted with a new topic—religion.
The assignment was difficult for me, unfamiliar. I wasn’t even baptized then, let alone religious. Nevertheless, I got acquainted with churches and with the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR). I went on His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II’s pastoral trips, and I did interviews with famous priests and wrote materials from various meetings and events. By the way, my professional “piggy bank” from those years includes several interviews with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, then the Chairman of the DECR and Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.
My colleagues from the Orthodox media were very helpful, often explaining what happens during Church services, the significance of feasts, and even how to address the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the metropolitans, and the bishops correctly.
Despite the fact that I was initially reluctant to deal with this topic, I gradually became interested. I started to read the lives of the saints, the Gospel and Orthodox authors like I. S. Shmelyov. Sunday Liturgies, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and extended fasts gradually made their way into my life.
Once, during a pastoral visit to Kazan, an elderly nun came up to me in the local church and said: “You travel with His Holiness, but you’re not baptized. God sent you this job for a reason. It was meant to be. I see that you’re a good person, but you have doubts. Don’t doubt—get baptized. How can you live without God, without faith?”
I thought about her words for a long time, and finally got baptized. Then came my first confession and Communion.
But a few years later, everything started to go wrong somehow. I had various problems, setback after setback, my wedding was postponed, uncertainty at work, a bad mood. Sympathizing with me and wanting to help, my relatives advised me to go to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra to try to see Elder Naum.
In the Lavra, I went to venerate the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh and submitted prayer requests.
I got upset when I found out it was nearly impossible to see Fr. Naum.
I was about to head to the train station when suddenly I saw Elder Naum coming. There were people all around him—some asking for a blessing, some asking questions. I still remember one man who couldn’t get closer and shouted, “Batiushka, should I sell my grandmother’s apartment, because…”
Before he could finish, Fr. Naum answered, “Good idea.”
The Elder continued walking. Then he stopped and took out several prosphoras and put them into one woman’s hand:
“With holy water—your stomach will get better without surgery.”
The woman burst into tears. Instead of giving thanks, she said with surprise, “Batiushka, how did you know? I spent more than a day traveling here from another city with this problem…”
And Fr. Naum continued on his way. It didn’t feel right to ask about my troubles in front of everyone. I followed the Elder with the others, hoping I’d be lucky enough to see him. Then the Elder suddenly turned around and asked me:
“Do you smoke?”
I didn’t manage to answer; I was at a loss. And the Elder as if read my thoughts:
“You’re still wondering why everything is so wrong, not like it should be; why you try, but everything falls apart? We drive out demons with incense, but you invoke them with your smoke. Quit right away, and everything will work out fine for you!
The people who were around me congratulated me, saying I was lucky: I got an answer without even posing my question.
As I rode the train back to Moscow, I repeated the Elder’s words to myself. I wanted to hold on to them for life.
It wasn’t easy to follow his advice. But Batiushka was right: I had looked for the problem in the wrong place; I hadn’t seen the main reason for my difficulties. I prayed a lot, I strictly kept the fasts, and the evil habit was defeated. With God’s help.
Somehow, everything fell into place, my worries were gone, and my troubles turned out to be not so big and not so terrible. Is that not a miracle? It happened in the mid-1990s.