How a Brother Saved his Sister


This story was told to me by a nice woman, a good mother and now a grandmother.

It took place many years ago. Perestroika was in the air… The times were difficult, with poverty, disorder, uncertainty both in the country and in our souls, and a lot of unanswered questions, likeб “What is happening to us?”, “Where are we going?” She had a family: a husband and a five-year-old son. Her husband had problems at work: the salary was tiny with arrears in payment, and it was unclear whether the company he worked for would survive. The atmosphere at home was not good either: they often argued and quarreled, there were misunderstandings and tears. She even thought about divorce. And then suddenly her unexpected, unplanned pregnancy… What ought she to do? Should she give birth to the baby?

They could hardly make ends meet as it was. In addition, she understood by worldly wisdom that new children can strengthen an already strong family, but they can push a family that is already barely holding on over the edge. On the other hand, she didn’t want to think about abortion, although it was considered a common thing among her friends and co-workers. She would spend evenings immersed in such gloomy thoughts. Each person in the home was living his own separate life. Even while she was busy with her little son, playing or reading stories to him, she could not get away from her worries.

One evening, after taking the child home from the kindergarten and feeding him she was sitting alone with her sad thoughts. As if sensing this mother’s anxiety, her son left his toys, snuggled up to her, climbed onto her knees and started an unexpected conversation.

“Mom, today two twin brothers have come to our group. They are so much alike, and they’re even dressed alike. The teacher even asked their mother to dress them differently, because otherwise it she can’t tell where Sasha is and where Seraphim is. I’ve never known anyone named Seraphim before. What does that name mean?”

“Seraphim means ‘fiery’, ‘burning’.”

The child’s eyes opened wide with surprise:

“Can he catch fire?”

“No. But he can warm someone or shine.”

“Whom can he warm? His mom?”

“His mom, dad, siblings or friends.”

“How wonderful! And some more children from our group and our apartment block have a brother or a sister too. They play and walk together, and sleep in the same room at home. I’m the only child at home and I have no one to play with besides you. I wish I had a brother! Why was I born alone, while Sasha and Seraphim were born together?”

“It happened that way,” his mother smiled. “You can’t guess here, it happens that way at random.”

“And there are also older and younger brothers and sisters. Since I don’t have a twin, I really wish I had someone younger than me. After all, this can happen?”

The boy was speaking very seriously. It seemed this problem really bothered him. And his mother, unexpectedly for herself, suddenly told him:

“Actually, children aren’t born entirely by accident. And maybe you too will soon have a little brother or sister.”

The boy’s little eyes twinkled. “Oh! Really, mom? How wonderful! I want him so bad! I wish he’d come right away!”

And suddenly he froze and looked at his mother anxiously:

“Mom, where will the baby come from? Is it somewhere already?”

“Yes, it’s in me, but it’s still very little. It lives with me and is growing little by little. When it grows up so that it can live on its own, it will be born into the world and will be here with us.”

The boy was listening to his mother’s story mesmerized, as if it were a fairy tale. Then he carefully climbed down from his mother’s knees and gently touched her hand, shoulder, stomach… And all of a sudden, as if recollecting himself, he said hastily:

“Only, mom, be sure that it’s a brother. I want to have a brother, like Sasha and Seraphim.”

“But darling, this also happens at random, we can’t decide in advance whether it will be a boy or a girl.”

“But I don’t want a sister!” the boy got agitated. “I don’t like girls. What will I do with her? How am I going to play with her? The other boys in our group don’t like girls either. Mommy, please, let it be a brother!”

Looking at the child’s upset face, the mother tried to console him:

“Don’t be upset dear! Perhaps no one will be born.”

The little son froze, then asked in surprise:

“How come he may not be born? You said that he already lives in you. What will happen to him?”

Now the mother was worried. How could she explain to her son why the baby might not be born?

“Well, he will just be no more.”

But the boy wanted to get to the bottom of it by any means:

“How can that happen if he already lives with you?”

He suddenly asked in terror:

“Are you going to eat him?”

The mother realized that it would not be possible to stop that conversation so easily, and she should try and explain everything to the child as delicately as possible.

“Certainly not! I’m not going to eat him—no one eats their babies. But one can go to a doctor and he will perform an operation.”

“An operation? What kind of operation?” The boy was frightened and alert.

“Well, a doctor can insert a special instrument into the tummy and take a little baby out, and it will no longer live.”

And the more the mother spoke, the more frightened she got from her own words.

“How will he not live? Isn’t he alive now?”

“Well, yes, now he’s alive,” the unfortunate woman said quietly.

“Then, it means he… will be killed???”

The mother couldn’t answer that question. And the five-year-old child, puzzled, fell silent and quietly went to his room.

The mother was left alone with her worries. She was displeased with herself, but she understood that whatever she might say to her son in justification (“the child hasn’t been born yet”, “he is still not quite a human being”, “it is impossible to say directly that he will be killed because, in some sense, he doesn’t yet exist”), it would all be untrue, and children plainly discern untruths.

She suddenly caught herself thinking that for the first time, she was thinking of that tiny creature that lived in her womb as a real person—small, helpless, but perhaps already realizing that he could be killed, and suffering unbearably from this. What was the difference between that tiny defenseless creature and her five-year-old son? Only their size? Could she kill her child who was already living in the world only because money was tight or there were arguments in the family? And now the formerly admissible intention to get rid of the unborn fetus seemed completely wild and impossible to her. She felt she ought to go and talk to her little son in a different way. But was it really necessary? Maybe he would calm down himself and forget what he and his mom had talked about? After all, children so easily forget unpleasant conversations… But would he forget it?

The mother’s gloomy thoughts were interrupted by the sobbing boy who flew into the room. Running up to her, he clasped her knees and sobbed through his tears:

“Mommy, mom, don’t kill the baby! Please, don’t do it! Let it be born alive, whether a boy or a girl! If it’s a girl, I will love her, honestly; I’ll take care of her and protect her… Only don’t kill it! I willing to have a sister…”

Then the mother and the son wept together. But these were tears that washed their souls and brought relief to both. There was no problem anymore.

This is how that story ended. Though, of course, it wasn’t the end—in due time a beautiful, healthy baby girl was born into the family, and everyone was happy about her birth—especially her brother who was already six. And she was named… Though our story is without names. We’ll add that the brother loved his little sister very much, took care of her, defended her when her parents were angry with her for something, and sometimes he even put the blame on himself when she did a lot of mischief. And now they are adults: they have their own families, their own difficulties and problems. But they know very well that even unborn children are still children and not some nameless and soulless biological material…

Gennady Dorofeyev
Translated by Dmitry Lapa


Micah Sabol2/7/2021 7:27 am
Sure, there are plenty of priests who are poor and I'm not the kind to judge a priest for having nice things; however, the priests are people too and under the same temptations. The Moscow - St. Pete flurry of money, sponsors and such can ruin a priest's outlook and fervor. The super ambitious seemed to flock to Moscow. On the other side of the pond, the priest who helped me into Orthodoxy also made wrong choices with his personal life. He and his wife, who believed she was called to be a teacher, decided not to have kids and then found later that they were somehow not able to, the time had passed. So what we have here is not about judging, as we all make big mistakes, but we have a lack of principle and the church is not exactly teaching the right way -that with the pleasures of marriage come the podvigs and joys as well, that of having kids, having them as God gives them and when, not with our human understanding and 'planning'. I was born in the 1960s and remember a different world of families and kids and saw the effects on society of the legalization of abortion and the whole me first feelings that always make having kids a matter of ego. I'm hoping the church will set the example now and openly and fearlessly help people make the right choices.
James2/6/2021 5:44 pm
Micah: But that's the hitch--you don't know which families are "planning" and which lack children for other reasons. I know many priest's families with lots of children, but I also know priest's families that would like to have a lot of children but God does not give them. Health problems. So, we just can't judge. The flashy cars are of course much more noticeable than the one or two-room apartments or village hovels, but that doesn't mean that the latter don't far outnumber the former.
Micah Sabol2/6/2021 10:29 am
Talking about family 'planning' which results in the same way as abortions, the whole country is in a crisis.
James2/4/2021 9:30 am
Micah, sorry, still don't see the connection. Are you implying that the priest's families with few children are that way because they aborted their babies? Really? A rather evil supposition on your part. There are other reasons why people have few children. There is infertility, or in some cases, refraining from conjugal relations for spiritual reasons. Some priests serve so often that they are forbidden by canons to have conjugal relations often. And have you visited the priests who are poor? There are many of them.
Micah Sabol2/3/2021 7:51 pm
The association is that priests are often choosing material goods and material ambitions and this is especially noticed in the 'responsible' priests and their wives who have 1 or 2 children, maybe so that they even could be free to 'serve'. I'm saying that from seeing what can happen to a priest when he moves from my city in Omsk to Moscow, and my observations of many others. If the church has no longer been able to point the way in marriage and the podvig and joys that go with it, then it has lost it's strength. The lack of children is one of those losses and it's painful to see the priests so utterly vain and material bound.
James2/2/2021 10:00 am
Micah: Don't get how you jumped from abortions to priests with new cars and telephones. What is the association?
Micah Sabol2/1/2021 11:52 am
Yes, shocking that the idea could be considered. But even more shocking that society views having children and when as something 'responsible'. In fact, with such faith in wanting to be 'responsible' about when and should we, a society dies. Unfortunately, the priests often show the same views - no kids, or few kids, or wives that don't attend church. All most people see too often are the priests with new cars, phones, and my dacha, my summer home, and my apartment. Certainly, reform needs to begin here.
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