Once there was a nun named Nonna (her name has been changed—Ed.) who labored at the Russian Gorny1 monastery in Jerusalem. She told me the amazing story of her conversion to Orthodoxy from Islam. Fatima, as she was called before her baptism, was born in a tiny Turkish village, located high in the mountains and populated entirely by Muslims. When she turned twelve, her mother became seriously ill. She endured her illness with great patience and meekness, but there was no hope of recovery.
The sad day for their family eventually arrived. The entire family gathered at the bedside of Fatima’s mother. The dying woman said her goodbyes to her husband and children, and to their great surprise, announced one last wish:
“Don’t bury me according to the Muslim rite. I am a Christian of the Greek faith. My baptismal name is Galina.”
Soon after saying this, she reposed. Her family was stunned but they fulfilled her last wish.
Some time after their mother’s death, Fatima’s older brother took her to Istanbul with him. She finished high school there and, thanks to the efforts of her caring brother, moved to Russia to study the language in hopes of finding work as an interpreter. Fatima studied well and in a couple of years was able to speak and read Russian fluently.
Once, when she was walking around the city where she studied, Fatima saw an old, worn-out Gospel for sale in a sidewalk kiosk. At that time, at the end of the 1980s, it was impossible to buy such a book at a regular bookstore. Fatima knew that the Gospel was just as sacred for Christians as the Quran for Muslims. Now that she knew that her deceased mother was a Christian, she was eager to find out what was written there and what “Isa”2 taught. Without a second thought, Fatima decided to buy the book.
From then on, as soon as her classes were over, she would hurry back to her dorm room to read the Gospel. As she recounted, the whole world and everything happening around her ceased to exist during the time she was immersed in reading. Nothing else existed any longer; all became irrelevant. The only worthwhile thing was what she was reading about in that book. The Gospel astounded and shook her to the core, completely captured her mind and heart and filled her soul with unspeakable joy.
Fatima had a pet hamster that she kept in her room. One day, as she was immersed in reading the Gospel yet again, Fatima wondered for a moment why her pet wasn’t making any noise, but couldn’t pull herself away from her reading. As time went by, the thought that the dead silence in the room was strange returned to her, but she was again unable to stop reading. Remembering about her favorite pet a third time, she got up, walked to the window, and saw that her beloved hamster was lying dead. She was overcome with sadness and sorrow.
It was during these difficult moments that she all of a sudden remembered Christ. Didn’t He perform a great many miracles? He raised Lazarus, who stank3 on the fourth day, so surely it wouldn’t be a big deal for Him to bring a tiny hamster back to life! Inspired by this thought, Fatima began to pray, and though she did not yet understand that she had begun praying to the Lord, she tearfully pleaded with the Savior to revive her pet.
The future nun later recalled that at that moment, the room filled with heavenly light. The light grew brighter and brighter; it entered her body and filled her heart with unspeakable joy. At some point, she saw how she was lifted away from the floor and floated in the air while her hamster suddenly began running wildly around his cage.
The next morning, Fatima didn’t go to classes. She left the dorm early in the morning in search of a local church where she could be baptized. She kept asking passersby where she could find the nearest church, but somehow no one was able to tell her where to go. One man offered a good piece of advice: Ask older ladies, as they are the only ones who would know. She took his advice and an old lady pointed the way to a nearby church.
By God’s providence, Fatima happened to walk inside the church just as the priest was preparing to baptize a group of about ten people. Once she had learned that the ceremony of Holy Baptism was about to begin, she stepped forward and joined the catechumens. When the priest noticed a newcomer among the catechumens, he asked her a few questions and Fatima declared in response that she wanted to be baptized.
At that time, as the Soviet Union was declining, some priests were known to offer a blessing for the newly baptized to partake of the Holy Mysteries for the forty days after their baptism. Every morning, Fatima, who had received a new name in baptism, went to church. It was during that time that she gradually became a churched Christian, while the priest, much to his surprise, learned that he had baptized a Muslim…
Soon after, another joyful occasion arrived, as she was able to have a memorial service for her long-dead mother, the secret Christian named Galina.
Nun Mariam (Yurchuk), a nun of the Gorny Monastery, tour guide, author of tour books about Jerusalem and the Holy Land