The Test

The chronicles of life in the age of COVID-19, 2020 AD

Priest Alexander Diachenko wrote a collection of short stories about the COVID-19 pandemic that has knocked the bottom out of our lives so suddenly, shattering our established routines and ourselves, and making it necessary to reinterpret lots of things. All stories shared in the “Chronicles...” are real. Below is one of them.


This is about our extended family members. They reside in the south of the country at one of the seaside resort towns. It is nice and warm down there. Frankly, I don’t know them personally as they are on my matushka’s side, but I know for sure that they live in an area with an amazing climate.

These people are entrepreneurial in spirit. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, they were involved in all kinds of small business projects. They used to have a manufacturing business where they produced some really useful things. Later, when those useful things were no longer needed, they immediately switched gears and began producing something that was in hot demand at the time. They owned the retail stores and hair salons. In a nutshell, they always did something that was profitable at the moment.

Frankly speaking, such an ability of our people to survive through thick and thin makes me glad, but it boggles my mind at the same time.

Besides, I always wondered why some are always able to, as it were, reinvent themselves and take the risks of investing in a new enterprise, while others would toil their whole life away at the same workbench from school days to the end of their lives. Try and take them away from that workbench! They would die right then and there, unable to imagine themselves away from that workbench. No workbench, no meaning of life. There are tons of examples like these.

Now, apparently my matushka’s ancestors, and her entrepreneurial relatives respectively, have been involved in manufacturing, trade, and even the organization of fishing crews in that area long before the revolution. Even now, the libraries, hospitals, and schools are located in buildings once owned and built by their ancestors. It is quite clear that the appetite for business ventures can be inherited. How else then can you explain our kinsmens’ amazing buoyancy! Next, I came to another conclusion based on my observations: before you plunge headlong into the moneymaking process, it’s a good idea to check what it means to be poor first. Otherwise, the rationale of spending your whole life to get rich is lost.

That’s how these folks, tirelessly maneuvering around the reefs and hidden sandbanks of modern micro-entrepreneurship, were able to afford a nice and comfortable life for themselves and their family, living in spacious apartments, driving good cars, and taking frequent trips to world-famous beach resorts. They didn’t earn enough to be called the new Rockefellers but they could afford to go for doctor’s appointments to Israel or to hire a live-in nanny. Even though few are impressed with anything like it these days. Well, there’s one more detail: No one has ever mentioned God in that household.

My preamble is so wordy not because I want to brag about my wealthy relatives or because I intend to create a malicious feeling of envy in our readers. No, nothing of the sort! It is because my story about these people wouldn’t be complete without you knowing all these details.

So, they are a husband and wife. Both are in their late forties with two children aged eight and nine. The in-laws, the wife’s parents, live separately in their own apartment. I know that the mother-in-law is about 75; I’m not sure about father-in-law’s age, but he should be around her age.

The elderly woman got COVID-19 in November during the second wave of the epidemics. No one could predict that this wave would be so powerful. Even the doctors didn’t expect it, and that’s why it cost them dearly. A lot of the employees of a local COVID-19 medical facility got sick and, although there were no fatal cases, the medical personnel was unable to fully function at work. CNAs and nurses were the ones hit the hardest. There was a severe staffing shortfall. Grandma fell sick exactly at that tense moment. With her lungs damaged at seventy-five or even eighty percent and with critically low blood oxygen levels, she required special attention and 24/7 care.

During that tense period, grandma fell sick. She had eighty percent lung damage

The real problem was that there was absolutely no one to look after her under the present circumstances. They were told that their mother had practically zero chance of recovery, and that they should prepare for the worst.

What did they have to do? They could pay someone to provide their mother with special care and attention but there was no one to pay. Those who worked in the “Red Zone” were literally dropping with fatigue. The decision ripened in and of itself: They went to see the physician-in-chief of the local COVID-19 field hospital.

“Hello, Doctor,” they began, and introduced themselves. “We are entrepreneurs. Our mother was admitted to your facility for treatment. The prognosis is unfavorable, but she still has a small chance of recovery, but on the one condition that she be provided with the required attention and care. We are ready to transfer a considerable amount of money to your hospital’s bank account. We need to save our mom.

“Unfortunately, the situation is really difficult. You know full well that I have staff shortages. Even if you were to make your donation, we would still most likely be unable to do what you expected us to do,” was the response.

“Doctor, we are fully aware of the circumstances and we claim no exceptionalism. Allow us to provide care for our mother. Let us into the “Red Zone.”

“But you will need certain skills. At least, you’d need to know how not to get infected yourself.”

“We are quick learners. Besides, you need volunteers now more than ever before.”

The physician-in-chief accepted their offer, and so Sergei Vasilyevich, Vera Nikolayevna’s husband, and their daughter Olga were allowed inside the “Red Zone” to care for their wife and mother. They made that decision themselves.

So, the elderly lady’s husband and her daughter were dispatched to the “Red Zone” to care for her. Why?

Olga’s husband stayed home with their two children, while the daughter and her dad went to stay in a separate apartment. Vladimir, my matushka’s cousin, also volunteered to help, but the rest of the family flatly refused his offer.

Olga said, “One of us should stay with the kids. No matter what happens to us, we have to think about their future. This virus is like a game of roulette: One person gets lucky and doesn’t even notice how he got sick while another one dies. Anything can happen. You must understand: She is my mother and it is my duty to be with her there. My dad is going with me, as that’s what he decided to do. Please, get in touch with your cousin. She works at church and her husband is a priest. Ask them to pray for mom. I think it is important for her.

The same day, Matushka and I found out what had happened in that far-away southern town with its amazing warm climate.

Honestly, troubles draw people together for this is how I learned of these people’s names and was able to pray for them. I was impressed by this family’s determination, despite the direct risk of getting infected, going to the “Red Zone” and fighting for the wellbeing of their beloved family member. One might wonder that they are well-to-do people who indulge in every pleasure, whom the majority of us commoners would consider just another clan of lucky silver-spooners, but they singlehandedly risked their lives for the sake of their loved one. And who did they help? An elderly woman who’d probably die soon anyway! What’s the point then to enter the “Red Zone” and risk their lives for those who had been so afflicted? Was it the bits and pieces left from natural integrity and inherited from previous generations who tirelessly worked many years ago to make their country rich and independent?

I shared their story from the ambo, telling them how they love their mother, and asked my parishioners to pray for all three of them: Vera Nikolayevna, her husband, and their daughter.

It wasn’t long before we received the first message from that town with an amazing southern climate: “Olga thanks you, Vera Nikolayevna’s saturation level increased from seventy to ninety this evening and it’s an excellent indicator. Little by little, she is gradually improving. She sends her regards to all our parishioners—when she found out that everyone was going to pray for her, she wept tears of gratitude.” Two days later, there was another message: “Vera Nikolayevna asked me to tell you that she receives all your prayers with gratitude. She feels them.”

We were told: “Vera Nikolayevna is improving and asked us to tell everyone that she feels their prayers for her health.”

Sergei Vasilyevich and Olga took turns keeping vigil at Vera’s side, first in the ICU and later at a general ward. Once they had learned the skills of the hospital aides, they gradually became experienced volunteers, helping not only their dear relative but also anyone who asked for help.

Therefore, it came as no surprise that eventually the father got infected with COVID-19 first, with his daughter getting sick next. I am not sure whether it was owing to our prayers or maybe due to their healthy immune systems—even though that is questionable with the grandpa being almost 80—but they both experienced mild symptoms. Or, could it be that the Lord, delighted with their love, graced them with an easy recovery from this disease. In any case, all three were discharged from the hospital on the same day.

I often think about a trial presented before every single one of us. The Scripture specifically calls it “the fiery trial.” No one among the living can skip it. It is akin to the epitome of one’s life. It is a test of humanity. Anyone will have to pass it no matter if they are the believers or atheists, poor or rich, weak or powerful. This family passed their exam. All the while, they learned the power of prayer. Who knows but maybe this illness has drawn a line over their past, and they are at the threshold of the most important stage in their lives?

Priest Alexander Dyachenko
Translation by Liubov Ambrose


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