How Christmas Saved a Donkey’s Life

Not only people but also the animals have seen a great miracle—the coming of the Infant Christ into the world. They were standing beside the manger warming Him with their breath. In return, they were depicted for two thousand years on icons and paintings, just as they were honored in poems and Christmas carols. Their fellow creatures living today continue to experience the grace of God in their lives…


This story began a few years ago in our Pokrovsk Diocese located in the Saratov trans-Volga region. There was a donkey that lived in the Yablonevka village of Rovny district. It was an untamed, wild, and scruffy-looking animal. It used to run around aimlessly in the vicinity of the village terrifying its residents with its plaintive braying.

A donkey lived in the Yablonevka village of Rovny district. It was an untamed, wild, and scruffy animal

Donkeys were traditionally deemed essential animals at the homesteads of the first century, so it received the great honor of taking the Mother of God to Bethlehem and the Savior to Jerusalem later on. In our times, however, a donkey is as important in a modern-day homestead as a fifth wheel. Maybe even less than that, since we live in an age of advanced technological innovations.

So, here was our donkey running wild along the trans-Volga steppes, braying wildly, and occasionally eyeing up the local mares. Everyone grew so tired of it that the people even thought of shooting it. But then a real Nativity Eve’s miracle happened. The Holy Trinity Cathedral Church in Pokrovsk planned to set up a festive Nativity scene outdoors. It was supposed to be a large one, with live animals. That’s where the donkey could come in quite handy; in fact, it was simply indispensable. Inquiries were sent out to the local farmers who remembered the poor homeless creature from Yablonevka.


At first, the donkey had trouble understanding where and why he was taken away from the steppes, or it may have even suspected the worst. But later, as it was settled comfortably into a large covered tent a.k.a. manger with piles and piles of fresh hay, with special humans assigned to take care of everything a donkey ever needed, and throngs of parishioners flocking to see it and offering the endless supplies of apples, carrots, and other yummy delicacies, it finally believed in its lucky streak. From now on, this ass’s life would be replete with festive spirit and joy.   

Of course, it had a calf and two absolutely charming woolly ewe-lambs as neighbors in the manger. Yet, no offense intended, but it was the donkey’s glory hour. Even during its walks, it was accompanied by one of the clergymen and a crowd of youngsters. Once, when the temperatures fell far below zero, Bishop Pakhomy got so concerned about its wellbeing that he even attempted to share his own woolen throw with the animal.

Those first twelve days of the Nativity season in its life were soon over. Our donkey, considerably fatter by then, had to return to its native village. But luckily, this time around it was settled at a local farmer’s barn. Then, another Christmas season arrived and it meant another round of goodies, tasty treats, and a ton of attention. So, it has been like that for four years already. The donkey’s life was finally filled with joy and meaning; and recently, a she-ass was found in another village. God willing, they as well as their future offspring will be able to remind the residents of Pokrovsk for a long time about the Silent Night of the Nativity and their long-gone ancestors who warmed Infant Christ with their breath.

The story about our festive donkey reminds me of all those who spend their lives far removed from their Creator. They run wild and poor in spirit, feeling sorrowful and restless. Until one day, when they will come to be a part of a grand and luminous story with this bright Gospel story suddenly becoming a part of their lives. That’s when everything in life will finally gain fullness, meaningfulness, and the feeling of true, great joy.

Marina Schmeleva
Translation by Liubov Ambrose


Antonia1/14/2022 5:35 am
Thank for this Sweet Story. What precious photos. I shared it with my youngest grandchildren and daughters. God bless you JMJ
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