The grave of Schemanun Sepphora in Klykovo
“Wow… You’re probably right: It’s a miracle!” the surgeon told me the other day, examining my belly button with interest.
Don’t laugh. The doctor really was examining it. That’s what doctors do.
“Although I’m pretty surprised,” he added. “We doctors sometimes encounter the unexplainable… But basically, congratulations! Feel free to tell everyone about your belly button!”
And I will! Although I’m sure people will say I’m crazy. But oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
“A new, beautiful navel”
Let me start from the very beginning. Forgive me for the anatomical details, but life is life. And the Lord also created belly buttons.
Basically, after giving birth five times, I got an umbilical hernia. And I think I got off easy. Sometimes I read about how after several children, some women have it even worse. But I only got a hernia.
But it was still unpleasant. First, it was painful. If I had to lift something heavy, it would bulge out. And it would get pinched, and I’d feel a shooting pain. I’d have to shove it back in with my finger. Again, sorry for the details.
And second, it’s unsightly. Especially when I was pregnant with my fifth, Masha. My belly button stuck out like a finger. You could even see it through my clothes. I won’t even mention the beach. I think I made an impression on more than one guy there.
When I finally weaned my youngest daughter, I went to have surgery. Simpler things weren’t helping anymore.
“You need surgery right away!” a big, burly surgeon told me. “See?” he said, sticking his finger through my belly button into my stomach.
“But otherwise, for a mother of five you look great,” he said, comforting me, taking his hand out of my belly.
I collected all my documents, tests, examinations, and I went to surrender. Fortunately, this was before COVID. Planned operations were done easily, unconstrained, without PCRs, QR codes, health passports, and while the patient was still alive.
I only spent one day in the hospital. Under general anesthesia, they inserted a mesh implant and “formed a beautiful new navel,” as the burly doctor said.
Then I came to, rested for a bit, and went home on my own two feet. Fortunately, I lived nearby. And a full table and guests were waiting for me, because it was Dunya, our third daughter’s, birthday.
“Serves you right! You have to read Batiushka Andrei more!”
However, it wasn’t without incident. Just before the operation, I wrote about a little trouble on Facebook.
Honestly, I’m pretty scared of general anesthesia. A couple of times I was so “high” that even the doctors were shocked. The first time, about fifteen years ago, after coming to after they had removed some cyst, I jumped out of bed and devoured an entire chicken that a caring relative had brought to the other patient in my room.
“Doctor! Doctor!” the hungry girl shouted, running around the hospital in a panic.
The doctor who came running found nothing but bones. And why I had done something so ridiculous, I couldn’t explain.
The second time, after an operation on my leg, as soon as the doctors took me to my room and left, I got up (on my leg, I repeat!) and walked back to the operating room, where they’d already done other procedures with other patients. I barged in and started thanking the doctors for the work they’d done. I don’t even remember doing this…
Overall, I was really scared of anesthesia (and to do something strange, or not wake up). I wrote that I had an operation coming up, and I asked for prayers.
And then I see in the comments: “This is happening because you don’t like the words of Fr. Andrei Tkachev.” People wrote this to me too after my daughter Masha was born with Down Syndrome. “It serves you right!” they said. “You have to read Batiushka Andrei more!”
I didn’t have time to answer, because they put me to sleep…
Then I had a period of rehabilitation. Nothing complicated: a bandage for a few months, not carrying anything heavy, getting up from lying down by turning on my side; not eating or drinking anything that causes gas; not making any big efforts or straining myself at all. And it hurt a good bit for a while. I took painkillers.
This passed too, and then I was healthy, with a lovely navel. “Everything was forgotten, like a thick fog…”1
“Oh, I’ve got something to show you”
Last spring we went to our village, near Optina. I stayed there with the children and the animals, and my husband went back to work in Moscow. He joined us later.
A few days before he arrived, I started working on the land, which doesn’t happen often. Then I asked myself: Why? I was hauling buckets, swinging a shovel, and eventually I fell and hurt my belly button.
I don’t know what happened, but it hurt so bad I couldn’t even breathe. By the morning it had swollen to the size of an egg and started oozing blood. It seemed the mesh had completely shifted. It was painful to do literally anything: to sit, to lie down, to get up, to sleep, to live. One time I sneezed and I thought: “That’s the end of me…” And the nearest doctor was ten miles away in Kozelsk.
And then my husband arrived.
“Oh, I’ve got something to show you!” I said, rejoicing.
And I showed him my much-suffering belly button.
My husband grabbed his head and his heart at the same time (honestly, it wasn’t a sight for the faint of heart!) and was about to take me to Moscow to have a surgery immediately.
And then it dawned on me!...
“Let’s go see Mother Sepphora first, and if she doesn’t help, then tomorrow we’ll definitely go to Moscow!”
I’ll say this straight up: Don’t repeat after me. In cases like this it’s better to go to the doctors. God created them too.
But I couldn’t go to the doctor. Or rather, I really didn’t want to. We were supposed to go to the beach in a month. And I was there alone with the children. I remembered that after the surgery to remove my hernia, I couldn’t lift Masha, or a bag, and I had to wear a bandage, and I realized that if they cut me open now, there’d be no beach for me.
A notebook with miracles
Now I’ll tell you why it was Mother Sepphora I wanted to see…
Not long before this trip to the village, my daughters and I had come across a book about this ascetic. She reposed in 1997, at little more than 100 years old. She’s buried at the Monastery of the Icon of the Savior Not-Made-By-Hands in the village of Klykovo. I’ve already written about this monastery once. Like Optina, it’s not far from our dacha.
I remember we were very impressed. We watched a film about her, and we rushed off to Klykovo at the first opportunity. Before that, we hadn’t been there for fifteen years.
When we got there, we were glad to see the ramps for the disabled everywhere. We went to Mother Sepphora’s grave, and to the house where she lived before her death. Her things are all kept there—all sorts of heirlooms, and a large notebook where people report cases of her miraculous help. She helped people during her lifetime and she continues to help after her death, with healings, prophecies, help solving family problems… There are testimonies not only from Russians, but also from foreigners who came especially to her.
We stayed for a while, then went back to our village. For a few days we remembered how good it was with Mother Sepphora, how warmly we were welcomed at the monastery; and that notebook with the miracles…
“It’ll resolve itself somehow…”
Basically, when the catastrophe with my belly button happened, and my husband wanted to take me right off to the operating table (and he wasn’t wrong), I remembered the notebook, the tour guide’s stories in Mother Sepphora’s house, and I persuaded Vadim to let me go to Klykovo for a bit. Why shouldn’t she help me too?…
My husband rightly protested. But I swore to him: If we need to, we’ll go tomorrow. I got into the car with great difficulty, somehow spread myself out so it wasn’t so painful, and drove to the monastery.
I got there somehow, and crawled to her grave…
“Matushka,” I said weeping. “I’ve read about you! Help me, please! Heal my belly button, so I won’t need an operation… Let it resolve itself somehow…”
Then I dragged myself into the house, and sat down on her couch… I prayed before her icons… I anointed my forehead with oil from her lampada—they allow it there. But they tell you: It’s better just on the forehead. They don’t recommend other body parts. You never know…
But I confess, I couldn’t resist. When the attendant left the house, I lifted my shirt and crossed my belly button and secretly anointed myself:
“Forgive me, Matushka!”
I thought about kindergarten: God forbid, now everyone will come and want to anoint everything. And they’d make me do prostrations for that…
Then I bought some oil, a photo of Mother Sepphora, and went home, where my worried husband was waiting for me, hovering like a kite over my belly button.
“Tomorrow morning!” I assured him, and went to our room…
And I spent that whole evening talking to Mother Sepphora in my head, anointing my belly button with hope…
In the morning, it was like new. There was no pain, no swelling, no inflammation, no blood. I testify about it… But I repeat: It’s better to go to the doctors too. Although the Lord pities fools like me…
“You can tell everyone”
I still didn’t dare tell anyone about it. I was afraid of being passed off as some city nutjob. But recently, as I already said, the doctor whom I finally went to see for an examination (just in case), listened to me very carefully… He coughed suspiciously from time to time… And he deliberately looked past me very seriously.
But in the end, he agreed it was a miracle: “You can tell everyone.” Whether he said it for appearances or seriously, I don’t know.
But I know that the Lord and His saints love everyone and are merciful to all, even to oddballs like me… Even in such completely ridiculous cases… And it’s a great joy!