She suddenly appeared on the chapel doorstep. She was funny, a little disheveled and, like a Christmas tree, covered all over with gold. It seemed as if whole saucers were hanging from her ears. She had a huge chain with a pendant around her neck and bracelets with rings.
“Do you do Baptisms here?”
“Yes, we do. Where do you live?”
“Pretty far from this district and from the church,” she said, anticipating the next question.
“Do you seriously want to get baptized?”
“Then I’ll look for you at our catechetical talks, if you don’t change your mind.”
She came again. Her name was Oksana. She was preparing for herniated cervical disc surgery. She had a tumor and she was scared. Any operation is serious, but neurosurgery…
She sincerely confessed that she knew and understood absolutely nothing about Christianity, but she really wanted to be with God, despite my warnings that there was no guarantee that she would be healed and everything would be fine and that after the Sacrament of Baptism her condition could even become worse. But she didn’t change her mind. Seeing her determination, I continued talking about how to integrate into Church life, keeping the fasts, the need for prayer rules, etc. She agreed with everything and immediately bought the New Testament and a prayer book, along with some literature on repentance.
“Well, now go to the Lady of the chapel—the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God—and pray that everything goes well: both your Baptism and your treatment,” I finished.
She knelt down in front of the image of the Most Pure Virgin. I left and went about my business.
On the appointed day, Oksana was already sitting in front of me. As we waited for Batiushka, She changed into a baptismal robe. I was worried about Batiushka’s reaction to such bulky jewelry and I suggested that she take off all her massive gold, so the priest’s eyes would turn as big as the saucers hanging from her ears. She laughed and explained that the only gold was her wedding ring, and the rest was just trinkets. But still, she obeyed me and took it off, putting it into her bag.
The priest came and had an additional talk with her. And so the Baptism began. I was a silent witness as this young woman received the great Sacrament. The tears in her eyes betrayed her awe. She didn’t bow before the small font as Batiushka asked her, but simply fell to her knees. He tried to lift her up, but she remained in the same position while the Baptismal water was poured over her. So, spiritually reborn and having said goodbye to the priest, putting on all her jewelry in a rush, Oksana—or, rather, now Xenia—hurried off to see the doctor, worried about being an hour and a half late. I barely had time to shout after her: “Don’t worry, the Lord will sort everything out.”
That same evening, she reappeared on the threshold as suddenly as the first time. Tears were flowing down her face so profusely that at first I assumed the worst and bombarded her with questions:
“What’s the matter? The doctor didn’t wait for you? Did he yell at you? Did he refuse to do the surgery?”
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't know what happened. I had a second X-ray to determine the date for the surgery—whether it would be tomorrow or another day.”
“They didn’t see anything. The doctor was perplexed by the X-ray.”
“So the tumor has disappeared!”
“So then why are you bawling?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on! Through the prayers of the Mother of God, the Lord has performed a miracle, and you’re crying…”
“What should I do now?”
“Go to the icons and give thanks!” I shouted.
She fell to her knees for the third time that day, only now thanking God for the new life given to her, with Him.
A return from the other world, or “Rome wasn’t built in a day”
It was a typical weekday. People came into the chapel, prayed, bought something, left, and others came in. Sometimes I gave the same answers automatically, gave them prices, waited on customers, suggested where, to whom and how to pray, where and how to light candles, and so on until the next interesting story. A nice young lady walked in. She went up to the counter and, apparently unsure how to ask, was at a loss for a bit and then finally said:
“My husband’s in critical condition in the ICU. The doctors say there’s no hope...”
“We were in a motorcycle accident. Imagine, I walked away unscathed, but my husband’s got one foot in the grave. Even the doctors didn’t believe that I had been in the accident too. They examined me all over and even checked my head to see If I had any trauma, but they didn’t find anything. And now he’s unconscious, seriously injured, and the doctors say there’s no hope.”
“It means the Lord has spared you for some reason, maybe for spiritual work. Do you have children?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Did you have any abortions?”
“Alas. I did.”
“Have you ever been to confession?”
“Yes, I have, but I didn’t mention the abortions. But on the other hand, some force made me call everyone and ask forgiveness, leaving all my relatives dumbfounded—as if it were me in the ICU at death’s door. And further, in the morning, when I woke up, I heard these words somewhere inside me: ‘Take good care of your children.’”
“That’s right. You’ve been given a ‘ticket’ to the Church. Without God you can’t save your husband or help your children. Now take a piece of paper and a pen and write down how many babies you killed, and run to the nearest church for confession. Do you hear me? Run—don’t put it off for a single day. Tell the priest all your sins, concealing nothing, and we’ll wait for God’s mercy.”
“Okay, I'll do all that.”
She took my phone number and promised to come again. The next morning, she was standing before me again.
“I did everything you told me to do. I sat down on a bench by the church on the bank of the Angara River and wrote down my confession. Then I ran to the Vespers to confess my sins. This morning I called the doctors, and they said that my husband’s state had begun to improve. It was right after my confession!”
To be honest, I had sent the lady to confession out of habit, knowing that the murder of our children, if we haven’t repented of it, destroys everything that can be destroyed in the lives of the woman herself, her husband, and the children they do have together. But the fact that there’s such a link between the woman’s repentance and her husband’s life was surprising to me. I’m always saying that working in the chapel not only gives me new knowledge and experience, but also often greatly surprises me. At that moment I felt how we’re all united before God by some mysterious bond through which the Lord saves us, for the sake of love for each other. It’s precisely love, the fear of losing a loved one that makes us act, and sometimes make sacrifices to save them.
Lyuba1 and I became friendly and started talking closely both on the phone and at the chapel. She was split between the Irkutsk Regional Hospital and her small town. Despite her workload, she would find time to come to our church to confess to Father K. and ask for his prayers. And when I listened to their life story, I wasn’t surprised by the events that followed. Her husband had been hard drinker in his riotous youth, like many young bikers. It got to the point that he had to undergo hypnotherapy. Even now few people understand how terrible hypnotherapy is, how violently it effects the brain.
He eventually quit drinking, but constant nervous breakdowns and fears made him turn to a psychiatrist, who didn’t help him. All this went on for about ten years until the terrible motorcycle accident. When he wound up in the ICU, he had awful breakdowns due to painkillers and the doctors decided to send him to a psychiatric hospital. That meant the end. Lyuba didn't know what she should do. Having learned about her medical consultation scheduled for Monday, I called the rector, Father K., and briefly relaying the young man’s story, I asked for his prayers and sent Lyuba to speak to him.
The day of his psych eval came, and the commission of three psychiatrists concluded: “The patient is sane. He doesn’t need any help from a mental clinic.”
We rejoiced. The husband was transferred to a local hospital. The happy wife, fully armed with Divine help, advice, books, and the priest's prayers, went home. The only thing I hurried to do (remembering when I was a neophyte and it seemed to us that we could move mountains for the sake of my loved ones) was write her a message: “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t rush him, and most importantly, stick to the Church and God, and everything will be fine. Not right away, but everything will gradually be sorted out. Arm yourself with patience.”
At first, we would correspond, and Lyuba often complained about her husband’s indifference to the miracle of his resurrection. I reminded her about patience, which I myself had never had, and sent her some useful websites, articles, and sermons. She thanked me, and nourished by wise words from the Church Fathers, she held on as best she could. And then she disappeared. A year passed. Recollecting her story and deciding to write it down before I forgot it all, I texted her asking how she was doing. She responded, delighted to hear from me. She said that she had lost all her contacts when she had to get her phone fixed, and she didn’t know how to contact me.
“Recovering after the surgery and everything else that had fallen to our lot took a long time. But, in spite of everything, we’re grateful to the Lord for opening our eyes. It was a turning point. And we’ll never be the same again. As you say, Rome wasn’t built in a day! And this is absolutely true. The first few months I felt like I was beating my head against the wall. My husband didn't understand what I was talking about. I was quite desperate and almost gave up. It was a hard time. But then I started noticing that he was mostly listening to Radio Vera2 in the car on the way to work in the morning and back home in the evening. One day, when he came home from work, he played a video of Archpriest Andrei Tkachev for me and said tht I should listen to his sermons! I was astonished. So my seeds have taken root!”
“God’s seeds, Lyuba, God’s. Your mission was to sow.”
“Yes, of course! It’s God's seeds that have taken root! And it had even seemed that they had completely died... And this is a real miracle! I think we’re on our way. We’ve reassessed our whole life and achieved mutual understanding. And we can now discuss various religious issues for a long time on the basis of what we’ve read, watched, or already comprehended.”
“Glory to God for all things.”
“I put your phone number in my notebook so I won’t lose it again.”
We said goodbye to each other. And then she sent me a photo of her husband: a robust man up on his feet, alive and well. The photo was taken as their new bikes were being blessed by Fr. Mark.
The prayers of our priest and the fruits of the repentance of the dying man’s wife weren’t in vain. And the doctors hadn’t given him any chance of recovery at all.