Two young women entered the chapel. To all appearances, they were sisters and looked like twins. One of them was a young mother, the other was her sister. Her five-year-old boy was at the hospital’s pediatric cardiac surgery ward, waiting for an operation on his little heart. It’s no joke when a small child is lying on the operating table. But the doctors couldn’t put off the operation and insisted on a surgical intervention. His aunt who was more emotional asked for the boy to be given Communion. Knowing that our priest didn’t give Communion to children outside church, I tried to explain to her that it would be impossible, to which she objected:
“But we attend church, and he is given Communion there!”
“Yes, but it’s in the church. Our priest gives Communion only to adults outside the church.”
“Can you help somehow?”
“I’m not sure, but I’ll try to talk to the priest and ask him. Although I already know the answer, because I discussed this with him more than once. This week he serves and performs the services of need. When is the boy’s operation?”
“We may not have time.”
“It’ll be no earlier than eleven o’clock. Our grandfather works as a carpenter in your parish. In the evening he will also try and talk to priest.”
And so it happened, as I later learned. The grandfather approached Fr. K. and got the same answer. But the priest promised to pray for the boy at the Liturgy. After the service, the priest came to the chapel and began to prepare for the arrival of patients: to baptize them, hear their confessions and give them Communion. Everything was going on as usual. Unable to restrain myself, I approached batiushka and asked:
“Father, can you make an exception for this child?”
“You should trust in God,” he replied without raising his head, and I immediately fell silent in agreement. And what else could I do?
Then everything went on as usual. After talking with the patients for a long time and performing the services of need, the priest left for the parish. In the evening I went outside. Taking a breath of fresh air, I walked down the stairs. Suddenly someone came running up to me, put his or her arms around me and began to whirl me around. I didn’t immediately guess who it was, but when I saw a young lady, I recognized the sick boy’s aunt. She was so happy that she poured all the information onto me at once.
“The operation has been cancelled!!!”
“What has happened?”
“The hole in the heart [most probably a ventricular septal defect.—Trans.] closed on its own! Can you imagine that?!”
She kept whirling me as she laughed… The happy young woman in front of me was rejoicing not only at the survival and healing of her beloved nephew, but most importantly, at the small miracle of God that had occurred. And indeed there was something to rejoice about.
Batiushka once again showed me in practice what trust in God and your father-confessor is. And I still felt a bit ashamed for my distrust. Once again. Apparently I have a “hole in my heart”...
A mother’s prayer
“A mother’s prayer reaches the bottom of the sea”
Mother Maria, a nun at the Convent of the Icon of the Mother of God of the “Sign” who helps the clergy at the altar, began to lament that her daughter had begun to forget God. The girl had stopped taking her elder son to church, and when younger was born, she was in no hurry to have him baptized. What ought she to do? As a nun she wasn’t allowed to leave the convent walls, and her daughter hadn’t visited her for a year. Mother Maria felt sad. She consulted with the priest and prayed in front of the wonderworking Tikhvin Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos... And the Lord enlightened her.
Every day after the evening prayer rule Mother Maria began to pray for her daughter to our Heavenly Intercessor with her own words, crying with all her heart: “O Mother Most Holy Theotokos, help my daughter and grandchildren return to God. It is terrible to think how they live there, in the world, without You and our Lord. Forgive my light-minded daughter, bring her back and enlighten her. For the sake of my small grandchildren and the salvation of their souls I entreat You, O Most Pure One... You see how my heart aches without knowing rest day and night, for my foolish child...”
This is how the old nun prayed in the simplicity of her heart, relying only on the mercy of God and the help of the Queen of Heaven. This went on for a month and a half. And unexpected joy was sent to her! One day after the Liturgy the nun was called to the convent’s courtyard. “Mother Maria, you have visitors.” Without suspecting anything, only silently praying, the nun went out of the church. The sun was warm, the snow was melting, and birds were singing. The congregation had not yet dispersed. And her daughter with the grandchildren—the elder Sergei and the younger Daniel were coming to meet her.
“Mommy!” she shouted, hugging her confused mother. “How I’ve missed you!”
After talking about family and household matters, the daughter went to the candle box to order a forty-days Liturgy for the health of her husband and children and left the children with her mother. Then a dialogue took place between the grandmother and the elder grandson Sergei:
“How did you get here? You haven’t been here for ages!”
“Oh, grandma!” the boy started talking excitedly. “Daniel suddenly stopped sleeping at night. Frightened by something, he kept waking up and screaming. Mommy left a night lamp on by his side and herself went to bed with him, but that didn’t help—and it went on like that all night long.”
“And how long has this been going on?” Mother Maria asked.
“For over a month!” Sergei exclaimed.
“And what about Mom?”
“She couldn’t stand it and ran to the church that had recently been built near our home and urgently had him baptized. And now we’ve come to the convent, stood through the service and took Communion.”
“Glory to Thee, O merciful Lord, glory to Thee!” the grandmother whispered quietly, crossing herself over and over again. “Glory to Thee, O Mother, our Most Precious One…”
Mother Maria was even more strengthened in her thought that the Abbess, the Queen of Heaven Herself takes under Her protecting veil all those who enter the convent and not only nuns, but also their close ones, with all their sorrows. And I would also add a well-known Christian truth: “A mother’s prayer reaches the bottom of the sea.”
In the evening, kneeling before the Tikhvin Icon (in front of which, as it turned out, parents pray for children), Mother Maria wept quietly, offering up thanksgiving prayers to the One Who continuously protects us, covering us with Her Heavenly omophorion.
“Do you believe in God?”
As people run past the chapel, periodically I can hear dialogues like this:
“Can you see the icons?”
“Yes, I can.”
“So, you need to buy them and keep them under your pillow.”
Thank God, they ran past without stopping. Why did I say “thank God”? Because they saved me from the temptation of turning on my sarcasm. I’m afraid of myself, but due to my pride I haven’t been able cope with such a test. But what can we say about people who are even far from the Church walls, who never attend services and never have recourse to the sacraments?... Unfortunately, we ourselves often remain only outwardly Orthodox. I keep saying that we can stay within the Church walls for decades and still not get to know God or comprehend the essence of Christianity, remaining Christians only in name.
A woman who looks after church vestments works in our diocese, periodically moving from one place to another. One day she ended up at our hospital, and guided of course by good intentions, persuaded a woman, her ward-mate, to get baptized. I asked that woman:
“Are you ready to be baptized?”
“Well, if you have been given a short ‘catechism course’—I mean by your ward-mate—I will only ask you a couple of questions. Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?”
“Yes, I’ll live in the hearts and memory of my children.”
“Hmm… And do you believe in God?”
“Definitely! In Him and in fate.”
In the course of our dialogue my acquaintance tried to interrupt me with a displeased look, as if to say,
“Why are you tormenting her with questions? Write it down, and the priest will baptize her.”
Ignoring her, I continued my dialogue with the woman who wanted to be baptized:
“Why have you decided to get baptized?”
“I want to be purer in the eyes of my children.”
“Is that all?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“So you haven’t been thinking about the immortality of your soul?”
“And you are not going to change your life, are you?”
“No, I’m not. I’m fine.”
Then I turned to my acquaintance and asked:
“Do you understand that the woman is not yet ready to be baptized?”
“Why are you interfering? Write it down and invite the priest. He himself will decide whether to baptize her or not.”
“Forgive me, but I don’t see any reason in making the priest drive through the whole city in vain.”
“Okay, I’ll invite my priest then.”
Without saying goodbye to me, they turned sharply and left the chapel.
Unfortunately, we can sometimes allow ourselves while working in churches to use the benevolence of clergy to fulfill our desires, while remaining far from Christ. Although someday everything can change. A few years later, the daughter of the woman who looks after church vestments (she is the choir director at one church) met me somewhere and confessed how much her mother regretted having baptized her former ward-mate. I didn’t ask about the details—and what for?...
Translation by Dmitry Lapa