At the right time in the right place you will definitely meet someone who you is destined to walk hand in hand with you through life. Some episodes from your first meeting will evoke tender memories throughout your life, as they did at that moment. Priest Michael Dochia shares his own family’s story.
—Father Michael, you are a priest, a graduate of the Sretensky Theological Academy; you completed your bachelor’s degree and are now studying for your master’s degree. Tell us how you and your wife first met.
—My wife and I did not meet at the Sretensky monastery itself, but thanks to it. Our Spiritual and Educational Center organized a trip for young people to Pechory for four days. I was then a third-year undergraduate student at the seminary—it was mid-January 2021. I had never gone on youth trips before, but then I really wanted to go and visit Pechory for the first time. And Olga, my future wife, had never taken part in such events either. She was invited by a friend from Sretensky Monastery. Olya [a diminutive form of the name Olga.—Trans.] tried many times to decline. She said she was snowed under with work and had no time for any pilgrimages. But her friend said: “Olya, don’t miss this opportunity. You definitely must go.” These words inspired her, and she heeded her friend’s advice and went. Olga is a workaholic to the marrow of her bones; she could sit all night over her work. The friend who invited her to Pechory was simply saving the situation in which Olga had found herself.
The itinerary of our trip was as follows: the Holy Dormition Svyatogorsk Monastery [in the village of Pushkinskiye Gory in the Pskov region.—Trans.]—A. S. Pushkin’s Mikhailovskoye Museum Reserve [in the Pushkinogorsky district of the Pskov region.—Trans.]—the Pskov-Caves Monastery. Once we arrived at our first destination, right at the entrance to Svyatogorsk Monastery, our coach broke down. We asked the group to go on a tour, while the driver, Novice Mark (the organizer) and I stayed to fix the coach. The work began in the cab, the people were preparing to get off the bus, and in the general confusion Olga asked loudly: “May I open the baggage compartment to get out some warm clothes?” in the hope that someone would respond. I heard her, tried to help her, but failed to open the baggage compartment, so she had to walk in the cold in light office clothes and a sheepskin coat. The fact is that she went on the pilgrimage straight from work, as Alexander Pushkin wrote in Eugene Onegin, “from the ship straight to the ball.” And it was twenty degrees below zero outside! The group went on a tour, while we made more attempts to fix the coach. We were unable to repair it, but at least we opened the baggage compartment. I immediately found Olga and told her that she could take her clothes. Later she said that she had been very touched by my concern.
We had to transport the entire group by taxi to the next point of our trip—Mikhailovskoye. While I was explaining to the people who would get into which taxi, Olga approached me and our acquaintance began for real. I told her that I was a seminarian, and as I learned later, the last thing she wanted was to meet a seminarian. I put her in her taxi and I myself travelled last in another car, and all the rest of the journey I thought only about her.
In front of the Pushkin Museum Reserve, the group had breakfast in a very cozy cafeteria. The people were divided into groups to be seated at tables. I was standing with a tray at breakfast, my eyes scanning everywhere for Olga. I saw her sitting at the table alone. I turned on all my charm, went up to her table and asked, “Is anyone sitting next to you?” After that, I did not leave her for the whole trip. She was so beautiful! I immediately realized that this was my soulmate whom I had been waiting for so long. It was the recognition of something so beautiful and unearthly. I think the Lord showed me the beauty of the image of God.
—How did events develop here in Moscow?
—After we returned Olya fell ill, which caused our next meeting to be postponed; but I wanted to reveal my feelings to her as soon as possible. I didn’t have the patience to wait for the meeting, and I told her on the phone: “Olya, may I be frank with you? I like you. Let’s try and build something beautiful.” She agreed.
—How much time passed between your first meeting to your proposal?
—Very little. We met in mid-January, I proposed to her on March 8, and we got married in the summer.
—Now let’s move on to the exciting part of your acquaintance. The Holy Fathers say that we learn the will of God from the circumstances of our lives. You had sufficient external circumstances—please tell us about them.
—There were many signs. My wife had the brightest of them, so I’ll start with her. Shortly before the trip Olga had asked her friend, “Masha, do you pray in some special way to meet your future husband?” She replied: “Yes, you know, we live in a fast-paced world, so I ask the Mother of God to help me see it and not miss my other half.” Olya remembered this advice. During a tour around Svyatogorsk Monastery (at that moment we were trying to fix the coach) she went up to an icon of the Mother of God and prayed exactly as her friend had recommended her: “O Mother of God, help me see my husband.” And at the time when I was telling people who should travel in which taxi, she came up to me, and then heard an inner voice that said, “You wanted to see? Well, look.”
Six months before meeting my wife I, too, made it a rule to pray to the Mother of God. Even before I met Olya, the previous summer I said to my mother, “Mom, let’s start getting ready! I feel that next summer I will have a wedding.” And she answered: “First show me the lady, then we will talk.” That’s how it all happened.
Everything happened right at the proper time. As wise people say, “With God everything happens in time for those who know how to wait.”
I have a favorite saint: the New Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. I begged her, “Mother, send me a woman for marriage according to your heart.” I felt that St. Elizabeth Feodorovna took part in our meeting as well. And as it seems to me, the following episode leaves no room for doubt.
As we were returning from our tour through a pine wood beside the Mikhailovskoye Museum Reserve, another girl was walking next to me and Olga. It turned out that her name was Elizaveta, and her last name was Fyodorova. As we were walking back through the wood, I had the feeling that St. Elizabeth Feodorovna was walking with us. She brought us together.
When you try to live with God, you have to pray and ask for something, He reveals His will to you. Some little things that would mean nothing to others tell you a lot. If for someone else it would have been nothing more than a girl named Elizaveta, for me it was a sign of my favorite saint’s involvement.
—Sometimes people doubt whether or not this is their other half. Did you have such doubts, if only for a moment?
—I trusted God in this matter. I was sure that the Lord would lead me exactly to my spouse. Often we say that we trust in God, while at the same time thinking that everything is in our hands; so we try to do everything in our power, look for someone special, try to hunt someone out. But I tried not to be distracted. I trusted in God, and He led me to my spouse.
I found the following idea in the writings of the Holy Fathers: “There are cases when people choose each other and the Lord blesses this union, and there are cases when the Lord leads two people to each other.” In our case, my wife and I felt that the Lord had been leading us. I noticed that when the Lord Himself guides people, a person may try to build a relationship with someone but not succeed. Something wrong happens all the time. The Lord intervenes in this process to prevent us from straying from the path that He is guiding us on.
—How old were you and your wife when you first met?
—She is six and a half years older than me. I was twenty-eight, and she was thirty-four. Olga did not feel this age gap in communication with me. Probably the fact that we met at that age played a role in the quick decision to marry. It was a conscious step. Just two and a half months of communication, the proposal—and the wedding in the summer.
—At what church did you get married and why? Have you had any disagreements with your spouse?
—We got married at the Church of St. Nina Equal-to-the-Apostles at Cheremushki. I was its parishioner.
I proposed to Olga at the shrine of St. Elizabeth Feodorovna at the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary. I had been thinking for a long time about how I ought to propose to her. When we approached the shrine, I said, “Olya, I will now assume a certain position. If you want, you can do the same.” I knelt down in front of Olga, while she was looking at me without understanding what was happening, and then knelt down as well. While we were kneeling at Elizabeth Feodorovna’s shrine, I said to her: “Olya, I did this that because each one of us kneels before images of God.” So I proposed to her, after which she paused. It seemed that pause had turned everything inside me, but after that she answered: “Yes.” It was March 8.
There was also a coincidence with this date. At the seminary we first have classes and then perform obediences. Usually we go for an assignment to the duty assistant’s office, and on that day he suggested that I go to Father Afanasy, because he had some assignment for me in the city. I immediately agreed. Father Afanasy said, “I have a surprise for you.” He knew that I am a devotee of St. Elizabeth Feodorovna. He gave me a small suitcase and said, “This has to be taken to the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary, to Abbess Elizabeth.”
When something happens that goes beyond the usual course of your life, you understand that the Lord wants to tell you something.
I came to the abbess, phoned her and said that I was from Sretensky Monastery. I believed that I would meet with her and receive her blessing. But she answered me, “My assistant will come out now.” She took my documents, and I went back, thinking, “Is that really all?” In the evening Father Afanasy wrote to me again. It turned out that something was wrong with the documents and I had to take them again. The night before the visit I was sleepless, thinking, “If I get to the abbess, I will definitely ask her to pray for the solution to my family problem.” The next morning I went there again and called the abbess. This time she came to me in person. I went up to her and said: “It’s strange that out of over 200 seminarians I was sent to the Convent of Sts. Martha and Mary. And I love Elizabeth Feodorovna very much.” She smiled. I told her that now my family problem must be resolved and asked for her blessing and prayers. She thought and replied, “Yes, this is important.” She blessed me and said that she would pray for me. So I proposed to Olga, and after a while I learned that that day, March 8, was also Abbess Elizabeth’s birthday! I saw God’s participation in this.
—Many young men and ladies determine in advance what qualities their spouses should have. Did you have such a wish list, and if so, did it align with reality or even exceed your expectations?
—Of course, I have an image of what a wife should be. And, in fact, in many ways the example of Elizabeth Feodorovna also contributed to this formation. I would advise everyone to read her Life, about her love for her husband and her profound understanding of Christian marriage. I did not purposefully seek my wife to fit my image. It is a matter of trusting in God—it is He Who will choose for you a spouse with the qualities that will suit you.
As for us, everything is harmonious so far. There are no overall problems. I recently told my wife: “Olya, I bathe in our love, in our warm relations.”
—Building a family is a great spiritual work—at first people get used to each other. You have to change some qualities in yourself. When we enter an institute or academy, we gain knowledge in specialized education. What lessons have you learned and what knowledge have you acquired by getting into the school of “family life”?
I will be critical of myself. At some point before the wedding I began to be easily irritated. More precisely, I had been touchy before, but my touchiness began to manifest itself in relationships: in relation to some trifles and very banal things. For example, when my girlfriend forgot her handbag in a restaurant. My touchiness even turned into exactingness on my part. I saw this problem in myself and apologized. I understood that a person himself is to blame for his short-temperedness. “You annoy me” is a phrase that shifts the blame to another person who seems to be annoying. But the problem is with you! I started praying, asking God to help me overcome this shortcoming. And little by little it faded away.
—I’m sure Olga is grateful to you for this. You notice and try to change some qualities in yourself.
—Yes, in this regard we try to be frank with each other and find solutions.
—Father Michael, is there anything you would like to say to readers? Maybe give advice to those who are looking for a life partner?
—You should learn to trust in God, and hope maketh not ashamed (Rom. 5:5). The time will come when all the weight of waiting will be rewarded in full. Happiness must be waited for and obtained by suffering, passing the test of uncertainty. A family is a miracle, and every miracle has one Author—the Lord.