A return from the other world
Among the many stories that I’ve heard from believers are accounts of events that had led to their becoming more religious. “I was Saul, but became Paul”—the transformation of someone from sinfulness to righteousness still arouses interest in me with its mystery and uniqueness.
In 2000, at an Orthodox shop in Simferopol I met Gennady from the Crimean resort city of Yalta, a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky. Simply, with deep gratitude to God he told me about how the Savior had given him faith.
A retired pilot and still relatively young, in the 1990s he worked in one of this resort city’s State organizations. It was about five in the evening on a summer weekend when his wife asked Gennady to wash their window from the outside. At that time they lived on the fifth floor in an apartment with an unglazed balcony.
Gennady stood on a stool to reach the far corners of the window, and set to work. Suddenly the stool broke under him, and Gennady began to fall off it backwards. He realized that he was falling off the balcony, and at the last moment he mustered up his strength and punched through the glass with his fist to grasp the frame. He succeeded and didn’t fall, but suffered a laceration to his arm from broken glass. Blood gushed out, flooding everything around.
His wife was rushing around the apartment without knowing what to use to stop the bleeding. Finally, having applied a tourniquet to his arm, Gennady and his wife walked to the nearest emergency room, as the ambulance operator had explained to them that all the ambulances were on call. Taxi drivers and passing cars did not stop seeing a blood-stained man. Thus, still bleeding, Gennady reached the ER.
At the hospital the doctor stitched the wound up on his arm, but an undetected wound in the area of his shoulder blade immediately flooded the trolley with blood. Gennady lost a lot of blood. On the verge of passing out, he felt the doctor pull down his shorts and underwear, wring them out of blood and throw them into a corner. He heard his wife sob and the doctor announce to her that her husband had died of blood loss, and that he, the doctor, couldn’t help her. Gennady heard everything, but he no longer showed signs of life.
“They rolled me to the wall because there were a lot of injured people that day—the doctor and the nurse had no time to roll me off to the morgue,” Gennady recalled. “I was lying without seeing anything, but I could hear everything that was going on. That dragged on for a long time. Suddenly at some point I found myself in a dark tunnel, at the end of which I saw a golden glow that attracted me. As I approached it, I saw a living Face in the radiance and realized that it was God. The Lord asked me, ‘Do you want to live?’ I replied, ‘I do.’ This happened thrice.”
Immediately after his third answer, “I want to live!” Gennady felt that he was back in the ER, and heard the doctor shout to the nurse: “Look! His lips are pink! Put the kettle on, we’ll pour warm water into his mouth!” The doctor pressed Gennady’s tongue, and water was forcibly poured into the patient’s mouth. He swallowed, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make a sound.
“After two liters of water I came around,” Gennady related. “It was dawning outside—it was five in the morning. Imagine—I had been dying and coming back to life for twelve hours!”
Gennady continued to work in his position, became a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky and did everything in his power to glorify the Savior.
A letter with a testimony of a miracle
In the second half of the 1990s, with the blessing of Archbishop (now Metropolitan) Lazar of Simferopol and the Crimea, I hosted the Orthodox Calendar program on Crimean radio. Soon I began to receive letters with various content. Some contained words of gratitude, others—direct threats, and the authors of other letters shared miraculous events from their lives.
One letter stuck in my memory. I received it from the town of Feodosia with a full return address and the author’s full name. For obvious reasons I cannot disclose her last name, but I will give her name — Valentina Ivanovna. Here is her letter, slightly abridged.
“I decided to write to you and share my life experience, because last year I promised God to tell people that God exists, that He sees and hears us.
“First a little about myself. I am a teacher. Nearly all my life I had to promote atheism. In 1964 in Leningrad I accidentally entered a cathedral during a service. All the parishioners were praying on their knees. I didn’t even understand the meaning of the priest’s words. It seemed uncomfortable to me to stand among kneeling people without understanding anything. I went outside and did not enter the church again.”
Valentina Ivanovna went on to describe times in her life when as if against her own will she avoided dangerous situations. Thus, one winter she was walking along the sidewalk of a Leningrad Street. For a moment she seemed to lose consciousness, only to come to in the middle of the street, and a huge lump of ice fell off the roof exactly where she had just been standing, which would certainly have killed Valentina Ivanovna if she had been in that place at that moment.
Moreover, she was not going to cross the street, so she was surprised how she had found herself in the middle of the roadway at that moment. So her soul was gradually preparing for conversion.
“Now I attend church,” Valentina Ivanovna writes in her letter. “I already understand much of the services, I buy Orthodox literature and try to read it carefully. There are many questions that the Gospel helps me answer.
“When I realized that my whole life consisted of nothing but sins and it was impossible to get back the years I had passed, my mental strength declined. I believed I couldn’t be forgiven and God didn’t need me. I thought, ‘Happy are the saints who were vouchsafed to see the Queen of Heaven and God with their own eyes! If only I could see God from afar! I would understand that all is not lost yet…’ Soon, in 1996, the Lord gave me such an opportunity.”
“We had just repaired the TV set, but it stopped working again. I decided to check the fuses, but for some reason they didn’t come out. I took a screwdriver and, taking out the socket with fuses from the TV set, began to unscrew, ignoring the fact that the TV set was not unplugged from the socket. Imagine: In one hand a plug with metal ends was pressed against my palm, and with the other hand I took the fuses with the screwdriver that had neither a wooden nor a plastic handle. I had locked myself into a power grid!
“It was noon, when all the neighbors were at work, and the voltage was very high. I couldn’t uncouple my hands, no matter how hard I tried; I was shaking so hard that I couldn’t see or hear anything and couldn’t scream either. I already felt a sharp pain from my heart up to my shoulder blade. And, exhausted, I forced myself to cry out: ‘My God!’
“And then a miracle occurred!... I saw (as if with the crown of my head) a stream of light from the sky above me, as if from a searchlight. He was above, and I was below, with nothing around us!
“At the top of the stream of light Jesus Christ appeared to me. He was the same as on icons, only alive—voluminous, mighty, strong, calm and kind. Simultaneously with the appearance of Christ I was thrown onto the sofa, while the plug and the screwdriver were thrown in the opposite direction. Because of my strongly shaking body and head I didn’t understand anything for ten minutes after that, only remembering clearly that I had just seen God and He had saved my life!
“Gradually I came to my senses, the fear passed, and I became convinced that God exists, that He sees and hears us and fulfills our desires. But we should only wish for what is useful for us and be grateful for Heavenly patronage.
“And it is never too late to turn to God with love—with our minds and hearts. God is always with us!
“I’ve told you this for the sake of the Almighty, as I promised Him.
“May the Lord bless all who believe in Him!”