Nadya lived in the provincial town of Ryazsk, near Ryazan, about 300 miles east of Moscow. Her childhood unfolded amidst the constant quarrels and shouting of an alcoholic family. Determined to break out of the chaos into a normal existence, she married. But because she and her husband had no other place to live, they stayed in the house of her alcoholic mother. Nadya had given birth to a child and was pregnant with a second when her mother suddenly sold the house they were living in and moved to the streets. All the family had left was a ramshackle shed, where they began to live. Nadya’s husband soon left her to fend for herself with their children. There was only one place to go for help—the local Orthodox church.
“When I saw here there she was no older than twenty. A frightened, pregnant young girl asking for help. You could see that every minute of begging was the most difficult labor she had ever done.” That is how Ilya Kuskov, the director of the Synodal aid program to homeless, “Helper and Protector”, found Nadya for the first time in her church. The volunteers became involved in Nadya’s fate, and that of her two children. When they saw the deplorable conditions she lived in, they made the decision to find her a place where she and her family could feel like human beings. It was not at all easy, but they found a benefactor and bought her a home in Ryazhk, and even found her work. Once they discovered that she could sew, Ilya offered her a job sewing underclothing for the homeless. She always filled the orders promptly. From that time on, a completely new life began for Nadya and her children. Her husband even returned, however now he was seriously ill.
Getting to work required a significant sacrifice of Nadya’s time and energy. Ryazhk is not on one of the radial train tracks leading to Moscow, and so she had to first travel to Ryazan, where a night in the train station awaited her before she could catch the next connection to Moscow. After a three to four hour ride in a train car built in the 1950’s, seats often as comfortable as a park bench, she would arrive in Moscow where she would stay with her husband’s distant relatives. She worked three-day shifts—three days in Moscow, then back to Ryazhk.
This weekly commute was not only grueling, but dangerous. Nadya had to spend the night in a public station, where any sort of person could approach her. She always tried to travel with a friend, but on her last, tragic night, her friend was powerless to save her. Just about a month ago, a young man from the Caucasus mountain republic of Dagestan, who had just been released from prison, had noticed Nadya’s regularity in the Ryazan train station and zeroed in. He proposed that she spend the interval with him instead, but she gave him a sharp rejection. “Well, just wait… You’ll remember me,” he answered ominously.
On March 19, late Monday night, that same Dagestani bandit returned to extract blood revenge for Nadya’s slight against his masculinity, according to the ancient custom of those wild mountains. He leapt out of nowhere, and screaming like an animal inflicted six stab wounds with his knife upon the frail Nadya. It all happened so fast that no one could prevent it, although her husband sadly recounts Nadya’s friend’s words that no one, including the station guards, responded to his poor wife’s screams. The murderer quickly disappeared. Two men who were standing on the platform saw the incident through the window; they threw down their bags and tickets and ran off to catch him, but were not able. Only twelve hours later did the police capture the criminal, who confessed to everything. He is now awaiting his fourth prison term. “He killed me!” were Nadya’s last words.
Now Nadya’s colleagues have nothing to remember her by other than her touching daily reports, more like diary entries than work records. “A homeless grandmother came. I dressed her in clean clothes, after which you wouldn’t even say she was homeless. Grandma was very happy; she wished all of us happiness and goodness”, read the entry from February 29. “A kind woman brought a package of things. All day I distributed things to the homeless—milk, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and so on”—March 7.
Nadya’s daughter Tanya, short for Tatiana, is eight and her son Kolya, short for Nicholai, is eleven. Her children are currently staying with Nadya’s friend; Tanya always asks when mama will come home. The son is having a very hard time coping with his mother’s death. Nadya was twenty-eight years old. Nadya’s husband is still very ill and can’t work, so family is in great financial distress.
Nadezhda is the Russian word for hope. Nadya had hope and faith, but she also had what is greatest of all these—charity. Of course she was not alone; how many people are there in dire straits—men, women, children? But here is an example of how Christians can take each one who comes across his or her path, each one individually, and not statistically. “Let your cheerful countenance go before your charity,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov. Perhaps those who have not experienced poverty cannot fully know what it means to receive help meted out with warmth and love, but all know warmth and love when we meet it.
May our readers pray for the repose of servant of God Nadezhda—give the alms of prayer for her soul and for the health and wellbeing of her children and husband. Pray, even though Nadezhda may already be hearing the words of our dear Christ, I was naked, and you clothed me….
Based on an article by Elena Verbenina