What could be done with Natasha? Aunt Katia was worried. The little girl refused to listen to anyone. Since the moment her mother was taken to the hospital everything had been going wrong. The little girl was not the same; she no longer said her prayers; she had become selfish and unkind. At first Aunt Katia thought the reason for the change was the child's longing for her mother, but on the last visit to the hospital she had refused even to go along. When Aunt Katia talked to her, she closed her eyes, clenched her fists, and just sat there refusing all help, muttering under her breath,
"You just wait. I'll show you." "Whom was she threatening?" wondered Aunt Katia helplessly.
"I won't pray, I won't," muttered Natasha to herself.
Why should she? When Mother was carried out on that horrible stretcher by those men in white suits, she had prayed all night for her to come back well and smiling. Why should such a kind, lovable mother be so sick? Why did God let it happen? Mother had always prayed to Him. She too had prayed hard to her heavenly Father and her Guardian Angel. She had asked them to help her mother, but no help came. It was now more than a month since her mother had been taken away, her eyes closed and her face so pale. At first she had been told that she had heart trouble; afterwards they discovered a terrible lump in her breast and cut her with sharp, cruel knives.
After that Natasha stopped praying. She felt she was old enough, at seven, to know what is right and just. No one could help her, since God and her Guardian Angel had done nothing. She now looked reproachfully at the icons put up by her own dear mother. There was one of Jesus, one of the Mother of God with the Child in her arms, and a tiny one of her Guardian Angel. Natasha shut her eyes tightly, "No, I won't pray to you. I won't," she whispered.
Natasha, it's bedtime," coaxed Aunt Katia. "Now be a good little girl. Say your prayers and go to bed." But Natasha just threw off her clothes, slipped into bed, and turned defiantly toward the wall.
"Natasha, darling," pleaded Aunt Katia. "Why is my little girl behaving so? You are making your Guardian Angel very unhappy. Help your mother get well by praying for her. Please!"
Aunt Katia took the tiny icon and tried to turn Natasha toward herself in order to bless her with it, but the child fought back and knocked the icon out of her hand. It fell to the floor.
"Oh, dear, "cried Aunt Katia, frightened and sad. She picked up the icon, wiped it with her clean white apron, and kissed it. "Well, Natasha," her voice was severe, "if you won't pray, I shall have to pray for you. It is a great offense to throw an icon on the floor." With that she went out, closing the door.
Curled up in bed in a small tight ball, Natasha felt her heart beating fast. Her cheeks were burning.
"I didn't want to do that. Really I didn't." She felt heavy inside, frightened and cold. Something was going to happen now, she knew it, for offending her Guardian Angel so!
Suddenly Natasha saw herself not in her own room but in a large beautiful garden. The sun shone brightly, the sky was very blue, and soft melodious singing could be heard. About her were many flowers, growing in separate flower beds. They were all different. There were some white lilies, anemones, lilies of the valley, transparent narcissuses, tulips, simple corn flowers, daisies, and glorious roses. Some flowers stood up straight, holding their heads high toward the warm caressing sun. Others looked weak and sickly, with their heads bent to the ground and their leaves shrivelled and wan. Some were almost hidden by stifling weeds. Some beds were completely filled with brambles, thorns, and weeds.
Then Natasha noticed walking towards her a Woman of wondrous beauty, dressed in a pale blue gown.
"Did you come to look at our garden, Natasha?" she asked kindly. "Come, I shall show it to you."
Where am I?" asked Natasha shyly.
"This is Our Father's Garden," answered the Lady in blue. "The flowers which you see represent human souls. The beautiful ones represent souls that love Our Father and try to please and help Him in His kind deeds. Those that look sick and wilted are souls who have lost faith in prayer. And now they have no strength to lift their heads. But Our Father in His infinite mercy will help them. Those with weeds and creepers around their stems represent people who, in their unkind deeds, have forgotten Our Father and refuse His love. But their Guardian Angels may still help them if they allow them to untwine the choking sticky creepers. They still may be led to safety and light."
Then Natasha noticed angels with white wings and radiant garments walking around each flower bed, watering each flower with clear sparkling water from crystal vessels. Others were carefully trying to smooth out the crumpled leaves and free the sickly flowers from clinging creepers and weeds.
"Where is my flower?" whispered Natasha.
The Lady with the kind face took the little girl by the hand and led her toward a tiny, doubled-up white daisy. Its stem was choked by brambles and creepers, gray and horrible, so that no sunlight could reach the poor flower. Near it stood an angel with his head covered by his white wings, weeping.
"Why are you crying?" inquired the Lady.
As the Angel raised his face, Natasha recognized her Guardian Angel from her tiny icon. His face was very sad now, and his forehead was marked by a dreadful red bruise, as if from a blow.
"I am crying," answered the angel in a soft sad voice, "because Our Father gave me a little girl to watch over, who was such a good little girl that I was happy to watch her grow; happy to watch her in prayer, each morning and night. She always asked me to guard her. But lately she has changed. Our Father, in His mercy, wanted to save her mother, who had a dangerous growth in her breast unknown to anyone. Therefore He sent her a slight illness so that the danger could be discovered and removed in time. The woman is safe now, but the little girl, instead of being grateful, has been reproaching me and even Our Father for her mother's sickness. She stopped praying, and even pushed me away." The Angel touched the ugly mark on his forehead. "You see, she even hit me! Look at the thorns about her soul! What will happen now? What shall I tell Our Father? He may punish her, you know, and I pity her. I would like to help her but she turns away. That is the reason for my tears." And the Angel started to cry again, covering his head with his wings.
The Lady in blue looked sadly at Natasha.
Natasha was trembling and sobbing bitterly. She wanted to cry out, "I shall never do anything like that again, Guardian Angel. I will be kind. I shall pray to Our Father, and always be grateful for everything." But her tongue would not move. She could only whimper. Then she woke up.
The sun was pouring in through the nursery window, bright and warm. Aunt Katia was bending over her.
"Why have you been crying in your sleep, Natasha, my child?" Her voice was anxious.
Natasha rose quickly to her knees, made the sign of the Cross, then kissed her aunt tenderly.
"Aunty, dear, I will never be such a nasty little girl any more. Please, please forgive me. I was bad and cruel. Let's go to church today. I want to pray for my darling mother and ask forgiveness. I understand all now. My Guardian Angel will never have cause to cry because of me."
She took down the tiny icon of her Guardian Angel and pressed it to her cheek. From the icons the eyes of Christ looked down at the little girl with infinite tenderness. Aunt Katia with tears of gratitude in her eyes gently stroked Natasha's curly head.
Reprinted from Orthodox Life (Jordanville 1950) #1.[OA/_private/oabot.htm]