Orthodox America

  “On the Eve” – A True Story

     Brought by her parents to a populous city, in the apartment of her relatives a twelve year-old girl was dying. She was dying of cancer. Twice doctors had operated, but a lump suddenly appeared on the top of her head and before it was removed, it generated other lumps which quickly metastasized, spreading into the shoulder and the lungs.

     Shorn of her hair and disfigured by the operations, the girl lay on the cot in the strange room, gazing out of the window at the falling snow. By turns the father and mother would lean over her, bringing her medicine or something to drink. She could scarcely eat anymore, nor could she speak normally and only whispered from time to time, "Don't worry, Mama and Papa, I'll get well."

    The father dashed from one clinic to another, and to various specialists. He knew his daughter's condition was fatal, but nevertheless, a blind hope drove him to seek out those who were said to have found a cure for cancer, to herbologists, to parapsychiatrists. But no one could help his child.

     When the last of these possibilities had been exhausted, he met a stranger to whom, in his despair, he poured out his grief. This man, a fifty-year-old luckless bum who had never outgrown his youth, took the father of the girl to an old school friend of his who is now writing these lines.

    Thus it was that out of the sea of humanity there appeared in my room a man utterly exhausted and distraught but who nevertheless had managed to retain his dignity. Could I help his daughter?

    I knew that concerning what was of ultimate importance, I did indeed have the answer; but it was hard to tell him straight out, at once, very hard. At last I spoke.

    Through his grief, through the tears held back in the depths of his eyes, in disbelief tinged with fright, he answered, "My daughter-baptize her? What for! What good will it do?"

     I am not a priest but an ordinary man, one who "labors and is heavy laden." It was not long ago that I myself came to Christ, to His teachings. I knew that here was contained all truth, whatever was definitive, the final word. And moreover, I was certain that our Lord Jesus Christ lived among us, that He appeared to men.

     And now a young girl was dying. Was it possible to conceal from her father--an unbeliever, a member of the Party--that the state after death of the soul of this girl, whom I didn't even know, depended eternally on whether or not she was baptized? There was no time for long discussions, no time to explain that the best, most innocent children may suffer for the sins of their fathers, their ancestors. Each day was precious, perhaps even each hour. I said to him: "Go tea church, ask for a priest. And you must prepare the girl."

     My friend, having no children, sat at a loss for what to do, crushed by another's grief. "Perhaps I could give my New Testament?'' he asked.

    "Yes," I replied. "Since the girl is conscious, read to her chapter after chapter. Read without stop."

    My friend led the girl's father out into the dark winter evening to give him the very copy of the New Testament which I had given him as a gift half a year ago, hoping to save a lost, kind, sinful soul.

In the morning, two days later, he phoned and informed me dejectedly:

    "Nothing has come of it. The girl is unwilling and the parents are against it."

"And how is the girl, in what condition?"

    "They're giving her oxygen. It's very critical."

"Were you there? Did you see her?" "No, I didn't."

"Do you know at least her name?" "Galya."

     I began praying for Galya. There was nothing else I could do. The day was coming to an end. I could think of nothing else but that a young girl unknown to me was dying, departing for eternity ....     I prayed for Galya, the unbaptized Galya.

    That evening just before nine o'clock, the phone rang. It was my friend.

    "The father called me. They've agreed. Galya has agreed. Where can we find a priest?

    It was nearly nine. In the churches services were coming to an end. I dialed the number of a priest I knew who served some distance away, outside the city. More than likely he was not at home.

    He was home! By a rare combination of circumstances, he was home, having just arrived. His voice was tired but firm:

    "Quick, come and fetch me. Where are we to go? Where's that?"

     I phoned back my friend and he rang the girl's parents. It turned out that we had to drive to the outskirts, to a new part of the city, almost as far as the Ring.

    Outside the window the snow was flying into the light of the lampost. A snowstorm.

    My friend arrived in a taxi and together we sped along through the center of the city. There was a growing awareness of the magnetic power of time, a power which now entered the chain of events, compacting causes, consequences--it had to be that after years of silence I would come together once more with my old school friend, that I would give him a New Testament; he had to meet the young girl's father and bring him to me; and I had to know this priest and he--at this very hour --had to be at home!

    There he was, standing alone on the sidewalk, dusted with snow. I flung open the door. Seating himself in the taxi, he turned to me and asked:

       "Do you have a cross? Did you bring one with you?" "No."

    He got out of the taxi, ran back into the house and was hidden from view. We waited feeling guilty. I had a cross ,but I didn’t think to take it. Finally he returned and we continued ou rway. From our brief remarks the driver knew Who we were and the reason for our journey. He became stern. His face assumed a scoffing expression typical of taxi drivers. Still young, he was obviously of an age with our tired and silent batiushka.

     We drove for a long time and had to search a long time for the right address, the right apartment. This seemed to be it. We rode up in the elevator.

     The door. it was unlocked, common in times of tragedy. A watchful silence prevailed. In this silence the mother appeared from the narrow corridor. Her tearless eyes conveyed an unexpected feeling of astonishment-to the point of numbness. The cause of this astonishment we discovered later, after the performance of the Sacrament

      It happened that about noon the father had a change of heart. He sat down beside his daughter and, opening the Gospels, began to speak to her something about baptism.

     The dying girl would have nothing to do with it.

     "Go away from me. And don't come back. Call mama. I am a young Pioneer*, and I don't want to hear about any baptisms. Go away !"

     The father left disheartened and called the mother. Before the latter had time to draw near the cot, she saw that her daughter was dying; her face became waxy, her breathing ceased and her eyes rolled back. Grasping the girl's head, the mother pressed her hands to her daughter's face in powerless agony--and suddenly, she felt that the eyebrows twitched, they moved." What is it, my child?!"

     Galya's eyes looked ahead seriously. Her face 'became flushed.    '

     "I was flying. From abovel saw you, and papa, and everyone. And something else which I mustn't tell. Quick, call a priest! If you don't, when I get well I'll go myself to a church. Hurry, call him!"

     But it was evening before they called my friend.

     We entered the room where, in a cot by the window, lay the girl. One was immediately struck by the expression on her face. It was impossible to believe that the dying girl was twelve years old. Rather, it was as though all ages had come together in her. Suffused with a rare spiritual beauty, the large eyes peered from the face of a woman, a human being,..

     Tall and thin, batiushka leant over her in his vestments; he was greeted with a smile. It was as though this was not the first time they had met, as though she was no longer burdened by the weariness of death--such a smile.

     Afraid of bursting into tears, I asked for the father. It turned out that he had gone for oxygen tanks. I tried to be of assistance and attached three burning candle s to a basin filled with water to be blessed. One kept falling over.

     All of us, including the girl's mother and my friend standing at a distance, were physically conscious of participating in a mystery, Something then took place which was beyond the grasp of the mind, of reason. In the thick, sticky atmosphere were heard the trembling words of the prayers; the flames of the three candles flickered over the already blessed water.

     The priest was tense, and so were we. Afterwards he told us that never had he seen anyone so consciously receptive of the Mystery of Baptism. Galva alone was calm. Her attentive eyes, all comprehending, appeared to see something which the rest of us did not.

     It was done. On Galina's thin, child's breast hung a little cross. The priest prepared to give her Holy Communion, bringing to her lips a particle of Our Lord's Body on a small silver spoon. From behind the mother whispered, "She can't swallow anything." "Yes, I can," said Galya, "I can."

    And she swallowed the particle and drank down some warm wine.

    Batiushka--wholly filled with compassion, kindness, love--leaned over the sinless soul about to leave this world, and whispered, "Galya, pray for us."

    "Of course," the girl replied firmly, "I know. For sure."

    How did she know? What was shown to her in those moments when she was transported into the other world? It remained a mystery.

    Galya died the following day, January 12, 1981. At noon. Let us likewise pray for her! (Translated from "Nadezhda," #9)