Righteous people have always been with us. We meet them in our everyday lives. However, more often than not we do not recognize them, Why? Possibly because in our perception a righteous person stands out as exceptional, as one whose spiritual feats of piety are clear for everyone to see. In reality, truly righteous people diligently hide their spiritual exertions, struggling in humility and disguising their efforts from the eyes of others.
On September 11 (old style--the Beheading of the Prophet and Forerunner John) on the feast day of our Cathedral in Washington, one such righteous Person, Ludmila Kuznetsoya, reposed. I had the good fortune of knowing her for four years, and feel it my duty to tell everyone about this extraordinary Orthodox Christian.
Ludmila was born in the Soviet Union 43 years ago. She was raised in an atheistic society and so never received a formal religious education. Before emigrating to the West, she and her daughter Anya were baptized in one of Moscow's few open churches. As she said later of her decision to be baptized, "My soul craved it."
Upon arriving in the United States, Ludmila and her daughter at first settled in America's heartland, in North Dakota. Two years later they moved to the nation's capital, where they hoped to live a normal emigre life. But that was not to be...
Ludmila' s health did not permit the life she sought: she learned that she had cancer-leukemia in an aggressive form. It appeared she might have only two months to live. Unemployed and lacking medical insurance, Ludmila was forced to turn to the National Institutes of Health for treatment on an experimental basis. In this hospital, which for the next four years became her second home, I had the opportunity to get to know her closely and to value her as a human being.
I remember well my first visit to Ludmila as she was preparing to enter the hospital. We spoke about faith, about how a Christian should always be prepared for death, about the Providence of God in our lives, and about how mysterious are the ways of the Lord. Ludmila avidly listened to what I had to say, and never once did she complain about her fate. I told her about the miraculous Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, and that this very icon was soon to visit our parish in Washington. I promised to bring the wonderworking image to her in the hospital. I did not then know the fervent hope and faith that Ludmila placed on this future visit.
Soon the icon came to Washington. Ludmila met the holy image with awe and reverence, almost not believing that the same icon which had healed the great Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov, over 150 years ago, was now, visiting her. I served a prayer service (moleben) in Ludmila's room. I noticed that she was excitedly and frequently crossing herself. After the service, almost overcome with joy, she exclaimed that she must tell the nurse about this. Because I was in a hurry to get back to the Cathedral to begin the Vigil Service, I was not able to ask Ludmila the cause of her extraordinary jubilation.
A day or two later I learned the reason. A miracle had occurred. Ludmila explained to me that the doctors had injected into her right arm a new experimental cancer-fighting drug that had had a detrimental side-effect on her metabolism. As a result, Ludmila's arm had lost all feeling and motor function, had become very swollen and, worst of all, severely infected. The doctors feared they might have to amputate, During this crisis, the Mother of God, through the visit of her wonder-working Icon, came into Ludmila's life, not only completely healing her arm, but sending her cancer into remission. Prior to the Icon's visit, all Ludmila had to look forward to was a couple months of life in the hospital and then death. Now she had hope for more time.
Two years later the cancer reappeared, and Ludmila had to return to the hospital for more experimental therapy. During the next few weeks, Fr. Vladimir Danylevich and I often visited Ludmila to prepare her for the next life.
Through the mercy of God, after a while we were visited by the Kursk-Root Icon once again. And once again the intercession of the Mother of God sent Ludmila's cancer into remission.
Now Ludmila was convinced that there was a special meaning in the fact that the Lord was extending her life, and she wanted to thank Him in a worthy manner. She reasoned that the best way to do this was to fulfill the chief commandment of Christ: to love God more than anything else and her neighbor as herself. She solemnly vowed that she would dedicate the remainder of her days to the persecuted of the Church in Russia. She joined the work of the Committee for the Defense of Persecuted Orthodox Christians and soon became its heart and soul, intensifying its activities as never before. She acquired a computer. She made new friends for the Committee among influential political figures in Washington. And she began finding ways of raising much-needed financial help for continuing our work. She labored tirelessly and selflessly, her only remuneration being the clear knowledge that she was bringing solace to our Christian brothers and sisters in dire need. And in this way she was fulfilling the Lord's commandments of love and mercy.
Too often we think of miracles in terms of a healing of the physical afflictions that plague the body. Ludmila did experience such healings of the flesh, but as she herself saw it, the greater miracle was a spiritual regeneration that infused her entire being. Even as her cancer returned for a third and final time, Ludmila continued her devoted work on behalf of persecuted Christian s, bringing the Committee' s computer and files into her hospital room, so that she could accomplish as much as possible up to the very end of her earthly existence.
Ludmila frequently said that she could no longer live without the Holy Mysteries of Christ, At her request, during the final year of her life, Ludmila partook of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ several times a week. As a result she felt no fear of dying, but intense joy--as a child preparing for a long-awaited gift. This is apparent from a letter she wrote a little over a month store her death. Here is an excerpt:
"I am writing this letter to say goodbye to all of you, because I don't know when my temperature will go up and not come down again .... Forgive me for all the things that I did wrong, and if I ever caused you any pain. I love all of you, and value our friendship and relationships. Don't think badly of me. I want to live very much, but death is one of life's processes, and we will all have to go through it at one time or another. I am very glad that I know what awaits me, and that I could prepare myself, and can go on preparing myself for the step into the next world. I firmly believe in life after death, and that God worked a miracle by giving me these last years of my life, and sent peace to my soul before death. I pray that I will die in peace and that you will not be very sad for me..."
And befitting her righteous life of devotion, she died a righteous death--a death for which we pray at each Orthodox divine service. Those who attended her funeral were struck by the hopeful, almost paschal atmosphere, with Ludmila's form clad in white as she had requested for her journey to eternal life.
the Lord God grant her soul rest where the righteous repose. Her life was an
example to all who knew her. May we all rise to her challenge to emulate her
spiritual life and in our efforts on behalf of the suffering Russian Church,
whose champion she was. Memory Eternal!
Fr. Victor S. Potapov,
Chairman Committee for the Defense of Persecuted Orthodox Christians.