We would like to tell you about a small miracle that happened on Christmas day.
Our convent is located near boarding homes, inhabited by people with mental and physical disabilities. The clergy serving at the Convent, as well as the monastic and lay sisters and brothers have been visiting these institutions since 1996, celebrating Liturgies and prayer services, helping the residents prepare for confession and Communion, organizing developmental activities and simply sharing their love with these people.
Many close relationships were built during this time, making us a big family. However, due to the pandemic, the boarding homes closed their doors to visitors just under two years ago.
To keep our ministry alive, every Thursday we go in procession around the boarding schools and hospitals. Starting with an akathist in front of the icon of the Most Holy Theotokos “The Inexhaustible Chalice”, we go around the territory of the monastery and the adjacent medical institutions. The procession lasts about an hour and ends with a reading of an akathist to one of the Convent's patron saints.
It so happened that we had our procession on the day of the Nativity of Christ, after Great Vespers, . In honor of the holiday, we were allowed to enter the grounds of the boarding homes and sprinkle holy water on the outside of the buildings. Although we had to remain outside, seeing our friends through the windows was a great joy for us.
Several lay brothers and sisters serving for many years in one of the boarding homes reflect on taking part in this procession.
Brother Nikolai Storozhenko: It has been almost 2 years since the last time we were allowed into the boarding school, carrying our ministry. Life goes on as usual. We work and attend church services but we have lost the spiritual basis, the salt of our life. Although we seem to be getting used to this situation, visiting this familiar place gave me a fresh new look at it.
Sister Elena Turkova: Two years ago, when the pandemic began, no one expected it to last that long. We never thought that we would lose something as Divine as our ministry in the boarding home. What is more, we had no idea how much this obedience meant to us as a source of spiritual strength helping us live, fight sin and learn to love and care for our neighbour.
Brother Nikolai Storozhenko: The boarding home also gave us a sense of community, because during this time we have become very close to all the brothers and sisters, like a family. Going to church services and taking Communion from the same Chalice goes a long way toward unity, while a common cause united us even more.
Sister Elena Turkova: When we lost all this, we realized that this was a huge loss both for ourselves and for the boarding home residents. They call and message us all the time, saying how much they miss us, and we do the same. And finally, on Christmas Day this year, we were allowed to enter the territory of the boarding home, to roll out our portable bell tower, to announce the joy of the birth of Christ and to see our friends, albeit from a distance. We were only allowed to see them through the windows, without any contact. When I saw them sitting and waiting near their windows, waving their hands and knocking on the glass, my soul rejoiced, but this was the kind of joy with tears in your eyes.
Sister Olga Storozhenko: Simply standing on the grounds of the boarding home was like a breath of "spiritual air" to me. The joy was overflowing. You don’t feel this kind of joy in everyday life, not even from holidays like the New Year. Of course, such holidays allow you to spend time with your family and do fun things like going to a skating rink. But this is on a different scale; an indescribable joy that inspires you.
Brother Nikolai Storozhenko: The joy of such great holidays as Easter, Christmas, or Epiphany was fully reflected in the boarding home because we were sharing it. This joy, received in the sacraments and divine services, multiplies if you share it.
Our daughter Vasilisa will turn five soon. She had been ill and had not fully recovered yet, but we took her with us so that she would see these familiar faces. It meant a lot to us. I was not hoping to meet anyone particular. But simply standing or walking there was already a blessing. The whole congregation walked in procession from the church, sanctifying the boarding home and its residents, while their gratitude sanctified us, giving meaning to our life. And finally we were there, greeting the watchmen and looking at the buildings. It was already dark when I saw the familiar silhouettes in the windows. I wasn't even sure who it was, and just started waving, and they started waving back at me. At some point it occurred to me that it wasn't so important who was in front of me. I knew they were my brothers and sisters with whom I prayed and took Communion together for many years before the pandemic. And yet, the Lord allowed me to see the people whom I missed the most. I think it is providential, because I remember them in my prayers. One of the residents (of the boarding home - ed.) named Nadezhda, remembered our daughter since she was 2 years old. She was very impressed by the fact that a small child came to visit her there. Seeing her at the window I said, “Here, Nadia, Vasilisa come especially for you”. She burst into tears of joy and gratitude. I knew that I had nothing to do with this; it was God touching her heart through my child. It was a genuine feeling of victory in the middle of pandemic restrictions, depriving people of the simple joy of being together... And yet, there is always victory in Christ, even in the most difficult circumstances.
Sister Elena Turkova: After we started ringing the bells, I decided to run along the buildings, hoping to see familiar faces in the windows. As I ran, I saw many people coming out, waving hands, blessing me and sending kisses. It meant to me that despite all the circumstances, the connection between us was preserved in some incomprehensible way. I mean, these are people from a psychiatric boarding home. With their mental condition, they could simply forget us. But through them the Lord shows that nothing is forgotten. The hours spent together have rallied us. To me this is a sign of the boundless Divine love rarely found in the world. In most cases we can see our relatives and friends quite often and we don't always appreciate it. The amazing thing is that after not seeing these people for two years, I found myself in the moment when we were together, as if the pandemic had never happened. This made me think that in God we can be so far away yet close. Many guys were crying. Some of the sisters also wept, reminiscing of their obedience. I myself was ready to start crying, but I was also glad and grateful to the Lord for His Christmas miracle. The Star of Bethlehem shone for us that day.
Sister Olga Storozhenko: Because our procession took place right after the festive vespers on the day of the Nativity, many people came to the boarding home for the first time. Although they had never heard of that place, their faces were illuminated with joy from seeing the guys in the windows, smiling, waving, and greeting their visitors. They saw much love in their faces.
Sister Elena Turkova: Olga, Nikolai and I have a common friend Francis, a Protestant from England. Francis had never been to such places and had never seen such people. He doesn't know Russian either. When he was visiting us before the pandemic, we took him with us to visit the guys at the boarding home, and he spent a lot of time with them. Sharing his experience, he said, “I have never met such love and such warmth anywhere else” (granted Francis is a traveller and has been to many places and seen many things).
Sister Olga Storozhenko: And yet, our procession had a trail of mystery, some kind of “heavenly” mysticism, showing the way, like a ray of light in a realm of darkness. This ray comes from God on high.
Sister Elena Turkova: This light was like armor, or a shield formed around the people walking. I am sure, this is because so many saints walked together. Even outsiders were amazed and impressed by that. The people going about their own business stopped and watched this procession with interest, because there was real power in it. In our case it was the power of Christmas. And also a miracle and a victory.
These special people can become your friends, too. Your prayer will greatly support them and our ministry. Follow the link below if you want to help us with gifts and treats for residents of the boarding homes for mentally and physically disabled children and adults:
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