Encounters with God: from what I have lived and heard close to my Father and brothers and sisters in Christ (I)
When meeting people that have suffered a lot, we realize that our own suffering, which sometimes seems to be unbearable, is a trifle by comparison. Meetings with people that have no bread to put on the table make us realize how embarrassing our own complaints are and slowly, helped by this shame, we start learning how to pray and we will stop asking God to help us pass that exam or to help us obtain that higher salary. Our prayer will not be directed towards the practical things of this world, but rather the things of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Like one spiritual father used to say, if we would interpret all our meetings as providential ones, and especially those with people that are rich spiritually or rich in experience, all these meetings really will become providential for us. If we do not meet people that are spiritually enriched, from an existential perspective we risk becoming blind.
When in the company of those that have suffered a lot, we realize that our own suffering, which sometimes seems to be unbearable, is a trifle by comparison. Meetings with people that have no bread to put on the table make us realize how embarrassing our own complaints are and slowly, helped by this shame, we start learning how to pray and we will stop asking God to help us pass that exam or to help us obtain that higher salary. Our prayer will not be directed towards the practical things of this world, but rather the things of the Kingdom of Heaven.
As I have been living in Western Europe for some time, and as God has given me the opportunity to enrich my own experience with such meetings, I decided to share the things I am living and hearing here.
One story transmitted to us directly by our spiritual Father from his personal experience:
I receive a call one day. A citizen of this country [Belgium], who is married to a Romanian Orthodox woman, asks me to come to the clinic where his wife has been in a coma for some time. Now, however, the doctors believe that she only has a few days left to live. The husband is a man without any faith, but at the same time he somehow knows that when someone is dying, you have to call a priest (he would later confirm to me that nobody had ever directly told him this, but the thought of calling an Orthodox priest was simply born in his heart) .
Inspired by my previous experiences in which sometimes those in comas wake up solely to confess, I immediately left for the clinic. I entered the room and asked everyone to leave me alone with the lady who was sick. Convinced that the spirit of the person is alive, no matter the state of the body, I started to talk with this woman, although apparently I was talking to myself. Absolutely no response from her side. Not even the slightest movement of the eyes. Nothing! I told her that I will read to her the prayers before the confession and then the prayers of absolution, and when I pronounce the sins that she recognizes as having committed, she should try to deeply assume them. When I finished the prayers, I stayed a little bit longer with her and then I left.
A few minutes later, the now emotional husband calls me again, asking me to come back because his wife woke up and wants to see me. I went back and entered the ward and I asked her if she recognizes me, if she remembers that I was there before.
“I heard everything you said, Father. But there are more things to confess”, uttered the dying woman. I started to listen to her, though she could hardly speak. With every exhalation she barely managed to articulate one syllable. But her eyes, her breath, the whole fight her body was enduring, were all showing that she repented deeply for her every sin.
At first I was trying to understand what she wanted to say, but slowly, being very tired, she couldn’t articulate the words anymore. Then, I understood once more that I am just a witness and that God is the One that receives the confession. And again I understood that all things should be done at their own time.
I stayed a little bit more with her and I told her to try to remember all the sins from her whole life and to ask God for forgiveness, but that she should also forgive all those that caused her suffering throughout her life.
The nature of her life, her faith, only God knows. I found out from her husband that she was disowned and cast away by her whole family, which had moved to one of the most dangerous sects in Romania. She resisted heroically to all their trials of convincing her to renounce Orthodoxy. But for this grand gesture of keeping and standing up for her faith in the One True God, she was honoured with a righteous ending to her life.
After I left, she lived for a few hours, just enough to make peace with herself and everybody in her life.
On my way out, I asked the husband where she would be buried. He looked at me, surprised, and asked which burial I am talking about. “I will incinerate her” he said.
I explained to him then that in the tradition of our Orthodox Church, the bodies of those asleep are buried, incineration being foreign to the Tradition of our Church.
“I see you being so involved in the life and death of a person that you did not even know until few hours ago that I now believe it is better to bury her. And because I loved her so much I will bury her in the village where I live, so I can go to visit her as often as possible”, confessed the man. This is what love does!
Only the Good Almighty God knows for what deeds from her life she was granted such a Christian end: to send her an Orthodox priest right before her death, in this corner of Europe, to offer her a confession on her last day of life and to make it possible that her story reach our hearts, the hearts of all those who are reading these lines. In this way, all of you can say at least once, “Lord, have mercy and forgive thy servant, Lacramioara, and establish her where the Just repose! Amen!