Stories About Parishes That Became Families

Elena Kucherenko | 16 July 2020

Under quarantine, I saw how the provincial church life differs from the metropolitan one. And what wonderful people we have. Judge for yourself: one of the parishioners sheltered a homeless woman and saved her from drunkenness, a priest drives all the elderly women to the service at the village church and gets them home – they are already a family, and during quarantine, mothers with many children and people who have lost their jobs are transferring money to a small church in order to keep it functional.

During the pandemic, people’s best side was revealed. Today’s stories are about this, about caring and paying attention to each other, without which we cannot survive in difficult times.

Indeed, how does it happen here in Moscow? People do not always come to church, but often. Plus or minus twenty parishioners, no one would notice. There are hundreds of them at the liturgy. And there are two liturgies a day. And a person can go to some church for several years, and parishioners often don’t even know this person by name. Both the parishioners and priests.

– Mrs Valya died? Who was it again?

But she was there every service.

– Where is Masha, you ask? Which Masha?

Masha took her child to the Sunday school for several years and helped there. Then she was killed by lightning. While she was pregnant with her second child, who was long-awaited. Thus, the family was gone.

Personal lives are for many a dark forest. Unless you’re an Orthodox activist.

And the rest? .. Someone was born to someone. Someone got sick. Some of them left the Church altogether. But many people are born every day… And everyone gets sick. Did someone get disappointed in faith?… Well, he should have better come to Christ, and not to people.

But this person simply has not yet met Christ, but he was left alone with his pain, joy and doubts inside the church.

“Submit the note and go. There is the line…”

I repeat, it’s not like this everywhere. There are also large metropolitan parishes-families. But as a priest once told me, he was transferred from a huge Moscow church, where there are about a dozen priests, to a small church in the Moscow region:

“Here I, at last, felt as a confessor, and not as an executor. Now I can talk to people not being on the run. I can understand them better. And in Moscow there are hundred people at the lectern. You get tired from all the faces, and you no longer understand what they say to you. And you can’t do anything. Faster, faster … Then you run to the baptism or funeral service. Walking by I hear: “Father, father” … But I have several dead people [for the funeral service – Tr.]. Whose family got tired of waiting. I throw over my shoulder: “Pray!”, and that’s it. And what does it mean “pray”? There was no time to listen to them… I couldn’t even take my wife to the hospital. Too busy.”

Yes, in Moscow you sometimes have to chase a priest. And it’s hard to catch up sometimes. Obedience, demands, the lack of time.

– Remember, Father, I told you before? ..

– No, I do not remember…

There is no time, but also, let’s say cynically, there is no vital practical need to remember and cherish everyone. The people are already flowing. There are benefactors. One ordinary person wouldn’t make much difference. Or his pennies.

Unless one has a real calling and talent to be a shepherd. Who, even in the largest herd, knows every sheep and runs after every one, after seeing a wolf. But everyone read the Gospel.

But this is all about the good, pre-coronavirus times, of course. The epidemic has shown that difficult days can come for “densely populated” churches too, alas. No parishioners, no means. And there is nowhere to take it from. Here you remember the hypothetical ordinary person and his pennies.

“How dramatically everything has changed,” another priest told me. – “Everything was all right, and no one really counted who came and who left. Not really noticed. And now, only thanks to each individual person, the parishes were able to survive. A parishioner called me the other day: “Father, can you come? I want to help.” I came. There was an old woman, God’s dandelion. She was in self-isolation. It turned out that she went to our church, and I, to my shame, remember her very vaguely, if at all. She gave me her pension: “Take it, you are having difficult times. You have many kids. And my relatives help me.” I almost fell through the ground [from shame – Tr]. She knows me, she feels sorry for me, but I didn’t even notice her … Now I have to rethink everything.”

“I will protect you from anyone …”

In a village, however, every elderly woman is valuable. It has been this way both before the coronavirus and after.

I remember last fall I went to my mother-in-law in Ukraine. The local village priest, Father Anatoly, invited me to his service. On our way there he said:

“Well … We also need to pick up Mrs Masha … Mrs Zina – she walks badly … We’ll pick up the girls from the choir … Then we have to stop by Mrs Vera. She is sick, we’ll bring her food.”

So we collected everyone for the service.

I met one of the parishioners at that priest’s place. There was a time when she suffered a lot of injustice from people. Father Anatoly found out about this and said:

“Don’t worry, I will protect you from anyone.”

And he did. Same is with the others. Because the parish there is a family. And the priest is the father in this family. Everyone knows each other, everyone helps each other.

I’ll distract a little. I remember a story that struck me. Once I noticed a wonderful woman in the service. Very dressed up, let’s just say it this way. She was wearing a hat, lace, ruche, beads … There were flowers in her hat. Wearing all this she cared for the candlestick.

I smiled to myself. I watched her as a possible character in my future story. Then I began to look at another woman, who looked homeless. Then I was told that this homeless woman (and she was one) used to drink. And the first one, who was dressed in ruche, decided to save her. And she did. She settled her at her place and takes care of her.

We drove back with the priest, and again the elderly women were transported. And each of them brought him eggs, milk, or some kind of fruit from her house. They do not have much money, but they want to support the priest. And he gave them medicine or something else. This is how they survive. And every person there is not only familiar, but dear and beloved one, whom they cherish.

“You, Muscovites, do not know how to do anything …”

But this was a story from Ukraine. This year we spent the quarantine in a distant village where we have an old house. And we got to know a local priest – Father Lev.

There were five or six elderly women at the service at the local small church, a nun and a novice from a small convent nearby, where there is no church, and us. A family from the city also periodically comes. This is all.

And where would you get more, if every third house is abandoned in that village.

Sometimes the priest serves all alone. There is no deacon, no bell-ringer there.

Father Lev, like Father Anatoly, collects everyone for the service and drives them back home. Once, even before we met, it was a rainy day. After the anointing, the girls and I immediately went home, so as to get in time before the rain. The elderly women told me the next day:

“Oh, father was so worried that you did not wait for him. He would give you a lift…”

And he also dreams of buying an old minibus so that he can load all the parishioners at once. And he dreams of a Sunday school and a guest house near the church, and of that more people would come to his service.

Everyone wants it too. My children are welcome there. Do they blow out the candles? Thank God! Did the candlestick nearly get knocked over? Again, thank God that it did not fall. Is Masha running around the church? Thank God even more!

“Come here more often. The children are at our service at last. What joy! ..”

A man wandered in once. He was suspicious-looking, to be honest. Out of my Moscow habit, I hugged my purse closer to me. But the elderly women were like:

“Ah, dear son. What’s your name? Here, take a candle. Don’t know where to light it? We will teach you. Come on, honey, come on.”

They were glad! A man came to the church. Everyone’s soul is drawn to God.

Father Lev not only knows all his few parishioners by name, surname and year of birth, as well as the circumstances of their life, sorrow and joy, but also remembers who was at the service, and the last time they came. And if someone is suddenly absent, he worries if something has happened.

Just like with Fr. Anatoly, the elderly parishioners of Father Lev give him treats: some will give him eggs, another strawberries, others will give him a bag of potatoes. And he, too, constantly gives gifts to his parishioners. And he tries not to bypass anyone so that there are no offenses. Elderly people are like children: “Why did she get it and I didn’t?”

Following his “advice” the locals feed us too.

“Lena, stop by, I’ll give you potatoes, Father Lev said: “We now have many children, we need to help them.”

“If you want, we can help you with the garden. You are Muscovites – you can’t do anything.”

Well, yes, in the opinion of the locals, Muscovites only know how to press the phone keys as far as physical labor is concerned. Although in my case it is true. And those elderly women did not understand my delight when a dull, stunted bunch of cilantro broke through my shameful and unpromising, in their opinion, vegetable garden. It happened for the first time in my life. Before that, even cacti withered in my house. Why, however, I planted this cilantro, I myself still do not know. I can’t stand it. But I chewed it with a joyful sinking of my heart – mine, from the garden, I am now a hostess.

Father Lev found out that our car was not working well and took it somewhere to a familiar car mechanic. My husband said that the windows should be changed in the house – he found a master. And then, after replacing them, he helped us clean – he took out the dirt helped to move the furniture. I was very surprised then, and he said:

“Service to God is not only in the altar. It is done and after – when you do something with people. And this is a joy.”

Priest Driving a Mercedes

In that village of ours, the priest cannot survive in any other way. But only with the community, as one family.

I remember once I asked one city priest:

“What if you are transferred to a distant village somewhere?”

“The priest is like a soldier. Wherever he is blessed to go, he goes there. But I do not want to. How would I feed my family there?”

I understand him, if I were his wife, I probably would not want to go there either. Not everyone is capable of such feats. But someone has to pray in such places. This is how Father Lev serves there.

I sometimes read about priests driving a Mercedes, who, apart from demands, are not interested in anything. Not even Christ… There are those who argue with it. But Judas was also among Christ’s disciples. He sat at the same table, drank and ate, and then betrayed Him.

Father Lev has a monthly income in that church – about 8 thousand rubles. Six of them must be given to the choir. The choir consists of Masha, who is expecting her fourth child. The rest is goes on the bills. So much for Mercedes. So, according to him, they didn’t feel quarantine so much. As before, there was nothing, and now it is the same. But it is fine, Father Lev is not discouraged. Although his son was recently born.

“I remember there was a month when there were many feast days,” he told me. “I think – as many as 10 services were to be served. This meant that the choir’s pay would bigger than our entire monthly income. I prayed: “Lord, what should I do? Do not leave us! “… I crossed myself and put all the services in the schedule … Suddenly a man came and said:” Father, this is for you! Arrange it as you see fit. ” And gave me ten thousand rubles. Just enough for the choir’s [salary]. The Lord is merciful … But no, I don’t want to go to Moscow … Too fussy. Here you come out, it’s an open space. People are good too. By the way, don’t you need potatoes? My parishioners gave me so much, I can share …”

“Our people are a treasure”

But you can’t live with potatoes alone long. Even in the village. And now I come to the second topic of my article. What wonderful people we have.

It turned out then that there was a lot of things missing in that church. With the same choir, Father Lev was always like a powder keg. He didn’t know whether he will have money to pay them. And you have to pay, because everyone is in need. And the work must be paid – the priest himself is absolutely sure of this. You need to purchase various church utensils, vestments as well.

“Black and blue. Although no, black is still good. The late governor of the local monastery gave it to me. His own, old,” – Father Lev shared with us. “But you need the blue one … Another would be to put the air conditioner for the parishioners. It’s hot for them, in the summer … Analoi … There is no money … But the Lord will not leave us, I believe.”

I wrote about it on the Internet, asking for help. But, to be honest, I didn’t count on a significant amount. No one has died, was not sick, there was no trouble.

And what was my surprise when so many people from all over the country responded! Well, I used to collect small amounts of money, and to help the priests too, but this was something amazing. And everything happened very fast.

When there were several tens of thousand rubles, the priest threw up his hands in confusion:

“I don’t even know what to do with that kind of money now.”

For some, the soup is watery, for others, pearls are too small … What is this for a Moscow church? It is pennies.

And people continued to donate. And it shocked me then that large families responded, for whom it is as difficult now. People who have lost their jobs due to the quarantine, provincial clergy, who are now in the same situation, single mothers … Other caring people.

“The Lord sees our need,” Father Lev said and repeated: “And our people are a treasure! I will be calm for a year now. I ordered the vestments already …”

He copied hundreds of names in his memory list. And he prays for everyone. With love and gratitude.

Yes, people, you are a treasure! It’s true. I have been convinced of this more than once. But during the quarantine, this was especially evident. You can see how you supported each other.

Someone delivered groceries to elderly people, someone went to the hospital as a volunteer, someone began to study for free with someone’s children on the Internet. Someone helped raise money for treatment. Someone was repairing someone’s dacha for free so that a large family could leave Moscow. Someone transferred money to a single mom so that she could pay for a rented apartment. And how many people helped families of priests, who, after the closure of the churches, were on the brink of survival … But it was difficult for everyone.

The pandemic seemed to reveal the best in people. And even those who seemed to have not paid attention to others before, as I wrote at the beginning, suddenly became those same evangelical neighbors. Trouble came and hearts opened. And a neighbor became a real person. Or maybe he was, but we didn’t notice.

Father Lev is right. People are a treasure! And I want to bow to everyone at the feet! Thank you people! I’m not scared about anything with you!

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