Soon I discovered that I was in the midst of people who had no fear and no restraints. They are open to everybody and naïve like little children. They can be looking into a book and try to read, imitating the others, but you will never be able to guess what they will do in the next couple of seconds. That was how I was smiled at, shaken hands with, and hugged several times during the service. Imagine riding the subway and feeling sad but then someone… a perfect stranger… approaches you with a tender smile and hugs you — for no reason at all… Apparently, it is normal in the world of the “not indifferent” children. I don’t know them much but their actions leave me floored. We can learn a lot from them. For instance, their sincere prayer or even their attempts at singing with the choir, however similar to moaning it might sound, may be much more valuable and precious in God’s eyes than dozens of highly-educated experts in liturgical studies.
Sometimes they only need physical contact. They are excited every time you touch or hug them. The feeling of having someone around makes them sure that they are protected and at peace.
I’m talking about the children who stay in the Boarding Home for Children with Special Needs, where I went to take part in an Orthodox worship service together with the sisters of St. Elisabeth Convent. It is one of the places where the Convent carries out its ministry. I’m a beginner journalist who has only recently started working in the Convent, and the visit to this facility was my first assignment. At first, I was taken aback because I didn’t know what to do and how to react if anything unexpected happened. To be honest, I was a little scared and nervous. This anxiety was relieved as soon as I caught the first glance of a child who greeted me with a subtle sincere smile full of boundless purity.
I learned from the sisters that there are about a hundred children who stay in the Boarding Home at the moment. “This Boarding Home is for the most severely disabled children that you can imagine in our city,” Oleg, who is an Orthodox volunteer dealing with these kids, says. There are boarding homes with a school where children can learn. Unfortunately, most children who stay here are severely impaired, but they still have a school. The teachers of that school invest a lot of effort into teaching them.
The life of these children is very complicated and different. Their days begin at 7 o’clock in the morning with lots of tiresome activities, such as changing bed sheets and clothes. All children are different: some of them can put clothes on, albeit slowly, but others are confined to a wheelchair or bedridden, and therefore require assistance of one or more adults. That is why there are ca. 40 brothers and sisters of our Convent who help in the boarding home every day.
A small church was built on the territory of the boarding home thanks to people’s donations. Recently, the Convent (supported by Prince Vladimir Youth Association, USA) has organised a green area with nice footpaths, a fountain, and a contact mini-zoo. The children also have the opportunity to attend horse therapy classes.
Apart from everyday assistance, St. Elisabeth Convent does its best to engage children in cultural life by holding various events, going on sightseeing trips, participating in festivals and creative workshops with the children, and staging plays with them. Naturally, we can’t but mention the spiritual component, namely, weekly molebens and divine liturgies. “This is how we get involved in their lives,” Oleg adds. “We all have families and relatives who love and care for us. These children are abandoned and lack the most important thing, i.e., love. It is this love that we attempt to supply them with.”
Everyone needs someone else’s attention, care, and kind attitude. The children who stay in the boarding home don’t have any other way of interacting with the outside world, aside from the people who cater to them. The sisters and the brothers of St. Elisabeth Convent visit the children as often as possible, thus adding their time — the most vital resource — to the tangible aid that the Convent provides. By giving our time, we sacrifice ourselves.
The service was over. The children returned to their wards. I was standing near the church, staring at the door, and thinking. Why did the Lord allow these children to come into our world with so many health disorders? Did it happen because He wanted to touch the stony hearts of healthy, successful, and ыelf-centered human beings? I didn’t want to leave: not because they needed my help… instead, it was me who needed their help.
By Vladislav Gurin,
the Master of Theology,
a PG student of the Minsk Theological Academy
The Catalog of Good Deeds, 2018