Have you ever looked at the map of the world? I am sure you have because all of us went to school. Did you notice that each country of the world has its own map which is different from ours? Take a look, for example, at maps prepared in Australia or Japan and you will notice that for the Australians or Japanese our country is an “outlying region”. Thus, each country which was allowed to prepare its own world map puts itself at the center of the world. But formerly the city of Jerusalem was the earth’s center on every map and nobody disputed its privilege.
Today, Christians comprise only two percent of Israel’s population, while Orthodox Christians live as a very small minority. Adherents of Judaism make up three quarters of its population, and all the rest are Muslims and non-believers. If you make an attempt to preach Christ in Israel, you will see how difficult it is in this state.
However, contrary to all obstacles Jews and Muslims convert to Christ in our times. Many prefer to get baptized in the nighttime without their nearest and dearest’s knowledge, fearing any public demonstration of their new faith. Below we offer our readers a contemporary conversion story.
In 2013, one elderly rabbi was looking for a nanny for his small grandchild. The rabbi came from a family of Jews who lived in the Baltics. He moved to Israel with his family as soon as a favorable set of circumstances arose. It so happened that Natalia, an Orthodox Christian from Russia, was asked to become his grandchild’s nanny.
Natalia happily accepted this invitation: it gave her an opportunity to go to Jerusalem where she had never been before, visit its holy places and earn some money for pilgrimage trips. So she went there without any missionary ideas in her mind. The last thing she wanted was to convert somebody else to her faith, all the more so because Israel is a state with quite strict laws and traditions. Natalia herself wanted to get closer to God in the Holy Land.
Before her departure Natalia asked for the blessing of her spiritual father, an archimandrite of the Pochaev Lavra. He gave her his blessing, but added that the woman should stock up with holy water, take as many prosphora as possible, along with supplies of holy oil, including oil from the reliquary of St. Nektarios of Aegina, a wonderworker and healer of cancer. This unexpected advice caused her confusion as she had to fill her baggage with holy objects. People usually bring holy things from Jerusalem back to their native countries and not vice versa. In the simplicity of her heart Natalia did what the archimandrite told her to do and left for the Holy Land fully “spiritually equipped”.
A flight over two seas, a four-hour journey—and the Promised Land opens up before your eyes. The Biblical sites, the shrines that are dear to the hearts of all Christians, with the first Christian church being the Church of the Resurrection, the sacred site where Christ died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day. You really feel at home here even if you have never been to the Holy Land before.
But for Natalia being in Israel was not a pilgrimage in the strict sense. She came there to work in the rabbi’s family. We can imagine how many people would have condemned her for making this decision. As for the rabbi, he was very fortunate in having an extremely caring nanny: Natalia was happy to care for the child and didn’t spare herself. Whenever she had free time, she would visit the holy places.
Time passed. Eventually the day came when they didn’t need a nanny anymore. They thanked Natalia and paid her for her work. But the woman who had gotten very attached to the Holy Land didn’t want to leave it. She stayed in one convent as a laborer, performed obediences, attended services, literally spending days and nights in holy places. Her soul soared with joy. It seemed she had finally found the main thing that she had come to Israel for. But the Lord often works through the most unexpected events in our lives.
And one day the same rabbi called Natalia with a new request. It turned out that his wife Tabitha had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. There was no hope for recovery. In any family such news comes like a bolt from the blue. Tabitha bore untold suffering and desperately needed help and care. The rabbi went through all his acquaintances in his mind and quickly realized that he wouldn’t find a more uncomplaining and patient nurse than Natalia. And Natalia, a humble Christian, agreed to be his wife’s nurse. We cannot imagine how many times the Christian faith triumphed thanks to patience, humility and magnanimity towards one’s neighbors.
Tabitha’s condition deteriorated day to day. Natalia entered upon her duties without delay like a sentry stationed to keep guard. Now instead of praying by the Holy Sepulcher and on the Mount of Olives Natalia spent all her time in the room of the suffering Jewish woman, Tabitha. But it should be said that she continued to pray very fervently as if she were by the Holy Sepulcher or on the Mount of Olives.
Meanwhile the rabbi searched for any human way to cure this disease. So he took his wife to the best clinic of Tel Aviv, accompanied by her faithful nurse.
True, the Israeli health care system is lauded all over the world and people from various countries bring their loved ones there, hoping to change their hopeless situation through human effort. I will reveal a secret: even Israeli doctors are not all-powerful. The life and health of every human being are in the hands of God. Tabitha’s illness was so advanced that the doctors politely refused her any surgery or therapy and sent her back home. When she was discharged from the hospital, the rabbi, worried about his wife, didn’t know what to do and took her to a hospital in Jerusalem near the old city walls. The windows of the wall looked comfortingly onto the domes of Orthodox churches.
Great things are often hidden under the veil of the simple and unsophisticated. Many important events happen in our lives amid everyday routine, so we often don’t notice when crucial changes happen inside us. Tabitha’s suffering continued. Natalia, trying to console and support her, ventured on a very bold step: she decided to read the Gospel to the Jewish woman. This desire appeared as if by itself. Natalia had no idea what the Jewish woman’s reaction would be, nor did she know what else she could offer to relieve Tabitha’s sufferings. With her simple heart and sincere faith, Natalia wanted to share the thing she held dearest with Tabitha and used the Gospel as the source of her personal spiritual consolation.
Natalia naturally began with the Gospel of Matthew with its account of the genealogy of Christ from Abraham, which since time immemorial has been the confirmation of the messianic ministry of Christ for the Jews. The Birth of the Savior by the Virgin, the Baptism of John, the three temptations in the desert, the Beatitudes… The Gospel came into the aged Jewish woman’s life so easily. Tabitha listened with the ever-increasing interest. She was silent for a long time. But at last she said that she had already listened to this text many years before. It turned out that somebody had read the Gospel to Tabitha when she was a little girl. She herself couldn’t remember who had dared read her the text which is forbidden for the Jews, but the most important thing is that she remembered those wonderful lines, though she had been raised in an absolutely different environment. And now peace reigned in her soul through hearing the Good Tidings of Christ.
How often we seek outward, impressive, powerful miracles and striking signs. But the power of God is manifest in the fact that His grace influences human souls peacefully and quietly. The soul touches the Word of God and something inside it responds. Then why should we need spectacular signs? Tabitha just listened attentively, perceiving the silence of the Word of God in the stillness of her soul. Natalia would just read, and nothing more. And Tabitha’s soul was transformed.
There are the following words in the Holy Scriptures: The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live (Jn. 5:25). These words literally mean that one day all who are in the graves will rise from the dead on hearing the voice of the Son of God. But if we take this verse figuratively, it means that those spiritually dead (because of their sins) in this earthly life will revive spiritually, once they’ve heard the voice of the Son of God in the Gospel. Here is that very happiness, which is quite possible and attainable, of reviving spiritually in this life by responding to the voice of Christ.
Tabitha’s soul felt drawn to the Savior. Through the Gospel she developed tremendous respect and love towards Christ. With her simple and sincere heart, Natalia suggested that Tabitha take some holy water and prosphora every time she suffered a relapse. Thus the baggage full of holy objects came in handy. The father-confessor who had blessed Natalia to take so many holy objects to the Holy Land may have not imagined how it would all turn out. As the Holy Fathers used to say, obedience to our spiritual father works wonders. Natalia would anoint Tabitha with the holy oil of St. Nektarios of Aegina and this prolonged her life.
In some sense, an obvious miracle happened: Tabitha might feel bad, with severe suffering and excruciating pain several minutes earlier, but as soon as she took some holy water and prosphora her pain was relieved in a matter of minutes. It was evident even to the hospital staff. It became known to the Jewish nurses that Natalia read the Gospel. Much to her amazement, some of them came up to her and admitted in a reverent whisper, as if they were conspirators: “Yes, we do know about Jesus Christ, but we are forbidden to talk about Him.” It’s a pity we are unable to look inside the souls of these simple women and see by what mysterious ways respect for Christ was born in their hearts despite the circumstances.
One day Tabitha’s condition got worse. The doctors believed she was dying. Natalia got scared too. “What should I do? Can I really abandon the suffering woman halfway through, depriving her of the most important thing?” And Natalia brought herself to speak with Tabitha sincerely. What did she speak about? She just stated what was absolutely evident: Tabitha was comforted by her meeting with Christ on the Gospel pages and was relieved by the holy things. Thus the Lord showed her where true grace could be found. And now she had the chance to know Christ through the sacrament of Baptism—then the Savior Himself would be with her.
Natalia did the Baptism herself as a laywoman. She poured water three times upon the head of Tabitha with the words: “The servant of God Tabitha is baptized in the Name of the Father, amen; and of the Son, amen; and of the Holy Spirit, amen.” Tabitha smiled sunnily and went into a peaceful sleep. When she woke up, her face radiated an incredible joy, as if something had been revealed to her soul, as if she had touched something supernatural, otherworldly. She could hardly speak, yet her soul was filled with peace and joy. Thus spiritual death was overcome, and physical death retreated timidly—Tabitha was still alive. And now that the additional time had been gained Natalia called a priest.
You should know what inviting a priest to an Israeli hospital for a religious service is like. I will be brief without going into detail: a priest came and began to do the prayers (he intended to do not only the sacrament of Chrismation but Unction as well), but soon some Jews burst into the ward and literally threw the priest out of the hospital. The priest, who had seen everything in his time, said quietly to Natalia that the angels would complete what he had not been able to finish.
Tabitha had only one month to live. When Natalia was going to fly back to Russia, she was informed that the terminally ill woman had passed away. Tabitha’s relatives buried her in a Jewish cemetery according to the Jewish rites. Of course, Natalia couldn’t prevent that. But many miles away, in the tranquil atmosphere of the Pochaev Lavra, three archimandrites were conducting the Orthodox funeral service for the newly-departed woman. Though the ceremony was conducted in absentia, their prayer reached heaven. And all who had been involved in this story were praying for the repose of the soul of Tabitha, for whom Christ and His Kingdom had become closer than the closest people in the world.
I could finish my narrative here. But I cannot pass over one more fact in silence. After forty days Natalia received consolation. Tabitha’s soul appeared to her in a dream in an angelic choir, singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Sabaoth. Heaven and Earth are full of Thy Glory.” She was in a state of bliss…
Please, forgive me if you find that this story resembles the Life of some ancient saint. But very many miracles of this kind occur in the Holy Land in our days. True, the Lord didn’t vouchsafe Tabitha to participate in the Divine Liturgy on earth and listen to the angelic hymn, inspired by the vision once granted to the Holy Prophet Isaiah and sung during the Eucharistic Canon at the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. But we dare to believe, hope and pray that her soul was received in the heavenly abodes to participate in the heavenly Liturgy, glorifying the Most Holy Trinity with the angels.
Someone denounced Natalia’s actions with his spouse to the rabbi. He was displeased and reprimanded Natalia. The latter tried her best to justify herself without telling him the whole truth. But after her vision on the fortieth day after Tabitha’s repose, Natalia shared her joy with the rabbi. After all, the angelic hymn can be found in the Old Testament, which makes it important to the Jews. “Your spouse’s soul is in the company of angels now,” she concluded. “I must thank you for that,” said the rabbi, who was very pleased. “No, God alone must be thanked,” Natalia replied.
And now let us make conclusions.
Firstly, the seeds of the Gospel which were sown in one’s infancy may germinate and produce fruit even in his very old age. In her advanced age Tabitha remembered the holy verses because somebody had read them to her in her childhood. Since she remembered this, it means it had impressed her and been imbedded in her soul. After all, we cannot recollect all that we heard when we were children.
It is amazing that the Gospel was read to her at the dawn of her life and then in the evening of her life. As a result she is now with Christ. Therefore, evangelism is never fruitless. In our lives we often hurry, trying to rush God into showing His providence in the salvation of our neighbors. We want to see the fruit of our labors immediately, whereas it may appear only towards the end of the lives of those to whom we preached. In any case, our efforts won’t be futile. The Gospel always leaves an imprint on people’s souls, and after many years or even decades this seed is sure to germinate and produce fruit.
And, secondly, you need neither sophisticated techniques, nor special psychological methods, nor programs, nor oratorical skill in order to preach Christ. All that you need is to be with Christ, to remain a sincere Christian, working where the Lord has brought you. A life of sincerity in full devotion to God will not leave those around you indifferent.
If you have been ordained by God to labor alongside adherents of other religions, it may, by the mysterious work of Divine providence, turn out to be the most wonderful service of God—the salvation of a soul which will find the Truth in the Gospel of Christ. But you must be a genuine Christian and perform the assigned tasks with full responsibility. Such are these simple truths.