It happened in the mid-1990s, during my visit to Kiev from Jerusalem, where I live permanently. With a friend we visited the Kitaevsky monastery and then headed back to the city. The bus stop was crowded, and the rare buses were leaving packed with people. We were waiting for the crowd to dissolve a bit so that we could get on a bus.
Suddenly, two people approached the stop, a man and a woman, both looking quite young. They were both very drunk. The man could barely stand on his feet. I was in my monastic clothes, and when the drunk spotted me among the crowd, he began to clumsily make his way in my direction, pushing aside the people on the bus stop.
His companion followed him, trying to maintain his balance. Nobody tried to stop him. It was clear to me that I should not be expecting anything good from such a situation. But I decided not to run away.
The drunken man came close up to me and said,
“I see that you are a nun. Then why don’t you tell me, who is better – God or the devil? Because she’s telling me,” he pointed to the woman accompanying him, “that the devil is better. What do you say?”
Terrible question, I must say. The whole crowd standing at the bus stop at the moment was watching us very closely, but for some reason it seemed to me that in the case of the man’s unworthy behaviour, the chances of getting help from anyone were pretty slim. It was surprising that despite it only being about 11AM, the young couple had managed to get drunk to such an extent. What kind of people were they? Maybe they were into some magic or occultism? My soul was heavy.
In those stressful moments, I suddenly remembered a postcard that my friend once sent me before I joined the monastery. The inscription on it said: “Remember, Christian, that your life may be the only Bible that someone will read in all his lifetime.”
At that moment, those salvatory words pierced right through me.
My answer to the drunken man was short but firm:
“God is better!”
“Why is He better?” he asked.
Realizing the need to speak very simply, I once again confidently uttered the following phrase:
“God is better, because He created the whole world and died on the cross for us. The devil cannot do anything; all he does is envy God and harm people.”
To my surprise, after hearing my words, the completely drunk man suddenly asked,
“So, how should I pray to Him?”
At that moment, he stretched out his hand, as if he was trying to fold his fingers to make the sign of the cross. It was clear to me that he was doing that for the first time. I began to prompt him, while he was swaying on his legs and struggling with his uncoordinated hands to complete the task. From the outside it probably seemed as if some kind of comedy was being played out. But I saw that the man, although he was drunk, asked his questions quite seriously. When all his fingers were folded properly, he asked again,
“And now where, on the forehead?”
“Yes, on the forehead,” I prompted, “And now you need to say: in the name of the Father…”
He put his hand on his forehead and repeated after me.
“And now where?”
“Now down, on the stomach…”
In such a manner both of us were slowly advancing from one movement to another, making the sign of the cross. The man was confusing his right and left shoulders, but moved his hand to correct anything that he did or said incorrectly. Finally the whole phrase “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit …” was pronounced appropriately, but, certainly, between these great and holy words there were numerous questions and clarifications: “Higher?”, “Lower?”, “Yes or no?”, “Over here?” etc. When our struggle finally reached its ending, and the man repeated after me the word “Amen!” something incredible happened.
He somehow shuddered and shook his head, and then I saw his eyes fixed on me in amazement. The drunken man instantly sobered up with all signs of alcoholic intoxication having completely disappeared! He stood in silence, absolutely amazed at what had happened to him.
“Go to church,” I told him, “Be baptized, and you will become a good person.”
Suddenly another bus pulled up. The woman accompanying the drunk began to rush her companion, “It’s time to leave!” On his way to the bus the man looked back at me several times. He got on the bus last and stood on the step for a while, not allowing the doors to close. When the bus moved, he glanced again in my direction, as I was silently watching him go. He was already a completely different person.
I do not know about his further life, but I believe that the Lord did not leave him.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds