My god-daughter Veronica presents the image of a grown-up, independent and successful person. She is a fourth-grader just past her tenth birthday and a top performer. She is the best in her class in arts, and at the top of the rank in English. But there is a catch: she cannot get herself to go to church every week. To her, standing and listening quietly on the church floor was too hard and boring, especially when she wanted to move around and play all the time. So when I call her up to ask her to come to church with me, I often get to hear a firm “no”.
I do not pressure her. I was content to take her to church once a month for a confession and Communion. Yet she was still displeased most of the time and made it known to me by grimacing and rolling her eyes. However, there was one day in a year when I will take none of her objections. It was the Protection of the Mother of God, the feast day of the church where she took her baptism.
I always warn her parents, so they can wake her up and get her ready. But when I came this time and rang the door, everyone was still asleep. They had all been out the night before and did not come back until three in the morning. Did I have pity? Yes. But she still had to get up. And so we stand with her mother at her bedside greeting her lovingly, “Veronica, lovely, good morning! Time to wake up” Her eyes still closed, she waves us back,
“Leave me alone, please! I am not going anywhere. Do not you see that I am sleeping?”
We did, but a feast is a feast.
But her mother has a way of getting others to do what she says. She pulled her daughter out of bed, led her to the bathroom and put her in the shower. While Veronica was dressing, she made us some raspberry tea with sandwiches. Finally, we were on our way to church. It was a bright sunny day, unusually warm for the season.
As we were walking, my god-daughter asked,
“Are we taking communion today?” I took a deep breath.
“Are you prepared?”
“No,” she replied.
“Me neither. How are we going to commune?”
She muttered something back. A few moments later, she repeats the question:
“Are we taking communion?”
“Look. You had a birthday party recently. You cleaned the house and prepared treats with your mother and invited some friends for the party.”
“Er, yes…” “Your friends were dressed up. They brought you presents,” I continued.
“Right! Aren’t they supposed to come with presents?” interrupted Veronica.
I proceeded. “Now, imagine someone uncouth and uninvited barging in, walking straight to the party table and munching away at the best treats.”
“I would show him the door!” she exclaimed.
“Are not we doing the same thing coming to the Cup unprepared?”
Veronica sighed in reply. Our church has new golden domes. Their bright flow in the sun made our eyes hurt when we looked at them.
“Is it true that they are made of gold?” she called out joyfully.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Can you bring me here again with my painting kit? I will draw a picture,” she suggested.
“I cannot see why not,” I responded.
We came to the church and stood before the altar to see and hear the service better. Veronica copied me in every step. I crossed myself, and she did, too. I bowed, and she did the same. I saw that she was having difficulty standing still, but pretended not to notice. Suddenly, she pulled my hand and pointed towards some boy holding a younger boy by his hand. Her eyes rounded.
“It’s Maxim! A friend! He is with his brother Yarik,” she exclaimed. Maxim, her classmate, noticed her, too and smiled back at her. Before coming up to greet her, he made a round of the icons in the church with his mother. They were so happy to see each other that they were almost leaping with joy. Smiles stayed on their faces as they stood together. They bowed and crossed themselves with a sparkle in the eye. At the Holy Cross procession, they walk ahead of everybody else, holding hands. While Father Maxim was sprinkling holy water on the congregation, they came so near that they almost overturned his bucket. They were the happiest children in the world.
When the liturgy was over, we found that we lived in the same area, and we walked home together. Veronica and Maxim led the way. His mother and I followed, with little Yarik in a stroller. We talked.
For three years in a row, Natalya had been going to church with her children every Sunday. She is an emergency nurse. Her husband is Orthodox, but not a regular church-goer. I asked her why, and she replied, laughingly, “I cannot imagine myself without the service”.
On our way, our children pulled us into a pet shop to watch the crabs and snakes. We went for a juice and an ice cream and had a good time. Even the little Yarik, usually quiet and serious, laughed and smiled. His mother admitted that it was very rare for him to smile at other people.
At home, Veronica said to me,
“Can I tell you a secret?”
“Go ahead,” I answered. While I was standing at the liturgy, my stomach ached so much, I thought I was going to die. But it stopped when I saw Maxim.”
Finally, she put her arm around my neck and whispered in my ear,
“Let us go to church together every Sunday, shall we?”
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds