It was the feast of the Circumcision of Christ and Saint Basil the Great. Father Sergius had just served the festive liturgy at church and got into his old Lada car to travel to the intensive care ward for patients with life-threatening heart conditions. He was answering a request to commune an elderly gentleman after a blood stroke.
It was another routine visit. He parked his car in the usual spot, got out of the constrained space of his car and directed himself towards the reception. In his vestments, gift-box in his hand, father Sergius entered the intensive care unit.
The elderly man who had requested the communion was a church-goer, and so were his family. His wife met him at the door and showed him into the ward. Father Sergius had communed other patients here before. He could not afford to waste any time. Staff had to perform procedures on the patients that followed a strict timetable.
There were four bed-ridden patients on the ward, and the woman showed him to her husband’s bed. Quickly, Father Sergius took off his warm coat, put the box with the holy gifts on an empty bet, took out the Gospel and Cross and commenced, “Blessed be Our Lord and Saviour…”
At this moment, something extraordinary happened.
A patient in a bed nearby interrupted him with a loud groan. Startled, Father Sergius looked in his direction. Lying naked under a bed sheet; he resembled a chubby infant. It looked as if he was struggling to get out of bed, or maybe he was just having a fit. He was holding forcefully onto the metal bar of the bed, shaking and clamouring for attention. It was a loud, growling sound.
Father Sergius tried to ignore him. He was not sure what it was – a part of his condition or the work of the devil. “I had better speed up with the prayer and communion,” he thought. As he was performing the order of the sacrament, someone cried out and slammed on the metal bar of the bed. A relative of the troubled patient went by. Finally, Father Sergius communed the elderly patient and sighed with relief. He said the thankful prayer to the Lord and the Most Holy Theotokos. As soon as he was finished, he turned around. A startling scene unfolded before him. As the patient was still shaking in his bed in the middle of the ward, his relative was standing before him on her knees. The patient was growling relentlessly and shaking the bed bar.
“Father, father!” implored the woman. “Will you please come to my father, and do something about it.”
Father Sergius listened. Coming to the troubled man’s bed, he asked,
“Is he conscious? Can he confess?”
His daughter shook her head doubtfully.
“I am not sure. He has had his third attack. He is speechless. As he can do is growl.”
Father Sergius came close and bent over the man and gazed into his face. The troubled patient calmed down and stared back at him.
Never before had Father Sergius seen so much hope in somebody’s eyes. It was as if he had been waiting for him all this time, like the faithful wait to meet God. He was waiting to meet God, too! In his eyes, he read pain, despair, fear and hope. He read terror – not of bodily pain or worldly horrors, but something out of this world. Something was tormenting him – something known to him alone, and nobody else. He was standing at the threshold of another world. His soul (at least in the perception of Father Sergius) was like wounded prey chased by blood-thirsty hounds and zealous hunters, ready to snatch him at any moment. Father Sergius needed to act quickly to give him a confession.
“Do you repent your sins,” he asked.
The patient nodded, consciously and confidently, relieving himself of the dark burden he had allowed to build up throughout his life.
“What is his name?” asked Father Sergius, turning to his relative. “Has he been baptised?”
“Yes. His name is Yevgeny,” she answered, hastily.
Father Sergius covered his head with his orarion and read the prayer of forgiveness over him. Then he gave him the communion.
Yevgeny had difficulty swallowing. Yet he took the spoon into his mouth like a chick takes food from the mouth of its mother. Then he relaxed and calmed down. He fell asleep. His restless body finally found peace and calm. His face was illuminated with some divine light. Father Sergius and the man’s daughter looked at each other. Between them, they shared an other-worldly prayer and the sacrament that saved a human soul.
“Thank you,” said the tearful woman, with a lump in her throat.
It came from her heart like an outpouring of grace and love. Father Sergius blessed her and said,
“Now, he will be all right.”
Softly, he read the prayer of thanksgiving after the communion, said goodbye to the relatives of the patients and took leave. He got into his car and sat there for a while deep in thought.
“It is a battle. A true battle,” he said to himself. He also knew that the man’s clamouring was not madness or disease. He noticed him, a priest, and used all available means to draw his attention, like the biblical sufferers from leprosy were crying out to the Lord to be noticed.
“Thankfully, this naked, infant-looking man had the burden of his sin relieved and prepared himself for the Kingdom of God,” mused Father Sergius.
At that moment, a light seemed to fill all the space, like the light of a candle from heaven.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds