Do What You Must… 

Every person lives by the work of his hands. Every person fulfils his own duty. How can one avoid grumbling when things are hard? How can one have no doubt not seeing the result of his labour? How to resist despondency when people do not understand you and think that you are insane? “Do what you must…” In Orthodoxy, this phrase takes on a special meaning and depth. 

This meaning is simple and has long been explained by the saints: do not look around, do not compare, do not expect a reward – just do your best every day, with no excuses or cutting corners. Do what you must, without expecting praise and gratitude, without demanding anything in return, because everything you do, you do it before God, Who will never put His child to shame…

This incident happened in 2010. A Tu-154 aircraft with 81 people on board was flying to Moscow from the Yakut city of Udachny.  A few hours after takeoff, all of the plane’s electrical systems failed. The on-board navigation systems went offline, leaving the crew deaf, dumb and blind. The only solution in such a situation is emergency landing.

The pilots decided to descend, but landing in the dense taiga was tantamount to suicide. The only possible option was to try to land on the water of the Izhma River. It seemed like crash landing was inevitable. The passengers were starting to panic.

Then the navigator reported, “Commander, runway lane right ahead!”

It was the runway of the abandoned airport near the village of Izhma, which had not received even small planes for twelve years. During this entire period, its only employee, Sergei Mikhailovich Sotnikov, continued to maintain the strip on his own initiative, removing garbage, trimming bushes and trees, and shovelling the snow in winter.

This was absolutely not his area of responsibility (Sergei Mikhailovich was responsible only for the helipad) but he continued buying diesel fuel at his own expense, starting a tractor and cleaning the 1340-metre-long strip. In the summer, he removed the birch shoots persistently making their way through the concrete. Twelve years of hard, thankless and, it would seem, useless work.

Yet it was necessary for Sergei Mikhailovich, who had worked at the Izhma airport from the first day of its existence. When asked why he was doing it, he just brushed it off, started the tractor or took a mower and went to his beloved airfield hoping that someday its runway would again receive planes. However, the sky was empty until one day a voice on the phone shouted,

“Mikhalych! A heavy board is coming in to land! It’s circling over the strip!”

Sergei Mikhailovich rushed to the airfield. The “154” was doing the fourth round over the strip. It takes about 2.5 kilometres of runway to land such a large jet, while there was less than a half of that available. However, Sergei Mikhailovich had knowledgeably and responsibly mowed down the brushwood behind the runway…

The plane landed without rolling over or catching fire. Moreover, none of the passengers on board were seriously injured.

Later, experts would call that Tu-154 landing in Izhma a real miracle. Yet the pilots knew that the real miracle was a runway appearing out of nowhere in the middle of taiga.

At the same time, it was nothing supernatural: that miracle was the work of the hands of Sergei Mikhailovich Sotnikov and his commitment.

When I heard this story, it pierced me right through. Twelve years! Twelve years of investing effort, time, money, and not giving up. Understanding that, by and large, no one really needs your work except yourself, and still doing it and then one day saving 81 lives…

This story is about an incredible inner strength and personal spiritual achievement of one man. It is also for and about each of us.

Perhaps, from time to time we all ask ourselves if we do a right thing because no one notices it.

The story of the Izhemsky miracle once again confirms the truth: a person cannot fulfil himself by conquering the world around him and winning new social statuses. Only in serving others and self-giving can one become real and find one’s path in life.

This requires effort, spiritual work and, before anything, a determination to give oneself to the will of the Lord. However, as soon as you commit to it, the Lord picks you up in His caring and loving arms and opens up for you unimaginable horizons, leaving you nothing but gratitude…

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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